Lowcountry to the limit: Caw Caw Interpretive Center
By Claire Vaughan
The Caw Caw Interpretive Center is a property rich in history and wildlife. Located about 30 minutes from downtown Charleston, this park embodies the diversity of the Lowcountry’s ecosystems. With eight walking trails covering around six miles, one can truly absorb the varied scenery that this park has to offer. From the tidal marsh to the cypress swamp and woodlands, each area on the property has a unique atmosphere and an abundance of wildlife.
It may be difficult to choose which trail to venture down, but my favorite is the Habitat Loop. This is by far the most diverse trail because not only is it the longest at around 3.6 miles, but it circumnavigates the entire property, allowing visitors to view each Lowcountry setting.
To begin, the trail leads you down a quiet forest road, shaded by surrounding trees. Sunlight peeks through the leaves and there is a pleasant breeze while you follow the walkway. As you continue, the road narrows, the trees become thicker and you become immersed in wildlife. You may hear the soft sound of the cicadas and birds in the trees as you progress onward. Gradually, the trees to your right become sparse and you are able to view the peaceful marshlands. The trail leads you next to the glassy creek and you can see the water winding through the tall marsh grass. You may see a great egret flying just above the grass or wading through the water. There are several benches perched beneath the canopy of trees allowing visitors to admire the beautiful scenery of the marshland.
As you continue, the pathway becomes wider and the trees give way to the stunning landscape of the wetland. The trail continues on an elevated walkway surrounding the freshwater dikes in a semicircle, allowing you a front row seat to the incredible ecosystem. The old rice dikes have been restored and are now kept as a habitat for the native wildlife. As you look to your left, you will see the dikes, which look like small ponds and are surrounded by grass and shrubbery. To your right, you are greeted by the extensive marsh area, shaded partially by a line of trees. From this position, you are able to notice the smooth cordgrass and needle rush plants that compose the grass section of the marshland.
You may also notice birds such as the great blue heron and the wood stork, which often linger in the welcoming atmosphere. The path endures and the trees on the right become thicker and shelter the pathway. About halfway around the semicircular path, there is an elevated wooden chair facing the water dikes, encouraging you to climb up and see the property from a bird’s point of view. If you look closely, sometimes you are able to see an alligator or two before continuing.
The trail leads you on to cross over a small bridge before the dikes leave your vision and you are welcomed into the shade of the great live oak trees. The path is wide and the sun is barely visible as the branches of the oaks cover the sky. The branches are ornate with beautiful Spanish moss. Its silvery gray strands blow gently in the wind as you draw closer to your next destination.
This final section of the trail is the cypress swamp. The boarded walkway allows you to walk inches above the glassy, greenish water. The tall bald cypress trees and water tupelo trees shoot up from the swamp around you and shadow the path. In the water, you may find a baby alligator or a yellow bellied turtle peek its head above the surface. There is often green moss creeping up the trunks of the cypress trees as well as Spanish moss hanging from the branches. The winding boardwalk makes you feel as though you are walking on water and allows you to see the wildlife up-close-and-personal. If you listen closely, you will be able to hear the prothonotary warbler’s sweet sounds and the barred owl ask who cooks for you.
When the trail is coming to a close, you will have one last stretch of wooded path to return to the parking area. Walking the trail takes approximately one and a half hours if you enjoy stopping to take pictures and to admire the scenery.
Overall, Caw Caw Interpretive Center is one of my favorite places to visit because I love the variety of scenery that it provides. It is a true representation of the environment of the Lowcountry. Whether you come for a long walking trail or a short hike to an amazing landscape, Caw Caw is one of the best places to see the true essence of nature in Charleston.
Caw Caw Interpretive Center
Public Property, owned and operated by Charleston County Parks.
5200 Savannah Highway/Highway 17 South, Ravenel, S.C. 29470
Price of entry: $2.00 per person.
Daily/weekly hours: Tuesday-Sunday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.