The Southern beauty of Stono River County Park
By Claire Vaughan
A picture is worth a thousand words. Images courtesy of the author.
About 25 minutes from the heart of downtown, the Stono River County Park is a recent addition to the parks scene of Charleston. Established in 2020, the park has many advantages such as clean restrooms, bike racks, a large parking area and picnic spots. These amenities are only supplements to the main attraction of this park: its walking trails. Around 1.5 miles long, these well-kept pathways wind through the trees and onto a long marsh boardwalk.
Although 1.5 miles seems like a short distance, the ecological variety that encompasses this walk is tremendous. Views range from tall forest trees to landscape views of the marsh and the Stono River. However, if you seek a longer path, the park is near the trailhead to the West Ashley Greenway, which I wrote about in October’s Mercury, a walking trail that continues towards the Ashley River for about eight miles.
Both the location and the natural environment of Stono River County Park make it perfect for bikers, walkers, runners and outdoors types. Its versatility in function, whether you are going for the purpose of exercise or for nature observation, is representative of our growing, changing community here in Charleston; this park is accessible for people of all walks of life to experience what our diverse ecosystems in the Lowcountry have to offer.
When beginning this journey, I was greeted first with a smooth, freshly paved pathway that winds through tall trees such as the southern red oak and the pond pine. This area is mainly shaded, but sunlight still manages to extend its warm glow through the leaf canopy high above, forming patterns of sparse light on the dark ground. I passed only a few people: a family with a baby stroller, an elderly woman walking with determination and a father and daughter on bicycles. It seemed as though everyone I saw was united with one common goal: separating from the busyness of life to enjoy the peace of these 1.5 miles.
Claire Vaughan, Ed Vaughan and Mason Hammond, walking trail experts.
Before I knew it, I came upon the long boardwalk. Stepping onto this platform felt as though I were walking on the marsh itself. The salty ocean breeze picks up here, and the path is illuminated with glowing sunlight. The vast views of this section encompass the marsh, the Stono River and the John F. Limehouse Memorial Bridge with cars looking like tiny ants traversing its arc. Water from the Stono River seeps into the Spartina marsh grass, creating little rivers in the landscape. If you look closely, you might see fiddler crabs burrowing into small holes in the marsh bed; I was even lucky enough to see a graceful snowy egret prancing through the pluff mud. I would argue that this boardwalk is one of the best-kept secrets of the Charleston area; with low populations of visitors and incredible views of wildlife and panoramic scenes, the walkway is a beautiful way to experience the environment of the Lowcountry.
On the other side of the boardwalk, there is a quaint island with a gravel pathway circumnavigating it. The trees again surround the trail, but they are shorter and form a tunnel of winding branches and green leaves. There are several places in which the tunnel of trees breaks, opening up to more intimate views of the water and marsh area. At the end of this short loop, the trail returns to the boardwalk and you are on your way back to the parking area.
Although short, this trail essentially embodies three separate environmental scenes ranging from tall oak and pine trees to sharp marsh grass and clear skies and finally to short, branching shrubbery. Venturing out to the Stono River County Park is extremely beneficial to those looking to experience the peaceful, stunning and engaging natural settings of the Lowcountry.
Date established: March 2020
Address: 3580 McLeod Mill Road, Johns Island, S.C. 29455
Status: owned and operated by Charleston County Parks
Hours: 7 a.m.-5 or 8 p.m. (closing time dependent on month)
Fees: $1 per person