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Photos and story courtesy Duane Draper (center, crouching), chair of the Inlet and Bay Stewards, friends group to South Carolina’s North Inlet-Winyah Bay Reserve.

When people ask “What brought you down to South Carolina?,” I tell them six feet of snow in three weeks, in February 2015, was the final straw. My wife and I were living on 30 acres of woodland at the end of a half-mile long private road, and I did most of the plowing. So we traded in New Hampshire snow for South Carolina pluff mud!

After settling in Pawleys Island, one of the first things I did was register for the local Master Naturalist program. I learned about it from our realtor, also a Master Naturalist, and thought it would be a great opportunity to learn about the totally different habitat we had inserted ourselves into. The program was managed by the stewardship coordinator for the North Inlet-Winyah Bay Reserve, Dr. Jen Plunket. 

After completing the 12-week program, I began looking for opportunities to volunteer, which is a hallmark of the program. I signed up to teach Ecology Camp programs for rising second thru fifth Graders, educating them on pond, forest, beach and salt marsh ecologies. I also started leading tours as a docent for Hobcaw Barony, a 16,000-acre private preserve that is home to the Reserve. This preserve has a rich diversity of all the habitats found in coastal South Carolina: ocean beaches, 5,000 acres of salt marsh, maritime forest, upland pine and hardwood forest, bottomland forest, and former tidal rice fields from bygone plantation days. In my spare time, I volunteer for South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts (SCUTE), patrolling and monitoring beaches for loggerhead sea turtle nests.

I enjoy working with all of the Reserve staff on various projects, like phytoplankton monitoring, leading salt marsh hikes for plant and animal identification, conducting marsh sweeps to pick up incidental marine debris. Soon, we’ll be starting our own local Nurdle Patrol to track microplastic pollution. All of this activity led me, and other local Master Naturalists, to start up a local Friends Group for the Reserve, Inlet and Bay Stewards (IBIS), for which I serve as chair. We’re small but growing! 

Every Reserve is special. And everyone has a Reserve story to share. Why do you care about your Reserve? How has it made a difference in your life? Have a few minutes today? We want to hear your story.

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ReservesNorth Inlet-Winyah Bay, South CarolinaTrading Snow for Pluff Mud