The Bluff Magazine Spring/Summer 2016

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the bluff Spring/Summer 2016


AMAZING GRACE The Bluff’s antique yacht the returned to us from a restoration as exciting as her storied past.


ARTFIELDS Learn about this nationally recognized art festival located in a small South Carolina town.



HAVE BBQ, WILL TRAVEL Bluffton’s food truck scene has blossomed with a variety of interesting foods and cultures blending into one.


LEGENDS OF SPRING Conservancy director Jay Walea relives some of the most famous turkey hunts on Palmetto Bluff.



Get to know Justin Hardy, valued member of the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy.

Shop some of Bluffton’s best shops with our picks of the season.


THE SPIRITS OF SUMMER Try these refreshing summer cocktail recipes created at Montage Palmetto Bluff.


PRESERVING TO EXPAND Crescent Communities invested more than $100 million to expand the beautiful Montage Palmetto Bluff.



FISH CAMPS: THE SECRETIVE HISTORICAL GEMS OF LOWCOUNTRY LIVING Welcome to one of the secret Lowcountry playgrounds that no one talks about – a traditional fish camp.

66 PULL!

Get the inside scoop on the Palmetto Bluff Shooting Club from a first-time shooter.


THE SEASON OF SHRIMP Shrimping on the May River has never been so entertaining than with this cast of characters.


AN ADVENTURER AND AN ARTIST John Witzel Walters is a renowned Charleston painter with a surprising and interesting past.


CHASING GHOST CATS Local sightings of the extinct eastern cougar raise questions of whether or not this species is truly gone from the Lowcountry.


A MODERN SHEPHERD Spend a day on the farm of Craig Rogers, a businessman, chef and most importantly, shepherd.


CALENDAR OF EVENTS The Bluff’s bustling social calendar is chock-full of great events. Don’t miss out!

Created by & for those who love this special Lowcountry idyll Publisher Courtney Hampson Editor Anna Jones Photography/Illustrations Sloan Bragg

Katherine Lambert

Jamison Mady

Carrie Friesen

Keith Lanpher

Mark McCollough

Janet Garrity

Bonjwing Lee

Mark Staff

Rob Kaufman

Krisztian Lonyai

John Witzel Walters

Writers Amanda Baran Cutrer

Barry Kaufman

Peter Taylor

Courtney Hampson

Sarah Sanford

Jay Walea

Anna Jones

Dylan Sell

Tim Wood

Designers/producers Sally Auguston

Kevin Prenoveau

Lauren Dixon

Teddy Shipley

Shawn Kelley

Karen Smith

Amanda Lax Real Estate Sales

800.501.7405 Inn Reservations



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SHE HAS LED THE KIND OF LIFE THAT NOVELS ARE BASED ON. She traveled with millionaires on the Hudson River and Long Island Sound in the 1920s. She toured with a floating theatre group that brought a hint of culture and revelry to desolate river towns far removed from highways and railroad lines. She is rumored to have been witness to a murder, and she mysteriously fell off the radar for decades, only to be discovered in the 1980s living a hobo’s existence.

By Tim Wood . Photos by Katherine Lambert

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hat’s where, thanks to a kind benefactor, she went from homeless to

U.S. history. Despite Neily’s affection for Grace, his high-society parents did

regaining her past luster and glory. And to be clear, we’re talking about

not approve, seeing her as nothing more than a social climber. The courtship

an antique motor yacht, not a movie star or a heroine in a best-selling book, although she’d do well as both.

led to a disagreement between father and son that lasted for decades. Neily and Grace eloped in 1896 and became a formidable duo despite

“When Crescent built Palmetto Bluff they were looking for a period piece,

their black sheep status in the Vanderbilt family. They traveled the world,

a flagship that would truly tie together the property and the town of Wilson

becoming close friends with members of European royalty and especially the

Village,” said Chris Story, manager of the Bluff ’s Wilson Landing Marina.

British monarchy. The pair eventually returned to New York, where Neily

“The boat was at another resort, but we knew we had to have her.”

reconciled with his family, and Grace was finally accepted as a Vanderbilt.

Soon after Crescent Communities purchased the yacht, then named the

Historians of early 20th-century New York say Grace’s parties were

Zapala, she was rechristened as the MV Grace, named after the sister of R.T.

extravagant as well as popular. When the Vanderbilt family patriarch died,

Wilson Jr., who owned Palmetto Bluff in the beginning of the 20th century.

Neily discovered his inheritance had been cut to a paltry $1.5 million. His

Story and his crew of captains have been her stewards for the last decade.

brother Alfred, heir to the estate, later increased that total to $6 million.

The Grace has become a beloved member of the Bluff family, and much like her namesake, has been host to tour groups along the May River as well as countless parties and weddings. But by 2013, in the midst of her rebirth, she could no longer withstand the test of time.

With their deep pockets Neily and Grace became leaders of society both in New York and in the yachting circles of Newport, Rhode Island. Neily later died of a brain hemorrhage aboard his yacht in Miami in 1942. Grace outlasted him by 11 years, dying of pneumonia in 1953. Joseph B. Cousins, Esq. ran in the same social circles as Grace and Neily.

“She’s an amazingly sturdy vessel, but even the strongest wooden boats are

The millionaire lawyer was a member of the Manhasset Bay Yacht Club

hit hard by the saltwater,” Story said. “The U.S. Coast Guard came in and

and needed a commuter boat to go back and forth from Long Island to the

said the Grace needed a lot of work to get back on the water. The keel, the

city. He commissioned the New York Yacht, Launch & Engine Company of

keelson, the ribs, the planking – it was all deteriorating.”

Morris Heights, New York, to build a 60-foot-long vessel in 1913. Palmetto

It was then that Story and his team discovered the Grace was just one of

Bluff ’s Grace was born.

five known operational pre-World War I vessels left in the United States, so

The boat, originally named the Sispud II, was outfitted in rich mahogany

they undertook what seemed to be an intricate yet fairly simple restoration.

and offered unusually roomy accommodations for her size to meet Cousins’

In early December 2014, the Grace traveled up the Intracoastal Waterway to

needs. The engine room and crew’s quarters were built well-forward. The

Beaufort, North Carolina, for a three-month-long facelift.

galley was built aft of the engine room and extended the full length of the

But, alas, nothing about the Grace has ever been simple. When her history is known, it makes perfect sense that her renovation would itself become yet another dramatic chapter of her story.

boat. The main salon was the spacious centerpiece of the yacht, built with a large folding table for sizable gatherings. In the peacetime years before and after World War I, Cousins used the vessel both to travel for business in New York and to host family parties in Long


Island Sound. But as Cousins’ fortunes grew, he wanted a larger boat, so he sold

Late 19th-century New York was filled with innovation, largesse and

the Sispud II to an entrepreneurial trapeze artist named James Adams, and the

decadence. Thriving businessmen formed a cultural elite in what was

sailing beauty was sprung from the New York waters for her next adventure.

becoming one of the largest economic hubs in the country.

Adams and his wife, fellow circus trapeze star, Gertie, had a dream to take

Among New York high society, Grace Wilson became legendary. The

their performing skills from land to sea. They scraped together $8,941 to

daughter of the prominent and wealthy banker Richard Thornton Wilson Sr. was a popular socialite. “All of our research shows she definitely enjoyed the lifestyle her father provided,” Story said.

have a Washington boat builder cobble together a 128-foot-long, two-story barge he would transform into a 700-seat floating theater, which became home for the James Adams Floating Theatre.

That all changed when she met Cornelius “Neily” Vanderbilt, son of Cornelius II, and became a part of one of the most celebrated and notable families in

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For nearly three decades, the James Adams Floating Theatre traversed the

winning novel “Showboat.” The book engendered the Broadway musical of the

waterways of Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina and Georgia.

same name, one of the most beloved Broadway shows of all time.

Adams hired family to run the business side of the circus, and along with his sister, Beulah, and her husband, Charlie Hunter, they assembled a troupe filled with Midwestern and Western stage performers. Adams stayed away from Broadway veterans, fearing they would look down upon their midAtlantic and Southern audience and boast of how everything was classier and better in the big city. The actors lived aboard the barge while Adams and his brood took up residence on the Sispud II. For 28 seasons, the floating theatre made its way into nooks of civilization along the riverbanks that industrial progress had overlooked. The actors became beloved for bringing culture to towns that revolved around fisheries. Among the most famous performers of the James Adams Floating Theatre was Edna Ferber, a celebrated author who became enamored with the floating theatre in the mid-1920s. She spent many nights aboard the Sispud II hosted by Adams, and her time with the company became the basis for her award-


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Adams and his crew carried the shows along the coast, staying a week at a time in a coastal docking. After nearly sinking in November 1929, the theatre barge and the Sispud II were sold to Nina Howard, a wealthy widow from Maryland who loved the floating theater so much she followed the barge on her own yacht. She continued to run the company into the 1930s, as the shows became a welcome respite during the Great Depression, before an accident crippled the barge in 1938, and a fire sank it for good in Savannah, Georgia, in 1941. That’s where the history of the Bluff ’s beloved river queen gets a bit murky. It is assumed that after running alongside the floating theater, the Sispud II survived the Savannah fire and moved from owner to owner for decades. The boat’s whereabouts for the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s are largely a mystery. Story said he and his crew have uncovered a few sordid tales that piece together some of the years, including one rumor of an epic crime onboard. “We saw newspaper reports and police reports that a husband had murdered his wife aboard a vessel that fit the description of the Sispud II,” Story said.

“The husband apparently committed the crime onboard, wiped the planks clean

When Story and the staff at Palmetto Bluff got hold of the vessel in 2003,

of blood and dragged his wife off the boat into a house where the body was

the boat received a number of additional cosmetic improvements before

discovered. This was long before ‘CSI’-type forensics, so the ship’s interior must

being rechristened a third time, taking the name of R.T. Wilson’s beloved

have been turned upside down while officials looked for evidence.”

sister Grace.

In 1990, yachting enthusiast and shipbuilder Earl McMillen discovered

Captains Herb Rennard, Trey Snow and Ed Johnson began taking the Grace

her in disrepair and out of the water, lying on the grounds of a boatyard

out for tours of the May River. The vessel holds 24 passengers along with a

in Thunderbolt, Georgia. The boat reportedly served as a non-floating

captain, mate, bartender and server.

residence for the boatyard staff for years.

“What an honor it has been to take the Grace out on the waters, share her

McMillen and a group of antique yacht lovers relocated the vessel to

history with our passengers and, at the same time, weave in stories of Bluffton

Fairhaven, Massachusetts, where an eight-month resuscitation began. The

when the Grace was first built and the Wilsons first took ownership of the

boat was taken apart plank by plank and outfitted with air conditioning, new

Bluff,” Johnson said. “As a captain, you seldom get to helm a boat this rare.”

plumbing, electrical and planking that matched its original design. Hatches and handrails were refabricated while the interior was largely still pristine and left intact. McMillen named the reborn vessel the Zapala and for years sailed the waterways of Maryland, where he made his home base.

The Grace has done her duty as the floating matriarch of the Bluff for nearly a decade and enjoyed a renaissance while finally back on the water, but the years of inactivity once again caught up with her. In 2013, U.S. Coast Guard officials conferred with Story and his team of captains, outlining a number of issues with the Grace.

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“If you looked at her, you’d think she was in as good a shape as ever. But below the water line, there were a lot of problems,” Story said. The keel, keelson, ribs and planking were again in an advanced state of decay. Giving up on the Grace was not an option. The owners at Palmetto Bluff took great pride in being part of the story of this floating museum, so a larger restoration plan was conceived with the help of Moores Marine Yacht Center in Beaufort, North Carolina. In December 2014, Johnson and Rennard began a five-day journey up the Intracoastal Waterway to the Moores boatyard. U.S. Coast Guard Team Lead Roman “Zak” Hryniszak was part of the initial inspection of the Grace and was astounded at the seaworthiness of the yacht despite 103 years of service. “I’ve been at this for 30 years, doing inspections and seeing early-era boats, but this one is truly special,” Hryniszak said. “She is a real head-turner. The original wood in the keel and up forward in the peak, it’s just amazing what solid shape the material was in. Unheard-of really, but it speaks to the Ohio Valley white oak that is at its roots.” Hryniszak led a team of inspectors, including students, who picked through every inch of the boat. After all, this was a teaching and learning moment the leader knew he and his pupils would likely never have again. “We wanted to be part of keeping this history alive, and to see the attention and the dollars that Palmetto Bluff has put into keeping her afloat, it’s truly

A B O V E : Detailed restoration of Grace’s inner planks being completed. L E F T: Captain Ed grins at Grace’s restoration progress.

heartwarming to an old deckhand like me,” Hryniszak said. “I know we probably poked around more than the Moores crew or the Bluff folks would have liked, but we all knew we had to do right by Grace.” And just like you see on any restoration show like “Love It or List It,” when you start to peel back the layers of a century-old structure, the to-do list expands rapidly along with the renovation budget. Story confirmed the thoroughness of Hryniszak’s inspection with a grin. As a boat lover and Grace groupie, he knew the work must be done. But as a project manager who needed to present revised budgets to three different sets of management, he had many a sleepless night. “Zak and his crew, they have been amazing. Every step has been done out of nothing but love. But with each new item, the renovation just continued to go long past the original timeline,” he said.

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know every bit of material, to source woods and grains that haven’t been used for decades, they are craftsmen unlike I’ve ever seen,” Story said. Almost a year to the day of being left in North Carolina, the Grace finally began her voyage home, and the final tally of work was daunting. In all, 31 bottom planks and 40 ribs were replaced. More than 65 percent of the keel was deadwood that had to be replaced. The engine was rebuilt and installed. Fourteen floor timbers were replaced from the galley going forward. A new shaft log and packing, a new stern post and horn timber. A new keel check, a rebuilt rudder system. A new bow thruster and a new exhaust system. The engine room floor was replaced; a new watertight bulkhead and keelson were

Through it all, Story and Johnson both made trip after trip to Moores

built; shafting was rebuilt; 28 keel bolts and six drifts were replaced, and

Marine Yacht Center to check on the progress and witness the craftsmanship

approximately 35 percent of the wiring was removed and replaced.

of the Moores crew.


“It was just stunning. Nate Smith and his crew, they are true magicians. To

All the while, Johnson made sure to take endless pictures of the progress.


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“So much of the work was done below the water line. It would be next to

“With all this brass and brawn, I think we can make a real special

impossible to explain to owners and visitors the true scope of this rebirth

commemorative piece,” Johnson said.

with words alone,” he said. Johnson said he and Bluff officials plan to make an exhibit with the photos to detail the work. Finally, on December 10, 2015, the Grace headed home to Palmetto Bluff. Johnson and Rennard again led the journey, with a stop at Lady’s Island for a few finishing touches before receiving a hero’s welcome at Wilson Landing.

make the boat’s next chapter all the more special. “It’s a little intimidating being responsible for something that is irreplaceable, but we’re ready,” Johnson said. “Captain Herb has been my mentor, and we learned so much about the plumbing and electrical and the

history. It was just one horn blowing after another. We had a lot of smiles,

guts of this boat, so we’ll be ready to help her when needed. We want as

being able to make that trip,” Johnson said.

many people to get on this boat as possible. And we’re going to do all we can

hauled a truckload of planks and more than 80 pounds of metal, including the old keel bolt, back to Bluffton.


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stories of service to socialites, troubadours and boat enthusiasts. That will

“It was quite a trip home. People in passing boats knew they were looking at

His crew made sure they salvaged any mementos of the restoration. They


The journey back to the water was as epic as the ship’s century-worth of

to keep her afloat for another 100 years.”

Residential interior Design

Commercial interior Design

Hospitality interior Design

international Projects

J Banks Design stuDio & Retail stoRe | 35 Main street, Hilton Head island, sC |

J Banks Collection

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843.837.9300 15

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CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Jones-Carter Gallery

competition pieces for the 2015 ArtFields®, Drawing in Nature Workshop, Color Me ArtFields® 5K, A student-led tour (one of the children’s activities during the festival).


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If you drive a hundred or so miles north of

However, the tobacco boom that tripled Lake City’s

In the beginning, it was just a vision and one that

Palmetto Bluff during the last week in April, you

population did not last. The federal government

not everyone believed would be realized. Moore

will come upon a small farming town with streets

encouraged farmers to stop growing tobacco.

was able to secure some sponsors, but she had

filled with people. If you are intrigued and stop to

“They gave each farmer so much money per acre

to fund many portions of the project through her

investigate, you will hear the sounds of musicians

not to grow tobacco anymore. Tobacco was the

foundation. One of Moore’s first undertakings was

playing and smell the delicious treats of sidewalk

main crop in the area. So the farmers had to start

the renovation of the historic bean market into a

vendors. If you enter a nearby coffee shop or

growing other crops, like soybeans. After they took

state-of-the-art event space and civic center. She

boutique, you will see striking artworks on the

tobacco off the market, we could see a decline in

chose the historic building because she wanted to

wall, pieces that you may think belong in some

the economy,” said historian Kent Daniels of the

bring new life to the town, but not at the expense

fancy gallery in a major city. If you look more

Lynches Lake Historical Society. “Some left the

of its identity.

closely, you’ll see under each piece the artist’s

area because of that,” explained Daniels.

statement and a number. The number indicates that you have just stumbled upon the greatest art


competition in our region, ArtFields®.

