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Beech Hill Trail Bridge Repairs at Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary

Exploring the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary just got a little bit more interesting, with restored access to the Beech Hill trail. Readers may recall a report from December sharing how winter viewing in the swamp is much improved with the leaves off the trees. Also in the report was how part of the bike path was closed due to regular maintenance repairs to the boardwalk. The Beech Hill Bridge repairs are now complete and City of Walterboro Parks Director Ryan McLeod wants Colletonians to hike into and enjoy the interior Beech Hill loop.
On a cool February morning, with 50-degre temperatures and light cloud cover, I met up with McLeod and Parks Superintendent Riv Temple near the Beech Hill Trail. The closest parking option is the kayak launch parking lot at Jeffries Blvd. and Ivanhoe Road, right by the new sign for the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary. A short walk along the wide shoulder on Ivanhoe, provides a safe path to the Beech Hill trail, which has is paved to improve bike riding. It’s less than a half-mile walk to the Beech Hill Bridge, but what anyone can see is that the swamp begins to change over into a climax forest that remains in pristine condition.
“We are excited to say that the Beech Hill Bridge is back open,” said McLeod. “The work we did here is part of a new maintenance plan where each section of the boardwalk will be checked on a 5-year rotation. One thing that is different from the past is that we used screws in the wood repair, which will allow easier access in the future for spot repairs. The old plan of using nails is a little more haphazard since nails can pop up under seasonal temperature stress to the wood.”
“We worked with local folks at Corbett’s to help choose No. 2 treated wood for our repair work,” said McLeod. “We replaced deck boards, 2 X 6 joyce boards, 2 X 8 support boards, and support sections underneath the ramps to the bridge. This work was a high priority for our team and we put in over 500 labor hours to make this bridge sturdy and safe. The Beech Hill Bridge is the gateway to the lesser known Beech Hill boardwalk loop.”
Not long after crossing the bridge McLeod pointed out a paper wasp nest hanging high up in the crown of a hardwood tree. Observations into the natural world like this one are highly likely this deep into the swamp. The Beech Hill side of the swamp is roughly 200-acres with one mile of frontage along Ivanhoe Road. The Beech Hill loop is well off the road and into the heart of the Sanctuary. This area has strong water flow moving through ample channels, open vistas complete with Cypress tress, and there is much less damage from Hurricane Matthew present.
“I would guess that the Beech Hill loop is underappreciated because it is off the beaten path,” said McLeod. “The hurricane force winds ripped at the edges of the Sanctuary pretty good, but this interior section is mostly undisturbed.” While there is a large tree uprooted every so often along the trail, is it nothing near catastrophic damage, and is more aptly seen as nature’s way of thinning the bottomlands. We came to two observation areas that extend out from the boardwalk, and they each offer a great place for birding.
One observation I made was the presence of three wood duck boxes along the Beech Hill loop. It was clear that the boxes are not being maintained, not necessarily in disrepair, rather they are not being cleaned out in February in order to welcome woodies looking to nest. Simply placing clean pine shavings in the nesting box sends a signal to the hen that conditions are suitable. However, nest box access requires wearing chest waders and keeping safety in mind.
The Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary could be an ideal place to locate more wood duck boxes, but annual maintenance would need to follow. Surely a local group could champion this cause such as Friends of the Great Swamp, the Walterboro chapter of Ducks Unlimited, or even the Clemson Extension 4-H Club. The City of Walterboro would welcome this type of community interaction and support to make the Sanctuary thrive with waterfowl for all to enjoy.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (357 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com