Fort Howell Civil War historic site, a Hilton Head free family attraction

Hilton Head Island was captured by Union forces on November 7, 1861 after the Battle of Port Royal. The enormous amphibious invasion force, the largest until World War II, consisted of 77 ships (15 warships), 13,000 troops, 1,500 horses and tons of materials needed to establish the headquarters for the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

Three years later Fort Howell was built by black Union Army troops to protect Mitchelville, the first town in the South developed specifically for the thousands of newly freed slaves.

Fort Howell historic site is located near the intersection of Beach City Road and Dillon, right across from Hilton Head Airport. Admission is free, the site is open daily from dawn to dusk and it takes about 15-20 minutes to cover all the grounds.

Built by U.S. Troops to protect Mitcheville the first freedmen town in the South

Fort Howell full layout



Fort Howell historic highlights:

• The earthen fort was named after Gen. Joshua Howell, who was killed in the battle of Richmond.
• The newly arrived 500 members of the 32nd U.S. Colored Regiment from Pennsylvania, under the command of Col. Baird and the 144th New York Infantry, were assigned the task of building the fort.
• Fort Howell was built in the middle of a large cotton field near the Port Royal Sound, on 3 acres of land once part of the Fish Hall Plantation of William Pope.
• It was designed for 27 guns, 11 field pieces and 16 siege guns.

After building the fort, the 32nd U.S. Colored Regiment participated in the Battle of Honey Hill, on November 30, 1864, sustain 51 casualties.

Bridge over moat at Fort Howell built in 1864

Traverse and moat

The first black troops in the Union Army enlisted on Hilton Head Island in 1862. Initially, men were reluctant to join the army, not wanting to leave their families and risk being captured by the Confederates which meant a return to slavery and death. Also, many Union troops were openly hostile to escaped slaves. To encourage recruits Gen. Hunter issued a pass to those joining the army:

“Now, be it known to all that, agreeable to the laws, I declare the said person free and forever absolved from all claims to its services. Both he and his wife and his children have full right to go North, South, East, West as they may decide.” D. Hunter Major General Commanding. April 19, 1862.

At the top of the North Bastion

North Bastion location

The unit was disbanded months later. Congress did not allow black men to serve until 1863, when the unit was officially organized as the South Carolina First Regiment. The men in the unit were former slaves from South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

By the end of the Civil War, 179,000 blacks in the Union Army and 20,000 in the Navy have fought for freedom and the end of slavery.

Whats left of Fort Howell at Port Royal sound

What remains from Fort Howell’s earthen fortifications

Moss covered trees at Fort Howell Hilton Head

Peaceful trail withing Fort Howell historic site

More historic sites in the area (data and map from Historical Markers Database website)
• Mitchelville site
• St. James Baptist Church
Battle of Port Royal
• Fish Hall Plantation
• Thomas Fenwick Drayton
• Two Gallant Gentlemen from South Carolina

Here is the map, all markers are within 1 mile from Fort Howell and have free admission.

Carnivorous Venus, Pink Pitcher, Lovebug and Monkey Cups…pretty little eaters at McMillan Greenhouse, Charlotte free fun things to see

My daughter and I had great time visiting the McMillan Greenhouse inside Charlotte Botanical Gardens (located on the east side of the university’s campus). We spent couple hours browsing, touching, smelling, gasping and laughing at the weirdest, funniest and most bizarre plants from around the world. The greenhouse has several rooms: Carnivorous, Orchids, Cactus, Dinosaurs (yeah that’s right!), and Tropical. Admission is free and the greenhouse is open daily 10AM-3PM (1-4PM on Sunday).

This post features the “ferocious” carnivorous plants: Venus flytrap, Pink pitcher, Lovebug Sarracenia Hybrid and the Monkey Cups.

My daughter pleaded for a Venus flytrap ($8 for sale).

Happy kid got her wish...a carnivorous plant home!

Our little flytrap: Dionaea Muscipula...sounds fierce!


Interesting facts:
• Venus flytrap lives only on the coast of North and South Carolina

• Venus Flytrap feeds on insects, yet big plants can catch and digest small frogs. It uses its bright red pigmentation to attract prey.

• The trap shuts in 0.3 seconds (one of the fastest plant movements in the world!) To avoid energy waste the trap snaps only after the trigger hairs have been stimulated twice within few seconds.

• It takes several days for the plant to completely digest an insect, and reopen its trap. Smaller insects sometimes escape despite a highly evolved grid of teeth that interlock when the trap closes.

