Great Swamp Sanctuary
Great Swamp Sanctuary boardwalk

What’s in a name? Much, it seems. Names give a place meaning. So it was, on our drive through Walterboro, South Carolina, that we saw a small sign pointing down a road next to a historic cemetery. It said “Great Swamp Sanctuary.” Intrigued, we made plans to visit the next morning.

I tried to find information about it online but could only discover a city webpage about the city’s preserve, which said it had more than 4 miles of trails. No details about the swamp were offered. Yet I recalled my trips through the Lowcountry on US 17. For a goodly stretch of the drive, you traverse a massive swamp.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary trailhead
At the trailhead behind Live Oak Cemetery

As Walterboro calls itself “The Front Porch of the Lowcountry,” it’s a higher, drier route along Alt US 17. And as if to confirm that assumption, our hike from the preserve’s trailhead led us to an interpretive sign about the old Charleston to Savannah Road, which went right through this swamp. We followed the trail – on the old road – into the swamp, turning back when we saw an intersecting road up ahead.

Charleston-Savannah Road
Discovering the Charleston-Savannah Road (John Keatley)

It turned out there was another trailhead just off Alt US 17, and here the signage also said “Walterboro Nature Preserve.” We walked right into the swamp along a well-maintained and broad boardwalk.

Great Swamp Sanctuary canal
One of the tannic canals (John Keatley)

Perpendicular canals with tannic water had been carved decades or more before to drain the swamp, and levees could have provided narrow-gauge access for loggers to remove the cypress. For there were few old specimens. Those that were had hollows in their trunks or were double-trunked.

George B Hartzog Jr. Trail
Start of the George B Hartzog Jr. Trail (John Keatley)

Reaching a sign for the George B Hartzog, Jr. Trail – honoring the man from this region who was director of the National Park Service when we were kids – we traversed the boardwalk/levee loop at a higher rate of speed, the mosquito swarms increasing in proportion to the number of puddles in the swamp. The walk back to the trailhead was a bit more relaxed.

Great Swamp Sanctuary
Braided waterways in the swamp (John Keatley)

Known as the ACE Basin – for the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers – this part of South Carolina is where floodplains merge, feeding the estuaries of the Lowcountry. In fact, it’s from this very swamp where the Ashepoo River rises.

Waltersboro was the southernmost spot where the first wagon road was built in Colonial times between Charleston and Savannah. Why? We’ll hazard a guess that a more southern route would be far too swampy.

The Colonial Road
The Colonial Road. What an adventure! (John Keatley)

Now here’s the twist. It seems that the folks in Walterboro, having built such a beautiful showcase of this natural feature, decided a few years back that it wasn’t a good thing to call it what it is– a swamp.

According to a news article we found online, “The Great Swamp Sanctuary will be no more. Walterboro City Council members moved Monday to rename the sanctuary to the “Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary.”

Their rationale? In part, “The word ‘Swamp’ has negative connotations, especially to our more urban friends.”

Well, folks, that’s not your market for nature-based tourism. We love swamps (especially ones with boardwalks) and our fellow nature-lovers do too.

Great Swamp Sanctuary trail
Every swamp is more fun with boardwalks (John Keatley)

Embrace your heritage! You have a lovely swamp here with a rich history. Sure, it will be wet part of the year, and there’s certain to be mosquitoes, but a swamp by any other name is still a swamp. And if it weren’t for that sole remaining “Great Swamp Sanctuary” sign, we wouldn’t have stopped to discover the good work your city has done in preserving this land and making it accessible for trail users.

Learn more about this 800-acre, mostly swampy preserve, now called the Walterboro Nature Preserve

Learn more about the ACE Basin