Another great day trip is Old Santee Canal Park in Moncks Corner, 30 miles from Charleston in Berkeley County. The 195-acre park is situated at the site of historic Stoney Landing Plantation along the Cooper River, where a 22-mile canal was opened in 1800 for the purpose of connecting to the Santee River and giving upstate South Carolina a direct water route to the sea. The entrance to the park's interpretive center is built in the shape of a canal lock, and the original water route featured ten such locks in bringing flatboats filled with cotton from higher elevations to the sea-level of the Cooper River. Besides this fascinating piece of South Carolina history, the park also features a replica of the famous CSS David, a unique semi-submersible torpedo boat built on the plantation during the Civil War. The 19th century plantation house is still intact at the park as an exhibit as well, and there are miles of hiking trails along bluffs rising from the river. Next door, the Berkeley Museum is worth a visit with its varieties of genuine artifacts from the days when Stoney Landing was a rice plantation worked by slaves. Period tools, building materials, eating and drinking utensils and embroidery are among the wealth of artifacts from both slave cabins and the plantation house. This section of the Cooper River leads to the 1930's Santee-Cooper dam that replaced much of the old canal, where today wildlife abounds in a fresh-water habitat that attracts ospreys, cormorants, herons, egrets, and white tailed deer. For information on the park, go to www.santeecanalpark.org.
As early Spring awakens the flora and fauna of coastal South Carolina, a great day trip for nature lovers awaits at Francis Beidler Forest in Dorchester County. Deep in the heart of the famed Four Hole Swamp, this pristine stand of ancient bald cypress trees towers majestically over a serene wetland landscape. The 16,000 acre Francis Beidler Forest is owned by the National Audubon Society, and is accessible by foot along a 1.75 mile boardwalk, as well as canoe and kayak paddling trails.
With cypress trees standing over one hundred feet above, and gently flowing fresh water below, the forest is a dazzling sensory experience. Thousands of conical “cypress knees” project from the black waters that are darkened by the organic matter through which the flow seeps, and the air is filled with sounds of creatures who flock to this natural sanctuary. Pileated woodpeckers tap on lofty limbs, while prothonotary warblers sing their hearts out below. Alligators rip the air with mating calls, while crawfish and slider turtles gurgle from beneath the surface. Ducks, deer, amphibians, fish and waterfowl all call Francis Beidler home, and its immense peacefulness has a wonderfully restorative quality.
Francis Beidler Forest is open Tuesday-Sunday from 9am to 5pm. It is located in Harleyville, approximately 45 minutes from Charleston near Harleyville, SC. For more information visit www.beidlerforest.org.