Our first paddling event of 2019 is in the books. This time, our focus was on the Midlands: Cedar Creek, which is in the Congaree National Park bordering the Congaree River south of Columbia. The national park was part of a bequest made by Francis Beidler, co-owner of the Santee River Cypress Lumber Company, which at one time owned 165,000 acres in South Carolina dedicated to logging old-growth bald cypress trees as large as 20 feet in circumference. Logging operations ran from 1881 through 1915. Cedar Creek, and what is now known as the Francis Beidler Forest near Orangeburg, are the two blackwater creek systems bequeathed by Beidler to the U.S. Government for preservation.
There is a well designed canoe and kayak landing with considerable parking within the national park serving Cedar Creek. At our visit, the creek was quite low, so launching and recovering was a little strenuous because of the steep slope to the water line and also because of the slippery and sticky mud. The volume between the banks is not very large, so that flooding over the banks often occurs. This causes frequent deadfalls to appear, which can obstruct passage unless paddlers are comfortable with portaging through mud and brush.
We saw a large number of swamp tupelo trees forming a very dense canopy over the creek. There were a much smaller number of bald cypress trees, and a few hardy pines right on the banks that were in the vicinity of 100 years old. There were, nevertheless, a large number of cypress knees visible.
This was reptile mating season, and we saw banded water snakes and red-belly water snakes in action. A highlight was the appearance of some good-sized brown water snakes, among the largest of the non-venomous water snake species.
The event began on a foggy morning, with on-the-water activities in sunny and wind-less conditions. A late afternoon front with wind and driving rain came through during the drive back. The adventure was enjoyable, with quite different forest types and animal species than we see in our Upstate riverine wetlands.
Paddling is a great way to see things that would normally be scared away or sped by without notice in faster craft. We have three more events planned this year: Edisto River (June 15), Saluda River (August 17) and French Broad River Headwaters (Sept. 21).