Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Santee National Wildlife Refuge: Wrights Bluff Nature Trail (Blog Hike #491)

Trail: Wrights Bluff Nature Trail
Hike Location: Santee National Wildlife Refuge
Geographic Location: southwest of Summerton, SC
Length: 1.4 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: September 2014
Overview: A short, nearly flat loop to several wildlife observation areas.
Refuge Information: http://www.fws.gov/santee/

Directions to the trailhead: In central South Carolina, take I-95 to US 301/15 (exit 102).  Exit and go north on US 301/15.  Drive US 301/15 0.3 miles to the refuge entrance on the left.  Turn left onto the newly paved refuge road, and drive the refuge road 1.1 miles to the signed nature trail parking area; it is reached just before arriving at a vehicle gate.

The hike: Established in 1941, Santee National Wildlife Refuge protects 13,000 acres of land on the east side of Lake Marion in rural southwest Clarendon County.  The refuge only owns 4400 acres; the remaining 8600 acres are leased from Santee Cooper.  Santee Cooper is South Carolina’s state-owned utility company that was established during the 1930’s New Deal era to provide utility service to rural areas.  The company also owns Lakes Marion and Moultrie and operates them as sources of hydroelectric power.  At the time of their construction in 1939, Lakes Marion and Moultrie were the largest earth-moving project in American history.  Over 42 million cubic yards of earth were moved, and over 3.1 million cubic yards of concrete were poured to build the two lakes.
            The refuge has greater significance than its public works history: it is the southern-most migration point for naturally migrating Canada geese.  The refuge also provides nesting opportunities for neo-tropical migratory birds, thus making it a major destination for birding enthusiasts.  The refuge’s Nature Center, open 8am-4pm Tuesday through Friday, contains information about the refuge’s birds and wildlife.
            In terms of trails, the refuge has many miles of old roads that are open to hikers and bikers but only 2 designated hiking trails.  The Dingle Pond Trail (not described in this blog) provides a 1 mile out-and-back hike along the southern bank of its namesake pond.  The other option is the Wrights Bluff Nature Trail, the 1.1 mile loop described here.  Tacking on a short side trip to the Santee Indian Mound, one of the region’s largest ancient ceremonial mounds, lets you add some history to your wildlife viewing.
Trailhead: Wrights Bluff Nature Trail
            Begin at the rear of the parking area where a brown metal sign to the right of the vehicle gate announces the trail’s beginning.  The trail surface alternates among sandy dirt, mulch, boardwalk, and small pebbles as you head north through the dense vegetation.  Because this area is surrounded on three sides by water, mosquitoes and other biting insects pose a real nuisance in season.  Be sure to come prepared with plenty of insect repellent and/or long sleeves with a mosquito net.
            At 0.2 miles, you reach a boardwalk that marks the first wildlife observation opportunity.  A wall of rushes makes a nice natural bird blind as you peer out into Cantey Bay’s shallow waters.  On my visit dragonflies buzzed around the wetland, and an egret stood in the water.  Binoculars built into the boardwalk allow you to identify wildlife that is further away than you can see with the naked eye.
Looking out onto Cantey Bay
            Back on the main trail, you quickly leave the boardwalk as the trail angles left to cross a gravel refuge road.  This road is a continuation of the one beyond the vehicle gate at the trailhead, and thus it is usually closed to vehicle traffic.  Near 0.5 miles, you reach an elevated wildlife observation platform.  Climbing the 16 steps to the platform gives a nice view north into the refuge’s sunny grasslands.  I could detect no activity in the grassland during my afternoon visit, but such would surely not be the case in the morning or the evening.
View from observation platform
            Past the observation tower, the trail curves left as Lake Marion proper comes into view through the trees on the right.  Several long boardwalks carry hikers over wet areas.  Bottomland hardwood forest surrounds the trail.
            At 1.1 miles, you close the loop as the trail exits the forest at the parking area.  Before you leave, there is one more place you should visit.  If you turn right, walk a short distance on a gravel path beside the entry road, then turn right again to walk through a mowed-grass area, you will find yourself at the base of the Santee Indian Mound.  The earthen mound stands about 20 feet tall, and a staircase allows easy access to the top.  Interpretive signs at the top of the mound tell the mound’s long history (which includes its use as a British fort during the Revolutionary War), and spectacular views of expansive Lake Marion open up to the west.  This mound makes an interesting way to add some history site to your wildlife refuge visit.

Santee Indian Mound

View of Lake Marion from top of mound

No comments:

Post a Comment