'Undiscovered South Carolina' a two-lane expressway to a sound mind

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comMarch 16, 2013 

Blame it on the glass-bottomed boat.

That tourist attraction in Florida, which dates to 19th century, helped set in motion the American vacationer's never-ending thirst for the spectacular.

Tourists grew to expect something more astonishing every year. Before long, it wasn't good enough to see an alligator. It had to be an albino alligator.

South Carolina's tourism leaders seem to be calling a time out. The state Parks, Recreation and Tourism department is focusing a new advertising campaign on what it calls undiscovered South Carolina.

It will try to move more people onto the back roads and into the small towns. It will trumpet places that aren't considered spectacular tourist destinations, but might be interesting enough to get a bigger pinch of the state's $15 billion tourism industry. The advertising contract was won by BFG Communications in Bluffton.

I doubt this will be part of the advertising campaign, but to me, it's a mental health issue. It's depressing to ride interstates. I look at the three-hour trip on back roads to my parents' house in rural Georgia as cheap therapy. I'm going to write a self-help book about it one day called "The Road To Mama's."

My neighbor Jim helped hone this treasured route. You have to navigate the metropolis of Estill, with the star atop its water tower and angle parking in front of Wiggins & Son Hardware. And there's Waynesboro, Ga., the bird dog capital of the world. But in between are glorious longleaf pine savannas, Boll Weevil Plantation, Georgia's oldest welcome center, and "the man who has everything." His yard has new clutter every trip.

Only on back roads will you find things like the "UFO Welcome Center" in Bowman, or Lone Star Barbecue & Mercantile in Santee. Lone Star is in four old frame buildings that once were country stores. The pickin' parlor is open to musicians on some Friday nights, and on Saturday night you can eat Southern delicacies to the sounds of bluegrass bands, like the Pine Hill Ramblers, or maybe the Black Bottom Biscuits.

One of my favorite attractions along South Carolina's back roads is the acre of land deeded to God Almighty outside Blackville, where people have for centuries brought their buckets to the free-flowing Healing Springs. And Blackville boasts Miller's Bread Basket, a Mennonite restaurant that's worth the trip from anywhere.

The Edisto Island Serpentarium is a rare find, the culmination of more than 50 years of Lowcountry snake hunting by brothers Ted and Heyward Clamp.

If you want to get in the real slow lane, you can paddle down the Edisto River and stay overnight in a tree house.

South Carolina's back-road wonders are well documented in books like "South Carolina, A Day at a Time" by Caroline W. Todd and Beaufort native Sidney Wait, and "Lowcountry Daytrips" by William P. Baldwin III of McClellanville. Another good one is "South Carolina," part of the Compass American Guide series, written by Henry Leifermann with photographs by Eric Horan of Beaufort.

The problem with books about back-road attractions is that businesses close, people die and things change. You have to be wary. It's kind of like the guy who zips up in a sports car to ask the farmer for directions, and the farmer drawls, "Turn left where the old oak tree used to be."

Closer to home, we all have our "undiscovered" favorites. It might be Pruitt's Grocery in Beaufort, steak night at Harold's Country Club in Yemassee, picking tomatoes at Dempsey Farm on St. Helena Island, a Bluffton oyster roast, graduation at Parris Island, a sand bar, sitting in the breeze at the Kate Gleason Memorial Park on the Beaufort River, or taking the Parish Church of St. Helena's Annual Spring Tour of Homes coming up in April.

You have to look at this with a healthy attitude. If the state wants to tell all our secrets, so be it. It's good therapy.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

The Island Packet is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service