Here is where the visionary billionaire Darla

Artists and art lovers from all over the Southeast flock to Lake City, South Carolina, for the show. With prize money upwards of $100,000, it makes sense that extraordinary talent is demonstrated in the pieces on display. Awards are given by a panel of renowned artists and educators as well as by a popular vote. The event includes multiple activities such as concerts, portrait competitions, artist talks, and plein air painting. And it has been

Moore comes into the story and, with her, ArtFields. Moore is a native of Lake City, and she grew up on a former strawberry (and later tobacco) farm. She left Lake City in 1972 to attend the University of South Carolina in Columbia. This was the first step on her path to becoming the first woman to be featured on the cover of Fortune Magazine and one of the most successful businesswomen in the United States.

a great success. But how did it all come to be? How

On Moore’s visits back home over the years (she

did a sleepy southern town in rural South Carolina

still owns the farm that has been in her family

become such a premier art destination?

for generations), she witnessed the progressive


In the late 19th century, Lake City had a thriving turpentine industry. But as the pine trees were tapped out and cut for lumber, income from turpentine plummeted. Pine forests became fields, and the economy shifted to focusing on agriculture. To accommodate this shift in business, the people of Lake City turned a brick building in the downtown of the city into the National Bean Market, and soon this was one of the largest markets in the world for the sale of green beans. In

decline of Lake City. More and more empty storefronts lined the streets, and the previouslybustling tobacco warehouses stood vacant. Where others might have despaired at the changes, Moore saw an opportunity. Inspired by ArtPrize,

Adjacent to the civic center, she opened the JonesCarter Gallery to hold some of the ArtFields pieces during the weeklong competition. Walking into the Jones-Carter Gallery is not unlike walking into a gallery in New York City. There is a variety of work exploring different media and ideas. From large-scale oil portraits to abstract sculptural installations that hang from the ceiling, the pieces hold your interest no matter what your personal taste. When not hosting ArtFields pieces, the gallery has exhibits ranging from master artist Francisco de Goya’s work to a collection of modern American quilts. The inaugural ArtFields in 2013 was an overwhelming success. It brought in more than 22,000 visitors and poured $5.4 million into the town’s economy. New retail businesses opened in the Main Street area along with the Crossroads Hotel and several restaurants. Lake City was back on the map and began to grow again.

a large art competition in Michigan that brings

“We’ve received a very positive response. There

in more than $22 million to the surrounding area,

are a lot of people here, and just because it is a

she decided to create a similar event in Lake City

rural and small community doesn’t mean people

that would draw tourism dollars and provide a

don’t want to experience art and culture. In fact,

much-needed economic boost to the small town.

there is a lot of pride that they can have the small town life – the no-traffic, close-knit community

1939, as many as 30,000 bushels of produce were sold per day out of the market and were shipped on freight cars to far-flung markets. Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before tobacco began making serious inroads in vegetable farming and bringing with it considerably higher profit margins. By 1958 there were nine large tobacco warehouses in town, visible evidence that Lake City ranked second in the state and 11th in the nation for the volume of its tobacco trade.


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– and they can still have that experience with

What makes ArtFields unique is its commitment

and [visitors] can go to the Artists’ Roost, a place

high quality art. It enhances the lifestyle here,”

to the history, culture and the residents of Lake

where people can connect and discuss the art

said Ashley Jacobs, executive director of the

City. An expression of this commitment is the

with the creators. We have lots of local bands and

Community Museum Society, the coordinating

ArtFields annual portrait competition inside the

different local performers in the venues and in the

organization for ArtFields.

Bean Market. The subjects of the portraits are the

downtown area. The whole city becomes an art city.”

Works of art in ArtFields are displayed in local businesses throughout the town as well as in the Jones-Carter Gallery. This introduces people to the art and the community. According to Jacobs, “Business owners work with the staff to match the pieces with their venues. The business owner will review the work and say, ‘Oh, you know, I have a connection with that,’ or ‘I really respond to that piece.’ We want them to love the piece that is in their space.”


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farmers of the Lake City area. ARTFIELDS IN 2016

The 2016 ArtFields competition will begin on April 22 and last until April 30. “Our first celebration will be the art walk. It is basically for the community to come out and walk about the town. You can just meander around and listen to music, see art, get something to eat, and enjoy yourself,” said Jacobs. “The artists will be in town,

With the extensive rebuilding and rejuvenating of Lake City thanks to ArtFields, what’s next? Jacobs has her eyes on the abandoned tobacco warehouses. “I see the potential of their becoming so many different things: apartments, artist studio spaces, a concert space, maybe even a brewery.” And with the widespread success of ArtFields, it’s easy to imagine that those old warehouses will also become a part of Lake City’s vibrant new life.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Daniel D. and the Urban Instrumentalists, Reflecting on Aron Belka’s To Market, To Market. It is 8 ft. x 8 ft.!

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you’ve ever been to the Lowcountry, whether on the water or in the woods, you can probably agree that you have seen Mother Nature at one of her most sincere, relaxed and captivating moments – always thriving and providing for all forms of life that either call her home or stop by for a visit. With an ecosystem as diverse and robust as ours, it is imperative that Palmetto Bluff (and the Lowcountry in general) keeps people around who strive to protect this pristine land and learn its intricate ins and outs to promote the longevity of life for all its inhabitants. It was only a few minutes into my conversation with Justin Hardy, land and wildlife technician at the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy, that I realized he was one of those people whose intentions are to do everything he


what is your idea of perfect happiness?

A. A cold winter morning, camping and cooking bacon on the fire. Q.

What goes through your head as you drive to work each morning?

A. I try to plan out my day and think of what scheduled events I have and what

else I can squeeze in between.


And on the way home?

A. I just can’t wait to take a steaming hot shower. Q.

What is your greatest extravagance?

A. An R.T.’s cookie – love those things – and a Moscow mule on the weekend. Q.

Movie that you would recommend to friends?

can to preserve and enhance our natural habitat.

A. Cool Hand Luke.

A 2013 graduate of Georgia Southern University, Justin received his


bachelor’s degree in Geology with a minor in Geographic Information Systems. Even before taking this route, Justin had an inherent appreciation for the outdoors, having grown up in Eastman, Georgia, on a 100-acre property boasting a 40-acre fresh water lake created entirely by his grandfather. It was in these central Georgia woods that Justin spent many years as a Boy Scout, learned to fish (largemouth

If there were a movie about your life, what would it be called and which actor would play you?

A. The movie would be called Granite, and I’d be played by Dwayne (The Rock)

Johnson. Get the geology reference?!


What do you consider your greatest achievement?

A. I got married recently and have an awesome wife.

bass are his forte) and eventually grew into a true outdoorsman.


When Justin made his way to Bluffton to interview with Jay Walea,

A. A lot of people say I’m too quiet.

director of the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy, for an education and outreach position, he immediately fell in love with the property. “I’m from red clay and pine trees,” Justin said as he looked out over the marsh at Moreland Landing. “This open space, [it’s] beautiful. Drastically different.” He was so intrigued by the landscape that he decided to make the move to the Lowcountry before actually getting the job offer, “coincidentally” moving into a small town outside of Savannah directly across the street from Jay’s parents. True coincidence? Hey, that’s none of my business. Now, as a member of the Conservancy team at Palmetto Bluff, Justin’s days are a mix of property tours, education and outreach, guided deer and turkey hunts, maintaining corn feeders, planting food for native wildlife, environmental research and teaching at the University of South Carolina Beaufort Campus and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute about the 36 geologic wonders of the world. You might wonder how his new wife, Justine, feels about how busy he is. (The newlyweds sealed the deal in October 2015.) “I instantly fell in love with this place. There’s no other property like this that I’ve ever seen, and everyone here seems to feel the same way about it,” Justine said. I think it’s safe to say this land is lucky to have Justin (and Justine) as an advocate.


What is your most marked characteristic? What is the last book you read?

A. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. Q.

If you could have one “super power,” what would it be? How would you use it at work?

A. Flying, and I probably just wouldn’t ever walk again. Q.

When you’re not here, what are you doing?

A. Cooking, hanging out with my wife and fishing. Q.

What word do you use most?

A. “Paaaaah” – because mosquitos are always flying down my throat. Q.

What makes you laugh?

A. Sarcasm. Q.

Top five favorite artists?

A. Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Zac Brown Band, Eric Church and

The SteelDrivers.


Favorite spot on the Bluff?

A. This is the toughest question. If I have to pick, I would say the causeway

to Long Island, which is a hand-built rice dike.


Best Palmetto Bluff moment?

A. When I found out there were going to be 130 people in the Geology class

I am teaching.

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PEARCE S C OT T ARCHITECTS // 843.837.5700 // Bluffton, South Carolina 23

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NOTHING BEATS THE SWELTER OF A LOWCOUNTRY SUMMER LIKE A COOL COCKTAIL SIPPED ON A PORCH OVERLOOKING THE MAY RIVER. IT’S EVEN BETTER WHEN SOMEONE ELSE MAKES THE DRINK FOR YOU. Belly on up to the River House bar at Montage Palmetto Bluff for some of the summer’s most refreshing libations made from a variety of spirits and tonics. Here are our picks of this season’s cocktails crafted just for you. Just remember, a cocktail always tastes better with a date and a view – you snag the date, we’ll do the rest.

By Anna Jones | Photos by Krisztian Lonyai

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A bright and aromatic libation, Bonjour L’été combines three different

This herbal drink is complex yet balanced with a delicate recipe of bitter

versions of wine – vermouth, sherry, and blanc – to compose a deliciously

and fruity components to create a cool cocktail that won’t overwhelm the

easy (or perhaps dangerous) daytime-drinking cocktail. Reward yourself

palate. Throw in a few fresh local blackberries to complete the botanical

after a long bike ride through the Bluff’s bike trails with this refreshing

taste, then take your cocktail on a stroll down to Wilson Village.

drink and take in a sunset from the porch on the May.


1½ OZ. OLOROSO SHERRY (should be an off-dry or medium-sweet sherry; El Maestro Sierra or Bodegas Dios Baco are both inexpensive and work well)






3 STRAWBERRIES Muddle two of the strawberries. Add sherry, vermouth and Lillet. Shake well, strain and serve on the rocks in a Collins or Belgian beer glass. Garnish with a strawberry fan.

Muddle two of the cucumber slices. Add gin, Giffard, Fernet and lemon juice. Shake well, strain and serve straight up in a martini glass. Garnish with a cucumber wheel.

THE HEAT WAVE Spicy, yet hydrating, The Heat Wave uses tequila, coconut water, homemade jalepeño simple syrup and fresh lime juice to elevate your everyday margarita. The River House uses Herradura Silver Tequila often because of its reasonable price point yet high quality ingredients. It is made with 100% agave juice and on par with other top shelf tequilas. And did you know, tequila is one of the only liquors not made from grain? Tequila comes from Mexico and is made from the agave plant. Experts say that this libation results in little-to-no hangover when consumed properly, so you can sip on this by the pool all day with no regrets.


*Jalapeño Simple Syrup







Add all ingredients to mixing

Slice jalapeño in large strips, removing seeds. Put sugar,

glass. Shake well and serve on

water, and jalapeño slices into small saucepan; simmer

the rocks in a Collins glass.

for 15 minutes, stirring periodically. Let cool for at least

Garnish with a lime wheel and

30 minutes before using and/or storing. The syrup will

fresh jalapeño slice.

keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.

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p r e s e r v i n g

EXPAND By Amanda Baran Cutrer and Anna Jones


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When Palmetto Bluff was purchased in 2000 by Crescent Communities

outlined the $100-million expansion project designed to elevate the already-

(then Crescent Resources), it was clear that this incredible property came

exceptional Palmetto Bluff guest experience. With visions of new amenities

with a great responsibility. A responsibility to be true stewards of the land,

and additional luxury accommodations for Palmetto Bluff members and guests

protecting its natural splendor and its unique ecology. A responsibility to

to enjoy, the team broke ground for the new hotel in June 2014. And, pardon

treasure the property’s vast history, celebrating its rich past and the distinctive

the pun, the rest is history.

culture of the Lowcountry. A responsibility to maintain these cornerstones at the forefront of development, creating a community that is both authentic to its

An Historic Resort

heritage and steadfast in its vision of conservation.

Using R.T. Wilson Jr.’s early 20th century mansion as inspiration for the exterior

Fast-forward 15 years to Palmetto Bluff today, and you’ll find a bustling community with more than 6,000 acres of managed forest, 1,500 acres of protected forest and wetlands, and more than 420 homes. This is a living

of the main hotel structure, Kim Richards, chief executive officer and president of The Athens Group, the visionary behind the resort expansion project, and his team set forth in designing the new resort with the Bluff’s history as their guide.

testament to what the original creators of the Bluff set out to do. And just

“We didn’t change the concept [of the original Inn] … simply expanded the

as Crescent Communities’ early land planners intended, each development

concept,” says Richards.

decision is made after careful consideration of the recommendations of the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated not only to managing the land and wildlife of the 20,000 acres that constitute Palmetto Bluff, but also to assisting the developer in making environmentally conscious choices that allow nature and owners to happily coexist. So it comes as no surprise that when Crescent Communities announced its plan to expand Palmetto Bluff’s resort accommodations, these same community cornerstones were called upon to direct the architectural, structural and design decisions of the project. When the developers looked at Palmetto Bluff’s history, a history as expansive and dramatic as its acreage, all agreed that honoring the Bluff’s rich past was the only way to move forward with the new hotel. But first, some more recent history.

Sometime after R.T. Wilson Jr. bought the property in 1902, Wilson and his wife began planning the construction of a grand mansion. With dreams of entertaining their friends and hosting over-the-top parties, the plans of the house reportedly included 72 rooms, 21 bathrooms and a grand ballroom. A key architectural element of the Wilsons’ mansion were tall, round Georgian columns on its exterior. Unlike other Lowcountry columns, which are usually square and made out of wood, these columns were round and made from stone, an opulent and expensive addition in that time. The Athens Group used this distinguishing feature in its design for the new Inn: columns like those of the Wilsons’ mansion will flank the entrance and provide arriving guests a similar sense of understated grandeur. “We’d love to just have the old mansion, add a few rooms and be done with it,” joked Kyle Lott, lead designer for The Athens Group. “But we don’t, so the

Four Heads Are Better Than One

question is how will we re-create that to help tell the real Palmetto Bluff story.”

Over the years, Palmetto Bluff has been established as both a travel

Another structural component of the new Inn borrowed from the 20th century

destination and a place to settle down, creating the need for a broader

mansion is its classical proportions. Instead of building a multi-level hotel

selection of accommodations for families, corporate travelers and other guests.

that would tower above all other buildings and homes in the Bluff, the Inn will

But this alone did not dictate the decision to expand the hotel. With myriad

maintain the same proportions as the Wilsons’ mansion, keeping its size much

amenities available in Wilson Village, the opening of the Palmetto Bluff

more palatable and in line with the overall aesthetic of the community.

Shooting Club, and the recent groundbreaking of the second village, Moreland, the new level of activity and residential expansion within the community also demanded more rooms to host members, guests and visitors. So in 2012, the conversation began – the one that led to the decision to expand


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“We don’t have to reinvent anything. There’s already architectural vernacular here; we’re just retelling the South’s story one more time,” said Lott.

Eight Sides From Which to Order Your Drink

the 50-room Inn into a 200-room resort. An extraordinary team, composed

In the late 1700s, William McKimmy bought 900 acres along the May River

of executives from Crescent Communities, The Athens Group and Montage

(located in present-day Palmetto Bluff) and constructed one of the most

Hotels & Resorts, all with decades of development and resort expertise,

remarkable houses in the country: a house with eight sides. McKimmy’s





contrasting columns R.T. Wilson Jr.’s mansion had tall, round


columns, which contrasted the smaller, square columns seen in Lowcountry houses at that time. These round columns will flank the entrance of the new Inn. 2


Perfect proportions


The new Inn will maintain the same classical proportions used in the Wilsons’ mansion, keeping the size of the Inn comparable with other structures in Palmetto Bluff.

3 3

A Graceful Sister R.T. Wilson Jr.’s younger sister Grace Wilson Vanderbilt often visited her brother in Palmetto Bluff.


Extravagant Ballroom The grand ballroom of R.T. Wilson Jr.’s mansion was a wide, vast room and featured an arched ceiling accented with gold leaf imported from Italy. The Inn’s ballroom will be equally as spacious, spanning more than 7,000 square feet.


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What remains of Octagon Plantation.

octagonal house was the source of the plantation’s name, “Octagon Plantation.” (The house was identified in 2009 by Palmetto Bluff’s resident archeologist Dr. Mary Socci who conducted excavations at the site, which is located behind Inn cottages 13 and 14.) This structure may have been the first octagonal house ever built in the United States, and to commemorate this important piece of Palmetto Bluff history, an octagonal bar will be erected in the main bar lounge area of the new Inn. Made from heart of pine, the 14-seat bar will feature eight sides and maintain a cozy, lodge feel. A large 10-foot-by-12-foot map of the Bluff and surrounding areas painted by a local artist will complete the space.

