- GENERAL ARTICLES -
Hilton Jr., B. 1991. Four-season state. In: Carolina all outdoors. South Carolina Wildlife 38(1):58-79.
(Note: The draft below was submitted to South Carolina Wildlife magazine; the article that actually appeared in print may have been edited.)
We all enjoy outdoor living in different ways, so an article about how we use the out-of-doors in South Carolina would be like a composite biography for the millions of people who live or vacation in our state. Many residents and visitors enjoy fishing and hunting, but those pastimes are covered elsewhere in this issue of "Carolina All Outdoors." My task instead is to consider the multitude of other activities--from backpacking to horseback riding to birdwatching--that make the great outdoors in South Carolina a wonderful place to be.
South Carolinians have different ways of savoring the state's outdoor legacy. They enjoy nature study, tent camping, canoe paddling, bicycling, and stargazing, and they're always on the lookout for new experiences. Many of their activities don't directly require internal combustion engines, so no matter where they go in the Palmetto State, they're bound to find enjoyable activities that get them outside to navigate under their own power. It's impossible within the scope of a single article like this one to describe all the ways that people sample outdoor life in South Carolina. Therefore, this essay and photos cover just a few things the state has to offer its residents and 'most anyone else who chooses to enjoy "Carolina All Outdoors." If it's not included here, perhaps your favorite outdoor diversion will appear in another issue of South Carolina Wildlife.
A "FOUR-SEASON" STATE
As a "four-season" state, South Carolina has something for the outdoor enthusiast in every month of the year. Further north, winter often limits residents to just "two seasons": one a composite of spring/summer/fall, the other a long, cold, icy winter that requires skis or snowshoes for hardy souls who venture outside their cozy bungalows. South of the Palmetto State, folks can frolic in the sun most of the year but almost never see snow or get to glory in the changing colors of autumn or the delightfully slow "green-up" of spring; in South Carolina these two seasons are most residents' favorite times of the year.
When bad weather does occur in South Carolina--whether it's a sub-freezing winter cold snap, a March ice storm, or a mid-summer rainy period--one merely has to wait a few days for the prevailing westerlies to bring conditions more conducive to outdoors activities.
More than any other factors, it is seasonality, adequate rainfall, and temperate climate that make South Carolina such a comfortable place for humans to live. That's also what makes the state ideal for the flora and fauna that draw so many of us out-of-doors from January through December. As far as natural vegetation is concerned, South Carolina's claim to fame is diversity, and where variety in plant life occurs there's also considerable variation in animal life. The state and its coastal waters are home to more than 4,500 species of vascular plants, 38 snake species, 19 turtles, 12 lizards, 32 salamanders, 30 frogs and toads, nearly 150 fish, one crocodilian, more than 70 mammals, 374-plus birds, an estimated 500 spiders, several hundred thousand invertebrates from bugs to worms to jellyfish, countless microorganisms, and many other species of living things that may not have been discovered or described for the state.
This vast assemblage of plants and animals stimulates many South Carolina citizens and visitors to investigate their natural surroundings; for many folks, it's the love of big trees and bird songs that gets them out-of-doors at all times of the year. Historically, South Carolina attracted Europeans who were struck by the newness and diversity of organisms from the Coastal Plain to our Mountains. Even in its earliest days as a British colony, South Carolina either produced or attracted famous naturalists. Mark Catesby, for whom the American bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) is named, was one of the first trained field observers to travel the state. In 1722, he began at Charleston what is considered the original comprehensive natural history of the Southern colonies. Catesby has been hailed as the "Colonial Audubon" for his captivating color paintings of Carolina wildlife--artwork that was rendered more than a century before John James Audubon visited here.
Fifty years after Catesby began his work, William Bartram described floral and faunal wonders of the Southeast for an incredulous and insatiable audience back in England. His writings, some of the best-written prose of his day, included amazing but generally accurate tales of beasts, flowers, and Native Americans that he found in his travels across the region. In 1787, one of Bartram's contemporaries--French botanist Andre' Michaux--established in Charleston a nursery of native plants, the most exotic of which he shipped back to France to amaze his countrymen with the New World's botanical wonders.
By 1831, Audubon also visited Charleston to observe and collect several dozen of the birds he painted for his famous "Elephant Folio." While in the port city, he met Rev. John Bachman, founder of Newberry College and a first-rate amateur naturalist; it was Bachman who wrote the text for Audubon's second folio on North America's quadruped mammals.
