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Cartwheel Bay Heritage Preserve near Green Sea adds vital acres for conservation, recreation

By Ruben Lowman

Cartwheel Bay Heritage Preserve, a popular local spot for recreational activities located just outside of Green Sea, recently added over 400 acres that will provide vital benefits to both the habitat and to public access for outdoor enthusiasts. 

The preserve, which is managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), contains a number of ecological wonders and is one of the only areas in the state that supports both Longleaf Pine savannah and Carolina Bays together. These are important isolated wetlands in natural shallow depressions that have no in or out flow and are fed by rain and shallow groundwater.

Trapper Fowler, North Coast Project Manager for the Coastal Conservation League, said that the preserve is an incredibly valuable and essential part of our local ecosystem and community, providing an array of benefits to both humans and the environment. Once the properties are transferred to DNR, the preserve will offer two miles of trails for birding, hiking and cycling. 

“It has several Carolina Bays on site, which provide free ecosystem services to us, like water storage during storms, water filtration and reduce erosion,” explained Fowler. “C. Bays also host habitat for many rare, threatened and even endangered species of plants and animals. Also on this preserve is the longleaf pine ecosystem, which is the most diverse ecosystem in North America!”

The land acquisition is part of a project that OSI is undertaking to protect properties in Horry County that are crucial to long-term restoration efforts for numerous species of rare plants, as well as creating increased opportunities for outdoor activities for county residents. The addition of the two new contiguous properties will see a 40 percent expansion of the preserve from its current total of 568 acres. With their conservation, the preserve will now provide close to 1,000 acres to local residents for outdoors activities, whether that’s hiking, cycling, bird-watching, hunting or fishing.  

Cartwheel Bay supports several rare, threatened and endangered flora, including nearly thirty species of carnivorous plants such as Venus flytraps and Pitcher Plants. The conservation of the additional 417 acres represents a significant restoration opportunity for them and many other species of rare plants, including the Common pixie moss, Carolina bog asphodel and Florida scrub sunrose. 

There are currently less than 2,700 Carolina Bays throughout the Palmetto state, which represents only 80 percent of the historic total, as a result of development and conversion. Protection and restoration of the bays is a priority for Horry — which is home to 410 bays, the most of any other county — is a special focus of this effort.

“This expansion of Cartwheel Bay Heritage Preserve represents a significant conservation win for Horry County and the rare plants and animals that depend upon Carolina Bays,” said Nate Berry, OSI senior vice president for land acquisition and dispositions. “The protection of these important wetlands is all the more critical knowing the resource is located in one of South Carolina’s fastest-growing areas.”

As Horry and the Grand Strand have exploded in population growth over the past decade, much of the once-rural area has become more congested. Cartwheel Bay offers one of the few pristine nature preserves that still captures the essence of what the coastal Carolinas used to be like. 

With the recent expansion, Fowler said that it provides habitat for the local wildlife that will forever be protected from development under the heritage trust program. 

Alongside the more ample recreational opportunities for both hunters, and birders and hikers, Fowler said that the increased acreage will help DNR and state forestry officials to have buffers on lands they frequently prescribe burn, which will help further protect the safety of the surrounding environment.

“Go check it out, it’s free and great hiking and wildlife viewing, a botanical treasure!” said Fowler. 

About Polly Lowman