Southern Hospitality Situated along the banks of the Palmetto Bluff inland waterway, upon completion – set for early-fall of this year – the main Inn structure and surrounding Lagoon Guest Houses will include 150 spacious rooms and suites. This room expansion will bring the total to 200 guest rooms, 76 of which debuted to the public in February 2016. The vistas from each room and suite vary, ranging from sweeping views of the seven-milelong waterway to private lagoons to lush maritime forest. The Athens Group wanted the hotel to uphold the current architectural style seen in Palmetto Bluff, which reflects the aesthetic of traditional Lowcountry homes. “What is at Palmetto Bluff was done so very well that we wanted to be consistent with the existing resort buildings so that the expansion appears seamless between the existing and the new additions,” said Lott.

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Additionally, a new 13,000-square-foot Spa Montage, which also includes a

“I’m excited to see the resort grow in several ways … with the addition of the

full-service hair salon, will provide ample space for guests to relax and unwind,

guest rooms, suites and event space, we will host larger weddings and social

with a host of custom spa services from which to choose. The Spa’s full-length

events. It’s an incredible facility, offering a variety of types of guest rooms

lap pool, multiple fitness centers, and yoga and movement studio will provide

that will cater to families as well as corporate travelers,” said Marcus Jackson,

the opportunity for guests to focus on their individual wellness.

general manager of Montage Palmetto Bluff.

Overlooking the winding waterway will be the resort pool, which will feature

Interior Inspiration

a casual bar and grill, allowing guests to dine al fresco by the pool, if they choose. A floating dock will connect the pool patio to the inland waterway, allowing members to arrive at the resort by boat.

Taking cues from the cool, coastal colors of the May River and the Lowcountry, Lott and The Athens Group are using sky blues, deep sages, and tone-on-tone neutrals to create the elegant color palette of the new Inn. Lott has traveled around

An elegant lobby lounge with another restaurant serving all meal periods and the

the world to curate the inimitable collection of antique and modern furniture that

aforementioned octagonal bar will offer additional culinary experiences for guests.

will be installed in the main building and new room accommodations.

The restaurant decor will mix the old with the new to create intimacy and luxury for guests without being overly formal. Two retail boutiques, an inviting library, a 7,000-square-foot ballroom, a beautiful wedding chapel and 7,200-square-feet of meeting and event space round out the new resort’s amenities.

“We want the place to feel like it was decorated over the span of 100 years,” Lott said. Hand-selected furniture and décor, like a tall antique case clock, alabaster urns, an antique umbrella stand and a stuffed pheasant, enhance the collected


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Phase 1 The first of the three phases of this expansion project was completed and opened to the public in November 2015. The May River Guest House, behind the River House in Wilson Village, added 14 new rooms to the resort, as well as a new look of the Inn, creating a comfortable yet refined sense of place that seems to have evolved over time. Interior inspiration for each of the new Lagoon Guest Houses comes from the original Palmetto Bluff Inn cottages, which are well-loved by guests and members alike. “Guests love the cottages. They actually become emotionally attached to them,” stated Jackson.

fitness facility, both overlooking the pool, the inland waterway or the May River.

Phase 2 The second of the three phases was completed in early February 2016. The Lagoon Guest Houses overlook the inland waterway and are accessible by bridge via golf cart.

The room accommodations in the new hotel will reflect the cozy

The six buildings resemble large Lowcountry residences from

sophistication of the current cottages, which feature warm whites,

the exterior, but inside, they actually consist of individual

luxurious linens and well-appointed details to ensure each guest’s

units. The units can be rented as single rooms, or several

experience is as welcoming and relaxed as being in their very own home.

rooms can be rented to create a village home experience.

To further integrate history into the design of the new Inn, the second

Phase 3

floor corridor will feature a gallery of historic photos taken by R.T. Wilson Jr.’s secretary, Harlem G. Rubert. The photographs were obtained by Lott and Dr. Mary Socci through Rubert’s grandson, Gerald Graves, who now lives in Arkansas. Depicting the opulent lifestyle of the Wilsons while they

The third phase, scheduled to open in September of this year, will be the actual Inn building with 74 rooms, spa, impressive 7,000-square-foot ballroom, conference room, lobby, restaurants, bar and more.

vacationed in Palmetto Bluff, the photographs are vital pieces of Palmetto Bluff’s early 20th century history. More to come on these photographs in

This new Inn location will also feature Palmetto Bluff’s

the next edition of the Bluff.

second chapel and 35 Montage-branded residences. The wedding chapel will be twice the size of the chapel in Wilson

Join Us

Village and will be perfect for hosting large weddings. It is

The new Inn celebrates the valued community cornerstones upon

directly across the street from the new Inn building.

which this place was founded. But don’t just take our word for it, visit us to experience it for yourself. With an open invitation from all of us at Palmetto Bluff, we hope to see you soon.


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As for the branded residential homes, they will be comparable to single-family Wilson Village homes, offering anywhere from 2,200 to 4,700 square feet of living space. These

For reservations, please contact Montage Palmetto Bluff at

residences will also offer Montage extended concierge

855.437.3601 or visit us online at

services to enhance an owner’s overall luxury experience.

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HAVE B B Q, W How the hip metropolitan trend of the modern food truck found an unlikely home in the Lowcountry.

By Barry Kaufman • Photos by Carrie Friesen & Rob Kaufman


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It’s a Friday, and the crowd is two things: abundant, and hungry. The abundance comes from the venue, both time and place. This Friday happens to be Black Friday, and it has descended on Hilton Head Island’s Coligny Plaza, bringing with it a mob of shoppers, a live performance by Cranford Hollow to whip them into a frenzy of rhythmic commerce, and even an appearance by Santa Claus (in a helicopter, no less).

The mob is hungry because of the sizzling siren

employees, Jack and Jamie, a countertop grill, two

Previously considered a blue-collar place to grab

song of pulled pork being expertly seared on a hot

basket fryers, and just enough counter space and

a bite, the old “roach coaches” witnessed their

grill, binding it into a perfect caramelization, with

prep space to satiate the hungry mobs just outside

clientele drying up as the construction industry

fall-apart tenderness and crackling crispness just

its aluminum frame. (“You have to like the people

deflated. At the same time, restaurants were

begging to be stuffed into a taco shell with slowly-

you work with,” says McCarthy, dodging elbows and

shuttering, sending gifted chefs out into the street

melting bleu cheese slaw.

tongs, “because you’re in pretty tight quarters.”)

and making restaurateurs gun-shy about investing

The mob is here; it is legion, and it is hungry.

“I love it when it gets crazy,” Jack says with a grin

And Ryan McCarthy is ready for them.

as he carefully spreads out a new order of shrimp

With this much culinary talent finding itself with

along the grill, the sesame glaze oozing out onto

nowhere to turn except for suddenly-affordable mobile

the grill and replenishing the mouth-watering

restaurants, a new movement in food was born.

“Shrimp! I got shrimp. Hey, is this yours?” he calls out against the sonic wall of Cranford Hollow’s “Black Gypsy.” A hand is quickly raised among the

A love of crazy is extremely helpful here because

the traditional menu items of the taco truck and

salsa quickly finds a good home in a rumbling

when you’re rolling into a scene like Black Friday,

remixed them with their own authentic flavors.

stomach. More hands, more rumbling stomachs

and you’re the only place around offering hot,

The movement spread quickly, spawning a slew of

rush in to fill the void outside the window of

delicious food to a hungry mob, crazy is what you’re

notable East Coast eateries like New York City’s

Downtown Curbside Kitchen.

going to get.

now-shuttered Rickshaw Dumpling Bar. With an architecture that relied on heavily-trafficked

Going Mobile

streets and a tendency to draw millennial

of the foodservice empire he owns with wife Leah

Even before the movie “Chef” gave food trucks

Twitterazzi, food trucks remained artifacts of big

that includes Downtown Catering and Bluffton’s

their cinematic due, the rise of these gourmet

city living.

Downtown Deli.

mobile eateries had been building for years in

But like any hot trend in food, it could not be

major cities. Oddly enough, it was the recession

contained to the big cities for long.

inside his food truck, the four-wheeled component

Inside, the truck is an orchestra of controlled chaos. Ryan shares roughly 80 square feet with two

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Pioneers like Kogi BBQ in Los Angeles took

mob, and a sesame shrimp taco with avocado corn

Having delivered the goods, McCarthy dips back


aroma that pervades the truck’s interior.

in a new business.

of 2008 that many point to as this trend’s genesis.

Ryan McCarthy, owner and chef of Downtown Curbside Kitchen, shows off his scrumptious shrimp tacos.

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A fresh lobster roll ready for its lucky owner.


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Bluffton Jumps on

to call it un-authentic.” It’s an apt term for an

“It was pure timing that the week after we got back

the Chuckwagon

epicurean playlist that remixes Southern coastal

with the food truck, Tanger Outlets started the

seafood with Tex-Mex and Californian influences.

Food Truck Court,” added Leah.

big-city tastes in food trends can be found at the

If you’ve been to an outdoor event in Bluffton,

Indeed, the McCarthy’s had purchased their truck

Tanger Outlets on the road to Hilton Head, where

you’re familiar with Lowcountry Lobster, the

(after a year of exhaustive research) as a way to

a kaleidoscopic array of food trucks dominates the

company that brought Northeast seafood to a

expand their growing catering empire. Downtown

south parking lot, serving as the de facto outdoor

Southeast seafood fight and won. Literally. They

Catering has been in business since 2002, racking

food court.

won Taste of Bluffton last year despite selling

up a slew of awards for the husband and wife team

lobster in the heart of shrimp country.

from esteemed venues like The Knot. Downtown

The easiest evidence that small-town Bluffton has

With names like “Kona Ice,” “Kaboom Foodtruck,”

Curbside Kitchen just happened to be the best way

“Ragin Cajun” and “Crave Cupcakes,” our local food

And then, of course, there is Downtown Curbside

trucks show that the modern food truck isn’t just

Kitchen. Oddly enough, the emergence of

tacos, hot dogs and sliders. It can be a three-course,

Tanger’s Food Truck Court right up the road from

“It is actually a dream to have a working sink and

al fresco experience. That’s not to say the food truck

Downtown Deli wasn’t initially what drove (no

ovens and fryers wherever we go now,” said Ryan.

staples aren’t well represented at Tanger.

pun intended) the McCarthy’s to get into the food

“The truck was primarily added to be more of a

truck business.

benefit to our catering clients and what we can do

Shrimp Loco follows several food truck traditions, namely creating mouth-watering spins on tacos

“The food truck was custom-built for us in Miami,

and telling you everything you need to know about

Florida. It was an eight-week process, and we picked

the truck in the name. As they say, “We don’t call

it up and drove it back to Bluffton in July,” said Ryan.

to take things up a notch.

off-premises. We just did a 300-person plated VIP dinner, and it was perfectly executed because we had a full catering kitchen right at our disposal.”

our food ‘authentic’ anything. In fact, we prefer

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And with their serendipitous timing, the McCarthy’s

The Association shared Shrimp Loco’s photo of

DHEC-certified kitchen and a place to store your

were able to not only expand their own operation,

local musician Jevon Daly throwing back a taco

stuff,” said Holland, in between brush strokes.

but to join a burgeoning culinary scene that is

(hashtagged #eatmoreshrimp #yummy). Above

finding a welcoming home in the Lowcountry.

that, a young man grins at the camera while chomping on a mini Moon Pie from Downtown

Circling the Wagons

Curbside Kitchen. It’s that way of taking the food

One surprising facet of this burgeoning mobile

truck experience and sharing it through photos,

culinary scene is the tight-knit community

letting the buzz build online, that helped build the

springing up among the various vendors. After all,

food truck movement become what it is. And it’s

there’s a certain fraternity that grows from sharing

what the Lowcountry Mobile Food Association is

the same parking lot, feeding the same hungry

doing for its members.

mob, and rolling out at the same time each day.

But that’s not to say it’s all hashtags and tweets.

And the food truck operators who have started

Even food trucks have to park somewhere.

calling the Lowcountry home are no different.

six parking bays, a place to charge and, finally, a viable headquarters for this growing movement. And of course, every step of construction was shared on Facebook, from steel frames to drywall to – shortly after our conversation – paint. It’s ironic that a food trend birthed from a real estate bust, raised in the city and schooled in mobility is now finding such a welcome home in a new piece of real estate in a small town that

During our conversation, Holland was at that

encourages one to sit down a moment and relax.

moment trading her social media hat for a

But that’s part of what makes the Lowcountry’s

banded together to form the Lowcountry Mobile

painter’s cap, applying a fresh coat to Lowcountry

food truck scene unique.

Food Association, a group dedicated to that

Kitchen, an actual brick-and-mortar DHEC-

brotherhood of local vendors. As Lowcountry

certified kitchen for local food trucks and caterers.

“There is strength in numbers,” and that strength

While the local food trucks have established bonds

is evident as you peruse the LMFA’s Facebook

and have helped each other out online and in the

page. With every post, they’re promoting the

trenches of a parking lot lunch rush, establishing

members of this growing family. There are the

an actual base of operations for them is one of the

standard Facebook calls to action (Come see our

best ways this community has proven its devotion

trucks at the Savannah Speed Classic! Don’t miss

to establishing the trend in the Lowcountry.

us at The Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festivals!),

“It will help not only our truck, but other people

but there are also the viral slices of life that helped

who need what we need. We know how important

define the food truck movement.

it is to be able to park and have power and have a

“People who live in the Lowcountry understand and want what is offered in bigger cities as long as we keep the small community feel.”

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giving the local food trucks a full kitchen, storage,

Recently, several of the local food truck operators

Lobster’s social media guru Lori Holland puts it,


Since then, Lowcountry Kitchen has opened,

“We feel like it could be a good trend here as well, and it could complement so many of the things that the area is known for,” said Holland. The McCarthy’s echoed that sentiment, saying, “People who live in the Lowcountry understand and want what is offered in bigger cities as long as we keep the small community feel.” Seeing the way the Lowcountry’s food truck scene has come together, it’s clear that a community feel is definitely on the menu.

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Conservancy director Jay

Walea's most prized turkey hunting possessions. 45

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OF SPRING It’s 4:30 a.m. The fog is thick again this morning, ideal for slipping

unnoticed into the area where I’ve heard a turkey gobbling all week.

But will the fog today keep him from announcing his presence, I wonder? I park the truck, and as the hunter I am guiding loads his gun, I pause for a moment to practice the ritual that turkey hunters go through from March to May: check my vest for turkey calls, a headlamp, gloves, gun shells, my phone, GPS and a compass before beginning the trek into the forest. But what separates me from other hunters is that my mile-and-a-half trek is through the Palmetto Bluff woodlands. After a long walk, deep into the woods, I finally find it – this is where I needed to be the last three times that this clever old bird eluded me. I’m in the turkey’s bedroom with plenty of time before dawn. Despite my quiet walk, I do not escape without notice. It is only after I settle into my hiding spot that the nighttime fauna again resume their predawn routine. A lonely screech owl calls from the opposite end of the swamp and is echoed by a mate’s mournful call shortly after. A pair of great horned owls whisper back and forth to one another as they glide along the travel corridor behind me, searching for an early breakfast. Then, suddenly, there it is – the only sound in nature that sounds almost as beautiful to me as a gobble – the piercing call of a chuck-will’s-widow. I’m mesmerized by the call, and seconds turn into minutes as I think of how much I love being out here in the woods, waiting for the sun to rise. I think of other turkey hunts that have taken place right here where I stand. I remember Fluffy’s bird. I remember Rans’ bird. I remember the big gobbler I called for Mr. Vince. But my reminiscing is abruptly ended by the sharp call of a barred owl.

By Jay Walea ∙ Photos by Mark Staff

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It’s time. Will this big bird gobble back? I wait.



It would be a lot easier and a much

It’s getting lighter now; I can make out distant shapes and features that I

disliked about turkey hunting, which is

did not see earlier in the darkness on my way in. The crows join the owls in calling now. Surely this gobbler will announce his presence. And then finally, there he is, exactly where I thought he should be. He has the hardest, heart-pounding gobble I’ve heard this year. I’m set up, ready, and I begin the dance. Can I lure this wild creature to within a shotgun’s sight? I reach into my vest, pull out a small horseshoe-shaped frame with a piece of rubber stretched across it and pop it in my mouth. I blow softly against it, and I can’t help but grin a little. My hen yelps and clucks are sounding especially seductive today, and my prey thinks so too. He immediately cuts my calls off with a massive gobble. He has fallen for the trap. Truly, I could leave the woods now, satisfied with the knowledge that I communicated with this great bird. But I am not the hunter this morning. Today I am here to call a turkey and give one of our property owners the thrill that, in many ways, is more addictive than any drug available: the opportunity to kill an adult Palmetto Bluff gobbler. And sometimes, that first-time hunter will become a true, lifelong turkey hunter. You probably know a true turkey hunter, though you may not realize it. He or she is the person whose eyes get a certain sparkle about the middle of February and who comes into work a little later from then until May. This is the person whose vacations are spent in the spring woods and who has the patience of Job. It’s the person who helps out at the hunting club, but is never seen during the deer season. This person is one of the brethren, a true turkey hunter. I am lucky to be one of these few. My name is Jay Walea, and I’ve been addicted to turkey hunting since I was 13 when I called in and killed my first turkey at our old hunting club, Hamilton Ridge. I’ve worked and turkey-hunted on Palmetto Bluff for 27 years now. At one time, I was the young gun seeking advice from the experts such as Charlie Bales, Gordon Wells and Larry Zettler. I am now the experienced and grizzled hunter giving advice and calling lessons to the young up-and-comers of this sport. My love for the eastern wild turkey, the species as well as the hunt, runs deep, and it’s hard to put into words why I love it so much. But I’m going to try, and I’ve also enlisted the help of two other veteran turkey hunters to share their love of the sport with stories from their most memorable hunts at Palmetto Bluff.


