I’ve been wanting to kayak the Bates Old River oxbow lake ever since I saw some intriguing photos of the area on Facebook. Dwight, Alan, and I scouted the area this summer and talked about paddling here when it got cooler, but we just hadn’t gotten around to it. Billy Easterbrooks posted on Facebook that the conditions were perfect for paddling the area, so on the spur of the moment I decided to join him for Saturday’s paddle.
Bates Old River was formerly a part of the Congaree River known as the “big meander.” The river apparently followed this course as late as 1825 when Robert Mills’s map of Richland County was published. The meander was cut off, leaving an oxbow lake.
This area is rich in history. It was the site of several Revolutionary War battles, including nearby Fort Motte and McCord’s Ferry. McCord’s Ferry is indicated on the Mills Map. The first ferry across the Congaree was a private affair operated by Joseph Joyner. John McCord came from Ireland and settled in the area in 1749, taking over operation of the ferry in 1757. This was a strategic crossing over the Congaree. During the Revolutionary War McCord’s widow did whatever possible to stymie the British.
The widow McCord apparently shared in the quality of her mother, Mary Russell, and was a woman of ability and action. She and her son, Captain John McCord of the militia and Lee’s Legion, were ardent Whigs, and the ferry in 1780-1781 became known as a place where British officers and troops met trouble. The ferry-boat was always on the other side or out of commission; and if the British were obliged to spend the night, their horses always “strayed.”Early Settlers of Calhoun County
Eventually the meander was cut off from the main route of the Congaree. J. M. Bates established a new ferry over the new course of river and the oxbow lake took on the name of the Bates family. However, even today Highway 601 over the Congaree is known as McCord’s Ferry Road.
On to the kayaking trip…
This would be the maiden voyage of my new Malone kayak trailer. I left Greenville early on a chilly Sunday morning. The trailer did great! I’m going to look forward to using it on future trips. The access to Bates Old River is on a very rutted, tricky dirt road and I was worried that it wouldn’t make it, but it did. I was a bit skeptical, though. The access road was flooded so that I couldn’t drive all the way down to the normal launch point. I did find a wide spot where I could turn the trailer around without having to back up.
These photos show a comparison between the landing in flooded conditions, such as what we had on this day, and normal levels
Billy arrived shortly after I did. He is a fellow geocacher and kayaker who has been a Facebook friend for years, yet we had never met in person. Billy operates Carolina Outdoor Adventures, which runs kayaking tours through Congaree National Park and down the Congaree River. He’s paddled this area many times, and I was grateful for his knowledge and experience. Since the water was high we would be able to get back into the back areas of the creek.
The water was high enough that we could launch from the access road. Rather than paddle through the main creek bed, we started out in the flooded areas, paddling under the 601 bridge.
With the flooded conditions, the area upstream of Highway 601 was very reminiscent of Sparkleberry Swamp. There were large cypress trees and Spanish moss everywhere. On this cold December morning it was starkly beautiful.
Billy led me upstream through a weaving path to a point he called Forks Swamp, based on a name from a local trail head. I’ve seen other names on maps that refer to the area as Bate’s Swamp, but “Forks” seems appropriate as this is where Bates Old River ends and Running Creek and Singleton Creek converge. We continued on upstream on Running Creek.
Billy pointed out several interesting landmarks. There was a cypress tree with a huge burl that completely surrounded the trunk. There were other interesting trees, such as younger cypress growing out of old trunks and other features.
This entire area was added to the Congaree National Swamp in 2018. However, bluff on the north bank of the creek is still owned by a local hunt club. There were a couple of dirt roads leading down to landings on the creek. They had some very creative No Trespassing signs.
The creek had been quite wide due to the high water, but it opened up even further. We had reached Big Lake on Running Creek.
On the edge of the lake we spotted an aluminum canoe. It appeared to be in good condition. It was probably tied up for use by the hunt club, but flooding had filled it with water.
There was a bit more swamp with some cool trees, then the creek opened up into another lake, “Little Lake”. In reality, it’s about the same size as Big Lake.
Little Lake was as far as Billy had been upstream on Running Creek. We decided to push on a bit further since everything was so open. The scenery remained pretty much the same and we could have gone much further, but we decided to turn back.
Continued on the next page…