My 10-year-old daughter, Lyric, couldn’t help but laugh at the sign.
“Ashepoo,” it read.
Poo. Get it? Poo.
We were heading back to Myrtle Beach after a day at Hunting Island State Park in Beaufort County. The island was once a hunting preserve in the 19th century for Lowcountry planters and was “Vietnam” in “Forrest Gump.”
My wife Tracy, PhD educator that she is, told us the name was likely linked to a Native American tribe.
My 13-year-old son Kyle laughed along with his sister.
Me, the dutiful dad, briefly interrupted our trip and pulled into the Ashepoo gas station’s parking lot so my 10-year-old could get a close up photo of Ashepoo to later share her giggles with friends.
My wife was right, of course. We found out later that Ashepoo was a subtribe of the now extinct Cusabo, who once lived in what is now the Charleston area long before European settlers made it to these shores.
We never would have gotten that belly full of laughs — and history lesson — had we not committed to traveling South Carolina over the next year to visit each of the 47 state parks. We’ve long since crossed Huntington Beach and Myrtle Beach state parks off the list, with multiple trips. We took the kids to Charles Towne Landing, site of the first European settlement in South Carolina (1670), which now includes an animal forest nature preserve, a replica trading ship and antebellum antiques and historical markers, a few weeks ago.
On our way to Hunting Island, it was rainy and we were tired. We almost turned around before making it to Hunting Island. Had we done that, we would have never been introduced to the Ashepoo. (There was also an Ashepoo plantation and is an Ashepoo river.)
We would not have crossed the “Harriett Tubman Memorial Bridge,” spotted a classic drive-in movie theater playing the very modern “Furious 7,” driven past a place called “Chessey.” The image of a bedazzled sculpture of a mermaid on the side of the road would not have gotten stuck in my head, and we wouldn’t have discovered that a seafood place an online restaurant review told us the locals in Walterboro loved would take us to an empty plot of land with trees and grass, forcing us to settle on Wendy’s for dinner.
Had we not pushed forward on our journey through a maze of unfamiliar state roads, we would not have been reminded that Beaufort County is known for the work of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and “American Idol” star Candice Glover.
More than that, we would not have experienced Hunting Island, a place my wife and I hadn’t heard of before our state parks idea — even though we are native South Carolinians.
I’m not sure which is the park’s best feature, the state’s only publicly accessible lighthouse from which you can see 40 milesinto the ocean and surrounding areas on a clear day, or the island’s unspoiled 5 miles of beach.
My daughter, the girl who was despondent because we didn’t turn around about an hour into the three-and-a-half hour drive, didn’t want to leave Hunting Island.
“I could live here,” she told me shortly before happily breaking a series of small tree branches over her knee like a WWE wrestler and hauling various sticks and calling them her “staffs.”
My son said he had gained a new appreciation for trees after we were able to climb on many of the fallen ones, felled by years of crashing ocean waves and natural erosion that exposed their complex series of extensive roots.
My wife walked off alone in deep thought as I wondered what the place would look like at night, far away from the “light pollution” sky watchers often complain about. It would be a great place to watch falling stars, I thought.
Another visitor seemed to think it was a great place to pretend to be on the set of “Naked and Afraid.” He dis-robed — though was kind enough to keep on his skivvies.
Hunting Island has that kind of natural pull on you. I would have felt like a criminal if I had chunked the piece of gum in my mouth onto the ground. There were no cigarette butts, no plastic bags blowing in the wind, no litter of any kind.
My wife and I had never seen that part of South Carolina, even though we’ve been here for more than four decades and the island attracts more than a million visitors a year.
We can’t wait to see what else we’ll find as we try to discover about our native state for the first time.