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shorter article if I told you what I nothing. My love for turkey hunting is more than just the thrill of the hunt: I love everything about the eastern wild turkey in itself. When eastern wild turkey chicks hatch, they imprint on their mother’s voice and appearance, which means they can recognize their mother by her voice or appearance almost anywhere. No other species, other than the gallinaceous or ground-nesting family of birds, have this strong visual imprinting, and their reliance on visual cues is evident throughout a turkey’s life. For example, a flock of eastern wild turkeys feeding in a field always has at least two turkeys standing guard, working in tandem, scanning the sky and the forest edges for danger. When a threat is spotted, an alarm call goes out, and unlike other birds or mammals that would simply flee wildly, the whole flock relies on the lookout to let them know of danger. Then the decision is made: the lookout directs the flock to flee in the safest direction and method, whether by wing or running for cover. Most hunters, even if turkey is not their prey, have probably seen this happen, but may have not been aware of what was occurring. At Palmetto Bluff one of my primary objectives is to create the perfect habitat for the eastern wild turkey because in doing so, it creates the perfect habitat for all other Lowcountry critters and creatures. One of the highlights in carrying out this objective is to watch the hatched turkey young grow into adulthood. After years of observing different flocks on a daily or weekly basis, I’ve noticed that as early as 4-5 weeks of age, when the chicks become poults, their social groups are organized into a hierarchy of power, and when established, the hierarchy remains into adulthood. I have also found that the language or vocalizations of turkeys are more sophisticated than that of any other animal in North America. True, that if broken down just for the sake of hunting, one could keep the calls to yelps, clucks and purrs. By throwing out these odd “words” every now and then, one can be lucky enough to have an amazing hunt. Yet it’s all the little intricate whines, whistles, half-clucks, and soft, sporadic, broken yelps that make the true language of this species. With these, a caller can produce “sentences” and converse with both hens and gobblers alike and have the satisfaction of

knowing that he has graduated into the fold, a group that, quite honestly, not many turkey hunters belong to. Yet even the most skilled hunter will admit that Murphy’s Law comes into play on nearly every hunt. Very rarely do hunts turn out exactly like you thought they would – maybe 10 hunts in a lifetime of hunting. I’ve hunted the same bird as many as six hunts before my hunter or I harvested the bird, and even then it didn’t go exactly as planned. I firmly believe that the male eastern wild turkey has a sixth sense, a primal instinct to sense danger even when the calls, the setup and everything is right with the world. There are gobblers that I hunt year after year until they are nowhere to be found, probably finally succumbing to old age or a hard winter rather than my shotgun. As I think back over the last 30 years of hunting, the majesty of this creature, and the thousands of hunts both on my own and as a guide, I find it impossible to pick out a favorite hunt to share. I could tell the story about the bobcat and me, or the one about the Pump Swamp gobbler, even the tale of our former governor and me, all unforgettable and amazing hunts. But for now, I will tell the story of Rocky and an elusive gobbler we named Limpy. The year was 1995, and it was a chilly Tuesday morning when I pulled up to the Palmetto Bluff Lodge to pick up Rocky, a client who hunted with me every time he came to the Bluff. It was 4 a.m., and to my relief, the hunters were not up yet, giving me and the other guides time to enjoy a well-deserved cup of coffee. Shortly after I sat down, the hunters started wandering in, one by one, still half-asleep and looking for the same needed pick-me-up that I held in the steaming cup in my hand. Guides and hunters bantered briefly, and then I told Rocky to get his gear and load up in my truck. We were leaving early because we had a long walk through the center of Pump Swamp to get close to where I knew our trophy was roosting. There was no moon that morning, but we made it to our destination well before the threat of daylight. As in every hunt, the sounds in the predawn night mesmerized me, and my mind wandered until I was almost startled by the gentle light that meant morning was upon us. As if on cue, our bird thundered a leaf-shaking gobble only a hundred yards to the south of us. Another gobbler, then another joined the chorus as the woods erupted around us with gobbles. I began calling, and right away all three gobblers answered back. I leaned in and told Rocky to get his gun up and get ready. The birds flew down to my calls, ignoring the hens they’d been with day after day, eager to meet the “new girl” on the block. The three huge twoyear-old gobblers strutted and drummed and came in as if on a string just 25 yards away. They were putting on a grand show, the show I live for.

Jay Walea walks to one of

his favorite turkey hunting

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The largest bird was in the middle, and I whispered to Rocky to take that

What was once a two-year-old mature gobbler had turned into an old

bird. I clucked, and the middle gobbler craned his neck upward. I gave the

beaten-down shell of his former self. The old injury and years of abuse

order to shoot.

from the other Bluff turkeys had taken their toll; his weight was a mere

When Rocky pulled the trigger, leaves and feathers flew in the air, and so did all three gobblers. I immediately felt sick. Rocky had shot too low, and as the birds flew away, I noticed that the middle gobbler was shot in the leg. We tried to catch up with the birds, but to no avail. Rocky, a bundle of nerves by now, was trying to figure out where he went wrong, saddened by

14½ pounds. But Limpy survived to be four years old, a remarkable feat considering his injury. Perhaps after being shot, he became more cautious. Perhaps he was fighting against caution when he heard the call of a flirtatious hen. Perhaps, if he had been able to resist the call, he would have survived another year or more.

the fact that he had wounded the animal that had just given us an amazing

More than 15 years later, I still relive that hunt, and Limpy remains my

show. I figured that the gobbler would fall prey to his wounds eventually, but

most respected quarry.

later that season I spotted the wounded turkey in a field, not far from where he had been shot. I named the poor fellow Limpy. The next turkey season it seemed as though every week the other guides would report sightings of Limpy. Despite his bad leg, he moved daily and was never in the same area as the day before. I made it my goal that year to harvest Limpy. But the ’96 season went by, and Limpy was still around. I finally figured out that Limpy couldn’t stay in a single home range because the other toms, both young and old, used his disability against him. Whenever Limpy tried to get a harem of hens of his own, he faced the wrath of the stronger gobblers and was beaten up for his efforts.

MIKE RAHN’S FAVORITE HUNT AS TOLD TO JAY WALEA Mike Rahn is one of my best friends and has worked with me on Palmetto Bluff for more than 24 years. I’ve always looked up to Mike and paid close attention to the life and hunting lessons he has taught me over the years. A gentleman, a first-class mechanic, and a turkey-hunting genius, Mike is the kind of man who says few words, but the

In 1997, the sightings continued, but Limpy remained elusive. Months went

words he does say are certainly worth

by in 1998, and there was no sign of Limpy, and I finally resigned myself to

listening to. A great deal of my “woods sense” comes

the fact that he must not have survived the winter.

from Mike, whom we affectionately call “Curly” because, like me, he has

Late in the ’98 season, I was on my own, on the edge of a field deep in the

a noticeable absence of anything resembling a curl upon his head.

woods of Palmetto Bluff, savoring the solitude and the hunt. I had a gobbler

Mike enjoys turkey hunting for many reasons and finds the interaction

answer my call, but after talking back and forth with him and his hens, he

through calling, actually speaking the language of the turkey, the most

finally decided that the 12 ladies he had were better than the one he couldn’t

rewarding, just like I do. Mike explains this as a challenge because when a

see, and he went off with them. As I headed back to my truck, I decided to

hunter calls a gobbler into range, he has made that bird do something that he

call one more time. I called and got a gobbler to answer just up the grassy

doesn’t do in nature: seek out a hen. Without a hunter’s calls, a gobbler stays

road from me. I immediately set up and began to call to him. All of a sudden,

in one area, and the hens come to him.

I heard the bird take flight and thought a coyote or bobcat had just ruined my hunt. Then, to my surprise, I saw the gobbler gliding in through the pines. I watched it land in front of me, behind a thicket of gallberry and fetterbush. There, he strutted and gobbled for minutes that seemed like hours. Finally, he came into view and started limping straight to me. I could not believe my eyes – it was Limpy! He made it to 20 yards before I ended his hobbling career.

The action of the sport strongly factors into Mike’s love of turkey hunting. Unlike any other hunt in the world, there is very little downtime in this sport. Other hunts predominantly consist of waiting until the quarry is spotted, and then, and only then, does the hunter’s adrenaline rise. Whether a turkey is harvested or not, it is the pursuit itself, the back-and-forth of the calling, that keeps the turkey hunter and his guide on the edges of their seats for the hours in the field.

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Being a family man, Mike enjoys passing down his knowledge of turkey

sparkleberry bushes to break our outlines, I started calling. Immediately I was

hunting to the younger generation. His favorite hunting story naturally

answered with a loud gobble that meant the bird was close. A few soft hen

involves his son, Shane, and his first gobbler.

calls later and we could see the gobbler just out of range, strutting in front of

“It was hours before daylight when my son Shane, then 11 years old, and I set out from our old office in what is now Palmetto Bluff ’s Wilson Village. I was eager for Shane to get his first gobbler, and of course he wanted it to be on Palmetto Bluff. Shane grew up around hunting on Palmetto Bluff. He hunted deer and hogs and had been with Jay and me as we followed dogs on hog hunts that would have made his mother faint, and would have shortened both Jay’s and my lifespans by a considerable number of years had she found out about them. On the night before this particular hunt, I heard a flock of turkeys - five adult gobblers with many hens - fly up to roost. So, long before daylight, with nothing but the light of the moon to guide us, I led Shane silently into

us, trying to get the new hen to show herself. This was an old bird, a smart bird, and he began to circle us. I was a nervous wreck because I knew that to get this bird I would have to reposition Shane, and movement is impossible when trying to call a turkey. When the gobbler finally ducked behind a large group of hickories, I grabbed Shane and in one fluid motion I spun him around a tree and got his gun back up and ready for the tom to emerge. I made one more subtle call, and out strutted the old bird at 15 yards. Shane pulled the trigger, and he took his first adult gobbler. The gobbler weighed 18 pounds, had a 10-and-a-half-inch beard (the feather-like decoration on his chest), and one-and-an-eighth-inch spurs. This was a very respectable threeyear-old bird. And, as I suspected, Shane, like all true turkey hunters, was hooked right then and there, and his life changed forever.”

position along the edge of Old Cotton Hope Field. The morning was crisp


and cool with zero cloud cover, a turkey hunter’s dream. As night gave way to morning, the flock of turkeys began calling. The gobblers were gobbling, and the hens were yelping and clucking as if to say they had had a great

I have been blessed in this life to have

night’s sleep and were ready for the new day to start.

been mentored by great men like my father, my grandfather and the one and

I began a series of hen calls, and both the gobblers and hens acknowledged

only Charlie Bales. Charlie is a true

my presence as one of their own. Finally, fly-down time. Over the span of

woodsman, living his life by the changing

about 10 minutes, the turkeys got excited, and one by one pitched from the

of the seasons. I have worked with

safety of their roost to the open field to get on with the day’s events, which at this time of year consists of feeding and breeding. Content and answering my calls, the turkeys ever so slowly began filtering across the field to our ambush point. The gobblers were bringing up the rear, but getting close to a range where I felt comfortable telling Shane to shoot. Just as I was about to tell Shane to pull the trigger, a coyote appeared across the field. In an instant the turkeys were on the wing in a panic to get away from the danger.

South Carolina, I attribute to Charlie’s tutelage. Charlie is a true turkey hunter, having started early in life as a Floridian, hunting in the live oak and saw palmettos of the south Florida scrublands. He learned from old-timers, all gone now, the ways of communicating with the turkeys, and that in this conversation, less is more. This is unlike what we see today as most turkey hunters seem reluctant to even take a breath between calls. I have found myself in this

he was young, Shane was already hooked by the thrill of turkey hunting. I

category but always revert back to Charlie’s teaching: “Less is more.

didn’t want the morning to end with such disappointment, and Shane was

Let the gobbler hunt you.”

Hope Swamp, and I also knew that we could get around them and maybe even get into a position where we might have another chance.

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in wildlife and forestry management. Many of the skills I honed in the wilds of

I looked over at Shane and was shocked by how upset he was. Even though

not ready to give up and go home. I knew the birds had gone into Cotton


Charlie for 27 years — my entire career

Charlie’s signature hen call, so soft that you doubt whether any bird can actually hear it, always gets an immediate response from a gobbler. And despite his decades of success, each answering gobble still gives Charlie

So around to Smilax Vine Road we went, as fast as we could get there. We

a sense of amazement and satisfaction. He is a part of that elite group of

slipped in on the edge of Smilax Vine Hill and Cotton Hope Swamp, directly

hunters who can speak the wild turkey language and find just as much

across the swamp from where the flock had disappeared just minutes before.

reward in knowing that the quarry responded to their calls as in harvesting

Hidden among the beautiful beech and hickory trees, nestled in close to the

the bird.

Charlie is also one of the few people who know Palmetto Bluff ’s land and

“It was a clear crisp morning when Mike Till, a friend of my son Wade,

wildlife so well that they seem to have a psychic ability to find a turkey roost.

and I headed into Pump Swamp with our bows to hunt ‘Ol’ Thunder.’

In reality, it is Charlie’s scouting ability that leads to hunt after hunt being

(It is hard enough to harvest a mature gobbler with a gun, much less a recurve

successful. And although his years of observations and his love for the Bluff

bow. There are so many watchful eyes in a flock of turkeys that the added

may be hard to replicate, Charlie is happy to share some tips. He explains

movement of drawing a bow is next to impossible.) I had been after this bird for

that during the predawn hours a hunter gets signals from every creature, from

awhile, but although Mike had hunted deer and small game his entire life,

the trees to the shrubs in the woods. A hunter needs to be alert and listen

this was his first experience hunting turkeys. I spent a full day talking Mike

to every sound. From the flutter of a chuck-will’s-widow to the first gobble,

through a proper turkey hunt and giving him the do’s and don’ts before we

every noise is a piece of the puzzle of a productive hunt. It’s understanding

set out on this beautiful spring morning.

every nuance of the woods on a spring morning that makes a person a true turkey hunter.

I decided to set up on a spur ditch west of the ‘dinosaur bones,’ a dead live oak toppled by Hurricane David, resembling the pitiful remains of the giants

Charlie has had countless turkey hunts on Palmetto Bluff with many falling

that once roamed the earth. I put Mike 10 yards out in front of me so he

into the “favorites” category. He chose to tell the story of Mike Till and

would be the first to get a shot if the right situation presented itself. I sent

Mike’s first gobbler.

out a quiet tree yelp, and as if on cue, the swamp lit up. Five gobblers began

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gobbling, and a multitude of hens began their morning song. I sat back and

I moved into position behind Mike and began calling. I was almost eight

enjoyed the concert, content that this was already a successful hunt. Mike

yards behind him so I couldn’t see what was happening in the trail, but years

was frozen, momentarily stunned by the turkey talk in the trees around them.

of experience taught me to stay focused on the task at hand. I gave a soft

Then, the wing beats of 20 or more turkeys erupted from the dawn sky. The hunt was on. I let the woods settle down and then produced a lost call. This received an immediate response, and in less than 10 minutes hens and the five big

looking for the hen. After 10 minutes of silence I clucked softly and then yelped a time or

got into range. There were so many turkeys in front of us, eyes in our direction,

two. Although I didn’t hear the bird gobble, I started hearing the distinct

that we never had a chance to get our bows up to draw. After an hour of the

drumming of the gobbler. Drumming is a very low frequency sound made

turkeys doing what turkeys do, feeding and breeding, the birds wandered away

by the male gobbler while in strut and can only be heard by a human’s ear

from the hunters. We gave it a few minutes and slipped out of Pump Swamp

at close range.

at all the sounds that the turkeys made while they were in front of us.

From 300 yards, this gobbler closed the distance and came into gun range

The next morning we went back into Pump Swamp. I set up about 60 yards

strutting and drumming until Mike’s

away from our previous spot, this time nestled between the fluted tree roots

gun went off, and he finally took his

of some large live oaks that would better hide the outlines of our bodies and

first gobbler.” (Mike’s gobbler wasn’t

bows. Just like the morning before, after my first call, the woods lit up with

Ol ’ Thunder. It was another year before

the sounds of turkeys. But this day, after fly-down, the gobblers came to my

Charlie harvested that regal bird.)

calls, with Ol’ Thunder leading the way. Unlike the day before, the hens and the jakes (juvenile gobblers) kept their distance from the mature gobblers who were strutting and sparring over who was second in command, because it was clear that Ol’ Thunder was first. Into bow range the gobblers moved, but with every step, other watchful turkey eyes kept the young hunter from drawing his bow. Like the day before, the birds along with Ol’ Thunder finally meandered out of range with no arrows released. With just one day left to hunt, we changed our strategy. We headed off to a different place on Palmetto Bluff. The morning was quite unlike the adrenaline-filled mornings before. After several hours of trying to get a gobbler to gobble and give away his location, I decided we should move again. This day was the last hunting day for Mike, and so he left the bow at home and brought his shotgun instead. About 8:30 a.m., we slipped through the pines silently, walking the edge of the hill above Pump Swamp on a trail called Lightline Road. When I got to the fork in the trail, I did a crow call that will startle a gobble out of a gobbler. This is called a shock gobble, in which the sudden loud sound of the crow brings a startled gobble from the gobbler. Right away it worked, and a bird gobbled at a distance of about 300 yards. I knew exactly where the bird was, and I hurried Mike up the road a hundred yards before setting him down in a curve so that he could see the gobblers approaching.

