Todd Ballantine knows that the May River is a place of beauty. A place of sand bars, oyster beds and ancient dunes. A place of billowing marsh grass, shore birds and quiet currents.
A place best seen from a kayak.
"When you're down in a kayak, everything is bigger than you," said Ballantine, a naturalist who has worked in ecotourism for more than 30 years. "You're right on the surface of the water; you're getting splashed; you're getting wet. This is a very up close and personal way to learn about the environment."
Ballantine will lead a kayak nature tour on the May River Saturday in Palmetto Bluff. Beginning at 9 a.m., the two-hour tour will take paddlers through creeks and inlets that border the May River marshlands. At various points, Ballantine will stop and discuss the surrounding environment, the river's history and conservation issues that relate to the Lowcountry today.
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He'll have his eye out for dolphins and migratory birds, too.
"My favorite thing is answering newcomers' questions," Ballantine said. "'What's that funny grass over there? Why is the water that color?' I've answered those questions hundreds of times, and everybody deserves a good answer."
Such patience and passion comes from years of helping people work better with the environment. His company, Ballantine Environmental Resources, does consulting on Hilton Head Island and all over the country. After more than three decades on the island, Ballantine and his family recently moved to Boulder, Colo., in order to have a more centralized company location. But he still returns to Hilton Head at least twice a year, he said, to do environmental presentations, service clients and lead kayak tours.
After the Oct. 5 paddle, Ballantine will sign copies of his book, "Tideland Treasure," a field guide to the marshes and beaches of the East Coast. He'll also chat about what everyone saw on the tour and the best ways to preserve the May River.
"It's not high science, it's high experience," Ballantine said. "Seeing is believing, and that's what we do in a kayak trip."