Welcome to South Carolina's Lowcountry Refuges
The South Carolina Lowcountry Refuges Complex is home to four National Wildlife Refuges encompassing over 115,000 acres. All four refuges are located in the Lowcountry, a geographic and cultural area distinguished by low-lying lands that extend from the Atlantic coast to the western sandhills of the state. The refuges which comprise the complex include Cape Romain NWR, Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin NWR, Santee NWR and Waccamaw NWR. These public lands encompass some of the most unique and biologically diverse wetland and upland ecosystems along the Atlantic Coast.
The Lowcountry refuges are distinguished by habitats such as blackwater rivers and creeks that thread their way way through cypress-tupulo swamp forests, alluvial river floodplains surrounded by dense deciduous forests, sandhill longleaf pine forests and savannahs, historic rice fields, pristine sandy beaches and nutrient-rich tidal estuaries. These ecosystems provide a safe haven for wildlife and sustain countless species.
The National Wildlife Refuges within the complex are composed of unparalleled habitats for the nation's wildlife, including one of only twenty Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network sites in both North and South America, one of the largest undeveloped estuarine wetland systems remaining along the U.S. Atlantic coast, a critically endangered longleaf pine forest ecosystem and, the only known coastal maritime sandhill community in the state of South Carolina.
Lowcountry National Wildlife Refuges often contain archeological and cultural sites that signify the important connection between the historic coastal people and the land. Dating back thousands of years, these sites give testament to the native people who inhabited the coastal area long before European settlement. On Cape Romain's Bulls Island, there are Native American shell heaps known as "middens". At Santee NWR, an Indian mound believed to have been a ceremonial and burial ground can be seen just past the Visitor Center. The Santee Mound also marks the site of Fort Watson, a fort erected by the British during the Revolutionary War. European settlement brought more travelers to South Carolina's coastal lands. Pirate tales and Revolutionary and Civil War stories abound. On Bulls Island you can view the tabby foundation of a 1700's era fort known as a Martello Tower. The Tower was used to warn the people on the mainland of enemies approaching from the sea. Although years have gone by, some relicts of the past still exist within the complex. At ACE Basin NWR, be sure to visit the Grove Plantation house, which was built in 1828 and serves today as the visitor center and headquarters for the refuge. This house is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of only three antebellum mansions in the ACE basin area to survive the Civil War. Also on the National Register are two historic lighthouses located on Cape Romain's Lighthouse Island. Both built in the 1800's, the lights once stood as sentinels, warning mariners of the treacherous shoals along the coast.
Get outside and enjoy your refuges! Throughout the seasons, there are endless recreational experiences that await you. Whether it's birding, fishing, hunting, boating, hiking, shelling or photography, there is something for everyone. Refuges are open from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. During certain periods of the year, some areas are closed to provide sanctuary for wintering waterfowl and nesting birds. Some portions of refuges are closed on hunt days to visitors who are not hunting for safety reasons. Our hunting and fishing regulation brochures are updated annually and can be downloaded from websites or obtained from refuge visitor centers and offices.
Our visitor centers are the gateways to your refuge experience. At the centers you can pick up trail maps, bird checklists, as well as hunting and fishing information. Here you can view exhibits of wildlife and ecosystems and participate in interpretive and educational programs to learn more about our natural and cultural resources and what management practices are undertaken to protect them.
The SC Lowcountry Refuges work closely with local, state and federal agencies and organizations to achieve our mission to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and their habitats. Our Partners include the Francis Marion National Forest, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, Santee Cooper, Low Country Open Land Trust, Mead Westvaco Corporation, and Dewees Island Property Owners Association
Credit: Weatherly Meadors
For the first time in 43 years, the Dominick House on Cape Romain's Bulls Island is once again receiving overnight guests. Hosted by Coastal Expeditions, refuge concession, the three day/two night weekend ecology trip has a focus on barrier island dynamics, the connections of human and natural history, and invasive species. A myriad of island wildlife and plants will be studied as guests explore the salt marsh, maritime forest and beach. Expeditions will be offered on the third weekend of October through March, with the first trip scheduled for October 18th - 20th.
In 1936, Mr. Gayer Dominick of New York conveyed Bulls Island to the Cape Romain NWR. Historically, from 1940 - 1969, the refuge awarded contracts to concessionaires who offered Bulls Island visitors lodging and meals at the Dominick House. During those 29 years, five concessionaires lived on the island with their families, providing quality services for those who came to the island to birdwatch, fish, photograph wildlife, beachcomb and archery hunt. Guests came from across the United States, Canada, and other countries including Finland, England, Germany, France, Sweden and South Africa. For more information and to register for an expedition, contact Coastal Expeditions at 843.884.7684 or visit Coastal Expeditions.
Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center New Hours of Operation
The Sewee Center will be operating under new reduced hours effective February 1, 2014. Hours of operation will change from Tuesday through Saturday to Wednesday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The closure of the Center, managed jointly by the Cape Romain NWR and the Francis Marion National Forest, is due to staffing reductions in Visitor Services personnel. The new hours of operation are expected to continue for the foreseeable future.