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the call and I hushed, hoping the gobbler would defy his instincts and come

gobblers could be seen from our ambush spot. I clucked once more, and the birds

undetected by the turkeys. Though that was it for the day, Mike was still amazed


lost call; about 10 to 12 notes was the trick. The gobbler triple-gobbled at

The hunt was amazing, and Charlie never saw the gobbler until after Mike’s shot even though Charlie was the reason for the bird’s demise. This was his favorite hunt because of what Mike Till had learned, the circumstances they faced, and the many wary eyes that were upon them, except for the last day when it all came together. Charlie was proud of training yet another young hunter who, from that moment forward, has been hooked on the sport of turkey hunting, his life also forever changed. After thousands of turkey hunts on Palmetto Bluff and across the country, our views about the sport are very much the same. Whether it is the love of the spring woods and its inhabitants, the thrill and pride of knowing that we speak a language that not many others do, the satisfaction of passing down our knowledge to a younger generation, or our love for Palmetto Bluff, we are in that elite group, that band of brothers, true turkey hunters. I would like to believe that those old-timers who mentored Charlie in the ways of the turkey are smiling at us, knowing that we are more at home, more in tune with the world when we are leaning against an old live oak on the edge of the swamp in the predawn darkness waiting for the sun to rise and the turkeys to gobble on this beautiful piece of ground. This place – Palmetto Bluff. And what are the Legends of Spring? The old gobblers that we hunt through the years and the stories of the hunters we guide.


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By Anna jones Photos by Rob Kaufman

Once a sleepy stop between Savannah and Hilton Head Island, the town of Bluffton is now really on the up and up. A bustling Calhoun Street punctuated with quaint shops and busy shoppers signals the growth of the small town into a real destination, drawing in tourists and locals alike to experience a taste of Bluffton. A bit salty, a smidge spunky, and always full of hospitality, Bluffton is no longer the Lowcountry’s best kept secret – it’s a bustling hub attracting businesses of all kinds. And for those of you looking to turn your afternoon stroll down Calhoun into a spring shopping spree, you’re in luck: check out these items from The Roost, Kelly Caron Designs, and Gigi’s Boutique, all of which line the charming streets of Old Town Bluffton. Shopping small has never offered so many possibilities.

tasteful display Martini olives transported in a canoe make for a tastier martini. Olive Canoe $42.00, Small Brass Fork $18.00, Small Brass Spoon $18.00, The Roost


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Gilded Guards Golden coasters to protect your favorite table. Set of Coasters $75, Kelly Caron Designs

bright metallics A hammered gold cuff enhances any look. Cuff $128, Gigi’s Boutique

Southern Pearls A pearl necklace is made modern with a grey tassel.

Spring Leaves

Necklace $240,

Gold statement earrings are the perfect

Kelly Caron Designs

way to transfer from day to night. Kendra Scott “Selena Earring” $75, Gigi’s Boutique

Sweet as Maryland Honey The perfect complement to your happy hour charcuterie board. Eastern Shore Honey $18 each, The Roost

Sophisticated Cuff Make a statement with this geometric gold cuff. Cuff $209, Kelly Caron Designs

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: FISH CAmPS The Sec ret ive Hist o r ical G e m s of Lowc oun tr y Livin g

By Tim Wood • Photos By Janet Garrity 57

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palmetto bluff, and the lowcountry in general, has some of the most majestic, peaceful landscapes in the world thanks to the rays of the sun glistening off the May River, the sunsets are so beautiful that they can’t be captured on a postcard. after you pass by the security gate, you enter an oasis from the daily troubles of the world. The Lowcountry has provided that kind of escape for tourists, retirees and part-time residents for decades. But even within this otherworldly getaway,

“I have a friend from Odessa, Texas. He was bragging to me about his 1,000acre ranch,” McDowell said. “I told him about a 30,000-acre water ranch at the end of the earth with sunrises and sunsets that will bring tears to your eyes.” The history of Lowcountry fish camps goes back to the late 1700s. For two centuries, these mysterious destinations were more folktale than reality. The inner workings of the waterways that led to these small islands were never mapped as few even knew the islands existed, let alone that they were habitable. And that’s just how families like the McDowells liked it.

there’s a secret society of locals who have garnered centuries of joy from the

“My dad’s family moved to Beaufort from Savannah in 1907. He was born in

off-the-grid nooks of the area’s waterways.

1913, grew up on Old Point,” McDowell said. “By the time he was 10, he was

There’s no secret handshake among this lucky lot. Just a simple phrase that sums up the experience. “It’s all about goin’ down the river,” said third-generation Beaufort resident Gibbes McDowell. “If you have to ask what river, you are clearly outside the loop. And trust me, these days, it’s a more tightly-guarded loop than ever.” McDowell is one of the few locals who will openly talk about the glory of Lowcountry fish camps. The reason: these closely-guarded plots of island land between St. Helena Sound and Port Royal Sound are parts of an endangered species. These slivers of waterfront property were useless in the 1800s through the 1980s, but are now coveted million-dollar parcels of land on the South Carolina coast known as fish camps. Viewed on the outside as uninhabitable, these remote islands became training grounds and rites of passage for generations of Lowcountry fathers and sons, places where you learned to live off the land.

swimming, taking two rows to the Barrier Islands. Nobody asked what island they were going to be on.” It was a male-dominated tradition. McDowell’s dad took him to the camp as an infant. By age two, he was learning to swim in the waters right near the camp. Just two years later, he’d caught a 400-pound sea turtle with a pole and a hook. “It was fathers and sons during the day, and when the boys fell asleep, the men would indulge in plenty of liquor drinks,” McDowell said. “This was a time when grown men who worked hard got to be little boys again. What happened goin’ down the river stayed down river. The prim-and-proper preacher could let his hair down and show his wild side at the fish camp. Who got drunk, who fell out of what boat, who burned their rump falling into the fire, all the practical jokes that the guys would play on each other … those became some of the most passed-on stories.” The camps were far from lavish in the 1920s. Tent set-ups were popular. With the island waters so difficult to navigate, small boats and canoes were

“Sometimes it was just for a weekend; sometimes it was more of an extended

the only transportation in and out, so carrying heavy supplies like lumber

stay. But it was all about becoming one with the land and the water,” McDowell

was rare.

said. “I learned to fish, shrimp, hunt, and, above all, truly appreciate this lifestyle we’ve been blessed to be given.”

“Groups of guys would go out. And within that group, you’d have a carpenter, a ringleader, and the guy who got to dig the ditch for the well,” McDowell said.

Much like the Gullah culture, fish camps are a crucial part of Lowcountry

Lean-tos – three-sided structures built from logs, branches and thatch – were

history that has faded away in recent years. So much of the magic of the fish

the early dwellings, just enough for the families to take shelter at night.

camp is found in sitting around a fire and telling stories of ancestors who buried blocks of ice in the very dirt below them, creating nature’s refrigerator to keep the bounty of their fishing excursion from going bad. With very few fish camps in existence and even fewer camp owners willing to tell their stories for fear of their oases being taken away, mavericks like McDowell who openly share stories of this 250-year-old tradition are becoming harder and harder to come by.

“When the outboard motor became available to the working guy, shanties started being built. Everyone would carry out some lumber, and slowly things like sheds and four-sided structures were built.” Blocks of ice were also a valuable commodity to keep the bacon and eggs for breakfast cold. When the tides were optimal,

“It’s very easy to understand why very few fish camp owners want the outside

the crew would fish. When the

to know about them,” said Janet Garrity, author of the 2012 book Goin’ Down

tides went out, campers would

the River: Fish Camps of the Sea Islands. “You have to be someone who knows

nail lumber together or hunt

someone, and luckily, I knew Gibbes.”

whatever game they found on

McDowell is fighting vigorously to revitalize the long-term prospects of Lowcountry fish camps. While he rarely brags about these respites from modern sprawl, he’s well aware of the treasures he’s fighting to protect.

the island. All the troubles of the world were left on the hill, along with the restrictions each new generation faced.

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McDowell’s family had what they called the Cadillac of the camps on

The state began challenging ownership, claiming that unless you had proof

Pritchards Island in the 1970s.

of a transfer from a state or federal agency or a King’s grant, you were not an

“It used to be a timber camp, then quarters for working crews. We had an old Greyhound Bus that was converted into a duck-hunting camp,” he said. “We pulled the old bus in with a tractor, put in bunks and a kitchen. We were the last owners, had that for 15 years. My dad died in ’79, and the University of South Carolina took over the island for turtle research.” Most camps were “rustically comfortable” as Garrity called them. The land is rarely bigger than half a football field. But whether you had a Cadillac or a lean-to, all camps were open to those in the know.

the Civil War, those grants were taken back by the new U.S. government, later sold back to the King’s grant owners who could afford to pay the taxes. So, few families had the original King’s parchment two centuries later, and even fewer had state or federal transfer papers. Next, rules on repairing docks were created. Old rules stated that owners could repair docks without permits as long as the dock represented less than 50 percent of the built structures on the land. New statutes called for permits for all docks, and any repairs required a pre- and post-construction survey and

lost or his boat broke down, just leave the place as you found it,” McDowell

work done by a bonded contractor.

a crab from a trap. He ate the crab and left a six-pack in the trap. “[These camps were] outside the reach of rule or law, no one checking up on each other,” McDowell said. “There were two limits: how much would fit on the boat and how much would fit in the frying pan. It was wild and limitless.

It was an expense few camp owners could afford, so as storms washed out docks through the years, the camps became impossible to reach. “It was like a mower. First cut was the ownership rules, then they put the blade lower with the dock rules,” McDowell said.

No roads to drive off of. [You could] talk as loud as you wanted and drink too

And with all the rules and scrutiny, members of this already-secret society

much to your heart’s content. It was freedom without having to pay for it.”

went further and further underground.

But that freedom could last for only so long. Family claims to the islands went

“It’s a shame. The history, the traditions, it’s such a part of life around here.

back centuries. There were no maps or surveys of the lands before 1963, just

The stories should be told, but no one wants to risk being on anyone’s radar,”

handwritten ledgers. As the islands were discovered by aircraft and mapped,

said ‘Paul,’ one of eight fish campers interviewed besides McDowell and the

the battle with legislators began in earnest.

only one willing to go on the record with even a fake name. “We wish they

Until the 1980s, proving your property rights was as simple as filing a quick claim at the county clerk’s office. One could sell the land for, say, $100, pay the taxes on the land regularly, and the fish camp owners were in the clear. As the lands became more visible, the state started patrolling who took up residence where. Many of the fish camp owners sold their property back to the state and had $1-a-year lease handshake deals for years. By the ’80s, the lands went from visible to valuable. Places like Fripp Island became retreats for the rich and famous. And with that, the war on fish camps began. First, more visible islands like Old Island behind Fripp were targets. Fifty to 75 families had stakes in a half dozen camps that went back to the 1940s, but the state then said the handshake leases no longer applied and plowed down the camps. Legislators like the Attorney General soon made fish camps a political cause, arguing that because folks in Greenville couldn’t enjoy fish camps, neither should the privileged few of the Lowcountry. “These plots were one acre at best, and there were no McMansions on them. We’re talking shanties. There was no ‘keeping up with Jones’ among the true fish camp owners,” McDowell said. “The true worth wasn’t the property, it was the state of mind we all got to enjoy. “But to them, we were living a Champagne existence on a Kmart budget and that sizzled their bacon for sure. We were on the tax rolls, so they had to change the rules to get us.”

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land to the many explorers who discovered new lands for the British. After

“We had a very simple code. We all left our doors unlocked. If a fisherman got said. “My dad, he once had some bad luck fishing and got so hungry, he took


owner. The King’s grant was paper or parchment from the King deeding the

would leave us alone. These rich people, they are mad that we are living this life for free. But this was our land to start with. But the truth is, sadly few folks had the knowledge, the willpower or the resources to fight the fight. The state just began waiting us out, and one by one, the camps fell.”

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“It’s a shame. the history, the traditions, it’s such a part of life around here. the stories should be told.”


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McDowell has had the willpower to fight the government out in the open, learning the rules, and, at times, using them to his advantage. He and a group of investors bought a bunch of islands in the Harbor River area behind Hunting Island in the mid-1990s. “You’d add another zero, maybe two, to the price today,” he said. He had the land surveyed, and when other owners abandoned or were forced out of their camps, he would let them buy into the land. “You get a group of four guys together and split that price four ways, and suddenly it’s very doable,” he said. The camps became timeshares of sorts, with families rotating weeks when they’d inhabit the camp. When county legislators enacted rules stating the camps must have a toilet to manage waste properly to be eligible for permits, McDowell got even more resourceful. “We knew the state ran a different kind of waste management program for places like landfill operations that did not have running water,” he said. “They used propane. They’d incinerate a week’s worth of waste from a half dozen people into a sandwich baggie. So that’s just what we started doing.” Beyond the laws, just keeping fish camp owners together is half the battle. “Listen, it’s not all daisies with owners. It’s not a pure utopia. Other owners get jealous of camps and burn them down to this day,” he said. “Groups will fall out of favor with each other. So the number of owners fluctuates.” And there are always the battles with the more elite of the area.

“He is a human GPS of the camps,” Garrity said of McDowell. “Sure, you might be able to see the camps on Google Earth, but getting to them is still all feel. Knowing the creeks, knowing there’s a big oyster bed on this turn, or a bit of water that had become impassable. He knew it all.”

“It roasts their arses that the good ol’ boys are getting their good time on without paying them regime fees,” he said with a smile.

In all, McDowell and Garrity visited more than 15 camps. While the reception was at first as cold as those 300-pound blocks of ice from the early days, the

Garrity was a newbie to the Lowcountry, a former New York ad exec who saw

owners soon realized Garrity’s intentions were pure.

Lady’s Island as her off-ramp from the rat race. “I never had any intention of identifying who owned the camps or where As an amateur photographer, Garrity became friendly with new neighbor and

they’re located,” she said. “I just wanted to document that ‘yes, this culture

Lowcountry lifer Alex Spencer, who was interested in telling the story of fish

exists, and it’s so important to this area.’ After people realized that, they

camps. Spencer had some inside connections, and Garrity was so intrigued

opened up.”

that she signed on as his assistant. Families shared old photos dating back to the late 1800s, the early 1900s and “I told him, ‘Let me carry your camera equipment, whatever you need’,” said

beautiful images from the 1940s. And they allowed Garrity to visually capture

Garrity, who had grown up around fish camps in New York’s Adirondacks. “I had

the fabric of their world.

so many great memories of life on the water with my grandparents, my brother and two sisters. So Alex and I definitely shared the passion to tell the story.”

“It’s hard to put into words. Some had large porches and a detached bunk house; some were just one room with a kitchen, an eating table and a few

Spencer and Garrity visited a few camps in late 2010 before Spencer’s cancer

bunks. Some had generators or cisterns to catch rain water,” she said,

treatments led to radiation poisoning. He passed away in April 2011.

“Everywhere I went, I could literally feel the history, an aura, a peacefulness.”

“I remember the first day I went out without him. I was taking sunrise photos,

Garrity said she’s made many friends as a result of her research, some now

and it was otherworldly,” Garrity said. “I knew he was there with me.”

in their 70s and 80s. One such friend, an 89-year-old owner, has become her

Determined to finish the project for Alex, Garrity struck a partnership with

second dad.

McDowell, whom she met at the Beaufort Film Festival.

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“His dad passed down the camp to him. Generations learned how to handle

“We bring in new blood very carefully. Third and fourth generations are

a fishing rod in a boat or use a shotgun [there],” she said. “It was a very

enjoying it now. College buddies get together for reunions; you have doctors,

male-dominated tradition early on, but it has become much more of a family

lawyers and blue-collar folks all sharing this passion. As long as there’s stress

activity. Now the children’s children are having children. And maybe a child

in the world, people are going to long for a place like we have.”

might bring the smartphone to play Candy Crush, but they quickly end up just enjoying the water and the land. No need for apps when you have that.” ‘Paul’ said that sharing that beauty and that lifestyle is what makes Garrity’s book so special.

as the law was at one time. “You’ll see one cell phone on a camp for emergencies. Very few of the camps have TV sets. Kids know they can’t put pictures on social media. We don’t

now,” he said. “She was so gracious, so humble. We’re not people of much

need our business splashed all over the Internet,” McDowell said. “They kind

means, but what we have means the world to us. Law folk may try to put a price

of get into the secrecy of it all,” like the Lowcountry equivalent of a New York

on the land, but the memories are beyond price tags. To have them captured

City underground party.

Will there be a next generation of fish camp owners? McDowell and his friends are doing all they can to ensure the lifestyle lives on. Fifteen years ago the number of fish camps between the sounds had shrunk to four or five, but is back up to a “couple dozen,” he said.