When Catesby, Michaux, and Audubon visited the Carolinas in the 18th and 19th centuries, they never could have imagined the assortment of outdoor activities available today. Many of their contemporaries probably would have scoffed at the very idea of the "leisure time" we take for granted. Even as recently as 100 years ago, large portions of this state were still unsettled, and although some of the early naturalists were rather well-to-do, most landowners spent their waking hours taming the land, hunting for food, chopping wood, and generally enabling their families to survive the pitfalls common to the era. What little free time there was the settlers devoted to sleep and regeneration of exhausted bodies. Their interest in the out-of-doors was utilitarian, and it's unlikely they were familiar with the writings of naturalists who roamed and studied the wilderness of the Southeast.
The annals of South Carolina's natural history are filled with the early work of botanists William Bull and Thomas Walter, ornithologists Alexander Wilson and Arthur Wayne, herpetologist John Holbrook, and other great field scientists. In their footsteps, others have continued into more recent times the state's grand tradition of nature study. Their successor's names are too many to list, but Wade Batson is nationally-known for his taxonomic work with Southern flora and Alexander Sprunt made definitive studies of Carolina birds.
There are still plenty of professional naturalists in the state--many of them associated with colleges and universities--but many of today's nature studies are conducted by self-proclaimed amateurs who simply love to be in the out-of-doors. One such person is Carolyn Tutwiler of Rock Hill, coordinator of academic advising for Winthrop College's School of Education. Carolyn moved to South Carolina from Massachusetts in 1955 with her husband Frank, and they both fell in love with the state's natural wonders.
Until Frank's death a decade ago, the Tutwilers roamed the state together almost every weekend. "Fortunately," explains Carolyn, "Frank was someone who was easy to persuade to love the out-of-doors. When I was a child I never got to camp, so Frank and I started going tent camping together soon after we moved here. Frank was a great photographer--he took wonderful wildflower pictures--and I got to pore over the field guides to figure out what he had captured on film."
Carolyn says that "the thing I know most about is plants because I took a couple of courses in botany for the heck of it. Through my interest in plants I developed a real curiosity for unusual habitats. I especially like Forty-Acre Rock with its lichen-covered stone outcrops. In spring I'm amazed at all the tadpoles that occur in vernal pools there; sometimes on March and April evenings the frog chorus is almost deafening. Stevens Creek, with its endangered plant species, is another favorite of mine. On Bull Island, the birds attract my attention more than the plants, but the vegetation in the Sandhills and the Carolina bays--especially Woods Bay State Park--is phenomenal."
Carolyn admits--and her friends agree--that she makes up in interest and excitement for what she might not already have tucked into her memory. Her field partners say she doesn't miss many plant identifications but is quick to consult a field guide to learn what she needs to know about some new species that confounds her. Her friends have many fond memories of Carolyn strolling down some woodland path, calling out wildflower names, stooping to ponder an unusual mushroom, or thumbing through the notes in her bird book to see where she first saw an indigo bunting or an orchard oriole.
"Nature study is what I really love in life," says Carolyn, "and I guess it was my mother who got me started in natural history. I always thought she was very interested in snakes because she read me everything she could find about them and other reptiles. It wasn't until recently that I found out she was petrified of snakes and read to me so that I wouldn't share her fears!"
"I like South Carolina because of its diversity," says Carolyn. "Because I was born a mountaineer in the New River Gorge, I wish this state had a few more more mountains, but I really love the Low Country swamps and the beach in the wintertime when wildlife outnumbers the people. I don't consider myself a naturalist as much as someone who loves to be outside, whether for the study of plants, animals, geology, astronomy, or what have you. I'm very proud that all four of my children love the South Carolina out-of-doors, and that two of them are about as avid as I am. It's nice to be able to share my nature interests with my kids."
Since the word "amateur" comes from the Latin for "to love," Carolyn Tutwiler is an amateur naturalist in both senses of the word. Will Post, on the other hand, is a man who is lucky enough to make a living studying one of his favorite things in the world--South Carolina bird life. Will is curator of ornithology at The Charleston Museum, a position he's held for many years. It's his responsibility to maintain the bird collections, to help design and implement related exhibits and programs at the museum, and to add to the bulk of ornithological knowledge by spending time in the field. On many days during spring and fall migration, Will and his field assistants cross the Cooper River Bridge to Patriot's Point and deploy several almost invisible "mist nets" that they use to capture wild birds for banding and study.
