Walking in Hilton Head’s Maritime Forest

Hilton Head Island, S.C. is a barrier island protecting South Carolina’s coast from the ocean.  It has oak and pine forests, salty marshes and sandy beaches.  It is rich with alligators, snakes, swamp lands and golf courses.  It is amazingly beautiful.

I was fortunate to have meetings on Hilton Head Island, S.C. with some of my favorite people.  We stayed at The  Inn at Harbour Town, a wonder destination by almost any standard.  But you can’t visit this island without spending some time either playing golf, biking or walking.  I am a walker.

Sea Pines Development, where our inn is located, is a planned eco-friendly development designed and developed by Charles and Joseph Fraser.  Every land owner is required to sign low impact covenants agreeing to protect the land and the environment. It was further designed to protect sea views and limit the removal of trees.  The original plan reserved  one-fourth of the land for recreation including lands developed with picnic areas, wildlife areas, and biking and hiking trails.

I was fortunate to take a tour of the nature trail.  Our guide, Rita Kerman, is a “Master Naturalist.”  She generously shared with us her knowledge of, and passion for, this special area.  She explained that we were walking in a maritime forest, distinguished because the trees and plants are compatible with the salty soil adjacent to the ocean.  She showed us sweet gum trees ringed with rows of small holes drilled into the bark by yellow-bellied sap sucker woodpeckers in search of the sweet sap. She explained that after the woodpeckers drill these holes, the sweet, sticky gum attracts and traps insects that then  become food for other birds. She further explained that the sweet gum balls are a source of shikimic acid, an ingredient in a vaccine for avian flu. This has been described as saving the world one sweet gum ball at a time!

We learned about red bay ambrosia beetles that are destroying red bay and wax myrtle trees, and are now attacking avocado trees.  The potential loss of trees seems comparable to the mass destruction of Dutch Elm trees in the Mid-West.

As we walked in the forest and immediately adjacent to ponds and man-made canals, we were reminded that alligators were nearby in the murky waters, where they live and breed in close proximity to human populations.

Near the end of our journey we came across a sign posted on the trail with a lovely poem that ended with these words, “Spend an hour with the earth and her nature and I promise that you”ll surely see, the truest meaning of the season…the one Best Christmas present you could receive.”

A beautiful walk it was, indeed.

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