Sullivan’s Island boardwalk offers birds, butterflies and peaceful views

Jeff Jackson, designer of the Station 16 Nature Trail, says he wanted the trail that winds through the maritime forest to blend into the dunes and not be obtrusive.

— Jeff Jackson stood in the cool shade of hardwood trees that rose over a meandering trail where ocean currents once swirled.

Nearby were the neighborhoods and roads, tourists and cars, the bars and restaurants of a beach town. But this was a different 100-acre world where the sound of the surf filtered into thick woods.

“When you are back here, you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere,” Jackson said.

On Friday, the island unveiled about 650 feet of boardwalks, observation decks and benches offering peaceful, secluded views of the harbor, forested wetlands and vegetated dunes.

“Some of the best birding and butterflying in town,” Jackson said. He is a landscape specialist and environmental consultant the town hired to design the boardwalks, which he said have an angular path that reflects island features, such as the triangle-shaped lighthouse.

Charleston County made the $54,000 project possible with funds from its Greenbelt program. Stretches of boardwalk were built in different habitats along about 2,000 feet of dirt and sand paths that the town maintains in the wilderness near Fort Moultrie.

The maritime forest looks like it has been around for a long time, but it is still wet behind the ears on an island where history is measured in centuries.

“This land is only about 50 years old. It’s like a living laboratory,” Jackson said.

The Station 16 Nature Trail is considered a primitive pedestrian path because it has no drinking water or bathrooms. It is open from dawn to dusk, the town said. Parking on road shoulders is available at the park entrance and in the neighborhood.

Boulders that were part of a seawall can be seen on Station 16 Street at the entrance to the trail. Nearly a century ago, it was where the ocean washed ashore. Because of the harbor jetties and the forces of nature, the island continues to grow at its south end where sand has steadily moved ashore over the years. The maritime forest grew on the new land.

The town could have made a bundle selling the property. Instead, Sullivan’s opted to preserve the acreage in the late 1980s when the island leadership entered an agreement with the Lowcountry Open Land Trust to preserve the accreted land.

The thinking at the time was that the area was worthy of protection because it offered a unique habitat and nesting grounds for a wide variety of wildlife. And the area created a buffer between homes and destructive storms, according to the Land Trust.

“The citizens and Town Council of Sullivan’s Island recognized the imminent danger that development of the accreted beach posed to their community and sense of place, and took action to ensure the beach’s permanent protection,” the Land Trust says.

The new beach and maritime forest built up because the 3-mile-long harbor jetties block the offshore southerly flow of sand that then moves landward to Sullivan’s. The jetties were built in the late 1890s.

Some beachfront homeowners are not pleased with how the town has managed the forest and have taken Sullivan’s to court. At issue is their right to cut back vegetation that obscures a view of the beach. The case, which is unresolved, has been winding its way through the courts for several years.