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.
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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.