Historic Santee-Cooper Pinopolis Lock Is an Engineering Marvel

By:Marie McAden


Take a cruise from South Carolina’s third largest lake to one of its most historically significant rivers – with an eight-story drop in between – on Fisheagle Nature Adventures’ Santee-Cooper Pinopolis Lock tour.

The 2.5-hour excursion on Lake Moultrie and the Cooper River includes passage through the historic lock, a remarkable feat of engineering for its time.

When completed in 1941, the Pinopolis lock was the highest single-lift system in the world. It requires six million gallons of water to fill the 180-foot by 60-foot chamber and raise boats from sea level to the 75-foot elevation of Lake Moultrie at full stage.

The lock is part of an elaborate waterway system that was created to provide a navigable route from the Midlands to the Lowcountry. The New Deal era-project redirected the Santee River to flow into the Cooper River, allowing passage from Columbia to Charleston Harbour.

Two of South Carolina’s most popular fishing destinations – Lakes Marion and Moultrie – were created in the process. The project also involved the construction of 42 miles of dams and dikes, a hydroelectric station and the Pinopolis navigation lock.

Offered during the month of October, the guided Santee-Cooper Pinopolis Lock tour begins in Moncks Corner aboard a 30-passenger pontoon boat named “The Osprey.” Traveling along the Cooper River past former rice plantations, you’re likely to see a wide array of wildlife, including bald eagles, osprey, alligators, yellow-bellied turtles, egrets, herons and other wading birds.

Just as you pass Santee Canal Park, the Cooper River turns into the tailrace canal, the final phase of the Santee-Cooper construction project. The four-mile-long waterway is bordered by dense hardwood forests, making it a peaceful journey to the lock.

Equipped to hold boats as large as 150 feet, the lock features massive concrete walls with huge steel gates at either end. It takes about 20 minutes to fill the chamber, raising boats 75 feet to the level of Lake Moultrie. Once at the top, you’re afforded a dramatic view of the canal far below.

When the gates open on the other side and you venture out of the lock, you’re in Lake Moultrie, renowned for its trophy stripers, crappie and catfish. During a shoreline cruise around the lake, the master naturalist guide will tell you about the history of the Santee-Cooper lakes and point out wildlife along the way. On a recent trip, two adult bald eagles and a juvenile were spotted flying overhead.

On the return trip through the lock, the water is drained out of the basin, dropping the boat to sea level in about 10 minutes.

The Santee-Cooper Locks tour is one of several boat trips offered by Fisheagle Nature Adventures. For more information on any of the excursions, click here.

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