A walk in Lee State Park lets anyone enjoy a removal from the rest of the world. The stillness – with only the sound of the Interstate 20 traffic in the distance, as well as birds singing, and wind blowing through the branches and Spanish moss – might sweep any visitor away, just as Hurricane Hugo left its wrath of a path inland through here in 1989.
It’s these peaceful moments that might be most memorable, when everything else in the world can stop and everything is perfect for an instant, and this is an ideal place to feel and absorb them.
Travelers to and from Columbia and points west have an easy-off, easy-back-on-the-road stop, just a five-minute drive north from I-20, Exit 123, about a half-hour west of Florence, just east of Bishopville. A Sunday afternoon walk here in mid-March, before springtime rains brought the green back across our region, was no exception, with two round-trip walks on the park’s boardwalk, which leads 0.2-mile, one way.
Strolling through this portion of this 1,500-acre park gives an up-close view of this hardwood wetland forest in the floodplain of the Lynches River – which later drains into the Great Pee Dee River, leading to Georgetown’s Winyah Bay.
From the boardwalk, various songbirds added their own later afternoon charm, lending their respective calling cards: Eastern bluebirds, Northern cardinals, tufted titmice, a nuthatch crawling down a trunk, and a resonating wren louder than all of them. A crawfish from beneath the deck either heard our voice or felt the vibrations of our steps on the wood planks, dashing beneath the leaves in the marsh.
At the boardwalk's end – only about a fifth of a mile’s stroll – on the last of the two benches, a skink, a thin lizard – young and maybe about 6 inches long, with a blue tail – seemingly played hide and seek with us, with no harm to the reptile or us, for we were the guests there.
Various signs full of figures and pictures shed light on why this forest is framed by so many trees without tops, or crowns. These looks reflect a legacy from Hugo. never mind the 100-mile distance from its landfall north of Charleston, but after all this time, the effects stand, adding their own part in the park's charm and identity.
Winds velocity recorded at Shaw Air Force Base, about 30 miles southeast, reached 109 miles per hour, justifies why so many treetops snapped across a 500-acre swath of Lee State Park. Look up, however, and notice much regrowth that has sprung in 26 1/2 years since then.
Although many of the topped-off trees died, as one sign denotes, they provide safe havens for six kinds of woodpeckers: downy, hairy, red-headed, Northern flicker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, and the biggest of all, pileated.
Look down as well, and notice how these wetland trees have developed trunks flaring outward, a key adaptation so they’re made to stand in water.
Pick up a map to see the three hiking trails in proximity of the park office, on the south end, one of which goes by one the park’s two artesian springs, near a seasonal swimming area and two picnic shelters in a scenic setting. A campground, with equestrian and family sections, has 48 spots in all. Riding trails, stalls, and a show ring also are available for horseback riders.
Lee State Park is one of 16 S.C. State Parks built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, besides these other sites: Aiken, Barnwell, Cheraw, Chester, Colleton, Edisto Beach, Givhans Ferry, Hunting Island, Lake Greenwood, Oconee, Paris Mountain, Poinsett, Sesquicentennial, Table Rock, and the first of the whole bunch to open, Myrtle Beach, on July 1, 1936.
Contact STEVE PALISIN at 843-444-1764.
If you go
WHAT: Lee State Park
WHERE: From Interstate 20, about 20 miles west of Florence, take Exit 123 north for one mile, then turn left into park.
OPEN: 9 a.m.-sunset daily (office, 11 a.m.-noon daily)
HOW MUCH: Free admission, and donations welcome
ALSO: Special programs –
▪ “Bike with a Park Ranger,” 10 a.m.-noon April 23, for ages 8 and older (and all minors accompanied by adult), for 5 miles on dirt and gravel Loop Road, including stop for drink from artesian well. Free. Registration due April 22 at 803-428-4988.
▪ “Hands-on Nature: Leaf Print T-shirts,” 10-11 a.m. May 14, designing wares to bring home and wear. Register by May 12 at 803-428-4988, for $10, or $5 for anyone bringing his or her own shirt.