Six times a year, the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge offers tours to two historic lighthouses located on an island off the coast of McClellanville.
The 6-mile boat ride to the lighthouse station takes participants through a pristine salt marsh and estuary where you'll have the chance to view a wide array of birds and marine life, including the ever-popular bottlenose dolphin.
The first of the two structures was built in 1827 to direct sailors away from treacherous shoals that lie just below the water level 9 miles southeast of the Cape Romain islands.
Standing 65-feet high, the truncated conical brick structure featured a stationary red light powered by a whale oil wick lamp. Even though the light was aimed right at the shoals, shipwrecks continued to be reported through the 1830s.
A second, taller lighthouse was built in 1857. The octagonal brick structure rose to 154 feet and featured a five-wick oil lamp with a rotating prismatic lens that focused the amount of light that went out to sea.
Up until the 1930s when the oil lamp was replaced with an electrical system, the lights were maintained by keepers who lived on the island year round. In 1947 when coastal navigation technology made lighthouses obsolete, the light was taken out of service. The keeper's house and several other supporting buildings were dismantled in 1964
Over the latter part of the 20th century, the lighthouses fell into disrepair. Restoration of the structures - listed on the National Register of Historic Places - began in 1989 and continues today.
The tour begins with a presentation on the history of the lighthouses at the Sewee Visitor and Environmental Center in Awendaw. Following the 9:30 a.m. program, you'll drive out to the boat landing at McClellanville to board Coastal Expeditions' Island Cat Ferry. On the 45-minute ride out to Lighthouse Island, experienced naturalists will tell you about the area's estuaries, where freshwater from rivers and streams meet and mix with saltwater from the ocean. The plankton-rich waters support an abundance and diversity of wildlife, including fish, crab and lobster.
Once on the island, guests will have the option of walking to both lighthouses for an up-close view.
Call Coastal Expeditions at (843) 884-7684 or click here to make your reservation or find out more.