Visitors to Folly Beach can get a pretty good look at the historic Morris Island Lighthouse from the northeastern end of the barrier island. The 150-foot brick tower - built in 1876 to help guide sailors into Charleston Harbor - lies across Lighthouse Inlet about a half-mile away.
If you want a closer view, you'll need a boat.
That's because the lighthouse is completely surrounded by water. Although it was built 1,200 feet from the shore of neighboring Morris Island, the construction in 1889 of jetties to protect Charleston Harbor's shipping lanes altered ocean currents, resulting in the rapid erosion of the island. By 1938, the water was lapping at the lighthouse base.
I recently joined a group of my paddling buddies on a kayak trip to Morris Island for an up-close look at the famed lighthouse. We launched from a public landing near the bridge to Folly Beach and set off paddling along the Folly River to Lighthouse Inlet.
To make the trip easier on the tidal waterway, we timed it so we would be paddling with the current for most of the way to the island. There was plenty to keep us entertained along the way. The river is surrounded by tidal estuaries that serve as the nurseries of the seas, offering lots of opportunities to see wildlife.
The highlight of the five-mile paddle was watching a pod of dolphins strand feeding, an ingenious hunting technique unique to the Lowcountry. Working as a team, the dolphin herd fish together underwater, then forming a line, accelerate to create a wave that forces the prey onto the shore. The grand finale comes when they surge out of the water in unison to feast on the fish.
We beached on Morris Island to find lots of other marine animals, including several young sharks, swimming near the shore. At one point, I was standing in shallow water by the beach and a skate swam by my leg.
After enjoying a picnic lunch on the sand, it was time to explore. Because the 840-acre uninhabited island gets few visitors, it's a great spot for shelling. The big find here are the sand dollars.
While some in the group continued with the treasure hunt, several of us climbed back in our boats to paddle the quarter-mile distance to the lighthouse.
After it was decommissioned in 1962, plans were in the works to demolish the historic tower. But petitions from local residents saved the lighthouse. To preserve it from further erosion, the Coast Guard built an underground steel wall around the base. A private preservation group called "Save the Light" is raising money to restore the structure.
If you want to make the trip and don't have your own boat, rent one from Flipper Finders, located adjacent to the Folly River Bridge landing. The outfitter also offers motorboat tours to the Morris Island Lighthouse. For more information, click here or call (843) 588-0019.