Location: Ravenel, South Carolina
Webpage: South Carolina County Park
General Description: Originally bottomland hardwoods and cypress swamps, the land was turned into extensive rice plantations in the early 18th century. With nearly all of the labor provided by West African slaves, these rice plantations were the economic engine that drove coastal South Carolina. Dikes were built to control water flow into and out of the rice fields, many of which are still in evidence today. Since the decline in rice production in the late 1800s and the loss of slave labor following the Civil War, all of the rice fields have returned to more natural conditions over the last century and a half. Today the old dikes are still used to control water flow to flood the old fields in the winter and drained in the summer to provide excellent wildlife habitats for birds, alligators, snakes, and mammals. The Caw Caw Interpretive Center also uses the old dikes to provide walking trails through the different habitats which include bottomland hardwood forests, maritime pine forests, freshwater cypress-tupelo swamps, brackish swamps, and tidal marshes. With over 6 miles of trails including a 240 foot boardwalk over the cypress swamp, visitors are able to view wildlife in natural conditions and learn about the history of the area. Also included are the remains of a 1900 tea plantation that only lasted a few years.
1) For a county park, the Caw Caw Interpretive Center was a great find. It was only a few miles from the campground we were staying in or we would probably have missed it. The Visitor Center is small, but contains some interesting information about cultivating rice and the dependence on slaves.
2) The boardwalk across the cypress-tupelo swamp should not be missed. It is long enough that you get the feeling of being suspended just over the water and get a great sense of the beauty of the swamp without having to slog through the water. They also provide a small overlook with two cypress rocking chairs that provided a great opportunity to sit and quietly watch the swamp. Since it was late fall when we visited the weather was cool and the mosquitoes minimal. The leaves were beginning to turn, falling from the trees and floating on the water.
3) The old rice fields were interesting and although we did not see much wildlife in the middle of the day, they did provide some extended viewing chairs that got you above the vegetation along the edge of the fields.
4) The only thing left of the tea plantation are the proliferation of the tea plants in the understory. Following their interpretive sign that identified the tea plants, it was amazing how much of the undergrowth was tea after 100 years!
5) I would recommend this park for a nice walk through history and nature and for only $1 a piece, you can’t beat the price.