Sparkleberry Swamp, December 9, 2001
For the last Palmetto Paddlers trip of 2001, we went to the Sparkleberry Swamp, also known as the Santee Swamp. This quiet place at the headwaters of Lake Marion is a gem with slow, twisty creeks and tall cypress trees. Unfortunately, it's also the location of the planned $75 million "Bridge to Nowhere," intended to connect the tiny towns of Lone Star and Rimini. Links: [ 1 | 2 | 3 ].
We put in at from big parking area with a concrete boat ramp, located northwest of Rimini off SSR 51 and down a dirt road. We had a nice turnout for the trip, 14 paddlers scattered among six kayaks and four canoes. Some crazy weather here in the South gave us 60 and 70 degree temperatures in early December, perfect for paddling.
The water was so low that you could see dark rings around the cypress trees several feet above the water. The boat ramp fed into a lagoon, with a shallow path connecting to the rest of the swamp. This path turned out to be so shallow that we had to get out and walk. Bring a rope to drag your boat through these shallow spots; the ones who did had an easier time of it.
Once past the portage, we entered some relatively wide and open water. It was a bit tricky though as once you got moving quickly, you'd ride up onto a hidden cypress stump and get stuck. Not long after we entered a narrower area, walled in by beautiful, large cypress trees.
Things look a lot alike in the swamp, and it's easy to lose your way. We took a wrong turn to the north, and ended up in an open water area with nowhere to go. So we turned around and headed south, soon picking up the trail. Every once in a while the group would get stopped by a tight spot where you had to cross a barely-submerged log.
In the heart of the swamp, there were very few places to stop and get out. We eventually found a high piece of ground to stop and get lunch. To make room for all of our boats to land, I circled around to the far edge of the ground and tried to get out. My first step was into mud and I sank a couple feet, getting soaked. The shore wasn't much better where I was and I continued to wade through the mud until I got back to the area where everyone else had intelligently parked. We enjoyed lunch with some warm sunshine and conversation.
We paddled on for a while longer past elephant ears, duckweed, and even a few small flowers. There wasn't much visible wildlife activity except for a few small birds here and there. Soon we turned around and headed back, once again through the tight spots, and another try at the muddy portage before we returned to the put-in.
I brought the GPS along for recording our path through the swamp. The only problem then was finding a decent map to plot the path on, as the standard GIS vector data didn't really look good. Eventually I was able to find a USGS topographical map of the area, and after a lot of frustration, I got a pretty good plot of our trip. Click here to see a detailed map and click here to download the track data.
Despite the sticky mud and low water, Jen and I had a great time for our first visit to the Sparkleberry. Thanks to Rembert Milligan for organizing the trip!