If you are traveling through South Carolina on I 95, do yourself a huge favor and take a short side trip to Francis Beidler Forest in Four Holes Swamp. Only 15 -20 minutes off the highway at Exit 86 east, this Audubon Society sanctuary covers 15,000 acres of old growth cypress-tupelo swamp. But you don’t need to bring your waders! The society has built a 1.75 mile boardwalk that takes you deep into the swamp without getting your shoes wet.
On the boardwalk, you are likely to see a wide variety of birds, snakes, insects, plants, and even mammals. It is not unusual to come across a fawn bedded down next to the boardwalk in the spring. You will also pass by cypress trees, some of which are 1000 years old.
This refuge is well known for the large number of Prothonotary Warblers which favor cavities for nesting in the numerous cypress knees. In the spring and early summer, these bright yellow birds seem to be everywhere, particularly at the south end of the boardwalk. Barred owls are also common along the board walk in the same area. Various herons, egrets, ibis, and other waders are also commonly seen feeding and roosting in the swamp. Although the number of species found here at 140, is not the largest compared to some other refuges, the quality of the whole experience makes it worth an afternoon or day visit.
The driveway leading back to the visitor’s center and boardwalk is narrow with occasional pull outs to allow the passing of an oncoming vehicle. Once at the center there is adequate parking including spaces for buses and campers.
The visitor’s center is where you enter the boardwalk. There is a small fee for its use. The center is staffed with knowledgeable, friendly volunteers and paid staff. Snacks and souvenirs as well as toilette facilities are also available.
The boardwalk has numbered nature information stations which are explained in a guidebook that can be borrowed or purchased at the visitor's center. Benches and covered shelters are placed in convenient locations for a brief rest or to get cover from a shower. A spur off the far side of the loop created by the boardwalk leads to Goodson Lake where there is an observation tower.
The boardwalk is showing its age. First built in the late 1970s, it is nearing the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced. The plan is to rebuild it using green materials that will have a longer life. The project is expected to cost as much as $2 million and donations are currently being accepted. Meanwhile, the staff has continued to replace decking and made repairs to keep the boardwalk safe.
Website link: http://beidlerforest.audubon.org
Open 9-5 Tuesdays through Sundays, closed Mondays and major holidays.
Address: 336 Sanctuary Road, Harleyville, SC 29448
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Use the address above in your GPS. I found that it provided a shorter route than the road signs that have been installed. It is a series of turns on back roads to get to the sanctuary, but the GPS got me there with no difficulty.
Bugs. While there in late spring, the only pests encountered were a few mosquitoes in the parking lot. But it is a swamp! So be prepared and wear bug shirts and pants or carry insect repellent just in case.
But it is a swamp, part 2. Even in the middle of the day you will often find the light levels for many of your subjects to be low. Flash, especially when used with a modifier like a Better Beamer will prove to be invaluable in saving otherwise very noisey images.
There are no toilette facilities on the boardwalk - go before you go! There’s also no snack or drink machines either, so carry a few bottles of water and a snack.
Canoe trips are offered with a naturalist guide on a limited basis when the water level allows. These trips will take you into areas that are not accessible or viewed from the boardwalk. Call for availability and cost.
Finally, take your time. This is not a zoo. However, there are many, many things to see, observe, and photograph, but they have evolved to blend in with their surroundings for protection. They are there, you just need to spend a little more time looking for them. And when you finish the first trip around the board walk? Just go into the visitor’s center, use the facilities, get a snack and drink and then walk the boardwalk again. You will see things you missed before!
Photograph © Ceasar Sharper
in Four Holes Swamp
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