As we enter the swamp, we nose our kayaks between cypress trees and into the dark world beyond. Almost immediately we hear crashing and splashing as something large has been disturbed by our presence very close by. Our hearts stop momentarily. What could it be? A huge alligator? Sasquatch? Soon we spot the white flag of a deer making its way quickly from us through the thigh-deep water. Sparkleberry Swamp has just said good morning to us on a day filled with wildlife and adventure.
Wildlife abounds in Sparkleberry Swamp. Where or what is Sparkleberry? The vast bottomland forest at the confluence of the Congaree and Wateree rivers stands amid the flood created by Lake Marion. Since the 1940s this swampy region has formed a habitat that is near-wilderness in its remote feel. Hunters and fishermen brave the trackless woods in jonboats year-round in search of game. In recent years, with the advent of GPS technology, more people venture in with canoes and kayaks to explore this wild place.
And what wilds you will experience. When you enter the swamp, you will be overcome by the primitive "otherness" of it all. The cathedral-like cypress and tupelo trees rise like living columns with a watery floor of polished smoked glass. Sparkleberry Swamp has few places to access and fewer pathways to follow. Direction quickly can become a 360 axis, where the only constraint is time and destination.
Sparkleberry must be experienced by boat, and it seems to be a world created for kayaks and canoes. Colored blazes on trees mark routes, but many are known only to those who painted them. A GPS, a good guide or a combination of the two, is a must for any visitor -- whether there for a few hours or all day.
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I recently spent a day in Sparkleberry Swamp with friends. Before the day was out we would see more deer, including a spotted fawn, alligators, night heron and a mother wood duck with a trail of ducklings. Overhead, owls hooted, woodpeckers trilled and the nattering call of the Day-Glo yellow Prothenotary warbler taunted our cameras for a clear shot.
I had visited once in winter when all was airy and light beneath the trees. The deep spring in Sparkleberry is a time of mystery and beauty with something new behind every tree and swirling the quiet waters beneath your boat. No matter when you go, the changing seasons of Sparkleberry Swamp will amaze you.