Story + Photography by Michele Roldán-Shaw
A lot of action in a very small package — that’s how I would describe our newest nature preserve. After hearing of its recent grand opening, I wondered how excited I could possibly get about 162 acres with a nature trail less than a mile long. But I was pleasantly surprised by Widgeon Point.
The first marvel was a bald eagle nest right next to the parking lot, where two juveniles mildly objected to my presence by flapping clumsily out onto a pine branch. With scruffy blackish-brown feathers and no white heads yet, they looked more like buzzards; but there was no mistaking the ID, thanks to a sign cautioning visitors not to disturb them. I had arrived just after dawn — a good hour for wildlife — and the inhabitants of Widgeon Point were living up to their warning signs. A gator in a little rainwater pond was right where the notice said he might be, and I was discouraged from approaching, feeding or harassing him. (I obeyed at least the last two, but had to close a certain distance just to figure out whether he was a submerged log.)
On the banks of another pond I spotted something that was either a large bird of prey sitting motionless on the ground with its piercing gaze turned toward invisible fish in the water, or a stump of wood. It took many different angles of approach in the dim light to confirm he was a bird, until at last he swooped away indignantly as I tried and failed to capture a good shot. Out in the marsh I found a tiny purple crustacean that I reckoned to be a baby stone crab, but I’m not really an expert. Then there were the things I couldn’t see, but only hear: hidden frogs, ospreys high overhead, a dolphin blowing in the creek, migratory songbirds on the flyway.
In fact, the starkest contrast at Widgeon Point was in the sounds. Up by the parking lot the highway noise was a huge detractor; peace and quiet is the trade-off for proximity and ease of access. As I proceeded further, this gradually faded and the ambient sounds of nature took over, but this was intruded upon again by what seemed to be distant artillery fire from Parris Island across Port Royal Sound.
Widgeon Point could have contained up to 130 houses, according to the Trust for Public Land. This national organization with a mission to create parks and protected lands partnered with Beaufort County Open Land Trust to complete the tiny haven on Lemon Island, which has been improved with a picnic pavilion, restrooms and a bird blind overlooking the Broad River. An existing rustic barn was renovated for event rentals and can be reserved through the Beaufort County website. It’s our good fortune that the salt marsh and forested hummocks of Widgeon Point did not become a gated-off personal pleasure park but remain the domain of us all. Its limited scope made me feel like a kid again, exploring nooks and crannies of my own backyard and finding grand adventure.
From the cradling branches of the best climbin’ tree I’ve found in a long time — a beautifully formed Eastern red cedar on a shell bank at the furthest reach of the point — I closed my eyes and merged for a few moments with my habitat. Then I got back on the highway and returned to the rest of my life.
That is exactly what Widgeon Point is good for: a stopover, a respite, a moment of pause in the fray. Next time you go to Beaufort, plan a few extra minutes to check it out!
How to get there
Location: Lemon Island
Mode of transport: Foot
If you go: On Highway 170 towards Beaufort, take the last right-hand turn before the Broad River Bridge. Take a picnic. Bring your dog but mind the gators. Look for (but don’t disturb) the bald eagles in their nest atop a big pine tree next to the parking lot.