Outdoor

Marie McAden

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

Seewee Center offers rare chance to see historic Cape Romain lighthouses

Posted 7/17/2013 3:05:00 PM

Sometimes the journey is as rewarding as the destination. Such is the case with the Cape Romain Historic Lighthouse Tour being offered July 28 by the Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center.

Open to the public just four times a year, the two 19th century structures are on an island off the coast of McClellanville located at the northwest tip of the 29,000-acre Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge, one of the most pristine estuaries on the Atlantic Coast.

The six-mile boat ride to the lighthouse station takes participants through a pristine salt marsh and estuary where you’ll have the chance to view a wide array of birds and marine life, including the ever-popular Bottlenose dolphin.

The tour begins at 9:30 a.m. at the Seewee Center in Awendaw with a slide presentation on the history of the lighthouses. The first of the two structures was built in 1827 to direct sailors away from treacherous shoals that lie just below the water level nine miles southeast of the Cape Romain islands.

Standing 65-feet high, the truncated conical brick structure featured a stationary red light powered by a whale oil wick lamp. Even though the light was aimed right at the shoals, shipwrecks continued to be reported through the 1830s.

A second, taller lighthouse was built in 1857. The octagonal brick structure rose to 154 feet and featured a five-wick oil lamp with a rotating prismatic lens that focused the amount of light that went out to sea.

Up until the 1930s when the oil lamp was replaced with an electrical system, the lights were maintained by keepers who lived on the island year round. In 1947 when coastal navigation technology made lighthouses obsolete, the light was taken out of service. The keeper’s house and several other supporting buildings were dismantled in 1964.

Over the latter part of the 20th century, the lighthouses fell into disrepair. Restoration of the structures — listed on the National Register of Historic Places — began in 1989 and continues today.

At the end of the presentation, you’ll drive out to the boat landing at McClellanville to board Coastal Expeditions’ Island Cat Ferry. On the 45-minute ride out to Lighthouse Island, experienced naturalists will tell you about the area’s estuaries, where freshwater from rivers and streams meet and mix with saltwater from the ocean. The plankton-rich waters support an abundance and diversity of wildlife, including fish, crab and lobster.

Cost of the tour is $45. Boat space is limited, so don’t delay making your reservation. Call Coastal Expeditions at (843) 884-7684 or click here. If you can’t make the July trip, there are two more tours planned for 2013 on Sept. 29 and Nov. 10.