The Daily Gamecock

Column: Department of Natural Resources heritage preserves offer historical outdoor outings for everyone

<p>FILE — The trail to the Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve is surrounded by tall trees, wildlife and the scent of pine.&nbsp;</p>
FILE — The trail to the Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve is surrounded by tall trees, wildlife and the scent of pine. 

The heritage preserves managed by the Department of Natural Resources provide not only unending outdoor activities, but a way to learn about the history of the state and the country.

These sites are not just lands managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) — they’re places protected specifically by the Heritage Trust Program to prevent habitat loss in vital natural habitats and culturally important places, according to the SCDNR's website.

With 75 sites, there are plenty of trips to take all over the state to cultural and natural landscapes. From the coastal beaches and marshlands, to the edges of the Blue Ridge Mountains, to right here around Columbia, each preserve has its own rich history and scenery to discover.

The Botany Bay and South Bluff Heritage Preserves contain shell rings, massive structures built into the earth thousands of years ago by indigenous people. Botany Bay is on Edisto Island, and South Bluff is an hour and a half further down the coast.

Green Shell, located on Hilton Head, has structures dating back to 1335 A.D. on its small three acres. Plus, it can boast being part of the Port Royal Sound Sea Kayak Trail, a scenic network of 100 miles of water and greenways running through six other heritage preserves. These areas are great places to see coastal birds and other wildlife too. 

In Oconee County, which borders Georgia and North Carolina, sits Stumphouse Mountain Heritage Site and Wildlife Management Area. Located at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the area provides mountainous, forested trails and plenty of opportunities to see native flora and fauna.

Seeing the incredible diversity in bird species is a huge draw. Plus, it contains a unique feature – half-built railroad tunnels from the 1850s.

If you're looking for a day trip closer to home, the Wateree Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Management Area is in Richland County. There are more than 3,600 acres to hunt, fish, bike, hike, bird-watch and horseback ride. About 40 minutes from campus, this is a brand new heritage preserve.

Another part of the newly donated land also went to Forty-Acre Rock Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Management Area in Kershaw, an hour and a half from campus.

The odd name is due to the humongous granite rock at the highest point of the site, which can be walked on and is home to a myriad of wildlife depending on the season. Various trails are found throughout the area leading to the enormous, singular flat surface that is home to pools and mosses, along with being a great site to spot some local wildlife. Visitors can also see the array of ponds, waterfalls and caves across the preserve.

Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve lies 15 minutes from downtown Columbia and, as the name suggests, is along the Congaree River. Visitors can view lush forests and ponds on a looping hiking trail, along with sites where 12,000 year-old pottery shards and tools were discovered.

Regardless, if you’re looking for a serious hike in the wilderness, a relaxing walk in the woods, a new hunting spot, a place to see spectacular wildlife or ways to experience American history and culture, these state heritage preserves provide a wealth of places all over the state to experience South Carolina.