Best Management Practices - Waccamaw River Blue Trail

 

Trail Mission Statement

The Waccamaw River Blue Trail connects communities along the Waccamaw to their hometown river, encourages stewardship of this important natural, cultural and historical resource, and is a local economic driver. Protection of the Waccamaw and its surrounding lands is of critical importance as the river provides clean drinking water, opportunities for outdoor recreation, and is home to many rare plants and animal species, some of which are found nowhere else on earth.

 

Recreation Opportunities

The Waccamaw River Blue Trail enhances the river's recreational opportunities, improving the on-the-water experience of paddlers to enjoy the historical, cultural and natural resources of this unique black water ecosystem. Resources to enhance enjoyment include a waterproof map available for free at several local businesses or available for free download at the American Rivers and Waccamaw Riverkeeper websites. In addition, the Waccamaw River Blue Trail is featured in one of American Rivers' River Stories (www.americanrivers.org/riverstories), highlighting the trail and the things to see along it.

Several public access points exist along the river. These include more natural launch areas like Wortham's Ferry located in the Waccamaw River Heritage Preserve and boat landings like Chris Anderson Landing at Highway 9, the official start of the Waccamaw River Blue Trail. Through its 100 river mile length, a total of 16 official access points have been identified; however there are many other smaller, public access points available along its length. Several of these are terrific access points to the river, including the access at Cox Ferry Lake. The Cox Ferry Lake access is located within the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge and provides plenty of parking, a sandy launch area for canoes and kayaks and a picnic shelter. Access is a little more difficult at Big Savannah where the posted sign is located quite far off the main roadway and access to the river is several miles along a gravel road before reaching the river. Once there, it is a scenic paddle within the Waccamaw River Heritage Preserve.

Paddlers have many options to choose from in terms of length of trip and challenge. For example, at the aforementioned Cox Ferry Lake, a paddler can put in and enjoy a leisurely paddle within this ox bow lake, especially appropriate for young children and novice paddlers to enjoy. Alternatively, a paddler can put in at the official start of the trail at Highway 9 (River Mile 0) and paddle just over 16 miles to take out at Red Bluff, enjoying plenty of stops along the way, either on the sandy beaches that line the banks or at intermediate access points such as Big Savannah approximately half way (River Mile 8). More challenging paddling opportunities are presented in the south end of the Waccamaw River Blue Trail where the river and the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway merge and the river becomes wider and with more boat traffic during specific seasons and specific times of day. Paddlers can put in at Wacca Wache Marina and either hug the bank upstream and downstream or cross the river to enjoy the nearby tributaries and the protected areas of Sandy Island.

Several events specific to the Waccamaw River Blue Trail have been hosted since 2009 including the June 2009 Waccamaw River Blue Trail Inaugural Paddle and the October 2011 Grand Opening of the Waccamaw River Blue Trail and release of the waterproof map. In addition, since 2009, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper has hosted quarterly paddle events, coined "If the River Could Talk" to encourage dialogue about the benefits of the Waccamaw River. The spring 2012 paddle was a three day paddle from Conway to Pawley's Island that was over 36 miles in length and included two nights of camping along the Waccamaw River. These efforts have contributed to the growth of a local kayak group, the Yakkity Yakers, who regularly take to the Waccamaw River to enjoy its Blue Trail. Future "If the River Could Talk" paddles are planned along with other on-the-water activities to promote the Waccamaw River Blue Trail.

 

Education

The Waccamaw River Blue Trail is an excellent tool for educating users about the natural, historical and cultural heritage of our black water coastal plain river. The trail partners have leveraged this tool to provide a myriad of educational opportunities, including:

* A waterproof map of the trail, providing detailed aerial photography of the river and its riparian lands as well as important natural and historical features along the trail. Information on boating safety and outdoor ethics is provided on the map that is available locally and for download online at the websites of American Rivers and the Waccamaw Riverkeeper;
* Information about the Waccamaw River and the Blue Trail is available online at the websites mentioned above;
American Rivers, in partnership with National Geographic, provides the story of the Waccamaw at www.americanrivers.org/riverstories, an interpretive guide describing the paddling experience along the trail;
* The partners host educational paddle trips along the Waccamaw River, beginning with the Inaugural Paddle to launch the Blue Trail in June 2009 and continuing with the quarterly "If the River could talk" paddles hosted by the Waccamaw Riverkeeper;
* The partners provide educational presentations to local groups and participate in the annual Waccamaw Conference, a 1/2 day conference to educate and engage the public in watershed stewardship;
* American Rivers has presented information about the Waccamaw River Blue Trail at regional and national conferences since 2009;
* The Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge's friends group, the SEWEE Association, provides educational seminars about the importance role the Refuge plays in the protection of local watershed resources;
* The Waccamaw Riverkeeper offers a number of ongoing educational and community engagement opportunities including hosting river cleanups, sponsoring an Adopt-a-Landing Program by local groups for public landings along the river, youth and adult volunteer water quality monitoring projects and other education and outreach promoting the Waccamaw River and its Blue Trail;
* The Waccamaw Riverkeeper initiated an annual paddle race in September 2011 at which complimentary safety checks were provided to all paddlers by a local SC Department of Natural Resources official;
* The partners promote safety and outdoor ethics in the Blue Trail map, online resources and as part of all of our community paddles.

Educating the local community and Blue Trail users is an important component of each of the partner's education and outreach programs. The Waccamaw River Blue Trail is an important tool to enhance knowledge of the value of the river's resources, its recreational opportunities and promote land and water conservation of this important watershed.

 

Conservation

The Waccamaw River is recognized as a defining feature of Horry and Georgetown Counties in coastal South Carolina. Since 2001, local advocates have been focused on protecting, preserving, monitoring and revitalizing the health of the lands and waters of the Waccamaw. Numerous community stewardship programs have been launched since then, including community cleanups, volunteer water quality monitoring and community involvement in local decision making. The Waccamaw River Volunteer Monitoring Program is a volunteer water quality monitoring effort administered jointly by the Waccamaw Riverkeeper and Coastal Carolina University's Waccamaw Watershed Academy since 2006 (www.coastal.edu/wwa/vm/index.html). The Waccamaw Riverkeeper's Adopt-a-Landing Program encourages local groups to adopt a public landing on the river and agree to litter cleanup and beautification efforts. Community members are involved in efforts to develop strategies to protect the river and riparian lands using local ordinances and incentives. The Crabtree Swamp Restoration project is a 3+ year project focused on restoring the natural hydrology of this tributary to the Waccamaw River by reconnecting the floodplain and restoring natural vegetative buffers.

Since the Waccamaw River Blue Trail was launched in 2009, it has energized the community and increased participation in its stewardship. The increase in paddling activities as evidenced by an increase in local outfitters and local clubs is evidence of the community's interest in the Waccamaw River Blue Trail. Our protection measures have also been embraced by the local community and efforts are underway to ensure stewardship of the river and its surrounding lands.

Conservation of lands along the Waccamaw River is an important part of the Waccamaw River Blue Trail. American Rivers leads a task force with stakeholders from governmental and non-governmental organizations, including the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, Pee Dee Land Trust, Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, United States Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, Horry County and the City of Conway. This task force coordinates efforts with the Winyah Bay Task Force to identify priority conservation lands along the Waccamaw River and develop strategies for protection. These strategies include pushing for Land and Water Conservation Fund monies for Refuge land acquisition projects, identifying federal and state funding sources for land conservation and conservation easements and leading efforts to develop local ordinances for riparian protections.

The Waccamaw River Blue Trail provides a number of opportunities for community involvement in identifying and implementing strategies to protect and restore the health of the Waccamaw River and its surrounding land.

 

Community Support

Since the Waccamaw River Blue Trail effort was launched in 2009, the local community has been very supportive of the Blue Trail and its watershed protection goals. Local government has supported the initiative. For example, the City of Conway established the Conway Paddle Trail on a tributary of the Waccamaw River as part of the overall Blue Trail effort.

Through numerous presentations and social media presence, the community has been kept informed and engaged in ongoing Blue Trail efforts including through paddle events. In 2009, over 50 paddlers participated in the Inaugural Blue Trail paddle at which the City of Conway and its Chamber of Commerce expressed support. This support was reiterated in 2011 when the Blue Trail maps were released and a paddle event occurred at the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge's Cox Ferry Lake Recreational Area. In support of the Blue Trail, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper hosts quarterly "If the River Could Talk" paddle events to engage paddlers in regular outings on the Blue Trail.

Community members, local business leaders, and elected officials have also written numerous letters in support of LWCF acquisition efforts within the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge and along the Blue Trail.

The Waccamaw Riverkeeper also established an Adopt-a-Landing Program to engage community groups in litter cleanup and beautification of public access points along the river. These two efforts are being leveraged to engage community members in adopting sections of the Waccamaw River Blue Trail for long-term maintenance and stewardship.

