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EXPLORE THE NATURAL SIDE OF MYRTLE BEACH
 
(2016 - Spring/Summer Issue)

Writer: CLAUDIA M. LAROYE



The South Carolina Lowcountry is filled with nature’s treasures.

I paddle quietly in the salt marsh of Murrells Inlet. My yellow kayak slips through the calm waters that cover oyster and clam beds in inches or in feet, depending on the tide levels of the day. An osprey flies overhead while tiny sparrows play hide and seek in the cordgrass that somehow grows in the salt water of this tidal zone.  

I am just 20 minutes from the popular wooden boardwalk of Myrtle Beach. But this quiet salt marsh is a world away from the mini-golf courses, pancake houses and amusement parks of this busy and popular family holiday destination. This part of the Grand Strand is very different.

Murrells Inlet

Murrells Inlet is home to one of the most unique ecosystems in the southeast United States. The plentiful marine food supply and protection of the marsh environment attract many types of bird and aquatic life to the inlet.  I’m not surprised to learn this region of the South Carolina Lowcountry is a popular migration route for many bird species travelling between South America and northern Canada.

Tiny, darting shorebirds, egrets, plovers, large herons and even bald eagles feast on oysters, insects and stone crabs. Many bird species nest in the protective cordgrass, which is hollow and secretes salt from the marsh water in order to grow.

These stands of cordgrass sit in oozing grey layers of pluff mud, a thick and sticky base of organic matter made up of decaying sea grass and former sea life. The squishy mud smells of ammonia, which comes from the bacteria devouring the matter, but it’s not overpowering.

Pluff mud has a vacuum-like sucking power that makes boots, shoes and clothing of anyone stuck in it disappear. I push my kayak paddle a foot or so into the nutrient-rich goo before working it out, bit by bit. I’m glad that my guide Paul and I are gliding in the calm waters above the pluff.

The marsh is very popular with anglers looking for fish and fresh shellfish such as clams, oysters and crabs. The Murrells Inlet marsh walk is filled with seafood restaurants that serve the local bounty in delicious ways. You can find raw sushi, fried fish, fresh oysters, crab cakes and any number of specialties. The marsh has helped make this part of the Grand Strand the “Seafood Capital of South Carolina.” I enjoy my freshly grilled fish sandwich with what seems like a gallon of sweet iced tea. It must be the official (and delicious) state drink.

Huntington Beach State Park

A two- to four-hour kayak tour of the inlet offers a unique opportunity to see the thriving marsh life found next to Huntington Beach State Park.  

This beautiful coastal preserve park features the salt marsh, a large, white sandy beach, a nature centre, incredible birdwatching opportunities, and a chance to visit Atalaya Castle, built by Anna Hyatt Huntington and Archer Huntington during the Great Depression. The Spanish-inspired castle was built to withstand hurricanes, and has a certain concrete, bunker-like feel to it. The wide beach is the perfect place for a picnic, or just a breezy stroll as the ocean waves crash onto the shoreline.

Brookgreen Gardens

The legacy of the wealthy Huntington family in the Lowcountry extends to the magnificent Brookgreen Gardens, just across Highway 17 from the State Park. One of America’s top 10 public gardens and a National Historic Landmark, Brookgreen Gardens is made up of four former rice plantations. It’s celebrating 85 years as a premier sculpture and natural garden, and also has the only accredited zoo on the Carolinas coast.

The beautiful grounds showcase more than 1,400 bronze, marble and aluminum sculptures created by 350 artists. Founding patron Anna Hyatt Huntington made many of them, including the impressive Fighting Stallions at the park entrance.

One of the most impressive features is a grand Live Oak Allée made up of enormous, 300-year-old trees. As I wander beneath their branches, heavily laden with Spanish moss, I imagine what life was like when the trees were planted in the 1700s and the gardens were a working rice plantation.

The wide variety of sculptures decorates the garden landscaping in tasteful ways that encourage frequent photo stops. Different flowers and plants bloom throughout the year so there is always something lovely to see and smell during each visit.

A handy shuttle bus takes visitors to the zoo, home to native wildlife such as river otters, red foxes, alligators and deer. The gardens also feature an informative Lowcountry Museum where panels illustrate the settlement and natural history of the region.

Exploring the natural side of Myrtle Beach opens up a new world of beauty and history in South Carolina. It’s an authentic Lowcountry experience that should not be missed.

Travel Planner

For more information, log onto visitmyrtlebeach.com or call 1-800-356-3016.

WestJet’s seasonal direct flight service operates twice weekly (Thursdays and Sundays), moving to three times weekly (Thursdays, Sundays and Tuesdays) from June 16 through to the end of October.

 
 
 
 
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