Savannah River Nature Trail
Secret spot off the beaten path.
Story + Photography by Michele Roldán-Shaw
From the little community of Garnett — post office, package store and some railroad tracks — you take a left onto the Augusta Stagecoach Road. Pass Brighton Country Store with its rocking chairs and old-timey gas pumps out front, but be sure not to run over any country dogs. Hang another left down a stately avenue of oaks — watch for adorable fox squirrels — and you’ll soon find yourself at one of the Lowcountry’s best kept secrets.
My first visit I convinced several girlfriends they’d like to go on a swamp walk. In search of information, we bumbled into the old wooden hunting lodge and felt as though we’d stepped back in time: trophy heads, doors opening onto rooms with rumpled quilts over the four-posters, and a team of black grandmas in the kitchen cooking soul food.
The adjacent Wildlife Center had a tank of live baby alligators that we could handle to our heart’s content. After picnicking under an oak, we started down the nature trail, an old roadbed that went all the way to the Savannah River; but the day heated up and we never made it. I was enchanted by the undiscovered feel of the place, the massive old growth cypress trees and miles of dirt tracks through low bottom and piney woods.
My next attempt was in July and they hadn’t cut the grass —there was no way I was venturing into that chest-high snake and chigger fest. Then last November I returned after 5 inches of rain; my expedition partner and I only made it around the first bend before we hit a flowing river of swamp runoff. I wanted to press on but he flatly refused. A few days later I was back, alone and prepared to get wet. My mission: reach the Savannah at last.
I made the first crossing barefoot, wading through 18 inches of cold, tea-colored water. The second I managed to skip through in my ankle boots. At a third I made the tactical error of trying to hop over on cypress knees with a scavenged stick for support; the stick snapped and I fell in. I was enjoying the walk immensely. Turning sweet gums and bald cypress trees created the best fall colors in the Lowcountry. Every now and again I flushed flocks of wood ducks out of the swamp with a whir of wings, a splash and a protest of squeaky chirps. I had the place entirely to myself.
Finally, I reached the crossing of all crossings: a rushing thigh-deep torrent with little whitewater rapids. Who knew the Lowcountry had such a thing! Despite a creeping numbness in my feet, I found another stick and forged ahead. But beyond that, the water’s chosen course was the roadbed itself, in a spreading floodplain that might extend clear to the Savannah and contain all manner of leeches and reptiles. I stopped to ponder. Crickets overlaid the sound of the deluge. Something big crashed into a deep place up ahead, far bigger than a duck. To proceed, I decided, would be to enter a real wilderness.
“Oh well,” I thought, reluctantly facing about. “Next time I’ll buy some waders.”
How to get there
Location: Webb Wildlife Management Area, Garnett
Mode of transport: Foot
Directions: From the James W. Webb Wildlife Center, sign in at the check station and proceed down Bluff Lake Road until it dead-ends at a gate. Beyond the gate is the trail.
If you go: Check SCDNR for scheduled hunts; the area is closed on those dates. There is no hunting on Sundays at any WMA land.