Paddle through Shem Creek

By:Marie McAden

Date:3/22/2011

Standing on the top deck of Red’s Icehouse on Shem CreekMount Pleasant’s party central — one cannot appreciate the diversity of wildlife found in this seafood-rich coastal environment.

No, I’m not talking about the crowds of visitors enjoying frosty mugs of beer and steamed oysters on the festive waterfront. I mean real wildlife like dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, otters and shore birds.

The historic 2.5-mile creek — home to the local shrimping fleet — offers easy access to Charleston Harbor and an important sea bird sanctuary protected by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

On a recent visit to Charleston, I decided to forgo the “tree house” view from Red’s and get out on the water for a different perspective of Shem Creek. A guided three-hour trip with Nature Adventures Kayak and Canoe Outfitters was just the ticket.

Owner Kathie Livingston and I set out from the outfitters’ boat ramp across from Reds, passing the colorful shrimp boats that line the waterway just past the restaurants and bars. Within minutes, we were at the mouth of the creek looking at the northwest tip of Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary, a 22-acre sandpit island used as nesting grounds by a number of shorebirds, including brown pelicans, black skimmers, laughing gulls, American oystercatchers, willets, great egrets, ibis, tricolored herons and the state threatened species, Wilson’s plover.

Our trip was just before the sanctuary closes to the public for the nesting season, and we were able to beach our kayaks on the crescent-shaped island and comb the sandy shore for shells, sharks’ teeth and other marine critters. Among the day’s finds were the skeletal remains of a pelican.

During the nesting season, which runs from March 15 through Oct. 15, Nature Adventures’ Shem Creek tours circumnavigate the island, allowing paddlers to observe the birding spectacle.

“It’s just fantastic,” said Livingston, a South Carolina Master Naturalist. “There are literally thousands of birds on the island. You can hardly hear yourself speak over all the noise.”

After 15 minutes of treasure hunting, we returned to our kayaks to paddle around Crab Bank to the edge of Charleston Harbor. From this vantage point, you can see the downtown skyline, Ravenel Bridge, Castle Pinckney, Fort Sumter, Sullivan's Island Lighthouse and Patriots Point.

As we cruised back into Shem Creek, we took a side trip into Bay View Creek, an inlet that runs past a marsh and Patriots Point Links. Paddling leisurely through the narrow waterway, we saw a belted kingfisher flying overhead, a tri-colored heron on a muddy bank, a group of ibis searching for dinner and a brown pelican sitting happily on a piling.

Just as we were approaching the boat landing near sunset, a pod of dolphin popped out of the water in front of Reds. I don’t know if they showed up to join the revelry or to entertain the patrons on the restaurant’s decks. Whatever their purpose, it was a grand finale to a perfect day.

The Shem Creek and Crab Bank Island Preserve tour costs $39 for a 2-2 ½-hour excursion ($29 for kids ages 12 and younger), $55 for 3-3 ½ hours ($39 for kids) and $85 for a full day of paddling ($48 for kids).

Walk-ups are welcome, but if you’d like to book a trip in advance, call (843) 568-3222 or visit www.kayakcharlestonsc.com.

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