• A trap is only good for 4 to 6 catches. After that, the trap withers, turns brown, and falls off. Read more and see a frog capturing video here.

When we got home we transferred the plant into a bigger pot (thanks to the wonderful staff we got free peat moss soil, which is best for Venus flytrap) with a large saucer and set it on the outdoor table in full sun. Within days she got to work, and caught three insects! All we had to do is give it water every day.

Venus flytrap only lives in South and North Carolina

Few days later, she caught a large mosquito and a couple of flies. Bravo!

The pitcher plants lure insects inside their specially designed leaves with pretty colors and sweet scents. The inner walls are slippery trapping most of the intruders for good. As victims accumulate in the depths of the pitcher, digestive juices are secreted that liquify the prey for absorption.

Carnivorous plants native to South and North Carolina

Pretty in pink, yet lethal

Monkey Cups is a tropical pitcher plant that lives in South China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra, Madagascar, Seychelles and Australia. As the name suggests monkeys use them as drink fountains.

Weird hungry and vicious plants on display at Charlotte Botanical Gardens

The monkey cups plant gets many visitors, some just looking for an easy meal inside the pitcher.

Hybrid mini carnivorous plants

What love got to do with it?

Interested to start your own bog garden? The McMillan Greenhouse has all you need: plants, knowledge and friendly staff on hand.

Learn all there is about carnivorous and orchis at Charlotte Botanical Gardens

Cute as a bog garden? Pretty little eaters...

Don’t forget McMillan’s biggest plant sale of the year will take place April 20 and 21st, 2012 8AM-3PM at the greenhouse.

Beautiful bird encounters while traveling in South Carolina

My favorite thing to do while traveling in South Carolina is to take pictures of wildlife, especially birds.

Spotting a bald eagle last December while kayaking in the marsh at Cherry Grove Beach is by far the most cherished bird watching moment.

Amazing bald eagle sighting while kayaking in the marsh

The majestic bald eagle returns to South Carolina coast.

Witnessing a great white egret couple, delicately preparing their nest for the upcoming chicks, is a close second favorite encounter.

White Egret males and female building a nest

And here is the rest…get out there and enjoy nature at its best!

A Myrtle Beach kayaking trip to remember! Bald eagle, dolphins, egret, cormorant encounters

My first time seeing a bald eagle in the wild! We love kayaking in the marshes near North Myrtle Beach (Cherry Grove inlet to be exact) because is so peaceful and you get to watch a variety of wildlife in their natural habitat. This was indeed icing on the cake…

We started out at sunrise and let in at the boat ramp inside Cherry Grove Park adjacent the Heritage Shores Nature Preserve (highly recommending visiting , free admission).

Boat ramp and fishing dock at sunrise

Best way to start the day: going kayaking in the marsh at Cherry Grove Beach!

After a hearty 30 minutes paddle going against the current as we were trying to reach

Easy kayaking away from the main channel

Paddling through the side inlet to avoid going against the current

the ocean, we turned around looking for a better way.

We found it right across the dock where we let in. There is a mini inlet going parallel to main channel (Go only at high tide to avoid getting stuck in the sea grass or the oyster beds).

What a world of difference!

While my husband guided the kayak at a leisurely pace, I was able to take photos, enjoy the beautiful marsh views, and look out for wildlife.

We hit the jackpot! A remarkable American bald eagle perched on a pole,

Bald eagle perched on a pole in the middle of the marsh

Great reason to go out paddling...a chance to see the majestic American bald eagle!

scanning the marsh in search for a morning prey, oblivious to our presence…

For a long time it stood so still I wondered whether is one of those fake birds you see around the beach.

But it did eventually move when we got really close.

As I was shooting a video of its huge, beautiful wings in full strike, my batteries ran out…go figure! At least I got some nice still shots.

Here is another big bird beauty, a great white egret sitting in a tree in the middle of the preserve.

Wading bird up in the tree

Great white egret trying to spot its next meal

A double crested cormorant gliding smoothly above the water. Did you know that cormorants dive for food and after catching a fish, resurface, flip it into the air and swallow it head first?

Amazing bird viewing in North Myrtle Beach

Rewarding wildlife viewing while paddling in the marsh

Our initial attempt to pass “the Gauntlet of Death” (the nickname my husband gave the spot where the inlet meets the ocean and strong waves push against you) failed. But our second try through the side inlet succeeded with ease. We reached the barrier island and decided to take a break.

