ACE Basin – Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers, South Carolina

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ACE Basin – A Natural Refuge for Humans and Wildlife

The South Carolina’s ACE Basin Project encompasses over one million acres between Beaufort and Charleston and even stretching up to Orangeburg and Bamberg counties. As of 2015, 217,156 acres of the ACE Basin are protected. Through a joint effort by numerous federal, state, and local agencies, as well as conservation organizations and private landowners, the basin is one of the largest protected estuarine systems on the East Coast. It provides a safe haven for wildlife and remains a buffer to encroaching development. The ACE Basin gets its name from the three waterways that flow through its varied landscape: The Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers.

Combahee River

Barry Gooch of Port Royal, 2007 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Prior to the Civil War, much of the ACE Basin was planted with rice. Nowadays, many of the hiking opportunities in the area make use of former rice field embankments or dikes, providing visitors a nice flat walk with numerous opportunities to spot wildlife. Winter provides visitors with a wonderful opportunity for wildlife viewing, as many migratory birds call the ACE Basin home during the colder months. The Bear Island Wildlife Management Area, which is about 11 miles south of US 17 on Bennett’s Point Road, provides 12,000 acres of managed property for wintering waterfowl and other wetland wildlife. The area is open to the public and is a great stop on an ACE Basin roadtrip.

Bennetts Point Landing

Barry Gooch of Port Royal, 2006 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Further down Bennett’s Point Road, there is a peaceful community in the heart of the ACE Basin. Docked at Bennett’s Point boat landing, you may find the lovely shrimp trawler pictured above.

Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge

Formally called the Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge in honor of former governor and United States senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, this refuge occupies 12,000 acres of the ACE Basin on a former rice plantation called Grove Plantation.

Grove Plantation in the ACE Basin

Brandon Coffey of North Charleston © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Its erstwhile rice fields, untouched since the Civil War, help create the diverse ecosystem found within the refuge. The plantation’s 1828 home – one of only three antebellum plantation homes in the ACE Basin to remain intact after the Civil War – now serves as the refuge’s headquarters.

Grove Plantation

Brittany Callahan of Charleston, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The rice trunk seen below demonstrates how slaves controlled irrigation of the rice fields, which was dependent on tidal rivers. Rice, a particularly labor-intensive crop, was dependent on slaves for its cultivation. Following Emancipation, the rice industry collapsed in the absence of forced labor. After the war the acreage was purchased by wealthy sportsmen for hunting grounds, and the land remained pristine and well-managed by its new owners throughout the years. The plantation was purchased by The Nature Conservancy in 1991, who sold it to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service the following year to be managed as a wildlife refuge.

Hollings Wildlife Refuge Trunk

Susan Klavohn Bryant of Mount Pleasant, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Both natural and cultural history are preserved at the refuge. The antebellum house, rice trunk, and slave cabin (pictured below) all tell the story of rice culture and slave life on a Lowcountry rice plantation.

Grove Plantation Slave Cabin

Susan Klavohn Bryant of Mount Pleasant, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Along the Ashepoo River

The Ashepoo River flows through the swamps of Colleton County and its basin is the “A” of the ACE Basin Wildlife Refuge. Its name comes from the Ashepoo Indian tribe. Crosby’s Landing, pictured below, was a well-loved landmark located on the south side of the US 17 bridge over the Ashepoo River; it was destroyed when that portion of 17 was widened by the South Carolina highway department.

Crosby's Landing

Barry Gooch of Port Royal © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Ashepoo River

Matt Richardson of Bluffton, 2010 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Cruising the Combahee River

The Salkehatchie and the Little Salkehatchie Rivers flow through or border five counties – Allendale County, Bamberg County, Barnwell County, Colleton County, and Hampton County.

Combahee Sunrise

Barry Gooch of Port Royal, 2007 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

These two streams meet below Walterboro and form the Combahee River, which then rolls into St. Helena Sound above Beaufort.

Lower Combahee

Barry Gooch of Port Royal, 2007 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

This blackwater river makes up the “C” portion of the ACE Basin Wildlife Refuge and was named after the Combahee Indian tribe.

Ace Basin Spartina

Barry Gooch of Port Royal, 2009 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Eddying the Edisto River

At 206 miles long, the Edisto River is the longest blackwater river in North America. The river begins in Saluda County and flows down the state, finally emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. The ACE Basin rests at the mouth of this amazing water system.

Edisto Green Pond

Tom Taylor of Greenville, 2012 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Named for the Edisto Indian tribe, the Edisto River is represented by the ‘E’ in ACE Basin. The photo above shows the Edisto River at Green Pond, part of the ACE Basin.

Reflections on the ACE Basin

Contributor Brittany Callahan, who captured one of the above photos of Grove Plantation, shares: “I took this while on an adventure driving through the ACE Basin. I felt very alone on the property, which was both eerie and peaceful. The highlight of my visit was seeing a family of wild boar on the way back to my car! This image was made using a large format film camera- similar to those used during the plantation’s heyday.”

Add your own reflections here.

ACE Basin – Add Info and More Photos

The purpose of the South Carolina Picture Project is to celebrate the beauty of the Palmetto State and create a permanent digital repository for our cultural landmarks and natural landscapes. We invite you to add additional pictures (paintings, photos, etc) of ACE Basin, and we also invite you to add info, history, stories, and travel tips. Together, we hope to build one of the best and most loved SC resources in the world!

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