With a $37,000 grant, the Friends of the Savannah Coastal Wildlife Refuges has greatly expanded visitor opportunities to experience the wildlife and habitats of Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina.
More than 14 miles of gravel roads and grass trails wind through salt marsh, forest, fallow fields and freshwater ponds. Visitors can see waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, raptors, deer and alligators as well as Ibis Pond, which is a rookery from March through early October. Until now, the trails and roads could be used only by walkers or visitors with their own bicycles.
On a beautiful November day, the Friends led the first tour on a new electric shuttle. The 75-minute tour passed two ponds and a butterfly garden. (Yes, there were still butterflies in November in South Carolina.) The 15 visitors on board borrowed 15 new pairs of binoculars that eventually will be lent to visitors along with backpacks and guidebooks. Fifteen new bicycles soon will be available for group tours as well.
The Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, a nonprofit dedicated to stregthening the community, provided the $37,000 grant used to purchase the equipment, print brochures and improve signage. Friends vice president John Petraglia says one key to winning such grants is to understand the mission of the funding organization: “Make sure they know how your project fits their mandate,” says Petraglia.
The shuttle tours will be offered during the week to avoid weekend crowds on the island. The Friends plan to advertise the new services not only to their own 800-person mailing list but also to birding groups and area hotels.
It was Petraglia’s idea to make the island accessible to more visitors, and he says there have been a few surprises along the way. The cost of liability insurance proved too high to allow individuals to borrow or rent the bicycles, so the bikes will be used only for group tours. Operating both the shuttle and the bicycle program required Friends to become familiar with safety and missing-person plans and volunteer recruitment. “To sustain it is the next trick,” says Petraglia, but he feels luck is with him. An eagle flew over the inaugural ceremonies and came back for a second fly-by as the program ended.