You’ll never see fish camps for sale on Craigslist, that much McDowell can guarantee. “We’ll never sell it, that much I know. I have a daughter in town, and a son in Jackson Hole who rustles up his buddies for a trip from time to time. Us old guys, we might have 10 to 15 people in for a weekend,” he said. “The continuity,

“I’d like to think we’re in a holding pattern unless someone changes the rules

you feel it. Every time I go there, my dad is with me; his dad is with him. It’s our

again. You can’t beat the man who makes the rules. If there’s a bad storm, we’ll

little slice of paradise that brings a smile inside and out every time.”

go checking on everyone’s camps, making sure we’re all intact,” he said.

A ruin overlooking the salt waters, like the Greek Parthenon overlooks the city of Athens, this fish camp was never completed because it became apparent that the waters, in time, will wash it away. Until then, it is a sentinel. th e b l u f f

water for sinks and bathrooms now. But modern technology is as much a foe

“She captured our history. We’ll always tell stories, but it’s right there in print

for the generations to follow, that’s equally priceless.”


Societal evolution has helped at times. Twelve-volt pumps provide running

PO Box 1928 | Bluffton, SC 29910 | (843) 247-5452 | s p r i n g / s u mm er 2 0 1 6



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By Courtney Hampson • Photos by Mark Staff

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it waS a warm, miSty morning aS i made my way down the drive into palmetto bluff. Truth be told, it

was 71 degrees, just two days before Christmas, and the balmy temps were putting a little damper on my holiday spirit. My mission for the morning was to learn to shoot sporting clays, but as I headed to the Shooting Club, I began to panic for a few reasons. My first concern was my hand-eye coordination. I am great at hitting things rolling toward me on the ground like soccer balls, kickballs and the like. Hitting a softball (or a Wiffle ball, for that matter) at eye level has not been my forté. I had a brief flashback to high school physical education. Bases loaded. Two outs. I swing, and I miss. Game over. And then my mind quickly fast-forwarded a decade-and-a-half to my first shooting experience with ‘Big Jay,’ the director of the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy. “You see it? You see it?” he asked repeatedly, referring to the deer in the field. “No, no, no … ” was my unfortunate reply. I held that darn gun on my shoulder for what felt like an hour before I could actually focus my eyes to see anything through the scope. I think it is safe to say I was Jay’s greatest disappointment. So I simultaneously began breathing exercises and reasoning with myself that today would be different. I would see something, and then eventually hit it. The second reason for my trepidation was (and I know this sounds silly) my outfit. I wanted to look the part because I knew there would be a photographer (because I hired him), but I didn’t want to seem like I was trying too hard. Of course, my boots were Aerosoles, not Barbour, so in hindsight, there probably was no need to worry about looking like I tried too hard. And, 71 degrees in boots and a quilted jacket also leaves the door wide open for profuse sweating, which was also (i.e., is always) a concern. Finally, the fear of making a fool of myself as a result of the aforementioned issues, or for a million other potential reasons, ran through my head. As a little additional background, it is important to note that I was coming off of a pretty embarrassing adventure from the day before, and I needed some redemption. Long story short, my fear

Shooting club manager Michael Perry guides marketing

director Courtney Hampson in her first shooting outing.

of heights got the best of me, and I spent an afternoon sitting on a log at sea level watching my friends enjoy Hilton Head’s aerial adventure course after I had chickened out. Those same friends were joining me at the Shooting Club. Things could only get better. So, as I bounded toward the Shooting Clubhouse (which, if you haven’t seen it, is absolute perfection smack dab in the middle of the hardwood bottom), I was met first by Lucy, the black Labrador ‘daughter’ of Shooting Club instructor Michael Perry. She peppered me with kisses, didn’t judge my cheap yet comfortable boots, and was a perfect welcome wagon and stress-diffuser. Next I met Pete, also of the four-legged persuasion, a yellow Lab belonging to shooting club coordinator Sarah Sanford. After getting my fill of puppy love, I spotted Perry and quickly pulled him aside, before my friends arrived, to apprise him of my aerial adventure failure on the prior day and to put on the pressure that he really needed to make me look good. He briefly looked at me like I was crazy, but ever the Southern gentleman, he quickly recovered, nodded, and said, “Of course,” and we were off. Just being around guns can be cause for nerves. And for me, it was. I was concerned about how to carry it. Was I going to have to load it? What if I break it? No worries, Perry started with the basics. As a third-generation hunting and fishing guide and with a NSCA Level II Certification, his training is in the focus and mental game of shooting, so it is only natural that he start at the beginning, even for the seasoned shooter.

a pep-talk. Before I knew it, we were standing beneath a stunning tree canopy; I was sliding on my eye protection, and Perry was asking if I was ready.

palmet to

(a Beretta Silver Pigeon) resting on my shoulder, I silently gave myself

b g clu tin

As we made our way via golf cart to the five-stand, my borrowed gun


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His first lesson was about focus: “Our job security is teaching people how to focus. When you feel it in your bones, that’s when you are shooting.” Well, shoot (literally) because focusing on just one thing at a time is not my thing. I’m a multi-tasking kind of gal, but Perry didn’t wait for my nerves to settle down and instead, began pulling targets just so I could follow them with my eyes, see how they fell, and attempt to spot the detail – alas, something to focus on. Part yoga, part meditation, I actually enjoyed the mental focus that it took to see the grooves in the clay as it moved across the tree line. I absorbed the speed (or lack thereof ) at which it moved, silently

sporting dog program By Sarah Sanford

memorizing the rhythm of its flight. I was anxious and missed my first two targets, but I quickly realized I also

Head on over to the Palmetto Bluff Shooting Club, and you’re

wasn’t listening to Perry. “Focus on the target, and let your hands follow,”

guaranteed a warm welcome by two Labrador retrievers, Lucy and

he said. Frankly, that only made sense after I saw what I had done

Pete, the masters of two of the Shooting Club’s (human) instructors.

incorrectly. If you consider the gun as an extension of your hands, and

For centuries, the sporting life of hunting and shooting has included

move your body (hands included) with the flight of the target, and then pull the trigger, you will have success. And I did! Target three was a direct hit (sorry for going all Top Gun on you), and my reaction was a somewhat embarrassing exclamation, “Boom!”

the vital companionship of a dog, and that tradition still remains today – especially at the Palmetto Bluff Shooting Club. Stop by any day of the week, and you’ll be met by a wagging tail (or two), the signature of a club that knows its priorities.

Perry didn’t let me go out a winner though. Instead he pushed me by

But there’s a caveat: those retrievers had to pass the “good dog” test to be

launching multiple targets from different directions, challenging my

welcomed as the dog ambassadors of the shooting club. In fact, for any dog

brain to focus and then re-focus. In many sports, speed is the key to

to be welcome in most sporting settings, it needs to be well-behaved, which

your success, but I found that in shooting clays, taking your time and

is exactly why the club has created the PBSC Sporting Dog Program.

concentrating is the real art. After you master the art of trusting your eyes and allowing your body to instinctively follow, you will be better prepared to react to speed or multiple targets. It is your focus that gets faster, not necessarily your trigger. As I settled back into the golf cart, and we made our way back through the maritime forest, I found peace as I reflected on the process of setting my stance, settling the gun on my shoulder, and sliding my cheek into place on the cool gun. The self-control to wait for the target, to watch it, and then time my reaction was exhilarating. The more patient I was, the more success I had. Taking the time to breathe was the most important lesson of all. Perhaps a metaphor for life in general.

what is a sporting dog?

Well, let’s start with the word sport. One of the oldest meanings of the word “sport” in the English language was hunting as a source of entertainment for nobility and the socially elite. But as any hunter will tell you, hunting is hardly entertaining or even fun without the essential assistance of a good dog. So to assist hunters in their outdoor pursuits, a variety of “sporting” dogs were developed. And, they went on to become the ancestors of the carefully curated breeds we now know as retrievers, setters, pointers and spaniels, breeds now celebrated by the American Kennel Club in what it calls its Sporting Group. These types of dogs hunt by what’s called ‘air scent’ – as opposed to hounds who pick up ‘ground scent’ – and, depending on their breeds,


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their instincts make them right for different jobs. Pointers will “point” by holding rigidly still – often with one foreleg up – and looking directly at the game on the ground, thus showing the hunter where his quarry is. Back in the olden days when hunters used nets instead of shotguns, they used dogs to “set,” or crouch in front of the game so the hunter could net the catch. As shotguns gained popularity, those setters were then trained to point. Spaniels naturally “spring” or “flush” game out by startling a bird into flight. And of course, retrievers retrieve.

the sporting dog program

four-legged friend. Scott’s quiet, easygoing manner seems to settle both the dog and his human handler. “What I do is try to set up the dog to succeed. I’m not looking for what he might do wrong, I’m looking for what he does right, and then we build from there. Just as important is what the dog’s handler does. If they’re not on the same page, there’s the recipe for failure.” So Scott teaches both Fido and Fido’s human. In the dog training world, that human is called the handler, and even the finest training in the world will fail a dog if his handler doesn’t know how to manage his dog and work as a team. “If I work with just the dog and not with his handler, I’m not being fair to the dog. They’re a partnership, and I

All the meticulous breeding in the world can render remarkable

want that partnership to be a happy, successful one. The way I do that

instincts in a dog, but just as important in the field (and at home!) are

is to set up the handler with ways to move forward, even if something

a dog’s manners and ability to take directions, and that’s where the

gets off track. And there isn’t anyone at all whose education didn’t get

Sporting Dog program comes in. If you’ve got a great dog who lives

off track at some point. So I leave handlers with ‘fixes,’ the ‘if this, then

at home with you, give your pup the chance to pass the PBSC “good

do that’ training that helps them past any hurdles.”

dog” test and join the Sporting Dog Program to set up your Fido to succeed, whether he or she is a Vizsla, Poodle, Cocker, or pound puppy.

the pbsc dog whisperer

how it works

Whether you want to just work through basic obedience or on through more advanced field work, the Sporting Dog program is tailored for

Low key and good-natured with a quiet Southern drawl, Scott Keown,

each dog/handler partnership. Weekly group clinics leave the students

owner of Rockin Robin Kennels & Outfitters, seems to have some magic

with homework to work on through the week until the next clinic,

with any dog he meets. He chuckles when he’s asked how long he’s trained

and, on request, private lessons with Scott are available. For more

dogs, “Truth is, I don’t exactly know. I used to help with the dogs when I

information on the PBSC Sporting Dog Program, call 843.706.6020.

was a kid. They’ve trained me as much as I’ve trained them.” And it shows,

And yes, the Shooting Club will bestow the Good Dog award once a

as there’s an instant connection that’s unmistakable when Scott meets a new

month to a special and deserving pup.

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THE SEASON By Anna Jones • Photos by Krisztian Lonyai


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In true Lowcountry fashion, it was the middle of December, and the high temperature of the day was 77 degrees with 100% humidity.

Chris expertly steered the boat neatly around a bend of spartina grass, and

What should have been a brisk winter day was instead sunny and balmy,

in hand, his eyebrows arching in anticipation. “Such beautiful veather!” He

with just enough moisture in the air to frizz any hairdo. That’s the funny

squinted through the Canon’s viewfinder and snapped a photo of Chris only

thing about the Lowcountry – just when you think you know the lay of the

inches from his face. Chris smiled uneasily. “We’re going to find a deep hole,

land, the roll of the tides, the rhythm of the seasons, all of a sudden your

one of my usual shrimping spots,” Chris informed us. He explained that from

expectations are turned upside down, and you’re wearing flip-flops in the

August to December, the shrimp season abounds in and around the May

middle of winter. Not that I’m complaining.

River, and tourists and locals alike try their hand at catching shrimp.

My husband Wilson and I walked down the dock next to the little chapel

Chris peered at the depth finder on the console’s dash and explained that the

in Palmetto Bluff, and we saw two men who made a most dichotomous pair

larger shrimp hide out in cavernous holes, about 10 to 15 feet deep. Smaller

on a long, white fishing boat. At the helm of the boat was Chris Shoemaker,

shrimp tend to live near the oyster beds at the foot of the marsh grass, so

a 31-year-old Blufftonian whose tanned face and bright smile indicated a

we steered clear of these edges. The only shrimp we wanted to catch were

seasoned outdoorsman with a keen sense of the Lowcountry landscape.

those big enough for a fancy shrimp cocktail. We watched the depth finder

Chris owns May River Excursions, a local boating business that takes guests

plummet from 18 feet to 42 feet within seconds, and Chris thrusted the boat

out to explore the intricate waterways in the local area through fishing,

into neutral. He walked to the bow of the boat, gently picked up a cast net

shrimping, crabbing, or just a simple cruise.

coiled at his feet and began to thread the rope through his hands until big

Sitting precariously on the seat in front of the boat’s console was Krisztian Lonyai, a Hungary-to-Bluffton transplant who also happens to be one of the most talented and nationally-recognized photographers in town. Krisztian was dressed in black designer pants and a slick black Members Only jacket, which contrasted nicely with Chris’ broken-in red rain jacket and black rain pants. The two could not be any more mismatched. I grinned at Wilson

Kris began his animated chatter, slurred by his delightfully thick Hungarian accent, which reminded me of the colorful character Franc from Father of the Bride. “So vhere are ve going?” Kris chirped, scanning the water with Canon

ovals of rope were wrapped around his right hand. With his left hand he picked up the other end of the cast net, bit down on the fringe of it with his teeth, and then suddenly hurled it into the water with a quick and precise twist of his body. The cast net took flight as it opened up in the air, creating a beautiful wide arch, or ‘pancake,’ as Chris said. The net fell quickly as it opened into the dark navy water below, sinking swiftly to the bottom.

because these strange interactions are seemingly commonplace in this

“The trick of shrimping is to wait until the net hits the bottom,” grinned Chris.

area. That’s the other thing about the Lowcountry – and really the South in

He waited another minute, and then said, “Nothing,” to no one in particular.

general – instead of hiding the crazy, we embrace the strange, the bizarre,

He’s been doing this so long that he can feel the shrimp caught in the cast net,

the unusual, celebrating life’s oddities by parading them on our front porch.

and he can almost exactly estimate his catch even though the net is sitting

Or, in this case, on the chapel dock in Palmetto Bluff.

on the floor of the May River. Pull after pull, he retrieved the cast net from the

Wilson and I loaded our cooler onto the boat, introduced ourselves to Chris and Kris, and settled in for what was sure to be an interesting afternoon on the thick marshes of the South Carolina coast. The day’s objective was simple: catch some shrimp. Shrimping in the Lowcountry is such a routine activity here that native Blufftonians might wonder why I’d even bother writing about such a thing. But for those of us not blessed to be born in this

water, and it suddenly popped onto the side of the boat. As Chris had guessed, no shrimp were inside. He dumped the cast net on the floor of the boat and walked to the console, put the boat into gear, and motored along the river.

particularly low-sitting land, shrimping is much more than just conventional.

“Vat happened?” asked Kris, his

It’s a rite of passage, a source of pride; to sling an intricate maze of ropes

lips pursed and eyes smiling.

into the murky water in pursuit of the most noble and delicious South

I think Kris knew exactly what

Carolina white shrimp is an honor and a skill mastered by few. My dexterity

happened, but just wanted to hear

for similar activities that require hand-eye coordination is not great, so my

the other Chris admit it himself. “No

expectations for the day’s catch were low. But with the cast of characters on

shrimp here. Let’s head to another

this excursion, I knew the trip would be anything but the usual.

spot down the way,” Chris said as he steered the boat through the dark


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water. He talked as he drove, “Sometimes [the shrimp] will just bury up, and

much more laborious operation than Chris made it look like. I finally pulled

then sometimes they just appear, but whether it’s an end tide or a flood tide,

the heavy cast net into the boat, and low and behold, there were four shrimp

the big ones are always deep.” The boat cut through the water as we eased

squirming in the net. Damn, I thought to myself. No wonder people like to

into Bull Creek, and it was clear that Chris had spent his entire life in the

do this. Kris put down his camera to inspect my catch, and we both grinned.

maze of waterways that make up this part of the Lowcountry.

