By Ray Ward.
The road is still dirt. I’ll use that as my excuse for not recognizing the
turn and zooming on past. After I’d passed Eddingsville Road and Main’s
Station, I knew I had missed the turn to Botany Bay. I am seventy years old
and the kind little lady at Main’s felt comfortable calling me “Sonny”.
“Sonny, you jus ben gon a lill to fah. Tun rite rund un go bke to da Allen
AME cut. Das du plas.”
Her soft West African Gullah dialect was enough to make the whole trip
worthwhile. Think Sooliman Roghe and Sierra Leone.
Forty or so years ago some fishing buddies and I had been down Botany
Bay Road several times. We were going to Cap. Ron’s to put the boat in, a
22 foot Aqua Sport, head down the creek to Frampton Inlet and out to
Deveaux Bank to fish. The road was washboard rough but beautiful and
cool with its canopy of live oaks. It’s all still there- ruts, trees, beauty.
Cap. Ron’s is to the right at the end of Botany Bay Road. In our fishing
days we could only turn right. The left side of the road, heading toward the
creek and ocean, seemed mysterious and entry was forbidden. Today the
mystery is gone and entry is open. The washboard ruts are still there for
On April 6, 2013, I turned left off of Botany Bay Road and for my first
time entered the nearly 5,000 acres Botany Bay Plantation Wildlife
Management Area. Just at the entrance is a small but adequate information
kiosk where a map, complete with background information is available.
Some of our Coastal Master Naturalist Assoc. folks had already checked in
and others were on the way. Bill Johnson, our guide for the day, was waiting
for us at a parking area % of a mile away. A new smoother road led through
more pine and oak forest, then open fields to the parking area on the edge of
Bill Johnson is a DNR employee who one day is running a tractor to cut
brush, the next day he may be giving kayak lessons and perhaps the next
day he is leading a tour of the marsh, estuaries, and front dune of Botany
Bay Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Management Area. A Ph.D level, Bill
conies across as a happy man who loves his work.
As a gathering of a dozen or more Master Naturalists with guests we
began our tour over a short path through a pine, oak ,myrtle, underbrush
forest and then onto a man made causeway across the marsh. Typical of
Master Naturalist walks, our progress was not fast. Bill and others led us
into a discussion of local history, history of the causeway, water flow in the
marsh, crabs, grasses, birds, critters, and other topics. As the morning
passed we made way for more and more day trippers. After all at the end of
this trail is a beach, a public beach.
Before the beach there is a narrow strip of maritime forest/dune area.
This maritime area is of special interest because it displays the natural
intrusion of saltwater. The sight of big, old live oaks and lots of palmettos
dead or dying is sad but it is natural. And here as much as can be, things are
Once through the area of salt water intrusion, we were on the beach.
There were the day trippers, many of them, not natural but they have their
needs and rights. The beach itself is natural, has some bone yard
characteristics and many seashells especially whelk.
Bill dismissed us midday as a group and as smaller units we explored the
beach, its whelks and patches of mud/peat. Eventually we ambled back the
marsh path and several of us made out way to the volunteer’s house for a
quiet, pleasant place to have our packed lunches.
Bess Watson is the volunteer’s coordinator at Botany Bay. Bess gave us
permission to make use of what had once been a caretaker’s house for the
private owners. A gentle sea breeze and a shady spot in the yard made an
inviting place to relax and chat with fellow naturalists. Fossils, bones, skins,
colonial and Indian artifacts have been gathered in the volunteer cottage.
You can imagine the lively discussion these items generated at the ending of
our visit. Like children with new electronic devises, adults with old stuff.
Yes, the road into this fantastic gift, Wildlife Management Area and
Heritage Preserve is still dirt and washboard rough. There is a good reason
as I said before. There are 4687.5 acres and over two miles of beach that
attract lots of attention and lots of use. The whole thing is somewhat fragile
and must last from now on. Maybe a little roughness will discourage those
who do not care and remind the remainder of us to handle with care.
What a day. What a place.