Great Swamp Sanctuary a fun place to spend the day

Special to The Bluffton PacketDecember 5, 2012 

  • The Great Swamp Sanctuary is mere minutes from Interstate 95 and a solid hour from Bluffton. From I-95 take Exit 53 toward Walterboro along Sniders Highway. One entrance to the sanctuary is 3 miles from the interstate at the corner of Ivanhoe Road and South Jefferies Highway. The other entrance is on DeTreville Street. in Walterboro. There is ample parking at both locations. There are no public restrooms, but dogs are allowed and there are no entry or parking fees. The Sanctuary is open year-round during daylight. Details: 843-549-2545

    Wild, Wonderful Walterboro

    Admit it. You rarely stop in Walterboro unless it is a pause on I-95 from an upstate excursion on your way home. If this is the limit of your visit then you are truly missing out. Aside from being a cozy historic town and gateway to the Lowcountry, Walterboro offers shopping and dining downtown and several museums to visit that open the area's history and artistic talents to the visitor. The Colleton Museum is a time capsule of the past, while the Slave Relic Museum houses rare and sobering artifacts of the region's plantation past. The South Carolina Artisans Center showcases folk art and fine craftsmanship. From Duke's Barbecue to the antique shops downtown to the solemn remembrance of the Tuskeegee Airmen monument, Walterboro is a place to enjoy life in the past, present and future.

The next time you depart Bluffton for the leisurely drive to Charleston, or even Beaufort, take a moment to count the bridges you cross over along the way.

As U.S. 17 makes its way over various blackwater rivers and tidal creeks, it becomes clear that the shortest distance between two points is indeed a straight line -- and that line has not always been there.

For fewer than 100 years, this paved pathway has connected the coastal cities and towns of the Lowcountry. Before then, if you wanted to connect the dots between communities, you faced taking a path that brought you out of the marshlands and meandering rivers to a more roundabout route through Walterboro. This path is known as the "Old Wagon Road," and it gives new meaning to the old saying, "You can't get there from here."

Now, the town of Walterboro has preserved a section of this old pathway as part of the Great Swamp Sanctuary. In the lowlands, where the braided streams of the Ashepoo flow past the old town cemetery, a park has been established as a nature preserve. The 842-acre sanctuary is home to a variety of wildlife and miles of hiking and walking trails. Well-sited boardwalks carry you through wetlands filled with cypress knees and tall, buttressed trees, while a paved greenway is excellent to bike or stroll.

Three miles of ADA-accessible trails make visiting the sanctuary an enjoyable event for everyone and are one reason the sanctuary is popular with bird watchers and explorers of all ages. Much of the path is paved, and there is a kayak and canoe launch that allows exploration for paddlers. As the town develops the park, more trails and interpretive sites will emerge and an interpretive center may even be built.

My family and I explored the Great Swamp Sanctuary on a beautiful fall morning. Woodpeckers called in the high canopy above the water, and bright autumn leaves added a color-spangled pattern to the mirror-like waters below. The trickle of water from a beaver dam revealed the presences of this busy resident while tracks of raccoon, deer and opossum could be seen along the sandy trails. Numerous interpretive signs made this visit a learning experience for children and mom and dad alike while a nicely maintained picnic area made a fine place for lunch. A visit to the Great Swamp Sanctuary is an excellent way to spend a morning in the woods or a day of adventure for young and old alike.

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

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