November 13, 2015. The fall of 2015 will surely go down as one of the biggest flood seasons for the park in the past fifty years. The swamp, in fact, is still underwater from a big flood nine days ago. So I have no recourse except to walk the Cedar Creek Bluffs. Not that I mind since this area is one of my favorite parts of the park. I start from Dawson’s Lake and proceed eastward. The closest thing to a trail here is old sections of firebreaks and jeep trails. Walking is fairly easy, with few obstructions and a relatively open ground floor. Starting from South Cedar Creek Landing and a little beyond, these hardwood bluffs rise to an impressive twenty-to-thirty feet above the creek. They take a small dip east of Dawson’s Lake, then rise to their fullest extent at Garrick Hill and White Oak Bluff. The bluffs delineate the original park boundary of 1976 and feature an impressive hardwood forest of mature beech, white oak, red oak, hickory, ash, and other species. My idea of a perfect home away from home would be a rustic cabin perched on the edge of one of these bluffs, with twenty thousand acres of floodplain as my front yard. Or better yet, a permanent home atop the bluffs.
The appearance of the bluffs now is quite different from how they looked for most of the past few hundred years. Until recent history, much of the land surrounding these bluffs had been cleared for agriculture and homesteads. Topographic maps from the mid-twentieth century show human habitation and farmland scattered across the park’s northern boundary, a rural, agricultural landscape that even included two schools! And in the early twentieth century there were at least three lumber camps operated by the Santee River Cypress Lumber Company on these bluffs. And of course Kingville at that time was a thriving little railroad depot community. Now this area has been de-populated and reverted to a “state of nature” to the extent that hardly a single soul lives between South Cedar Creek Landing east to US Highway 601. This development, so widespread throughout the South and other parts of the country, has been very good for creating a significant buffer and maintaining the park’s core conservation values.
I continue walking almost as far as the old landing near Kitt’s Grave. I find, except for a few pig rootings, little evidence of animal refugees from the flooded forest across the way. I search the base of a large willow oak and find almost no evidence of acorns; the same holds for white oaks too. I finally spook a couple of white-tails that snort at me from a safe distance. I also find a couple of interesting mushrooms but their identity escapes me. The white one growing out of a rotten tree trunk reminds me somewhat of the lion’s mane fungus but has a soft, almost fuzzy texture. The day has warmed up, and as I head back, I swat a few mosquitoes buzzing me. It is not a good sign.