Cape Romain NWR Delights Visitors with Abundant Animal Life and Natural Wonders

Great Island Surprise
Mark G Stith
Southern Living

Sure, pirates' treasure chests could be buried on one of South Carolina's barrier islands. But they would hold mere trinkets compared to the rich natural beauty of Bulls Island. One of three islands within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, this area is part of 64,000 acres of pristine scenery between Charleston and Myrtle Beach.

Chris Crolley, a naturalist and tour guide, has been leading visitors to this protected, undeveloped island for the last 10 years. On this cool day, he's taking a couple on their first visit. They're thrilled by the endless show of abundant wildlife. Getting to Bulls Island, about a 30-minute boat ride, is half the fun.


Treasure Island
"Look," Chris says, quickly pointing off to the left of the boat, maybe 20 feet away. "There's a mama dolphin coming up, and she's got her baby with her." They whoosh a quick spray and then gracefully arch their battleship-gray bodies, flip their tail fins in synchrony, and slip into the water. "You see that great egret over there on the shoreline, don't you?" Chris asks. We crane our necks to see the graceful bird partially hidden in the light tan spikes of the spartina grass, just before we dock. Once there, we tie up and get ready to tour Bulls Island.

This remote area is accessible only by boat. The designation as a national wildlife refuge helps protect the island in its natural state, adding to the sense of getting away from it all. Except for our voices, the only sounds we hear are the hissing of the marsh grass in the wind and the chirping of yet-unseen birds.

Chris can't wait to show us all the other natural attractions. We walk past 11 large alligators, lazing along the shore. "They're not interested in you," he says with strong emphasis, although we don't stick around to find out. We're trying to reach the beach before sunset.


Fascinating Forest
The crowning moment comes when we finally approach Boneyard Beach, obscured until the last moment by scrub oaks, palmettos, and other dense growth engulfing the dunes. Our jaws drop open when we see the stunning sight: a forest of massive, bleached-gray trees, some upright, some toppled over willy-nilly, stretching as far as we can see. Enraptured by this frozen forest, we run our fingers along the smooth, muscular wooden skeletons.

"What happened to them?" we ask. "Is it something man did?"

"No, it's not what most people think," Chris answers. "The natural change in the island's shoreline exposed this forest, leaving it out on the beachfront. I love showing it to people for the first time and seeing their reactions." He knows we, like any who visit here, will remember this stunning scene forever.

 

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