Monday, June 15, 2015

Dreher Island SP

There is a treasure trove of state parks in South Carolina, as many as 15 out of the 47 in the Upstate (depending on where you draw the line between the Upstate and Midland SC). We’re far from having visited them all, but slowly we’re checking them off one by one, discovering the unique features which led to them being declared state treasures. Not only does each State Park host unique topography and therefore flora and fauna, but the parks also widely differ in what they have to offer to the public. Our most recent state park visit was to Dreher Island State Park and included a two night stay in one of the lakefront villas.

Only 30 minutes from Columbia, Dreher Island SP actually covers three islands for a total of 348 acres and 12 miles of shoreline. Although there are a multitude of camping spots located along Lake Murray, we opted to rent one of the five villas facing south over the water, providing a fabulous view of the sunrise and sunset. Upon our arrival Friday we were immediately drawn to the water, where a miniature beach allowed the boys lake access. While they splashed the adults unpacked, and utilizing the grill and picnic tables prepared dinner. The ravenous kids ate and were soon back by the water, with first the sunset, then the campfire reflecting on their faces.

After a restful night’s sleep we ate breakfast and set off on our first adventure. There are over 25 geocaches within park boundaries, some of which are on smaller islands and the majority near the shoreline, perfect for canoeists and kayakers. We had already checked off one before heading further into the forest, in search of a second located on the tip of the Villa Lane peninsula. Walking through the woods is very pleasant, with little to no underbrush owing to the mature oak/hickory canopy. As we explored, we hugged the shore finding treasure after treasure: the geocache we had set off in search of, egg shells (probably turtle), a turtle shell and all sorts of footprints, seeds and insects.

With the boys perfectly content to return to their mini-beach for more splashing, I hit the Little Gap Trail, the longer of the two nature trails in the park. Although the ¼ mile Billy Dreher Nature Trail would have been more appropriate for the entire family, I chose the 2.1-mile hike leading out to “Little Gap”, named for the proximity to mainland at the tip of the peninsula. I strolled north through more beautiful hardwoods, with frequent views of the lake as well as abundant wildlife. Although there were other hikers using the trail, I saw at least a half-dozen deer in addition to multiple great blue herons, red-headed woodpeckers and an assortment of smaller mammals. In search of yet another geocache I found the remains of an old homesite, two chimneys still standing to attest to the family that once lived there.

For those looking to fish, with a SC fishing license you can fish for largemouth bass and stripers, catfish, bream, crappie and yellow perch. The island is a popular location and launching spot for national fishing tournaments, but luckily all was calm on our visit even with the “Paddle Bender” canoe, kayak and SUP race one morning. Once the speedboats and fisherman emerged to recreate, the quiet was punctuated with the sounds of motors and people having fun, but somehow it didn’t bother us. I’m sure we added our own cacophony at times, especially when we visited the kid’s playground and found the alligator gar skeleton!

On our last morning on Dreher Island we packed up, but pulled into the State Park loop for one last swim before crossing the bridge back to mainland. Two ospreys circled overhead for a while before perching on snags, their nest nearby. A family was decorating the picnic shelter to celebrate a graduation, and a pontoon boat was anchored in a little cove, the family enjoying the sun. It was a perfect summer weekend made even more enjoyable by good company, and I’m looking forward to our next SC state park adventure – hopefully in the near future!

* If you plan your visit for the late June/early August, you can use Dreher Island as home base to boat to Bomb Island to view the annual purple martin phenomenom, when hundreds of thousands of birds descend at dusk to their migratory roosts on Lake Murray! For more, read my post The purple martins of Lake Murray.

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