The ACE is the land within the horseshoe formed by the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto rivers. Carolina Bays pock the northern section of the region1, but along the coast, waterways twist and wind, branching and spreading into the land like tree roots. It is, as the Marine Resources Research Institute calls it, a land of "sea islands, marsh islands, and barrier islands that are interlaced by estuaries, extensive salt marshes, intertidal areas, and oyster reefs."1 The result? Islands spaced beside one another like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in progress. In an odd coincident, in places, the topography somewhat resembles this canopy of pine that we spotted along the trail:
Within this "Sea Island Complex"1 is Hunting Island. Once a hunting ground for private citizens3, this lush barrier island is now a state park, and it was the first stop on our ACE tour.
Hunting Island SP has several hiking trails. Two main trails form a long oval, with smaller trails connecting the two at various intervals. From the Visitor's Center, we started on the Maritime Forest Trail, a mixed forest of palmettos and pines, moss-covered oaks twisted with time, with a forest floor covered with what looked like fan palms.
About a quarter mile into the hike, we cut to our left, to the Lagoon Trail. This path runs parallel to a man-made lagoon, where we spotted a pelican flying overhead. A scenic stop on this very scenic route.
We continued on toward the cabins. While at the Visitor's Center, I learned the park no longer accepts reservations for the cabins, as the erosion so prevalent in the coast is quickly claiming the area around the structures. In Coastal South Carolina, Terrance Zepke indicates Hunting Island is eroding both at the northern tip of the island, and at the central beach. Before reaching the path that would take us to the cabins, we cut to the right, crossed the road, and took a tour of the Marshwalk.
Once past the gazebo, we continued on to the tidal creek, where we watched egrets soar over the marsh.
We doubled back and took the Maritime Forest Trail, searching for wildlife as we hiked back to our car. SC's state park site states Hunting Island has "an array of wildlife, ranging from loggerhead sea turtles to painted buntings, barracudas to sea horses, alligators, pelicans, dolphins and deer, raccoons, Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and even the rare coral snake (I did not know that). We saw an abundance of squirrels, a pelican, and a lone woodpecker. But the forest was a sight to see, and we enjoyed our time on the trail.
But our time at Hunting Island wasn't over. We couldn't leave without seeing the lighthouse.
According to Zepke's Lighthouses of the Carolinas, this structure was built in 1875, and was moved once to avoid erosion. Today, visitors not terrified of heights can walk to the top of the lighthouse for a small fee.
In addition to hiking, boating, bike riding, camping, picnicking, kayaking, or spending time on the beach are other activities one can enjoy at Hunting Island State Park. For more information, including entrance and camping fees, go to www.southcarolinaparks.com/park-finder/state-park/1019.aspx
3. Coastal South Carolina: Welcome to the Lowcountry, Zepke Terrance (Pineapple Press, 2006) p 217