Adventure on I’on Swamp Interpretive Trail

By:Marie McAden


I love a trail that offers a bit of history along with some healthy exercise. I’on Swamp Interpretive Trail in the Francis Marion National Forest fits the bill.

This 2.5-mile trek takes visitors through the remnants of a 200-year-old rice plantation once part of the lucrative “Carolina Gold” trade. Up until the 1850s, South Carolina and Georgia produced 90 percent of the nation’s rice.

This particular tract was part of Clayfield and Witheywood, large inland rice plantations owned by Colonel Jacob I’on. Today it serves as habitat for a wide array of wildlife, including wood ducks, green herons, Belted Kingfishers, yellow bellied slider turtles, alligators and otters.

Winter is a great time to walk through the swamp and avoid the mosquitoes, biting flies and spider webs that you’ll find here in warmer months. The trail is about a half-hour drive from Charleston off U.S. 17 North in Awendaw.

From the parking lot, the trail begins in a forest of young trees and thick brush, crossing a boardwalk to an old roadbed before getting to the earthen dikes that date back to the 1700s.

Like most Lowcountry rice plantations, the land started out as a dense swamp thick with bald cypress and brush. Slaves brought in from Africa cleared the trees and shrubs and built an elaborate grid of canals and dikes used to flood and drain the fields and transport the harvest out of the plantation.

As you make your way along the top of the dikes, you’ll come to areas where water has pooled on both sides of the trail. Modern rice trunks are still used to control water flow through the wetlands.

In the spring and fall, the black swamp attracts birders on the lookout for migratory visitors like the popular Prothonotary warbler. The most elusive bird in North America — Bachman’s warbler — was first spotted here. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been seen in the swamp in the last 50 years.

You can pick up a brochure on the history of I’on Swamp at the Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center just down the road on U.S. 17 North. For directions, call (843) 928-3368.

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