Our stop near Santee, South Carolina was supposed to be a stop of convenience, speeding us on our way North toward D.C. where we plan to help find adventures with our grandson on his Spring Break. However, we had a free day, and the weather was beautiful (mid-70'sF, no wind, sunny). It turned out that the Santee National Wildlife Refuge was only a few miles away, and our research suggested that we could find an interesting paddle there.
So today we drove over to the Visitor Center to get more information on a paddle we wanted to do from the Cuddo East Unit, around the Plantation Islands Wilderness Area. Surprise: when we got there, the Visitor Center was closed indefinitely. We were walking back to our Jeep when one of the Refuge staff hailed us and asked us if we needed help. We explained our goal, and he gave us a second piece of bad news -- Cuddo East is closed on Mondays. This wasn't disclosed on the website, so we had to regroup. Luckily, the staff member paddles and is familiar with the entire area. One of his suggestions was to paddle from Pine Island in the Refuge. We decided to accept his suggestion -- and we were not disappointed! This paddle was very unique and offered us encounters with dozens (yes, dozens) of osprey. More on that anon.
Santee National Wildlife Refuge is a 15,000-acre refuge alongside Lake Marion, an impoundment of the Santee River in South Carolina. The refuge contains the Santee Native American mound, which is the farthest eastern known representation of the Mississippian culture. Later built upon this same mound was the Revolutionary British Fort Watson, which was taken by Francis (the "Swamp Fox") Marion and his Brigade in April 1781. The refuge is especially important because its many wetlands support migratory birds. Within the refuge, which consists of mixed hardwoods, cypress and pines, marsh, old croplands, impoundments and open water, is a large diversity of wildlife, including bald eagles, and even the peregrine falcon. More common are deer, raccoons, bobcats, alligators, teal, wood ducks, Canada geese, mallards, pintails, red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, and wild turkeys.
The Refuge has several separate units. Our paddle was in the Pine Island Unit. The paddling launch was simple and primitive -- just a beach with a parking area. The water seemed to lead into a dead end of reeds and cypress: