It was a Second Saturday and time for another Lowcountry Unfiltered outing. This time we planned to paddle Sparkleberry Swamp. Our group had paddled here a couple of times before, and I’ve been here lots of times, most recently with Dwight and his son Adam back in June. I’ve already written huge amounts about what a magical place it is to paddle. This time we had some newbies with us, and this time we experienced the swamp as we never had before.
Last week Dwight sent me a message asking if I’d be up for a mid-week paddle. Laura would be out of town with family, so I thought it would be a great chance to head down to one of my favorite paddling venues, Sparkleberry Swamp.
The sky was a bit overcast and there was a chance of thunderstorms for the afternoon, but it looked to be a good day of paddling. Laura had an early flight that morning, so I dropped her off at the airport and headed on down to rendezvous with Dwight and his son Adam.
Somehow I found myself taking one last course for certification this summer. I’m taking one of the PBS Teacherline courses online. The course is on Dynamic Media and Digital Storytelling, a subject with which I’m already quite familiar. However, I just needed the course credit.
The course itself is been…so, so. There’s been more time spent on “Educationese” and gobbledy-goop catch phrases that I used to detest, than on actual digital storytelling.
Even so, I did manage to put together a decent (in my opinion) project. My digital story was entitled “A Bridge to Nowhere”, and it’s a summary of a previous blog post about the controversial Briggs-DeLaine-Pearson Connector, a proposed bridge from Lone Star to Rimini across Lake Marion.
The 12 minute video summarizes the history of the Santee Cooper area, and briefly touches on the controversy. I used photographs I’d taken from several paddling trips to lakes Marion and Moultrie, coupled with GoPro video. I filled in with a few maps, newspaper clippings, and historic shots to complete the video.
We’ve tried to put together trips to Sparkleberry Swamp several times this spring, only to see the plans fall through. This time it was going to happen. Laura was out of town, and Dwight wanted to introduce his son, Adam to the joys of the swamp and the greater world of paddling. So, Sunday morning I loaded up the boats and headed southward.
There’s really no such thing as a “quick” trip to Sparkleberry. Even the shortest of jaunts turn into an all-day adventure just because it’s so far away. Even so, our plan was to keep this a shorter trip since it was Adam’s first time out.
I picked up Dwight and Adam at their house in Columbia, then we continued on the trip. We did a quick stop at Mr. Bunky’s just because they had never been there. The general store has opened a second floor with flea market type items and antiques.
We had one more stop before we could hit the water – breakfast at the legendary Battens in Wedgefield.
This is the weekend of the infamous Duck Run. If we had been a day earlier, the swamp would have been crawling with hundreds of boats full of mostly drunk revelers. As it was, things were very quiet at Sparkleberry Landing on this particular morning. There were very few other vehicles about. The weather was great, and it looked like a spectacular morning for a paddle.
Laura was away for a conference, so for the second week in a row it was off for a paddling trip. After last Saturday’s marathon on the Broad River, I was up for something more relaxed. We decided to head back to Sparkleberry Swamp and do a shorter out and back paddle.
This time our paddling group would consist of myself, Dwight, and his two friends Mike and Lisa Webster. Mike is an expert birder, and Sparkleberry is a birder’s paradise. I was looking forward to paddling with someone this knowledgeable about birds.
Unfortunately, none of my paddling companions on this trip have their own boats. Fortunately, I do have enough gear to accommodate several spare paddlers. So, Friday evening I loaded up my truck with four kayaks so I could head out early Saturday morning for the swamp.
A second Saturday in May, and time for another Lowcountry Unfiltered trip. This time our group was heading back to Sparkleberry Swamp, and we had perfect weather and water levels for it. Unfortunately, because there was perfect weather, many of our group had other places to be. So, only four brave souls ventured further into the swamp than we’ve ever been. It was a nearly perfect day in the swamp. (Have I said the word “perfect” enough?)
I got up early Saturday morning and made the drive down to the Sparkleberry Landing put-in. Initially I had the place to myself, with only a few boat trailers. As I unloaded the boats I brought, a couple of guys came up to me and asked about kayaking.