Through this work, Will has been the first person to handle several bird species in South Carolina, and by systematic netting has gotten a better idea of when and how many birds migrate through the coastal region each year. Recently, Will made good use of his field data and--along with Dr. Sid Gauthreaux of Clemson University--compiled the most up-to-date information about field ornithology in this state with publication of Status and Distribution of South Carolina Birds--a book hailed by professionals and amateurs alike.
Bill Pennington is a non-Carolinian who also has strong feelings for outdoor life in the Palmetto State. Bill grew up in the Ozark region of Arkansas and got interested in science at an early age. His high school research project was rated so highly that he was selected to represent Arkansas in 1973 at the National Youth Science Camp, held annually in West Virginia for the top two high school science students from each state. Through the camp Bill met some staff members who were South Carolinians, and they brought him to Edisto Island for his first-ever look at the ocean. Those staffers still talk about the look of pure joy that came over Bill when a big wave gave him his first taste of salt water; Bill, in turn, still reminds the staff it was then that he fell in love with the Carolina coast.
Bill also got his introduction kayaking and canoeing at the science camp, and he's maintained an interest in paddling ever since--an avocation that he practices often now that he lives in South Carolina. Bill spent several years earning a doctorate in inorganic chemistry and now teaches and runs the X-ray crystallography lab at Clemson University. Living in the Foothills as he does, he's within an hour or less of several prime whitewater rivers, and nearly every weekend he and his wife, Wendy, load their canoes on top of the family station wagon and drive to the Chattooga River on the South Carolina/Georgia border for a day of good, hard paddling.
According to Bill, "Paddling the Chattooga is just plain fun. I enjoy white-water canoeing a lot because of the variety of experiences you go through. It's peaceful on the one hand, frantic on the other--almost a schizophrenic kind of activity! Paddling in fast water is pretty demanding and a physical challenge. I brings me great satisfaction when I'm able to complete such a difficult, strenuous activity."
Bill's breathless account of a canoe run down the Chattooga helps explain why so many people have become involved in paddling whitewater rivers: "Section Three on the Chattooga is a mix of just about everything you'd want from a river, from relaxing pools to really terrifying rapids and everything in between. It's quite exciting to go from the tranquility of some of the slow-moving sections to the gut-wrenching roller coaster effect that you get from charging down Bull Sluice and getting absolutely inundated with water that seems just a few degrees above freezing. Then, just as you get your wind back, on comes Section Four--the first two-thirds of which is really hard-core whitewater, with alternating rapids and beautiful tranquil, pools. The hardest parts are really intense Class 4 and Class 5 whitewater. At the Five Falls, you get this strange feeling just before you round the corner because you can see the river unfold beneath you; it's a really startling sight--the change in elevation is an incredible 50 feet over the span of about a quarter mile. By the time you're at that point, you don't have much choice but to line up the canoe, breathe really deep, and charge the channel. If you're good--and maybe lucky--a couple of minutes later you're soaking wet but still in your boat, your helmet's still in one piece, and you're exhilarated. What a rush!"
Bill also praises the Chauga River that lies between Clemson and the Chattooga. "The Chauga," Bill says, "is a smaller, tighter, more technical river than the Chattooga, mainly because the rapids are constricted and require more maneuvering skills. Although you can't run the Chauga unless there is reasonably high water, it offers a variety of challenges that make it worth the wait."
According to Barry Beasley of Columbia, the Carolina Low Country is also a great place to paddle. As coordinator of River Conservation Programs for the S.C. Water Resources Commission, Barry gets to know the state's waterways very well, and he says there's been a "steady, significant increase in camping and day trips along our blackwater rivers. This is due, in part, to emphasis and publicity on the 44-mile Edisto River canoe and kayak trail." That route goes from Whetstone's Crossroads (at U.S. 21) to Givhans Ferry State Park and takes three or four days, depending on how fast you like to paddle.
"The first part is relatively undeveloped with beautiful bluffs and nice sandbars. From I-95 to Colleton State Park, the trail goes by the steam generating plant and some industrial and residential development, but there are still lots of birds, river otters, and deer--even in broad daylight. The last leg from Colleton is about 20 miles; it runs by several small communities of river homes, then past the mouth of Four Hole Swamp, and finally the river widens at Givhans Ferry. There are many clean blackwater pools all along the way and those--plus the sandbars--make the Edisto one of the greatest places for swimming I've seen in the whole country."
Barry predicts that the next big surge of paddling interest in the state will also occur in the Low Country, but this time at the barrier islands that line the Carolina coast. "The Intracoastal Waterway provides protected saltwater paddling in most weather, and it's really exciting to glide over the waves with porpoises and brown pelicans as your companions. I expect that many people who like to do more than paddle across a flat reservoir will take on the new challenge of dealing with tidal action around the coastal islands."
