Less Traveled

Page Ivey

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

Cruising in your own back yard

Posted 6/10/2013 2:39:00 PM

Like most South Carolinians, when I think of spending a weekend at the lake, I think of the South Carolina Upstate or the state’s largest two lakes – Marion and Moultrie – near Santee.

I almost never think of my own back yard.

Lake Murray is South Carolina’s third-largest lake. It was created in the 1920s by damming the Saluda River just outside of Columbia to create power for South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. The damming flooded 50,000 acres of farmland in four counties.

In the past 20 years, the lake has seen a boom in construction, both on the water and off. Old marinas have been renovated and new businesses have been created offering visitors new ways to get on the water.

Two large boats, the Southern Patriot and the Spirit of Lake Murray offer sunset cruises, dinner cruises and, in the summer, the cruises are tied to the purple martins’ evening return to Bomb Island in the lake.

Bomb Island got its name during World War II when it was used to as part of the training for fighter pilots in the famed Doolittle Raiders squadron who staged an early air assault on Tokyo. That means there is more than one B-52 bomber under the water there.

There is even an “app for that” to determine what lies beneath the lake. Application developer David Brinkman has compiled historic information about the communities, churches, farms and cemeteries that were flooded when the river was dammed. It includes a number of underwater structures along with their approximate depths for those hearty enough to try to dive to the bottom. (According to DiveBuddy.com, the visibility is poor below Lake Murray at just 3-6 feet for you aspiring deep-water lake divers.) The app, aptly named “Under Lake Murray,” can also help anglers find those underwater fish attractors as well as public boat ramp locations. The application works with GPS-enabled Android-based smartphones and is free.

For those (like me) who prefer my lake fun at shallower depths, there are boating opportunities (both motor- and human-powered), camping locations and other great ways to get out and enjoy the water, especially as the heat of summer approaches.

Dreher Island State Park ecompasses nearly 350 acres on three separate islands. You can access the park by car or boat. The park has five villas (two- and three-bedroom options), lakeside RV and tent campgrounds, nature trails and 12 miles of shoreline.

Other overnight accommodations along the lake include homes, guest cottages and even a converted caboose right on the water. Many of these are listed by Lake Murray Country, Lake Murray Vacation Rentals and Lake Murray Fun. There also are plenty of hotel and motel rooms off the water, but near the lake.

No matter where you stay, you simply have to get on the water. That’s the whole point, after all. The easiest access are the two public access points at the dam provided by lake owner SCE&G. There is a public beach on the Lexington side of the dam. You can bring the whole family for the price of parking one car (about $5) and a free public boat ramp on the Irmo side of the dam. The dam itself, renovated within the past 20 years, is also an attraction and walkers, joggers and bikers can be seen enjoying it every day.

If you don’t have your own boat, you can rent pontoons, motorboats, kayaks or canoes from a variety of vendors at area marinas. Lake Murray has dozens of access points. Lake Murray Country has a great map showing all the places you can rent boats, put in the water, grab a bite and camp.

Pontoons rent for about $200 for a whole day (eight hours), a little more on weekends, while kayaks and standup paddleboards rent for about $50-60 a day.

The beauty of Lake Murray is its many coves that invite exploration for paddlers and those who prefer cruising to the speed of the “big water” in the middle of the lake.

Make sure you are checked out on your motorized rentals and that you keep an eye on the depth finder. Water levels can fluctuate rather quickly and you wouldn’t want to spend your day waiting to be towed after running aground somewhere.

And don’t worry about having to pack lunch, there are at least a half-dozen restaurants along the lake that you can get to by boat.

Also, if you just have a day, keep an eye out for special tours, such as the pontoon tour of homes or gardens offered each year by the Lake Murray Association. The captains are homeowners at the lake and really love showing off what the lake has to offer. Next up is Ladies Day on the Lake, June 18, at Lighthouse Marina.