This week is my spring break, and despite the fact that I still needed to go into the office and work a couple of days, and despite the fact that two days of my break would be taken up with dental surgery, I was determined to do some paddling. Dwight was in the same frame of mind, so we had arranged to meet Tuesday morning and take a trip down to Sparkleberry Swamp and test our navigation skills. It turned out to be a fantastic trip, with lots of wildlife and some a amazing wilderness isolation.
Sunday and Monday had been rainy and stormy, and it looked like Tuesday was going to tbe the only day with decent weather. It was cloudy in Greenville when I started out, but when I picked up Dwight in Columbia, and when we got on down toward the swamp, it looked like it the weather gods were going to smile on us. Although it was chilly, we had perfect weather the entire day.
It’s the second Saturday of the month, and that means another trip with my friends from Lowcountry Unfiltered. For this trip we decided to tackle Sparkleberry Swamp, at the north end of Lake Marion. I had paddled it before, but we only did a short trip that day. I was eager to see more, and I was curious how the swamp would look in winter.
Matt and I went back and forth on this trip. What we wanted to do was to hit the heart of the swamp, and paddle from Sparkleberry Landing to Risers Lake. However, there were lots of variables that had to be in place before we could take the trip – weather, water levels, etc. We had several alternatives, such as launching from Low Falls Landing, or doing something different all together.
The Palmetto Paddlers were also planning a trip to Sparkleberry for the same weekend, but they were going Sunday instead of Saturday. I contacted Kate Whitmire, the trip’s organizer, to see if she had any insight into water levels. She pointed me to the USGS water levels website for Pineville on Lake Marion. According to Kate, a reading of 72.09 was necessary for a paddle without portages.
I took my GPS track from my last trip, trip reports from several other paddlers, and placed all the data I could find on the Lowcountry Unfiltered wiki site. Based on this data, I created a GPS file that included waypoints and routes, as well as a Google Earth file with image and map overlays.
John Nelson also shared a great map of the swamp. It didn’t have the detail of the Google Earth data, but it had the “bones” of the swamp, and would prove useful to make sure we were on a major channel. It also provided names for the various creeks and guts that weren’t available in Google Earth.
I printed out copies of John’s map, my Google Earth maps, and a map of the 7.5 minute USGS topo map of the area. I had also purchased a fishing map of Lake Marion. I put all of these in a waterproof map case I had just purchased, and also programmed all of the waypoints into my GPS. I felt like I was ready.
I had been wanting to paddle Sparkleberry Swamp for quite awhile, but always seemed to miss opportunities. I had a solo trip planned for a couple of months ago, but had to cancel when my cat suddenly got ill. I did Jocassee instead. Another trip was planned for a month later, but we canceled because one of our paddlers got ill (we did Jocassee instead.) Several of the Greenville group were staying over after the Pinopolis Lock paddle and heading up on Sunday to paddle Sparkleberry, and this time it didn’t look like anyone was going to get ill, and we were nowhere near Jocassee, so I finally got my chance.
Sparkleberry Swamp, also known as Rimini Swamp, isn’t a natural swamp. It was formed when Lake Marion was created and the forests of the upper Santee River were flooded. Its boundaries are nebulous, depending on water levels and who you ask. Even though it’s not a natural swamp, it has all the characteristics of one. If you picture in your mind what a southern swamp is supposed to be, it probably looks a lot like Sparkleberry.
I spent the night in the town of Santee in a dumpy little motel that deserves its own blog post. Maybe, after therapy, I’ll write that one up. Our group met at the local Bojangles for breakfast, then crossed Lake Marion on I-95, then headed north along the east shore.
This part of the state is about as desolate as it gets. It’s on the lower edge of the Carolina sand hill region, so pine forests and sandy soil are the norm until you reach the actual swamp. We passed through the towns of Summerton and Rimini, which I didn’t even know existed.
When we got to Sparkleberry Landing it was already sweltering. The water was high, and even at the landing the scenery was fantastic. We unloaded the boats and were soon underway.
One of our group of seven had been to the swamp several times before, and served as our guide. It was a good thing. I would have followed the more open channels either north or south, and would have missed the real path through a narrow stand of trees. I was glad I had a functioning GPS and spare batteries.