Courtneylove Jones has been out-of-state for a few years in New Hampshire and Baltimore, but she returned recently to Columbia to help her dad and uncle run The Backpacker. Through this established outfitter, the Jones family is involved with all aspects of ordering, sales, and rental, and they've had ample opportunity to observe and document trends in the backpacking business.
"Happily, we're selling much more now than in the early days, and a lot of equipment is being purchased by younger people. There's no question that folks are getting back to the woods through backpacking as a healthy vacation alternative. Kids are starting in high school in Outward Bound and outdoor education programs; in addition, people of all ages and from all walks of life are becoming more environmentally aware. We gear up lots of people with varied backgrounds. In many cases, they come in not knowing what they want, so we rent them equipment, steer them toward a good hiking trail, and they come back in a few days as excited about backpacking as you could imagine."
Courtneylove waxes poetic about a few hiking spots in South Carolina. "The Foothills Trail along the Chattooga River is just beautiful, especially the spur trail around the fish hatchery and Ellicott Rock. From this easy, rolling trail beside the river you can walk right out onto the rocks in the middle of the channel. Although it's a popular spot, away from the parking areas you don't see many people. In late summer and early fall the best wildflowers are blooming and you can trout fish for breakfast. In early spring there's a potential to be really cool, requiring a fleece jacket even as late as the first of May; the breeze along the river can make it 15-20 degrees cooler on the Foothills Trail than in the Midlands. When I was hiking in New Hampshire and out West I saw some extreme temperature changes. Things aren't quite as dangerous here--but any change in weather can catch you off guard."
According to local backpackers, people outside the state often know more about what's here than residents. For example, the Sierra Club had a national outing at Foothills Trail a few years ago that attracted people from across the country. "Everyone knows about North Carolina mountain trails," explains Courtneylove, "but there are lots of beautiful places in South Carolina that people aren't aware of or take for granted. My dad has been backpacking in many places for 20 years and he says our own state park system is fantastic, with lakes, swimming areas, cabins, and interesting trails. Caesars Head, Table Rock, and even flatland areas like Congaree Swamp National Monument have plenty to offer. The heat and insects in the Low Country are a problem in summer, so the smart thing to do is hike there in winter and go to higher elevations in summer."
"It's never too late to get into backpacking," is one of Courtneylove's credos. "Older folks and small children don't have to go out and cover 10 miles a day because there are plenty of scenic views within one or two miles of trail heads and parking lots." Like many hikers in the Palmetto State, Courtneylove sees backpacking as "a great way to bond within families while getting away from the distractions of television, traffic, and fast foods. The simple, family entertainment you can generate around a campfire is one of the greatest things in the world, and just being out there lets you learn. When you're hiking and camping, you absorb things from the woods that we don't ever want to lose."
Dan Ballard's Newberry College basketball letter is something he's proud of, and he still enjoys shooting a few hoops occasionally in church leagues. These days, however, Dan's work as a Greenville lawyer and father of two-year-old Julianna have led him to the less-organized, independent outdoor activity of bicycling. Dan got turned on to biking in the 1970's by his brother-in-law, and he's had three road bikes since then--each a bit better in quality and performance. Several days each week he rides 30 miles or more around the back roads of the South Carolina Upstate, often with his brothers or professional friends from the neighborhood. Some of Dan's rides have been impressive--such as when he challenged the steep, winding five-mile ascent up Caesars Head or when he rode for 100-plus miles on three consecutive days to help raise money for charities. Often, though, when one of the grandmothers has time to babysit, Dan and his wife Doris simply load their bikes on the car rack and drive to the beach for a leisurely weekend of just-for-two cycling.
"I've always liked all sorts of physical activity," Dan says, "but nothing I've ever done can compare to bicycling the back roads of South Carolina. The Cherokee Foothills Trail--S.C. Highway 11--is as fine a cycling road as you could want, with good pavement and not much traffic. It provides rolling terrain and mountain views that are some of the prettiest scenery imaginable. In autumn the changing colors are observable from a bike, and it's easy to dismount if a particularly colorful sourwood or maple warrants a closer look. One of my favorite trips, though, was a two-day, 240-mile ride I made with eight others from Greenville to Isle of Palms. It was a rigorous test of mental and physical stamina, but it also was a neat way to observe the changes in topography from the Piedmont to the Sandhills to the Coastal Plain."
