Marie McAden



Sparkleberry Swamp is a prime paddling destination in South Carolina

Posted 3/15/2012 10:14:00 AM

Thanks to horror films like “Swamp Thing” and “Attack of the Giant Leeches,” swamps have gotten a bad rap. Even if you don’t expect to be attacked by slimy monsters or blood-sucking worms, you might think swamps are nothing but muddy wetlands filled with mosquitoes, snakes and spiders.

I’m here to set the record straight. These important ecosystems can be as stunning as any mountain vista or oceanfront setting. In South Carolina, we have one of the most beautiful varieties of these wetlands — the ancient bald cypress and tupelo swamp.

I’ve paddled a number of them from the Lowcountry to the sandhills. I recently added another one to my favorites list.

Sparkleberry Swamp is a submerged cypress and tupelo forest on the north end of Lake Marion in South Carolina’s Santee region. The best launching site for kayaks is Sparkleberry Landing in Rimini.

I recently made the trip with a group of local kayakers and canoers. From the boat ramp, we paddled through a narrow canal to a large open lake area. At low water, the canal is not navigable. You could portage through the 1,000 feet of slippery, slimy mud, but that could prove to be a messy, arduous task. Best to wait until there’s enough water to paddle through it. Fortunately, such was the case when we made our trip in February.

With the exception of an occasional john boat, the swamp is a secluded wonderland with an abundance of wildlife. It’s not unusual to see great blue herons, white egrets, owls, woodpeckers and Prothonotary Warblers.

Oh, and did I mention alligators. It was too cold the day we paddled Sparkleberry for the cold-blooded reptiles to be wandering about, but I have been told they’re around in the warmer months. Not to worry. They don’t like two-legged visitors — even those in kayaks. If they see you, they’ll slink into the water before you can shout, “alligator!”

Also, included on the “slightly scary” list of swamp inhabitants are snakes. Didn’t see any of those either. But the best way to avoid them is to stay away from low hanging branches.

More of a nuisance are the submerged stumps you may run across — literally. Most of the time, they’ll just bump you off course. I got hung up on a couple of them, but with a few good strokes and a little wiggling, I was quickly on my way.

During the course of four hours, we paddled about seven miles, crossing several lakes and venturing into a few side creeks. Lunch was enjoyed on an area of high ground overlooking Sparkleberry Lake.

For me, the highlight of the trip was watching two ospreys circling above their nest. Clearly, they were not charmed by the uninvited visitors paddling below. With spring just around the corner, they did not want to be distracted from their nest-building responsibilities.

Sparkleberry’s beautiful moss-draped cypress trees are amazing — but they’re also confounding. It’s easy to lose your way through the forest — and bread crumb trails won’t work here.

At the least, you’ll need a mapping GPS. Better yet, consider taking a guided tour with one of the local outfitters. Among those offering trips to Sparkleberry Swamp are Blackwater Adventures and Nature Adventures.