Good time to take a break from paddling

Where the inlet meets the ocean at the "Gauntlet of Death"...

Another treat in store: bottlenose dolphins feeding offshore. During our extended winter vacation at Cherry Grove Beach we were lucky to see dolphins swimming by the pier almost every day. Here is a memorable video with a pair of dolphins doing a spectacular synchronized jump.

Kayaking wildlife viewing by the Atlantic Ocean in South Carolina

Enjoying a relaxing break from paddling on the barrier island

What else can you ask for? The ocean, sun, amazing wildlife encounters and a healthy dose of exercise at the beach, all free. Happy New Year everyone!

On the barrier island looking out to cherry grove beach resort

Gorgeous beach vista from the barrier island

Start a new family tradition this year: kayaking along the South Carolina coast!

Walking the Nature Preserve, Cherry Grove Beach fun free things to do

Ever wonder what is like to be in the middle of a saltwater marsh? Visiting the Heritage Shores Nature Preserve is the perfect way to find out. The preserve is feet away from Cherry Grove Beach and provides a mile long roundtrip boardwalk through a beautiful and diverse ecosystem. Admission is free and the park is open all day year around.

How to get there and where to park: The Nature Preserve is located next to the Cherry Grove Park and Boat Ramp at the end of 53rd Avenue North. The park is a very popular fishing destination in North Myrtle Beach and most of its parking spots are designated to cars with boat trailers. The preserve has its own mini parking lot and from here talk the short walk to the preserve entrance (turn right, away from the boat ramp area).

Welcome to the Nature Preserve

Start of the 1 mile walking trail inside the preserve

There are many interpretive signs about the marsh, fauna and flora you can observe along the trail. There is a boating dock and two shaded picning shelters (no restrooms). Bicycles are not allowed inside the preserve.

Oyster reefs are nature’s purest water filters, capable of cleansing 10 to 15 gallons of water a day.

A bed of oysters in the Cherry Grove inlet

The purest water filter...

Bird watchers enthusiasts are in for a treat. You can often spot blue herons, brown pelicans, white ibis and great egrets. Occasionally you may see double crested cormorans, osprey, hawks and barred owls.

Great blue heron wading at Heritage Shores Nature Preserve

The king of the tidal marshes

A majestic looking brown pelican hunting for its next meal. When fishing pelicans dive bill first from up to 60 feet high. An air sack under the bill cushions the blow that will otherwise kill most birds. A pelican can live almost 30 years.

Beautiful brown pelican at Nature Preserve

Master fisherman in action

Scenic picnic area overlooking the inlet and the ocean.

Relaxing inside the Cherry Grove preserve

Picnic area overlooking the marsh and the Atlantic Ocean

Dogs on leash are welcome inside the preserve.

Easy walking trail inside the preserve

Walking the dog inside the preserve

The Cherry Grove Hog Inlet provides good fishing opportunities for silverside, winter flounder, mummichog, pinfish, Atlantic croaker and striped mullet.

Fishermen Nature Preserve tidal marshes

A great way to spend the day in the tidal marsh

There are many different trees inside the maritime forest preserve. Here is an example of the sour cherry tree, where the Cherry Grove Beach name comes from. Other trees are the loblolly, red cedar (which is actually a juniper!), wax myrtle, groundsel and the strange looking hackberry.

Maritime forest cherry trees

There are indeed cherry trees at the beach...

My favorite was the Yaupon Holly, a very important tree for the Native American tribes that inhabited the area thousands of years ago. They used the caffeine-rich leaves for medicinal (“black drink” tea) and ceremonial purposes. Nowadays the berries are an important food source for many birds and small mammals.

Beautiful holly berries

Yaupon Holly tree at Cherry Grove Beach

Here is prickly pea cactus, nature’s own holidays ornament! Other plants include the Indian blanket, sea daisy, goldenrod (another popular medicinal plant used by Native Americans to treat fever, coughs, colds and measles), pickleweed, cord grass (the “civil engineer” of the tidal marshes) and reindeer moss (high in carbohydrates and vitamins A and B)

Salt marshes plants

Giant pea cactus inside the preserve

Animals big and small used to thrive in the maritime forest and the saltwater marsh, an excellent nursery home for many marine species. Who may live here? In the forest are red foxes, raccoons, white tail deer, broadhead skink; in the marsh crabs, snails, mussels, oysters, mud hoppers etc. While kayaking my husband was “escorted” by a noisy pod of bottlenosed dolphins who often come to the inlet to hunt for fish.