Dan--like many other cycling enthusiasts, is excited by the prospect of South Carolina expanding its network of rail/trails. "Since so many railroads are abandoning the right-of-way, I think we have a tremendous opportunity to convert some of that roadbed into excellent multi-use trails that can be used by bicyclists, horseback riders, hikers, and nature study groups. It would be wonderful if all the counties in South Carolina could develop rail/trails that would connect at county lines and provide a network all across the state. I have no doubt that such multi-use trails would meet our increasing needs for safe outdoor recreational facilities and would attract plenty of bike riders from outside South Carolina."
Dan Ballard's wife, Doris, a public school administrator in Greenville, is a long-time fan of another riding activity--equestrianism. When she was a teenager, Doris performed so well on horseback she earned blue ribbons and trophies in riding competitions across South Carolina, and she's never outgrown the excitement of saddling a horse and putting it through its paces. These days, Doris lives in the city but gets out several times each year to various stables where she rents or borrows a horse for an afternoon of riding along bridle paths and country lanes. "When I had my own horses," Doris says, "I enjoyed going to shows and having everyday opportunities to ride, but that's not very practical with my current obligations. I still, however, enjoy the exercise that comes with properly riding your mount as the horse jumps or goes through different gaits. There's also a great camaraderie that develops among horse owners and riders, and they all enjoy the sport for slightly different reasons."
One of Doris's favorite places to ride is Hitchcock Woods near Aiken. "I think it's wonderful to be able to visit Aiken for its shops and other attractions and then to be able to find peace and tranquility on a horse right in the middle of the city. The bridle trails in Hitchcock Woods are just right for a leisurely weekend ride--especially for younger folks that are just mastering the art of riding."
TRENDS TOWARD OUTDOOR ACTIVITY
Recent surveys in various parts of South Carolina indicate its citizens are very involved in a variety of outdoor leisure activities. In 1988, for example, York County recreation director Thurmond Bonner mailed interest questionnaires to 515 randomly-selected property owners in unincorporated areas of the county. Of those forms, 161 were completed and sent back--an unusually high return rate (31%) for a mail survey. Walking--mentioned on 96 forms--was the most favored outdoor recreational activity for county residents. Respondents also listed exercising (76), swimming (75), fitness programs and boating (51 each), camping (44), horseback riding (43), bicycling (41), tennis (40), hiking (39), golf (38), jogging (34), plus a number of other endeavors.
In Bonner's estimation, York County's results are comparable to those of other surveys coordinated across the state by the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism. "The completed questionnaires," Bonner says, "indicated that citizens show their strongest preference for outdoor activities that can be done by individuals or small groups. These individual activities--especially those that don't require a lot of expensive equipment--are far more popular than team sports."
Not too many years ago, people enjoying the outdoors by canoeing, backpacking, birdwatching, or in similar ways were thought to be oddballs, but public attitude about outdoor activities is changing nationwide. South Carolina has kept pace with the trend, opening new parks like the one at Jones Gap that includes a 5.3-mile hiking trail along the scenic Middle Saluda River. In recent years, citizens and local governments have developed rail/trails--which are essentially linear parks--along old railroad rights-of-way, and municipalities have pumped money, time, and good planning into places such as Rock Hill's Cherry Park--an award-winning, multiple-use facility that includes landscaped walking paths, picnic grounds, and athletic fields within the city limits.
When European naturalist/explorers such as William Bartram visited our region in the late 18th century, they were astounded by the variety and abundance of flora and fauna. Bartram and his lesser known fellows could not have guessed that great cities would spring up across the state, that nearly three million people would live here in the 1990's, and that folks would ride horses along woodland trails for therapeutic, recreational reasons rather than for basic transportation.
Bartram and great naturalists that came later--Catesby, Audubon, Bachman, and others--were enamored of the Carolina out-of-doors even when there was plenty of it undisturbed. Today, people like Bill Pennington, Carolyn Tutwiler, Dan Ballard, Courtneylove Jones, and other residents also love outside activities--a love that's intensified because nature has provided South Carolinians with precious commodities to be savored and shared with those who are dear to us.
Perhaps that's why these folks and thousands like them count themselves lucky in being able to to enjoy South Carolina's substantial outdoor legacy, why they freely sing the praises of "Carolina All Outdoors."
Bill Hilton Jr. is a science education consultant, writer, naturalist, and Macintosh computer enthusiast who lives in York, South Carolina.
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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this website--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.