This trail you won't hike, you'll paddle

Posted: Thursday, June 29, 2000

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) -- In most of South Carolina, hitting a trail involves hiking boots or a mountain bike. But work is under way in Horry County to build a trail along the Waccamaw River that people can paddle.

The trail would guide river visitors toward outfitters, access points and campsites along the river, making it possible for even the most novice boaters to experience the Waccamaw, said Miles Phillips, who works for the Sea Grant Consortium and Clemson University developing nature-based tourism possibilities in the region. . ''Increasingly, to get outside, people need a little introduction,'' Phillips said. ''A trail lets people know it's doable.''

The Waccamaw canoe trail is one of his projects.

Paddling enthusiasts see canoe trails as a way to expand the region's attraction for tourists.

''If good trails were identified and became as well-known as the Okeefenokee (in Georgia), people would find this area to be a destination for trails,'' said Bill Unger, owner of Black River Expeditions Inc. in Georgetown.

South Carolina has 17 canoe trails managed by a mix of state, federal and private groups.

The Grand Strand's lone canoe trail, created by Georgetown County, follows tidal creeks in southern Murrells Inlet. It's part of Huntington Beach State Park south of Litchfield.

At the moment, there's no firm timetable for building a Waccamaw River trail. Phillips is working with local outfitters and building public interest.

''I'm trying to provide information for any interested party,'' said Phillips, who sees it as a way to diversify outdoor recreation in the area.

A Waccamaw trail would focus on the South Carolina section of the 112-mile river that stretches from Lake Waccamaw in Columbus County, N.C., to Winyah Bay near Georgetown.

Most of the state's established canoe trails follow the state's largest rivers, including the Santee and Edisto.

The trails offer paddlers a taste of the state's natural beauty, but also a glimpse into its history, particularly along the coast, said Carol Mullis, manager of nature-based tourism for the state Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department.

''All of our original towns were located on rivers, so there's this tremendous cultural heritage along the river as well as looking at the alligators and blue herons,'' said Mullis, an avid paddler.

While most canoe trail users are day-trippers, more adventurous paddlers can make longer trips on established trails. Several canoe trails link state parks or other public areas, allowing adventurous paddlers to travel for several days and camp on public lands, Mullis said.

Horry County maintains 13 public boat landings along the Waccamaw. But public lands along the river are separated by large amounts of private land. That can make it difficult for Waccamaw paddlers to find camp sites as they travel the river, something Phillips discovered during a recent exploratory trip.

Despite that challenge, Phillips and his crew of paddlers found the river to be more natural and less developed than they expected, particularly where the river widens below Conway.

''On the lower part, we found numerous side creeks that, except for a few fishermen, aren't traveled by the motorboats,'' Phillips said.

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