Jewel of the Santee: Your map to boating through the Sparkleberry swamp

BY DAN GEDDINGS
Posted 2/11/19

Hunters and fishermen refer to the area simply as “the swamp.” It is the headwaters of Lake Marion and is more widely known as “Sparkleberry.” This vast area covers more than …

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Jewel of the Santee: Your map to boating through the Sparkleberry swamp

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Hunters and fishermen refer to the area simply as “the swamp.” It is the headwaters of Lake Marion and is more widely known as “Sparkleberry.” This vast area covers more than 16,000 acres of shallow flooded swampland, with miles of winding creeks, oxbow lakes and brush-filled flats. Heavily forested islands and seasonally flooded ridges are found throughout this natural wonderland.

The swamp is anchored by the Santee River, and it is the river’s flow that gives this place life. Water levels in the swamp rise and fall with the river. Those levels, and even weather such as fog, can affect travel through the swamp. Many outdoorsmen have lost their way and spent a night in the swamp.

This sportsman’s paradise is owned by Santee Cooper and is open to the public. Fishing, hunting, camping and boating are the main pursuits here. There are no official trails or routes but also no restricted or closed areas and no permit requirements. Sparkleberry offers a freedom to do what you like when you like that is seldom found on public ground.

The swamp offers good fishing for catfish, bass, bream and crappie. Deer, turkey and other small game is abundant here. Camping is popular on the islands and the river bank. Pack’s Landing in Sumter County and Low Falls Landing in Calhoun County offer good access points. Sparkleberry Landing in Sumter County is more primitive but puts you right into the watery world.

From Sparkleberry Landing, a boat ride will take you through a narrow channel flanked by moss-draped trees to a wide-open flatwater known as Jones’ Flat. Cut across the flat and through a winding creek to a forest of submerged ash, tupelo and cypress trees. Mill Creek winds through this enchanted place. Sparkleberry Lake lies just ahead.

Through another flooded forest lies Otter Flat. It is a long, wide stream and is the main boat trail through the heart of the swamp. In low-water conditions, old pilings from a timber railroad trestle can be seen here. Flooded swampland and thick stands of cypress trees line this creek. Snake Creek and York Creek veer off to the right. A boat trail to McGirth’s Lake turns off to the left. Pine Island Creek is just ahead. At the upper end of Otter Flat is the turn-off to Dead River.

A narrow, twisting, watery trail past wooded ridges and through willow thickets opens unexpectedly into a wide-open lake. Dead River is a huge, wide, crescent-shaped oxbow lake. It is a surprise to see something like this in the middle of such a heavily wooded swamp.

Backtrack to the turn-off and take Little Otter Flat upstream to Broadwater Lake. The lake is long and narrow, and toward the end, Broadwater Creek turns off to the right. It is a winding creek lined with willows and hardwood ridges. Little Creek turns off near Broughton’s mound. The old Indian mound predates the rice and indigo culture that flourished here long ago.

At the end of Broadwater Creek is Indigo Flats, a crescent-shaped oxbow lake with moss-draped cypress trees standing in deep water. Here, Tavern Creek and Fuller’s Earth Creek bring black water in from the hill to mix with the muddy water that flows in from the river.

Turn around here and follow Broadwater downstream, back past Little Otter Flat, through a narrow boat trail to the Santee River. The current in the river is usually slow, and the water is muddy or at least dingy. The riverbanks are high and narrow and heavily wooded with hardwoods and the occasional pine. In winter, the sycamore trees stand out like skeletons with their pure white bark against the dark gray hardwoods along the riverbank.

The river will take wide turns and loops on its way downstream toward the lake that spreads its waters. A couple of turns down the river reveals a cut in the bank that is the entrance to Moore’s Lake. Pushing on, another cut leads to the Bog Hole. The steel railroad trestle is just ahead. A left turn will take you to Pack’s. Just beyond the trestle is the entrance to Low Falls on the right.

Sparkleberry swamp is a big place and has changed through the years, as any natural place will do. But it remains a wonder, a treasure and an outdoorsman’s paradise. It is the Jewel of the Santee.