The Magazine of South Carolina

Bringing a Lost Land Back to Life

Brookgreen's famous cultural gardens in Murrells Inlet are expanding into the future by reclaiming a near-extinct natural history.


Supporters of Brookgreen Gardens last autumn were delighted to discover a new option for visitors: boat excursions meandering up freshwater creeks and abandoned rice fields along the Waccamaw River. The Springfield, a 48-foot pontoon boat, ac-commodated 50 passengers, and Brookgreen officials optimistically hoped for 45-percent occupancy. Instead, the tours averaged 85-percent occupancy in October - a decided factor in helping boost Brookgreen's October attendance by 20 percent over the previous year. From the vantage point of the ex-cursion boat, bird watchers, photog-raphers and his-tory buffs gained a new perspective of the site's nat-ural history.

The Springfield tours, which resumed in mid-March 1998, are a precursor to Brookgreen's "Low-country" expansion project. The seven-year plan, approved in October 1997, will integrate the 9,100-acre property's natural and cultural features and expand Brookgreen's 300-acre museum into a 3,000-acre center for preserving and understanding the area's rich natural history. Brookgreen president Lawrence Henry describes the project as a "major expansion" of Brookgreen. "It will bring a lost land back to life by consciously managing habitat for endangered species, enlarging the zoological collection, undertaking major archaeological excavations and providing interpretive exhibits of the wildlife, land and society that historically inhabited it."

Part of the property will be the site of a wildlife management program that, among other things, reinstates the traditional pine-wiregrass habitat. Hopefully, this will help endangered species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker to thrive again. Henry points out that of ap-proximately 650 identified colonies of red-cockaded woodpeckers in the country, about 35 are on Brookgreen premises.

Cultural and historical exhibits will be developed between Laurel Hill Plantation at Brookgreen's northern border and The Oaks Plantation at the south. The exhibits, each illustrating an unique feature of the Low Country, will be connected by trails, boats and trams through the wetlands, uplands and rice fields. Linda Ketron, manager of volunteer programs at Brookgreen, reports that together they will teach visitors how the Low Country plants, animals, land mass and people came together.

Brookgreen is expanding its animal collection to include black bears, cougars, bobcats, wolves and beavers. The wildlife will be protected in their natural habitats while providing visitors with rare glimpses of these animals in the wild and up close.

The present Wildlife Center is being re-organized, and The Oaks, site of Theodosia and Joseph Alston's home, is being excavated. Through the "Lowcountry" project, more archaeological excavations are scheduled to be conducted. Historical artifacts and depictions of the early rice culture will be included in interpretive exhibits.

The first phase of the plan, to be completed in two years, will include the opening of the first section of the Rice Field Trail with an eco-pod and a new alligator/otter exhibit.

Brookgreen also is enhancing its sculpture collection. This spring, the first temporary indoor exhibition will be opened in the gallery space of the visitors' pavilion. It will showcase 42 masterpieces from Brookgreen's own collection, says Robin R. Salmon, Brookgreen's senior vice-president and curator of sculpture. Titled "American Masters: Sculpture From Brookgreen Gardens," it will include The Windy Doorstep by Abastenia Eberle, The Bronco Buster by Frederic Remington, Resting Stag by Elie Nadelman, Evening by Paul Manship, Frog Baby by Janet Scudder, Joan of Arc by Anna Hyatt Huntington and The Sun Vow by Hermon MacNeil. Various other works will depict "the human figure at the heights of both beauty and grotesqueness."

It was Anna Huntington whose works Brookgreen initially was established to display. The collection was expanded to include, in the words of founder Archer Huntington, "an outline collection representative of the history of American sculpture, from the 19th Century, which finds its natural setting out of doors. Its object is the presentation of the natural life of a given district as a museum, and as it is a garden, and gardens have from early times been rightly embellished by the art of the sculptor, that principle has found expression in American creative art."

The ideal continues. Salmon notes, "We're going through a lot of changes. You'll see a lot of new features in the next five years."

Meanwhile, you can sign up for a creek tour this spring. Observes Bill Weeks, Brookgreen vice-president, "While the creeks and rice fields are glorious during the fall, they are downright spectacular in spring. This is another very impressive side of Brookgreen that everyone should see."


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