Walking through the mini maritime forest

A piece of paradise at Cherry Grove Beach

More fun things to do in North Myrtle Beach

  • Kayaking the Cherry Grove inlet all the way to the Atlantic Ocean (look out for friendly dolphins). Make sure to check the tide schedule and plan accordingly.
  • Ride the Sky Wheel, the newest family attraction downtown Myrtle Beach ($12 adults, $10 children 3-11)

Here is a more detailed list of affordable family friendly activities you can do from Wilmington NC to Georgetown SC.

Have fun in South Carolina!

Kayaking at Cherry Grove Beach: amazing scenery, great bird watching and fishing bonanza

Ahhh! Kayaking at the beach…This past weekend we got our feet wet at saltwater paddling with our 7 years old. With its calm and relatively low water the Cherry Grove inlet was a great choice for out first family kayak ride. We enjoyed beautiful scenery and up close encounters with egrets, pelicans and seagulls.

Preparing our inflatable kayak to ride the Cherry Grove Inlet

A rite of passage...her first kayaking experience

Things to know before you go
• The Cherry Grove Boat Ramp on 53rd Avenue North provides access to the marsh and ocean. There is a double boat ramp, boat trailer parking, a fishing pier, dock and restrooms. Parking spots go out quickly and we had to use the little beach opposite the boat ramp to let our kayak in.
• Check the saltwater inlet tidal guide and use common sense before entering the inlet to avoid any surprises.
• Our round trip, from the boat ramp to the ocean and back, lasted about an hour at a very leisurely pace.
• The Cherry Grove tidal marshes are very popular for fishing, crabbing and shrimping. Be prepared to navigate your way around fishing lines, especially when you let in, go under the bridge and when you reach the Atlantic Ocean.

Beautiful fall ride in the salt marsh near the beach

Out and about in the tidal marsh at Cherry Grove Beach

The boardwalk was one of my favorite landmarks along the way.

Board walk Cherry Grove inlet

Scenic boardwalk and bird watching along our kayaking trip

The egrets were quite active that morning, we saw several wading or flying about looking for a meal.

Beautiful egret in the tidal marsh

The queen of the marsh

Some seagulls fishing! (I thought they only ate chips and crackers…)

Fun kayaking at North Myrtle Beach

Seagulls fishing in the marsh

Busy day for fishermen at Cherry Grove.

Boat and surf fishing Cherry Grove inlet

Fishing enthusiasts flock to Cherry Grove Beach in the fall

A picture perfect family outing…

Fun riding the kayak in the Cherry Grove inlet

Peace of mind

Here is a list with fun and affordable family friendly things to do in and around Myrtle Beach.

Make sure to ride the Sky Wheel downtown Myrtle Beach (open daily til midnight, tickets are $12 adults and $10 children over 3).

Greenville Museum of Art, fun, free and inspirational things to do with kids

The Greenville Museum of Art indulges visitors with hundreds of paintings by American and Southern artists from the 18th century to present. The current attractions are two superb water color collections by Andrew Wyeth (through October 16) and Mary Whyte: Working South (through September 18). Admission is free. The art museum is open Tuesday to Saturday 11AM – 5PM and Sunday 1-5PM.

Art museum featuring Mary Whyte and Andrew Wyeth collections

Excited to see Mary Whytes watercolor collection

Upcoming Events

• September 4 – Music in the Galleries – Enjoy the gentle sounds of guitar music.
• September 18 – Highlights and Insights, an annual tour that touches on current exhibitions, art studios, and a discussion of the Museum’s history
• September 24 – Painter Anthony Conway discusses Jasper Johns
• October 9 – Art in Motion for Families with Percussionist Jeff Holland
• October 16 – The 26th Annual Antique Show
• October 23 – Original Art from 65 Years of Golden Books

My daughter really enjoyed the Art Detective challenge, where she had to identify 6 paintings inside Mary Whyte’s Working South exhibit.

Clues to find best of Mary Whyte art prints

Art Detectives have fun exploring the Working South exhibit

More fun kids things to do near Heritage Park

Be a textile worker at the Upcountry History Museum
• Kick into super fun gear at The Children Museum
• Let your imagination flourish at the Main Public Library
• Take the free guided tour of the historic Kilgore-Lewis House and Garden