 

Public Information

Information about the Waccamaw River Blue Trail is available to the public on American Rivers and Waccamaw Riverkeeper's websites. At each site, you can download the Waccamaw River Blue Trail map that provides information on access to the trail, trail routes of different lengths, and features that the paddler is likely to encounter along the trail route. These features include cultural resources such as the Gullah-Geechee rice culture, historic features such as ship building locations, and natural features such as conservation lands and the wildlife that inhabit them. Interpretive information to supplement the Blue Trail map is also found on the American Rivers website, including River Stories that features information on the Blue Trail. Information on the Waccamaw River is also found at the Waccamaw Riverkeeper website including links to water quality information collected by volunteers participating in the Waccamaw River Volunteer Monitoring Project and links to data collected by the United States Geological Survey gauges for water quantity and water quality on the Waccamaw River.

Online viewers can take a virtual tour down the Waccamaw River Blue Trail through American Rivers and the National Park Service's "River Stories" project by visiting www.AmericanRivers.org/RiverStories. River Stories is an innovative, web-based storytelling format that aims to engage people in understanding, enjoying, and conserving their waterways. Using National Geographic's groundbreaking GeoStories platform, River Stories combines maps, photos, and video to take viewers on virtual tours of waterways across the country, allowing them to experience the journey on the water and see how people are making a difference locally.

The Blue Trail is promoted to the local community through civic presentations, at local conferences, and through social media outreach. It is also promoted at nationwide conferences by American Rivers.

Waccamaw Riverkeeper and American Rivers continue to work on adding signage to promote the Blue Trail. We continue to work with local chambers and businesses to expand marketing of the Blue Trail to local and tourist audiences.

 

Trail Maintenance

Maintenance of the Waccamaw River Blue Trail is a collaborative effort involving American Rivers, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, and the Parks and Recreation Departments of Horry and Georgetown Counties and the City of Conway.

The County/City Parks & Recreation Departments are the responsible entities for maintaining the public access boat landings to the Waccamaw River Blue Trail. In 2011, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper launched its Adopt-a-Landing Program to engage local community groups in litter cleanup and beautification at these Blue Trail access points, in partnership with these local government departments.

The Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge maintains the Cox Ferry Lake Recreational Area including the canoe/kayak launch area. The Refuge has plans for infrastructure improvements at this access by 2013, including an improved boat launch area that will be designed, constructed and maintained by incorporating sustainability principles. The Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority also has plans to install a canoe and kayak launch to supplement its landing and marina improvements on the Waccamaw River in the Bucksport community.

 

Planning

The Upper Waccamaw Task Force is a coalition of Waccamaw River Blue Trail partners and stakeholders working toward a vision to expand conservation lands along the Waccamaw River. Together, the Task Force members have successfully advocated for Land and Water Conservation Fund monies for expansion of the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge within its current boundaries. In addition, Task Force members have developed criteria for identification of priority conservation lands to protect water quality, habitat and recreation opportunities along the Blue Trail. Property owners have been identified and invited to participate in workshops designed to raise awareness and interest in conservation easements of their riparian properties. Task Force members are pursuing grant opportunities for land acquisition within the priority protection area that has been identified as part of this coalition.

The Waccamaw Riverkeeper partners with Coastal Carolina University's Waccamaw Watershed Academy to administer a volunteer water quality monitoring program on the Waccamaw River. This project focuses on determining water quality conditions temporally and geographically along the Waccamaw River, detecting and eliminating illicit discharges to the river and identifying long-term strategies for maintaining and restoring good water quality in the Waccamaw River in partnership with local, state and federal governmental agencies.

The partners are also working with local government to identify strategies for land protection through the implementation of Low Impact Development practices incorporated into local ordinances.

American Rivers' staff serves on the City of Conway's Bike, Hike, and Paddle Committee. This committee is tasked with the planning and implementation of the city's recreation projects. This committee has been working with Blue Trail partners to acquire lands within the city's boundary and along the river that would provide camping and access for Blue Trail paddlers.

Project partners also serve on the Horry County Parks and Open Space Board. Priorities for this County Council appointed board are to further acquisition efforts along the Waccamaw adjacent to public landings and promote connectivity with protected lands along the Waccamaw through a system of land-based trails. Since beginning work on the Blue Trail, the Horry County Council has adopted a priority protection map that includes the Waccamaw River corridor as part of its Open Space Plan.

 

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