“See, you’re better than you zink,” he said. A few more attempts at casting

Chris noted that for a first-time shrimper, like me, using a smaller cast net

brought in nine shrimp, and the little pile in the orange bin began to grow.

that is six or seven feet wide is easier to maneuver. He used an eight-foot

Finally, Wilson took a turn at the cast net. Having grown up on the water of

net, but said that depending on the coastal area, the local fishermen use

Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, Wilson considers himself a fisherman

different sized nets and different casting techniques.

worth his salt, pun intended. He easily arranged the cast net between his

“The way I do it, that’s the Lowcountry way,” he said with a grin. “People in Florida, they have a different throw because they use a bigger net.” The boat slowed with a slight turn, and Chris cut the motor and checked the depth finder. “Let’s see if there’s something better here,” Chris said as he grabbed the net. We all stood back as Chris adjusted the cast net, placed the end in his mouth, and then slung it into the air. A spray of saltwater erupted, and Kris snapped more photos. “Very good! Very good! Now can you do zat again a leetle slower?” he asked as he zoomed his Canon forward and back, and Chris looked a little sheepish as he pulled the net slowly back into the boat. “Sure. Ready?” Chris asked, and the other Kris nodded. Chris arranged the cast net, put the fringe into his mouth, and again launched the net into the air; it spread wide and landed elegantly in the water and sank to the bottom. “Veautiful!” Kris exclaimed over the fast clicking of the Canon. After many more throws of the cast net, a small pile of shrimp began to collect at the bottom of Chris’ orange bin. I gingerly picked one up. “It’s not going to eat you; you’re going to eat it,” reminded Wilson. I examined the little creature. Its slick outer shell was a smoky gray, and its tail fanned out in a striking aquamarine. Nature, the artist, I thought to myself. “Do zat again,” Kris instructed, and I held the little shrimp up to his lens. More clicks. I noticed Chris chuckling at us.

hands and teeth, and threw it in the water. The net spread out wide and soared through the air and landed gently in the water, sinking cleverly to the bottom. “The perfect pancake!” Chris said. Wilson smiled. He pulled in the net – he had caught three shrimp. He cast the net again, concentrating on his form this time, and again deftly maneuvered the net so that it extended superbly through the air. Except this time, the entire net fell into the water: net, rope, wrist holder and all. “No!” Wilson yelled, followed by some expletives and his scrambling in the boat. Chris and I howled with laughter, and Kris excitedly snapped his Canon just inches away from Wilson’s attempt at a cast net rescue. He grabbed a long fishing net and scooped the wrist holder out of the water, and finally grabbed the cast net, breathing hard and laughing now too. “I forgot to put that thing on my wrist!” Wilson said and pointed to the wrist holder. “Thank goodness it didn’t sink!” He peered into the cast net, and two more shrimp were wiggling there. Kris snapped more pictures as he said, “Don’t vorry. I got de whole zing on cam-er-rah!” We caught a few more shrimp, and our pile turned into a meal fit for three. The December sun began to set against the skyline, streaming bright reds, oranges, yellows and blues into the sky, and we started to make our way back to the dock.

Chris wove the boat to the end of Bull Creek, and Daufuskie Island was in

Nature, the artist, I thought again, and

the distance. “OK, your turn!” he said. I stepped onto the bow of the boat,

zipped up my jacket against the crisp

and Chris handed me the cast net. “First, put this around your wrist,” he

evening air. After we arrived at the dock,

instructed as he placed the end of the cast net rope around my wrist, which

Chris and Wilson pinched the heads off of the shrimp, and Chris piled them

I observed was the only part of the net that was inflatable. “Hold this here,”

in a paper cup with a lid. “So they won’t stink,” he said with a smile. Wilson

Chris handed me part of the cast net, “And this here,” giving me the other

and I thanked Chris and Kris, and then got into the car to head home. We

end of the net in the other hand, “And bite down here,” and I bit down on the

rode in silence, and I thought about our eventful afternoon. The day had not

net’s fringe somewhere in the middle. “OK, now swing it off the boat. And

only afforded us a bowl full of shrimp, but new friends and, for me, a new

don’t forget to let go of it with your teeth!” Chris chuckled, and Kris made a

skill – for Wilson, perhaps a little humility. We North Carolinians still have a

loud “Ha!” from behind his lens, and I could see his eyebrows laughing again.

thing or two to learn about the Lowcountry and her wicked sense of humor.

I gripped the net tightly, twisted my body to the right, and flung the net with

Special thanks to Chris Shoemaker of May River Excursions, who so kindly

all my might to the left. The net flew through the air with a sad, haphazard

hosted Wilson, Kris and me on his boat for an afternoon to teach me how to

flop and splashed into the water.

catch shrimp. Chris specializes in more than just shrimping; he guides fishing

“Good job!” Chris said, even though I knew what I had just done was not a good job. “Now wait ’til it hits the bottom.” A few seconds later he said, “Did you feel it?” No, I thought to myself. “Do you feel any shrimp in there?” Chris

trips, ecology tours, and much more. To book an excursion with Chris, call 843.304.2878 or visit And thanks to Krisztian Lonyai, too, for capturing the whole thing on cam-er-rah.

asked. I shook my head and tried to focus on pulling in the net, which was a

s p r i n g / s u mm er 2 0 1 6



by dylan sell . photos by sloan bragg . art by john witzel walters

Take a South Carolina boy, let him wander the marshes and

In actuality, the gentleman funding the operation was just a treasure hunter

rivers of South Carolina, and then send him off to hunt for

looking for gold. He had researched the ‘salvage operation’ in Seville, Spain, and

treasure in the crystalline waters of the Caribbean. Add a fight

now he was trying to bring it to fruition. And of course Witzel was interested,

for survival, a longing to return home, and an urge to create.

so he went.

Mix in an eye for color and an ability to convey a bold “joie

“Turns out being a diver and a treasure hunter is pretty cool,” Witzel said,

de vivre,” and you have John Witzel Walters, a professional Charlestonian painter who goes by his middle name, Witzel. His work is striking, full of the hues of the waters and reefs of the Caribbean while exploring a contemporary take on themes in Lowcountry painting. And as you might have guessed from the introduction, his art is only his latest adventure. As Witzel explains, “This has become the obvious passion and what I should have done for the entire time. But, you need to have life experiences.” Witzel was drawn to the water from an early age. “I grew up in Hartsville, South Carolina. I was born and raised there but spent more of my time on the coast … it started with a johnboat that had been washed up that broke loose from some dock. I found it in the creek. I was out exploring and turned it over and dusted off the top. From there I could float off in this $50 johnboat that somebody abandoned, and I could drift down the river. There is just so much beauty to see when you slow down the pace, turn off the motors, and drift along with the current.” And then, “I got a phone call one day, ‘Your name came up; would you be interested in coming to the Caribbean for a salvage operation?’” said Witzel. The boat in question was described as a research vessel called the Atlantis.


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recalling his Caribbean stint. “Waking up every day out at sea on a boat, taking out a skiff with a crane, sailing to the dive site. My dive buddy and I would go down and work on this wreck for eight hours in incredibly clear water, surrounded by marine life and brilliant colors. There is absolutely no way that someone could look at [my] paintings and be a diver and not see the similarity. The color scheme – the deep blue – it brings in the images of the coral reef that I remember. It is amazing that it actually works, because any learned artist would tell you that those colors should not go together. But they do tend to work in the beauty of the coral reefs.” With each deep blue and coral red, Witzel paints the sea into every painting. “I take that color scheme and life experiences and meld them all together. I will take the beauty of the coral reef, and I will introduce it to the clouds and the characters and the reflections in each of the paintings. “When you do see the beauty in nature, it is like a painting that is constantly changing. The motion, the fluidity of movement – this outdoor beauty can never be replicated. I think artists can provide but a glimpse. I have made it my goal to provide that glimpse and inspire my audience to go outdoors and see that beauty for themselves. Breathe it in. It is right there, and it is free for the taking.”

Clothing provided by M. Dumas and Sons

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Detail of “Breamie,” acrylic on canvas, 24"x24"

But as Witzel discovered, nature’s beauty can sometimes mask life-

to 11 degrees or so now. The captain was steering the ship, and I was going

threatening danger. “It was after the treasure hunting. I was approached

back and forth between the engine and the radio.

by a Trinidadian group about going with them down to Trinidad. We were underway on our trip to Trinidad, just about two weeks into it. We got up in the morning and found our ship laying port three or four degrees. Chances are that means there is more weight on the portside, and that tends to be water. When I went to check I found [the water] rushing in. We tried to get out these three trash pumps to fix the situation, but some didn’t work, and we weren’t able to keep up with the water coming in,” Witzel said. “You learn a lot about people during a crisis. When you find yourself in a delicate situation, you see people act differently. Here, I saw a lot of men really, really scared. I saw people so scared they quit fighting to try to save their own lives. We were about 13 miles from land, so we kept trying to save the boat as it constantly laid port. “We inflated the life raft, and the crew left on it. One guy was just frozen; they had to pry his hands off the guard rail because he was so scared to get into the raft. Meanwhile, the captain and I stayed on board to try to save the vessel. The engines were still running, but the boat was laying heavy, port up


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“At this point people were responding on the radio. A couple of French vessels. It was very early in the morning; the sun was just coming up. And as we and the captain stayed on doing what we could, the vessel started to dip portside, and then it started sinking in the back. At that point the captain decided to step off [and said], ‘Abandon ship!’ We exited from the high starboard side, slid down the side and stepped onto a French fishing vessel that had come in close to the ship. Wouldn’t you know it, the ship sank 45 minutes later. “With this, I had this epiphany. Even with the longest life, our lives are such a short amount of time to do great things. It’s a blink, and it’s gone. So I remember realizing how valuable life was and that I needed to do the best with what I was given. “When I came back from the Caribbean, it was difficult to go back to life as normal … You know there is a different way to live your life, and you opt for that. I am always looking for an adventure,” Witzel said.

“Alligator Smile,” acrylic on canvas, 12"x16"

“Carolina Wren,” acrylic on gallery wrapped canvas, 16"x20"

Witzel returned to South Carolina where he assisted his girlfriend at her coffee shop in Litchfield, “... fixing this and fixing that, sweeping and watering the plants. Just doing the right thing for the person I was dating. And then I painted a little something on recycled materials. It was sort of my claim to fame at first. But it was out of necessity – canvases were expensive, but wood washed up in the creeks wasn’t, they were giving that away! So it was just a matter of cleaning those up, sanding them a bit and painting a pretty picture on it. Put the price tag on the wall. That caught on, and those were selling quickly enough, and then it just evolved into what it is now: an established business. Now I have to paint on canvases for shipping reasons,” Witzel joked. Many of Witzel’s paintings are a nod back to his times diving for treasure, with most of his subjects being aquatic. He loves to paint turtles, fish, crustaceans and octopi, but one of his favorite things to paint is the bream, a fish he encountered long before he ever donned his scuba gear. “Bream are important to me. They are the most common introduction to the outdoors for every Southern child. Almost anyone can get a stick, a string,


a hook and a bug. You can do it. Turn over a log and find a worm. Put it on

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the hook and drop it on the edge of any water, and if you wait there long

true for whatever you are passionate about. You have to roll up your sleeves

enough I can guarantee you that you will catch a bream. So this beautiful fish

and work; you can wear the name badge, and anyone can pick it up and put

is yours to have just by doing these few simple things. Southern children’s

it on their chest. Doesn’t take much to be a painter. Dip the brush in paint

introduction to enjoying the outdoors is usually somebody, be it a brother,

and rub it on the canvas. You are a painter. Now, if you want to turn it into a

daddy, uncle, or cousin taking that child for a walk, handing them a cane pole

viable means of income, you have to create constantly, and you have to build

– it’s just a stick and string – and having them catch a bream. That is why

connections. You have to do the right things and give back to the community.

you see it in a lot of my paintings.”

Work ethic. You gotta work.”

Each piece of art used to take him days and days to complete, but Witzel

But Witzel also has some advice for collectors or anyone considering a

has been improving his technique to the point where he can usually finish

purchase of art. “Don’t buy art as an investment. Buy art that speaks to you.

a painting in a day. “Mind you, my day starts at 7:00 AM and can go until

Surround yourself with art that you love. That is what art is – a reflection

about 10:00 or 11:00 PM,” he laughed.

of you.” And if you relish life in the coastal South, you might also relish

Though clearly gifted, Witzel is self-effacing and generous in his advice to

Witzel’s work.

other aspiring artists, “My advice is work ethic. You gotta work. The same is

“The Pineapple Fountain,” acrylic on canvas, 8"x10"

“Pele,” acrylic on canvas, 18"x24"


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illustration by mark mccollough


gHost cAts the eastern cougar has been extinct for nearly 80 years. so why do so many people claim to have seen it? By Barry Kaufman

It was high noon along the May River this past spring. Louanne LaRoche had made a conscious decision to leave her phone inside and to spend a quiet spell in glorious meditation along the edge of the water. It’s common practice for the Bluffton artist, a way to recharge her creative batteries and enjoy our area’s pristine beauty. Her plan was to commune with nature. Instead, she wound up face-to-face with a creature that should not be. A creature that, as far as the government is concerned, has been dead for 80 years. “I was just relaxing and listening to the birds, and I was planning to go back in, and right then I saw a cougar,” she said. “It just walked calmly across our yard, maybe 100 feet from me.” The thing is, as close as she was and as clear a look as LaRoche got, if you ask the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, LaRoche was mistaken. “What we say in these instances is that we do not have any reliable data or sightings, for that matter, that would establish a cougar in South Carolina,” said South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) spokesman Brett Witt. “A lot of the time, it’s most likely a bobcat, because they can get to be 2025 pounds, and that’s fairly large.”

ghost stories At issue is the long-running debate about the very existence of the eastern cougar. First placed on the endangered species list in 1973, the eastern cougar was officially declared extinct in 2011. In a report issued at the time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proclaimed that the subspecies had “likely been extinct since the 1930s.” While other subspecies of American cougars persist, such as the western cougar and the Florida panther, it was decided by no less an authority than the federal government that we could all start referring to the eastern cougar in the past tense. But then the sightings started. “I had an encounter. Yes sir, I did,” said Dr. Thomas Horton. Horton, a history teacher in Mount Pleasant, said his sighting happened a few years back on a highway outside of Kershaw. “At first I wasn’t sure what I’d seen, because it wasn’t a bobcat, and it wasn’t a regular cat. The animal that I saw had a long, thick tail, as thick as two or three of my fingers, dragging on the ground. … I thought surely this was a bobcat, but a bobcat doesn’t have much of a tail. We locked eyes, which they say is very unusual for a varmint like that. Magnificent creature, dull coated, not brilliantly

Not so, said LaRoche, who has seen panther and jaguars

coated like you see them mounted on a wall. He was no tabby cat.”

during her time living in Belize. “And I’ve seen a bobcat in our

But did Horton really see what he thought he did? Did he really

backyard, so I know the difference. I was able to see it very clearly, its tail, its coloring … it was about the size of a lab, dappled brown. We’ve had bobcat in our yard. It wasn’t that.” So what was it?

come across the elusive ghost cat? “People see what they see, and they believe what they see,” said SCDNR’s Jay Butfiloski. “Sometimes it’s mistaken identity or … your mind is trying to figure out what it just saw and decides

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‘that was a big cat’ and makes that decision. Whether it was or not, they’ve convinced themselves.” There could be something to this. While Horton recalls his cougar encounter with complete clarity, by his own admission he was only able to verify the animal as a cougar after searching for images on the Internet. Another complication Butfiloski brings up is that these sightings rarely come with photographic evidence. Horton lost track of the animal while searching for his camera, and LaRoche purposely left her camera phone inside to pursue her meditation. But then how do you explain the photos from game cameras and hunters that flood the Internet’s many networks of amateur cougar spotters? For that matter, how do you explain the sheer volume of anecdotal sightings? “My husband used to hunt around what is now Sun City in the 1970s and 1980s, and he’s seen them out there,” said LaRoche. Furthermore, when LaRoche’s story was first reported in the Island Packet, scores of readers responded with their own sightings. “I’ve had people contact me from the Haven, saying they’d seen them. People have seen them around Palmetto Bluff. They’d seen them and heard them.” Horton received a similar response after sharing his experience in the Moultrie News. “Many hunters have contacted me saying ‘Dang straight, I’ve seen the tracks; I’ve seen stuff they’ve killed and dragged.’ We have coyotes, but that’s a different varmint completely.”

what's in a name? The official stance is that the eastern cougar is extinct, but clearly the evidence is mounting up that something is out there stalking the wilds of South Carolina. Something that isn’t a bobcat. Something big. So what could it possibly be? Discounting cases of mistaken identity, the official line from SCDNR is that what we may be seeing is the western cougar moving into lands its eastern cousins were driven from as civilization stripped away its habitat. “States like Arkansas and Louisiana have had roadkill and other sightings, young males going off on their own,” said Butfiloski. “They’re the ones that would suddenly want to be 300 miles away.” Witt concurs, saying, “We have two native bear populations around the Peedee and the upstate, but we’ve had reliable bear sightings in every county of South Carolina. Animals roam; that’s what they do.” This may seem like a matter of semantics, but the fact is there could be very real financial consequences to placing the eastern cougar back on the endangered species list. As development continues throughout the Southeast, management of cougar populations would suddenly become a real issue for anyone looking to build on potential habitats.


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ideNtIfying cougar tracKs

Round-shaped track

Four asymmetrical toes (third toe leads)

research compiled by rick rosatte

Teardrop-shaped toes

Claws or nails do not show

Round-shaped track

Four asymmetrical toes (third toe Rounded innerleads) toe edge

Angle between outer toes less than 30째 Teardrop-shaped toes

Claws8-10 or nails do notsize show cm track

Line or cross cannot be drawn outer twotoes toes Anglethrough between outer without the heel pad lesshitting than 30째

Rounded Tri-lobedinner largetoe heeledge pad 43-70 mm in width 8-10 cm track size


Line or cross cannot be drawn through outer two toes without hitting the heel pad

Tri-lobed large heel pad 43-70 mm in width


comMon trail tracKs










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It’s this fact that leads many who have sighted cougars to believe a larger force

“If you had a good, diverse population, you could even start with a smaller

is at play in keeping the eastern cougar a myth. With every sighting debunked

number. As long as they were allowed to reproduce and grow. The problem

as a bobcat or a roaming western cougar, adherents see a cover-up aimed at

with large carnivores like that is that not a lot of people like them.”

protecting those with a vested financial interest.

