South Carolina parks offer “a bit of everything”

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ELIZABETH WOODS SC Farmer Magazine

From mountains to beaches, and lakes to rivers, South Carolina’s state parks have it all.

In 1940, Woody Guthrie wrote a classic American folk song from his hotel room at Hanover House in New York. His now iconic lyrics, “This land is your land, this land is my land”, are sung across the country at patriotic events and programs. Although we are not physically entitled to enjoy every acre of land across the United States, many notable people have worked hard over the years to protect and conserve designated land for all to enjoy.

In the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office as the 32nd President of the United States of America. He immediately began sketching out plans for programs to create jobs in the country’s forests, parks and rangelands. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) not only put tens of thousands of men back to work, but restored the American landscape by planting trees, reseeding pastures, and protecting wildlife habitats. To encourage citizens to get out and enjoy the country’s natural resources, the CCC has also focused on building and maintaining access roads and building campgrounds. This initiative laid the foundation for state and federal conservation programs.

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South Carolina adopted the Civilian Conservation Corps and reaped the economic and restorative benefits of the program, leading to the development of the first state parks. Sixteen parks were established in the 1930s across the state. At the start of World War II, when CCC employees went to fight in the war, the parks were transferred to the Forestry Commission.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that South Carolina leaders saw the need to invest in resources to promote tourism in the state. The South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism (PRT) was established in 1967, and state parks have been housed there ever since.

South Carolina is home to 47 state parks covering some 90,000 acres, from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Atlantic Coast. The state acquired land through several different routes. South Carolina purchased land to designate as a park. The state has entered into long-term lease agreements with utility companies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to use the land in accordance with federal licensing rules that require the landowner to provide recreation along the whitewater released by the dam and freshwater coast.

Finally, South Carolina has secured land through private organizations such as The Open Space Institute, The Nature Conservancy, and Land Trusts across the state. The South Carolina PRT works with land trusts that find and purchase properties, then place them under a conservation easement before handing them over to the state park system for management. Much like a conservation easement designated for agricultural purposes, the SCPRT is granted access to conservation lands with a restriction that designates it for public recreational purposes.

The park system is growing as South Carolina continues to acquire properties and hopes to see several new parks open in the coming years.

Thinking about new parks, you might also be wondering what was the first park in South Carolina?

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When asked that question, Paul McCormack, director of state parks, laughed.

“That’s the big debate,” McCormack joked. “Cheraw State Park was the first park purchased, but Myrtle Beach State Park was the first to open.” Nonetheless, both parks are very proud to be an integral part of the launch of the parks system in South Carolina.

Paul McCormack has dedicated his career to South Carolina State Parks. McCormack grew up with a love for the outdoors, spending time camping, hiking and fishing. He attributes his affinity for the outdoors to his involvement in the Boy Scouts throughout his childhood. His hobby turned into a career when McCormack realized his love for teaching people about the great outdoors. After earning a degree in education, he landed his first assignment with South Carolina PRT as a day-use park ranger in Hardeeville. From there he was stationed at Myrtle Beach State Park, then at Paris Mountain State Park before serving as a regional manager at 14 parks in the Sandhills area. Four years ago, McCormack was named director of state parks for South Carolina, a position he still holds today.

The Park Service is committed to two primary goals: to conserve and protect our state’s natural resources and to provide opportunities for outdoor recreation and education. Sharing a common goal with the agriculture and forestry industries, our state’s conservation lands also focus on conservation as a top priority.

The SCPRT has a resource management section which houses a forester, a biologist and an archaeologist, who work on the management of timberlands, wildlife habitats and historic sites. McCormack spoke of his commitment to resource restoration, which is achieved by actively managing approximately 20,000 acres of forest land through thinning, clearcutting and replanting of trees. They also manage land for wildlife habitat and promote healthy growth of existing wood using prescribed burns or chemical applications, depending on the property.

“If you’re going to manage these resources,” McCormack remarked, “you have to ask yourself, ‘what is the end goal?’ Well, the end goal is for users.

He illustrated this by talking about an endangered species, the red cockade woodpecker, which inhabits Cheraw State Park. SCPRT staff actively and intensively manage this park to create a healthy environment for woodpeckers. This management plan also included the creation of a network of trails offering visitors the chance to see a white-faced woodpecker in its natural habitat.

Edisto Beach State Park has a turtle program and hires part-time workers who work with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) during nesting season to monitor sea turtles and their nests along the parks coastal.

State parks are also home to other wildlife, some of which can cause problems. The parks face overpopulations of deer, alligators and Canada geese as well as destructive animals like wild pigs and beavers.


“As a large landowner, we have all of the same traditional issues as any other landowner,” McCormack said, “and we need to work with specialists to find solutions to those issues.”

Fortunately, these issues do not prevent visitors from taking advantage of the recreational opportunities at each park. The landscape across the state is diverse, which provides an array of activities for guests.

“One of the great things about South Carolina is the geography of the state,” McCormack said. “You can get a bit of everything.”

He even joked about the convenience of being a small state and said if anyone was aggressive they could jump in the car and watch the sunrise at Myrtle Beach State Park and then drive to the park. of Table Rock State and hike to the top of Table Rock to watch the sunset.

“We have a beautiful coastline and some of our parks are on the best beaches in South Carolina,” McCormack said. He described the natural beauty of Myrtle Beach State Park’s half-mile beach, including the live oak trees you can see from the beach that are sculpted naturally by salt spray and wind. He said that when he was stationed there, visitors used to ask how they pruned the trees to look like this and he would say, “Well, God did that.”

Saving the beaches gives locals and tourists the chance to see an undeveloped coastline.

Our state is also blessed with accessible lakes and waterways.

“When it comes to lakes, we have some of the best man-made lake fishing,” McCormack said. Almost all state parks have some sort of water feature. This access allows visitors to get out of motorboats, kayaks or canoes for water activities and fishing.

Thirty-five state parks have campgrounds that offer everything from RV campsites with full hookups to primitive hiking spots.

The camping industry, McCormack noted, has really taken off, especially in the past two years. Many parks offer cabins for rent, and Hickory Knob State Park has the only lodge in the state where you can rent a hotel-style room for your stay. There truly is an accommodation option for everyone. You can also enjoy championship golf courses at Hickory Knob State Park and Cheraw State Park.

South Carolina is home to beautiful hiking trails. Whether you want to climb 2,000 feet in elevation in the Blue Ridge Mountains or hike flat terrain near the coast, you can find a trail that matches your caliber. The park system also hosts a variety of educational programs, from guided hikes to experiences with sea turtles. Its employees are dedicated to helping educate visitors about each park’s unique landscape and wildlife.

South Carolina’s parks protect some of the state’s natural wonders. McCormack recommends scheduling a moonlight paddle at Cheraw State Park or a hawk watch at Caesars Head State Park, visiting Landsford Canal State Park to see the Rocky Spider Lilies Shoals – the largest display in North America – trying to spot a Painted Sparrow at Hunting Island State Park, or catch an Oconee Bell in bloom at Devils Fork State Park.

The state parks that dot Palmetto State are each unique and beautiful, and you’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite. McCormack agrees. “I can’t say which is my favorite national park,” he said with a smile. “It’s like being asked which of my children is my favorite. But I tell people that their favorite park should be the one they can access the most. Get out and enjoy the beauty and resources our parks have to offer.

SC Farmer magazine is a publication of the South Carolina Farm Bureau.

“Humans and nature must work hand in hand. The imbalance of nature’s resources also imbalances human life.”

—Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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