Lowcountry Unfiltered: Get a different perspective at Lake Marion

July 1, 2011 

During a hike in the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, Richardson and his family, happened upon not just an alligator but a very large mother gator and no less than 15 babies.

PHOTO BY MATT RICHARDSON

  • Lake Marion is a little more than an hour from Bluffton via an easy drive north on Interstate 95. Access to the lake can be had at Santee State Park or any number of marinas and landings along the lake. Santee State Park is open year-round and is a mile north of the town of Santee on S.C. 6 off Exit 98 from I-95. There is a $2 admission fee each for adults, but there’s a senior discount and children under 15 are admitted free. Camping, cabins and numerous amenities are available. Details: 843-854-2408

    WHAT LIES BENEATH

    Lake Marion is a scenic recreational lake and vital part of the hydroelectric power network for South Carolina and the Lowcountry. For centuries before, however, the Santee River and the lands along the modern lake were a highway into the heart of the state and a vital part of the commerce and life of the Carolinas.

    Native Americans built temple mounds and paddled canoes along its length. Later, plantations lined the shore of the river and flatboats plied the waters from the coast to fall line towns hauling cotton and other goods. During the American Revolution, both sides fought for control of the river.

    In 1781, General Francis Marion, the lake’s namesake, lay siege to Fort Watson at Scott’s Lake and many battles were fought along the riverbank. The rising waters of the lake inundated countless ferry crossings and historic sites, though many are still available to visit. Fort Watson is located on the Santee Wildlife Refuge and is open to the public. This is one of many interesting places along the shore of this beautiful lake that is worth visiting.

    There is nothing quite like a day on the lake. Those of us who live near the sea can sometimes forget the particular brand of recreation that can be found on placid inland waters. True, one can do pretty much the same things on the lake as can be done on the May River but there is something about being away from the pull of the tide and sting of salt that creates an entirely different experience.

    One such recreational gem is nearby Lake Marion. This body of water is well-known to most any Carolinian as the twin lanes of Interstate 95 pass right over the main body of the lake. A wide blue vista greets travelers as they pass over the sweeping arc of concrete that marks the long-forgotten main channel of the submerged Santee River. Sunlight glitters off the water and the curious sight of cypress trees fill the distance, giving things a sort of "bayou" effect. Fishing and boating reign supreme on the lake.

    Lake Marion was formed in the 1940s as part of the Santee Cooper Hydroelectric and Navigation Project. This New Deal-era undertaking created more than 100,000 acres of lake, inundating forest and farmland alike, providing power to the state and creating a new destination for vacationers and day trippers alike. Much history lies submerged beneath its waters, including the homesite of Revolutionary War General Francis Marion whose name adorns the lake. However, it is the value of what was formed on the lake's surface that attracts thousands of people every year.

    There are several ways to access Lake Marion including private and public landings and marinas, a vast wildlife refuge and a well-equipped state park. Santee State Park was created in 1942 to provide public enjoyment of the lake. At a little over an hour from Bluffton, the park is an excellent place to enjoy the outdoors and offers camping, hiking, boating and much more. From the wild swampy northern end of the lake to the wide open southern end, the waters of Lake Marion are worth a visit any time of year. The state fishing record for largemouth bass was set at Lake Marion. Other fish in the lake include striped bass, white perch, white bass, crappie, channel catfish, Arkansas blue catfish, shellcrackers and bream. Be sure to purchase a freshwater fishing license through the Department of Natural Resources.

    Recently I spent the day on Lake Marion with a group of friends that form a sort of local kayak club. We launched our boats from Carolina King Marina located on the eastern side of the lake near Summerton. For a small fee we parked at this friendly marina that also has a general store and overnight camping and cabins available. Beautiful scenery and wildlife greeted us from the very start of our expedition. Our paddling alternated through deep tunnels of cypress trees, across vast sunlit ponds of water lilies that seemed to have the effect of snow-blindness on our eyes, to the open lake itself. Our goal was to circumnavigate Persanti Island, a loop of about seven miles and along the way we spotted nesting and hunting osprey, patrolling alligators and water that teemed with fish. Pleasure boaters and fishermen cruised the waters and the shallow shoreline provided welcome breaks from paddling in the hot summer sun. Our talk as we returned to the landing and the highway to Bluffton was filled with reflections of the day and plans to return as soon as possible to explore this wild and scenic waterway again.

Bluffton resident Matt Richardson enjoys taking day trips with his family and exploring the Lowcountry. To see more pictures from his adventures, go to www.flickr.com and search on the username "greenkayak73." He can be reached at greenkayak73@yahoo.com.

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