A handful of sightings here and there may not constitute the evidence officials

Sadly, as tantalizing a possibility as it seems that the eastern cougar may be

would need to raise the eastern cougar from the dead. But that only adds to

still among us, a victim of government conspiracies to protect real estate, the

the allure, the mystique, of each new sighting.

fate of this animal may have been simply sealed by its lack of numbers.

The South has a long history of enchanting ghost stories. As for the eastern

To even consider bringing the eastern cougar back from the dead wouldn’t

cougar, if it’s a ghost story, it’s certainly one worth telling.

take just one sighting. It would take the discovery of a sizable colony of viable specimens. According to Butfiloski, that number would be close to 100.

Big Jay’s thougHts on cougars in the lowcountry By Jay Walea

As the rain pounds the roof of the Conservancy office, and I sit alone reading

It was eight years ago, a cold February day, and we had just finished a prescribed

Barry Kaufman’s excellent article “Chasing Ghost Cats,” my mind can’t help but

burn; I loaded into my truck to head home. I rounded a bend in the road, and there,

wander to the discussions I have had over the years with many of the same people

crouched in the center, was a juvenile cougar. There was only a second or two for

interviewed by Barry. And like Barry, I keep with the official statement that there

me to observe the cougar at rest because he soon registered the motion of the truck,

is no proof of the existence of the eastern cougar in South Carolina. But no proof

stood up, looked at me, and bounded off the road. Fortunately, he headed straight

doesn’t mean that cougars in general (eastern or otherwise) aren’t around, just

to one of our game plots, and in the truck I was able to follow him. He slowed

that there is no evidence that they are here. So, do I, Jay Walea, believe that there

from a run to an easy lope as he headed across the field, and I lost him in the

are cougars in the Lowcountry, particularly here on Palmetto Bluff ?

woods. I was 30 yards from the cat, and I know that it was a cougar.

The Savannah River Basin has a huge flood plain with thousands of acres that

But, no matter how confident I am, South Carolina Department of Natural

are too low or too wet for development, providing large tracts of forests and

Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are firm that there is no proof

wetlands with the resources needed to sustain a viable cougar population. An

of wild cougars in South Carolina. For these government agencies, the only

abundant supply of prey attracts predators, and after the predators are here,

evidence that will serve as proof is a body. Photos will not work. It must be a

why would they leave? I believe the cougar is here and is here to stay.

dead cougar. With this said, I hope that we never get that kind of proof.

At Palmetto Bluff, since 2004, there have been over 80 sightings of animals

As good stewards of this land, the knowledge that the cougar has been here,

described by property owners, guests, and employees as cougars. Charlie Bales,

may be here now, and could live here in the future is a testament that our

a retired land manager with more than 37 years on this property, has never

wildlife and forestry management practices are doing exactly what they are

seen a cougar, but has found several kills that were consistent with those made

supposed to do: keep our ecosystem healthy and able to sustain an apex

by cougars. Charlie believes that cougars are here, but I know they are.

predator such as the cougar. This elusive species may one day be established here, and if it ever is, we can thank those who have fought to preserve the natural beauty of the Lowcountry.


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Is it possible for a place to take your breath away and breathe life into you at the same time?

listen closely. somewhere between the lapping saltwater waves, the shucking of oysters and the joyful retelling of the day’s adventure, is the sound of everything that matters falling into place. Join us at montage Palmetto Bluff, where charming accommodations, a vibrant village, marina, golf and restaurants bring to life the rich heritage of the south carolina lowcountry. (866) 706-6565

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To preview residential opportunities and our other destinations, visit s p r i n g / s u mm er 2 0 1 6




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By Courtney Hampson  Photos by Peter Taylor

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“Right. Right. Left. Left. Left. Left. Right. Sorry, Mr. Sheep.” That was me, sorting sheep at Border Springs Farm. As they came barreling through the chute in a cloud of white, I was checking for the tags in their ears – right ear for male, left ear for female – and funneling them into two different pens by changing the direction of a gate. Unfortunately, sheep don’t necessarily proceed in single file, so a few ewes got caught up as I mishandled my gate, and I found myself apologizing to them while they undoubtedly were looking around for their shepherd, Craig Rogers. Oh, and that song about their fleece being as white as snow? Well, that may be the case in the spring hills of Virginia, but in the January hills after a snowstorm dropped three feet of the cold white stuff, which was steadily melting, meant the farm was mostly mud. And so was the fleece. But the sheep didn’t seem to mind, so why should I? After all, if there were ever a good sport, it is Rogers. I first met him in 2014 as his “Ewe Haul” came to a halt at my feet. He had made the trek from Patrick Springs, Virginia, to Lake James, North Carolina,

And as the pink summer skies over an epically-lit Lake James field gave way to torrential rain, Rogers and the Littells never stopped serving his lamb to guests that night. Even as the rain extinguished the fires in his cauldrons and filled his dishes, his spirit was never dampened. And we loved that the most. So as Mother Nature played a part in our first meeting, it only seemed right that as I made my way north to Virginia, my winding route showed evidence of winter’s fury slowly melting away. Just across the North Carolina border, in what could certainly qualify as the middle of nowhere, the stunning valleys and peaks of Border Springs Farm sat glowing in the sunshine. I spotted the guardian dogs first, fulfilling their duties perfectly with a barely audible growl, but just loud enough to let me know that they weren’t going to come bounding toward me to lick my face. Because that isn’t their job. Their job is to protect the sheep. They work the third shift, keeping the sheep safe from predators. “They know only of life with sheep,” Rogers said. “Their barking at night is dubbed the ‘shepherd’s lullaby.’” So, by afternoon they are in the midst of their siesta, and that is how I found them, sound asleep in the pastures, dotting the melting snow.

This is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. I am a farmer. Not a hobby farmer. A farmer. Some people don’t know the difference.

for the “on the road” Music To Your Mouth (MTYM) event. At that point,

Rogers and I began to walk and talk, and naturally I wanted to know how

our open-fire cooking concept was merely a recently-unloaded pile of

he ended up here. But, he doesn’t like to speak of what he did before this.

equipment in a field. Rogers – a stranger to me at the time – hopped from

“This is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done,” he said. So the questions

the cab of his truck, kissed me on the cheek and said, “We’ll shake hands

ended there with a symbolic drop of my pencil into my notebook, as if to say,

later. Show me everything.” After I gave him a quick lay of the land, he was

‘Understood. I will pry no more.’

fully engaged and already a part of the extended Palmetto Bluff family.

“I am a farmer. Not a hobby farmer. A farmer. Some people don’t know the

His MTYM menu that night consisted of spit-roasted whole lamb, grilled

difference,” Rogers said. He seems to have a desire to be the voice of the

corn and fennel salad with pickled chiles and white anchovy salsa verde, and

farmer. The farmer who works his land all day, and into the night, which

chile-glazed Denver ribs with fried shallots, carrots, and jicama slaw, which

quickly becomes morning. The farmer who isn’t being interviewed, who isn’t

was detailed and lofty to say the least. And we loved that. He didn’t travel

invited to events across the country.

with sous-chefs. His friends Connie and Brian Littell joined him to help, and we loved that even more. (Brian is the only person Rogers trusts to roast a whole lamb on a spit for him.)

A farmer tends to hundreds of acres. He has to, to stay in business, to make a financially-sustainable business. And shepherds, well, they are a special breed. After spending the day with Rogers, I think it is no coincidence that

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he has found this to be his calling. Rogers has 1800 ewes, spread 41 per acre, in valleys and across a creek into the mountains. And his landscape is stunning. You can see why someone would want to be here. Every day. And, our day was chilly. The wind was whipping; the temperatures didn’t make it out of the forties; the snow and mud quickly chilled my feet to the bone. But, I was here to work. “So, what would you normally do on a day like today?” I asked. Rogers pointed up to the house, and said, “I’d be in there with a cup of coffee.” Man, I love this man’s sass. Mud and melting snow are not ideal conditions for farming, but I was committed to working, and Rogers was committed to giving me something to see and do. Little did I know, it was actually the dogs who do much of the work. Enter Brit, the border collie who walks side-by-side with Rogers waiting for his next command. Border collies work the sheep. It is what they are born to do. “A border collie will spend its first few months noticing nothing, and then sometime between three months and a year, a switch flips, and one day they want to do it all. They just get behind the sheep and start moving them,” Rogers said. Having a relationship with the dog is paramount for a shepherd. They need to be in lockstep. Rogers’ gentle, “Shhhhh...” gets Brit running, on her mission to gather the sheep together and move them to the place Rogers wants them to go next. Often, that means moving from pasture to pasture across the hundreds of acres, for the purpose of rotational grazing. Brit will head out (in the direction of the side Rogers has placed her), forming a wide circle. Rogers’ series of whistles moves Brit to and fro. The way the sheep begin to move makes you believe that they too know the commands, but in fact it is the mutual respect between Brit and her herd that moves them almost symphonically. The goal of the shepherd is to have a dog who respects the sheep, and sheep who respect the dog. Rogers doesn’t want the sheep to fear Brit. “That is the difference between a good dog and a crazy dog,” he says. Over the crest of the hill, I begin to see sheep slowly appear. A few at first, and then the space begins to fill in. Almost like a marching band moving in formation. “They don’t run?” I ask. “No. The last

It takes a long time to build a brand, and it takes only a heartbeat to lose it.


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thing you want to do is eat an athlete. You want a couch potato, meat on

Rogers recently saw a picture from the first ‘Lambs and Clams’ event that

the bones; it makes for perfect marbling,” Rogers tells me. (Oh yeah, I just

he participated in. (This is a brand of its own now that has found Rogers in

remembered, one of their buddies is what’s for dinner tonight.) After Brit

the James Beard House, partnering with the Southern Foodways Alliance,

has moved about 40 sheep to the pasture where we are standing, I have to

and making multiple city stops each year.) He said he smiled a little just

wonder, ‘What’s next?’

thinking about how proud he was back then. His pride has only increased

And this is where the shepherd’s crook comes into play. Rogers slowly loops its hook around one sheep’s neck, stopping him in his tracks. He respects the shepherd too. Rogers moves the sheep to his rear, so it appears that the sheep is literally sitting down. And as gently as can be, Rogers leans down whispering, “How you doing, buddy? How you doing?” He checks the sheep’s

since, almost like a proud papa watching his baby grow. For him, the baby is the business, the brand. But it’s more than that. Just days before my visit, in the midst of the winter storm, the latest lamb was born. Rogers cradled it as gently as he had cradled his new granddaughter whom he met just after Christmas. All of it, a labor of love.

hooves, one at a time, making sure the snow and mud and winter weather

Fast-forward a couple hours, and I had just finished a spectacular soak in a

hasn’t been detrimental. He pats the sheep’s belly a few times, as if to say, get

sumptuous tub, defrosting my feet and fingers at Primland, a 12,000-acre

back out there. And the sheep ambles on.

resort of space and sky in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I headed back down

“I am culling. I am breeding. I am keeping the best,” Rogers said. He is literally taking stock of each member of his flock, setting the bar higher and

the mountain, along a road dubbed “Busted Rock,” en route to the farmer’s table for dinner.

higher each year. “I cull the lowest percentage to get better lamb, and I’ll tell

There I was met again by the guardian dogs, and in a perfect example of

you what, my lamb is much better today than it was five years ago. It takes a

coming full circle, the Littells. They were again helping Rogers prepare

long time to build a brand, and it takes only a heartbeat to lose it.”

dinner: a leg of lamb and lamb ribs, served with a horseradish sauce and a chimichurri sauce, but of course the meat needed neither. Connie’s spinach

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salad sprinkled with “our goat cheese,” which elicited the question, “Your

country,” and it was compelling to think that a palate could be satisfied with

goat cheese?” “Oh yes, we have a farm too: sheep, goats, chickens. We make

wines from an east coast region.

our own cheese,” Connie said. There was spinach and cheese quiche. And Brian’s famous twice-baked potatoes, which will get my vote any day.


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The conversation was just as satisfying as the meal. Of course, we reminisced about our first meal together in the pouring rain. And then we talked about

Rogers paired the meal with wines from the Virginia-based Williamsburg

Rogers’ and the Littells’ upcoming trip to Vegas, where I insisted they see

Winery, that I must say – and I am not a wine expert by any means – were

Barry Manilow. As the plates were cleared from the table, conversation

quite delicious. (Rogers sent a bottle of the Adagio home with me, and

quickly turned to talk of having to go put up the chickens, and bring in the

I cannot wait to uncork it.) Virginia does not have a reputation as “wine

dogs. As for me? I just couldn’t wait to put up my feet.

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calendar of events april


Golden Marsh Painting with Wine and Design



First Friday Lecture: Animals of the Lowcountry

Bring your friends or significant other along with your

Spend your Friday evening learning about the beautiful

favorite bottle of wine for a fantastic evening. A local artist

wildlife native to our region. Tony Mills, star of Coastal

will guide each student with stroke-by-stroke instructions

Kingdom, will share his experiences and insights on the

to ensure you paint your own unique masterpiece while

animals and critters that call the Lowcountry home.

sharing the experience with your fellow classmates. Supplies provided. Please email Arts Coordinator Dylan Sell at for more information.



A Taste of Beaufort Come taste the delicious food of Beaufort at its annual A Taste of Beaufort event. Bring your friends to the historic

taste of bluffton

district of Beaufort and sample food from local restaurants.

The 4 annual Taste of Bluffton food festival offers delicious th

food and drinks from some of the best local restaurants around.


features art, music, food and the famous Ugly Dog contest.

Owls of the Bluff

learn more about these nocturnal predators. No RSVP required.


a concert on the Village Green. Proceeds benefit Family Promise of Beaufort County, a local Bluffton charity.

with Peggy Ellis

get started in a medium with a history that stretches back to


one” in Spanish? Bring your lunch to the Conservancy and

returns to demonstrate and instruct us in painting.

find out more about these recent additions to our ecosystem.

Please email Arts Coordinator Dylan Sell at

No RSVP required. for more information. The Art Market at Historic Honey Horn Coastal Discovery Museum’s 16th annual Juried Fine Art & Craft Show returns for another year to showcase the talented artists of the Lowcountry.


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Brown Bag Lunch: Armadillos Did you know that the word “armadillo” means “little armored

ancient China. Art instructor Peggy Ellis, a Bluff favorite,


Summer Concert Series Grab a lawn chair and your favorite mid-week date to enjoy

Beginner Watercolor

This painting class covers everything you need to know to

Bluffton Village Festival A favorite among locals, this outdoor festival in Old Town Bluffton

Brown Bag Lunch:

Bring your bagged lunch to the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy to




Hilton Head Island Art Festival with Craft Marketplace The 8th annual Hilton Head Island Art Festival with Craft Marketplace hosts more than 150 artists from around the U.S., showcasing paintings, jewelry, sculpture, photography, pottery and much more.



First Friday Lecture: Dolphins Among the more gregarious animals of the Lowcountry



First Friday Lecture: Snakes! With Kimberly Andrews

wilderness, dolphins are known to spark the excitement of

Bring the entire family – and your lawn chairs – to R.T.’s Market

many a visitor to the Lowcountry. Come and learn more about

green for this ever-popular presentation on snakes. Dr. Kimberly

them at the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy with biologist Eric

Andrews and the Conservancy’s director, Jay Walea, will discuss the

Montie from the University of South Carolina at Beaufort.

native snakes of Palmetto Bluff. And of course, Dr. Andrews will bring live snakes to show us again this year! No RSVP required.


Summer Concert Series Enjoy a mid-summer concert on the Village Green.


Summer Concert Series Enjoy a mid-summer concert on the Village Green.


Summer Concert Series Enjoy a mid-summer concert on the Village Green.


Explore Palmetto Bluff: Cemetery Loop Join the Conservancy for a hike along the New River marsh on Cemetery Loop. We’ll see habitats ranging from mixed pine-



hardwood upland to maritime forest edge and we’ll discuss the flora and fauna of these ecosystems. Reservations required. This

4th of July Cart Parade

hike is complimentary for members and $20 for guests. Email Dylan Sell at to register.

Creativity and competitive spirit reign supreme in this annual Bluff event. Decorate your golf cart and take it for a spin in Wilson Village to show your patriotic spirit.


Summer Concert Series Enjoy a mid-summer concert on the Village Green.




Explore Palmetto Bluff:

health and ecology of the May River and the effects of storm

Join the Conservancy’s team of wildlife experts for a hike along We’ll see habitats of the maritime forest and discuss the flora and fauna of these ecosystems. Reservations required. This hike is complimentary for members and $20 for guests. Email Dylan Sell at to register.


Summer Concert Series Enjoy a mid-summer concert on the Village Green.

Water Quality with Kim Jones Join us at the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy for a talk about the

River Road

one of the Bluff ’s prettiest trails through the River Road Preserve.

First Friday Lecture:

water runoff. No RSVP required.


Brown Bag Lunch: Turpentine Moonshiners weren’t the only people with stills in the woods of Beaufort County. The still just off of Camp Eight Road in Palmetto Bluff was once a part of a turpentine camp and an industry that dominated the economy of the South. Come and find out how turpentine was made from the Conservancy’s archaeologist, Dr. Mary Socci. No RSVP required.

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