Down by the Bay

What is a Carolina Bay and where are they located? What is special about a Carolina Bay? How many people know that there is a Carolina Bay open to the public and surrounded by preserved open space located just off the commercial spine of Whiskey Road? Carolina Bays share many of the same features: an elliptical landform aligned northwest to southeast, filled with shallow water seasonally, and a flat sandy bottom. Thousands dot the coastal plain of South Carolina. From the air, they are unmistakable – they look like what would be left if there had been a meteor strike – but early theories of a strike are belied by the great range of ages of these Bays.

The site of the Carolina Bay Nature Reserve on Price Avenue was originally farmland. The City of Aiken owned 10 acres, including the pond. Aiken Land Conservancy (then known as ACOLT) raised funds from 1996 to 2002 to purchase the remaining 14 acres of the property. ALC then donated this land to the City and a conservation easement was placed on the entire 24-acre parcel. Restoration efforts included the planting of Carolina Bay vegetation from bays in the Savannah River Site.

The Reserve is an aesthetic and recreational amenity to the community at large, and a refuge for birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, plants and the ecosystem created by them. It is a significant educational resource because of its urban location and its high level of biodiversity.

On Sunday, October 9, Aiken Land Conservancy, in conjunction with the City of Aiken, presented a talk and slide show about Carolina Bays at the H.O. Odell Weeks Activities Center. Almost 100 people gathered to hear the speaker, Tom Poland, who has recently written and published a book about Carolina Bays. He and his co-author visited at least 30 Carolina Bays over a period of ten years to produce this beautiful book. You can see photographs of Bays all over the South in the book, Carolina Bays: Wild, Mysterious and Majestic Landforms (available for purchase on the University of South Carolina Press webpage).

After the presentation, Mr. Poland walked to the Carolina Bay Nature Reserve on Price Avenue to meet attendees and answer questions. Thirteen local artists had gathered there to show their nature- themed artwork. Popular with children and adults alike was an exhibit by Savannah River Ecology Lab featuring reptiles and amphibians that might be found at the Bay. The third graders at East Aiken School of the Arts provided colorful drawings of Carolina Bay animals to decorate the observation deck. It was a lovely day and it was great to see so many members of the Aiken community come out for this free event.

Our hope is that this presentation will encourage us to look at this city park with new eyes and perhaps sparka new, or even renewed, interest in this wonderful open space.

Photos courtesy of Ginny Southworth