Sullivan’s plans maritime forest boardwalks this summer

This trail winds through the young maritime forest that has formed on the acreted land near Station 16 on Sullivan’s Island. The town is accepting bids for the construction of observation platforms, footbridges and boardwalks through the forest and dunes.

SULLIVAN’S ISLAND — Boulders that were part of a seawall can be seen on Station 16 Street at the entrance to the maritime forest. Nearly a century ago, it was where the ocean washed ashore.

“We’d be standing in water right now. People don’t understand what a dramatic thing this is,” said town Administrator Andy Benke.

Sullivan’s keeps adding more land at its southern end near Fort Moultrie where the forest has doubled to nearly 200 acres in 25 years.

“It grows every day,” he said.

To raise awareness and increase access to the preserve, the town plans nearly 200 yards of boardwalks as well as overlooks for the harbor and wetlands. The project will help conserve the dunes, Benke said.

“It’s still a fragile environment,” he said. “The idea is to keep all the foot traffic off of it.”

On Friday, the town received bids for boardwalk construction, which is funded through the Charleston County Greenbelt Program. If the town accepts one of the bids, project construction will begin this month and be completed by early May.

“I think it would be a great idea to have a boardwalk. It’s a good way to see it (the forest) and keep your feet dry,” said islander Buster Blalock.

Sullivan’s has spent $61,000 in Greenbelt funds out of a total $197,700 it was awarded. Greenbelt money has been used to build boardwalks from the street to the beach at Station 18 and Station 22. Boardwalk work was also done at Station 26.

Town management of the forest is the subject of litigation brought by some property owners who want to be able to see the beach from their homes. At issue is the allowed height of forest vegetation. The suit states that the plaintiffs’ properties have been reduced in fair-market value by at least $1 million to $1.5 million each because of the loss of ocean views. The owners of about 118 lots on the island have endorsed the legal action. After going to court, the suit is now in mediation between the town and the two plaintiffs.

In the late 1980s, the island leadership entered an agreement with the Lowcountry Open Land Trust that ensures the accreted land will remain in its natural state.

“Sullivan’s Island took it off the market and walked away from a considerable amount of money,” Benke said.

The land has built up because of the three-mile-long Charleston Harbor jetties that block the offshore southerly flow of sand that then moves ashore at Sullivan’s. The jetties were built in the late 1890s.

Trails that crisscross the maritime forest provide a path through stands of hardwoods that abut vegetated dunes dotted with cactus. There are views of Fort Sumter and wetlands.

Visitors and residents take in the sights on the well-worn footpaths that branch off from a dirt road that serves as a way to the beach. Migratory birds, bobcat, deer, coyote, rabbits and a pig are among the creatures seen in the woods. Monarch butterflies are seasonal visitors, Benke said.

During a tour of the preserve, he walked to the planned location of a harbor overlook where passing freighters could be seen.

“What a million dollar view,” he said.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711.