15 February 2008

Keep Off the Mound

National Wildlife Refuges are on the top of my list of places to visit. The Southeast of the U.S. doesn't have a multitude of National Parks but Wildlife Refuges abound. I'm lucky to say that I've been to most of the ones in the South Carolina/Georgia/Florida area. On the latest trip back from South Carolina we decided to stop at Santee National Wildlife Refuge for a quick visit. For some reason, I thought this would be my first time stopping here but now that I've studied the map I realize that I actually first visited the Dingle Pond Unit back in 2002.

The SNWR is divided into 4 main sections: Bluff Unit, Dingle Pond Unit, Pine Island Unit and Cuddo Unit. Each one is a little different from hardwood forests to open water to marsh land. On this trip I would be exploring the Bluff Unit where the Visitor Center is located and also the site of the Santee Indian Mound.

The SNWR boasts over 260 species of birds on their checklist. We were only there for 30 minutes and saw everything from White-crowned Sparrow to Black and White Warbler to Blue-headed Vireo. The SNWR is located on the banks of Lake Marion but maybe due to the weather we didn't seen any waterfowl.

My favorite part of the refuge was the Santee Indian Mound. The mound itself is over 3,000 years old and artifacts found date back to over 3,500 years old. The mound served as a ceremonial center to the native culture. This mound also served as a burial site in which archaeologists have excavated over 16 of the graves.

In the 1650's the Santee tribe numbered around 3,000 members but by the 1700's this was reduced to 500 mostly due to illness or death brought by the Spanish and English settlers. The Mound also gained notoriety when it was used as a British fort during the American Revolution. The outpost was named Fort Watson. The abandoned ceremonial site was the ideal location for a fort since it provided an elevated vantage point that overlooked the Santee River.

One of the best parts about the National Wildlife Refuges is that they not only preserve the land for wildlife but they definitely preserve the cultural aspects of the land. I always learn something new about my country when I visit a park and that will always keep bringing me back.

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