Monday, May 4, 2009

Outdoor Rec Round-Up - South Carolina Low Country

Now that I've been to southeastern South Carolina several times (1997-2009) in every season but the fall, perhaps I'm qualified to give a little bit of a roundup of the area's natural resources and recreational opportunities. Let's give it a shot.
The South Carolina low country is an area that prides itself on its natural resources. People exist outdoors to a very large extent, and outdoor recreation is very important to the perceived "lifestyle" of the low country. There are more runners and cyclists than I've seen in any other coastal area in the east (not counting islands like Nantucket)'s nearly Californian. An amazing array of outdoor opportunities exist there, so let's take a look at them:
1) General Outdoor Rec / Lifestyle: Very high marks for the southeast! Numerous county parks with extensive walking/cycling paths, reasonable sidewalk systems in all but the newest neighborhoods, and most importantly - total immersion in groups of people who also love the outdoors - even in "traditional" rural towns in the South, this is hard to come by - we're in the second generation of "video game players" and satellite cable TV. To quote Black Flag, "Why go into the Outside world at all?" But if you want the outdoor lifestyle for yourself and your family, the South Carolina beaches and coastal towns are not a bad place to be. The Ashley-Cooper Bridge Run is quite an event over an amazing bridge.....and people run the bridge the other 364 days of the year too!
2) Golf: I despise golf. I am horrible at golf. But if you want high quality golf, coastal SC is a great place to be. Closer to Myrtle Beach, there are entire interstate exits devoted (seemingly) only to golf course access. The courses are high quality and there are probably only 50 or so days a year when it's too cold or rainy to play. Whether it's too hot to play is dependent on your level of tolerance of all things mosquitos, heat stroke, and alligators! But there are golf courses everywhere throughout the entire state. One gets the sense that a great amount of business actually gets done on these courses.
3) The Beach: This is a mixed bag. In the summer, beach access roads are jammed and beach access can be really tough, especially if you plan to visit the beach during the "inlander" times of 11am to 4pm on a weekend day. If you are used to going "off'the grid" to places like Ocracoke, NC, then don't bother. If you're used to the trials and tribulations of beach access from Nags Head NC up to Long Island, NY, then you'll be pleased - it's not that bad. The rest of the year, beach access is a breeze, even during spring break. The beaches are generally in great shape, are very clean, and are very gently sloped (see surfing section below), making for a very family-friendly landscape. This is kind of the northern end of "tropical" marine life, so expect to find seashells like coral, starfish, and sand dollars. Dogs are allowed on most beaches between October and May.
4) Fishing: Freshwater fishing is very limited, based upon your access to reservoirs and the upper limits of the Ashley, Cooper, and Edisto Rivers where they are really more brackish than fresh. Saltwater fishing, however, is all the rage. Hundreds of thousands of acres of healthy, well-flushed marsh (helped by a 6' tidal range) provide easy access during higher tides to some great fishing grounds for flounder, redfish, and speckled trout, among many other species. Public boat ramps are plentiful with very large parking lots, and typically 3 slips per ramp, but are crowded to capacity on sunny weekend days (from April to November). Typical boats include extra-wide skiffs and jonboats, often with fishing platforms, to the more adventurous 18-22' parkers and sailfish - able to handle ocean chop on fair weather days, and target jack crevalle immediately offshore. Farther north, you would never take a boat that size into the ocean, but the conditions in South Carolina favor this tactic (generally). The Charleston Angler is a great source of information.
5) Hunting: I haven't hunted in South Carolina but I've kept it in mind throughout all of our adventures there. Typical of the southeast, duck hunting is limited to a relative few addicts, concentrating on mallards and wood ducks, and praying for cold winters to bring more ducks south. Hunting leases are available on many old rice plantations, providing an excellent opportunity (if any ducks are local). Leases are in-line with Mid-Atlantic prices, ranging from $1000 - $2500 per hunter annually. Many hunters sit in the (public) marsh outside the rice levees, preferring to pass shoot low-flying ducks for free. Teal, sea ducks, and some diving ducks also seem fairly common. Turkey and deer hunting are extremely popular, and many local hunters head to large areas of public land like Francis Marion National Forest to target game. Most hunters in SC do not pursue quality deer management, so harvests are often meager numbers of deer, of meager size and measure. Quail hunting is faily popular.
6) Surfing: If you go to South Carolina to surf, make sure you have a flexible schedule, a tide table, and hourly weather (wind) updates. While some ground swell undoubtedly hits the SC coast during the spring and fall months, the extended shallows offshore really bang up the surf. Taking its place in reality is small-scale windswell. Most of the coastal islands are positioned ESE or SE, so the continual summer seabreeze (SE to SSW) pushes weak swell right up onto the beach. Unfortunately it's so weak that the waves march right on past the beach unless the wind either stops blowing, or cuts offshore (WNW to NNW), which it seems to do frequently, but unpredictably. I've also experienced this at Tybee Island, GA. I felt like I was standing next to a raging river, as the wind carried the surf right up the shoreline - nary a ridable wave in 6' swell. Only other issue I've seen with surfing is that, typical of many areas, the density of surfers in the lineup depends on whether high school has let out for the day. Surfers in South Carolina are disproportionately young, likely 75% under age 18, and another 20% age 18-25. Perhaps given the old social mores, older guys and gals are expected to participate in more "respectable" outdoor activities like golf and fishing.


So there you have it - my first Outdoor Rec Round-Up. Hope you enjoyed it.


Unknown said...
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Toure Zeigler said...

A Californian lifestyle in SC...who would of thunk it?

Matt said...

This is a very informative post; would love to see more like it.

Phillip said...

Nice work!

I'm originally from Southeastern NC, which isn't too different from the Low Country except the surf and offshore fishing are generally much better up the coast.

I despise golf too, but mostly because of what it's done to the hunting land where I grew up. I call it the Emerald Belt, that strip from southern VA all the way down the 95 corridor to Miami.

Anyway, now that I actually do live in CA, I've gotta say the only place here that reminds me of the Carolinas is down around San Diego. The rest of this state compared to the Low Country...? Like comparing Mars to Neptune.

Dang, I miss the Southeast.

Kirk Mantay said...

Beaches, and coastal areas, are kinda hard to screw up, in my estimation. Even New Jersey has some beautiful beaches!

What makes the coast great to me is that the communities are often rooted in old history and culture, but new people are always coming in because of military transfers, other jobs, and colleges (things common to many coastal areas). It provides for a real spice of life that I think you really miss out on if you live inland on the east coast, especially in the southeast.

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