The Santee Cooper Region
- Grand Strand Weekend
- South Carolina for Kids
- South Carolina Bar-B-Que
- A Midlands Weekend
- Civil War Adventures
- South Carolina Waterways
- Three Days in Horse Country
- South Carolina for Seafoodies
- South Carolina Kitsch
- Gullah and African American History
- Upstate Weekend
- South Carolina’s Top Ten for Golfers
- South Carolina’s Offbeat Festivals
- Southern Comforts
- Lowcountry Romance
During family drives up and down boring old I-95 as a kid, I always perked up when we hit the long, low bridge over Lake Marion. That such a vast, deep blue body of water, brimming with whitecaps on a windy day, would seemingly pop up out of nowhere in this flat, nondescript country was impressive enough. Add in hundreds of partially submerged cypress trees poking out of the water and the mystique of the Swamp Fox himself for which the lake is named, and I had a recipe for lifelong fascination.
As primordial as Lakes Marion and Moultrie seem to be, they’re actually man-made. Both are byproducts of a New Deal–era hydroelectric project under the auspices of the Santee Cooper Authority, named after the two rivers impounded to form the lakes. In the name of rural electrification, vast tracts of land were acquired by the government in the 1930s, with over 900 families—most African American and poor—forcibly bought out.
Beginning in 1939, the virgin hardwood forests around the Santee and Cooper rivers were carved out and flooded. World War II interrupted the completion of the clearing of Lake Marion—hence all those gnarled cypress trees still poking above the waves to this day. Somewhere under its waters, in fact, is the old homestead of the Swamp Fox himself, Pond Bluff.
One of the largest public works projects in history, the Santee Cooper project was so expansive, in fact, that eventually the entire region would be known by the same name (the area’s chief utility company also goes by that moniker). While today Santee Cooper is a sports enthusiast’s paradise, if all you want is a taste of life here it’s an easy enough visit, since the interstate makes transportation a breeze.
Key stops include Orangeburg, home of the popular annual Festival of the Roses; Moncks Corner, the gateway to Charleston; the great Santee National Wildlife Refuge on Lake Marion; and Old Santee Canal Park on Lake Moultrie.
Oh, and one other thing: the best barbecue in South Carolina is in Santee Cooper.
Getting to the Santee Cooper Region
I-95 goes directly through Santee Cooper, making it one of the more accessible parts of South Carolina. Highway 301 is another key route, cutting through the region and serving Orangeburg before briefly joining I-95 and crossing Lake Marion over to Manning. U.S. 17 is the main road to Moncks Corner.
A car is a must in Santee Cooper—unless you’re planning on simply boating to the lakes from the Intracoastal Waterway, which is theoretically possible but pretty unlikely. Rental cars are available in Orangeburg from Enterprise (1624 Saint Matthews Rd., 803/534-0143, www.enterprise.com) and Hertz (907 Chestnut St., 803/534-0447, www.hertz.com).
© Jim Morekis from Moon South Carolina, 4th Edition