Armchair Peregrinations

December 3, 1998

Even in an area like Charleston here in coastal South Carolina, there is a terrible amount of urban sprawl. Not nearly so much as the larger cities like Atlanta, or anything even resembling the worst traffic I've ever seen -- I-5 in Seattle. But still, I-26 is always heavily trafficked and many of the streets I travel frequently have that big-city feel about them, although generally they flow pretty well. Fortunately, we don't yet have a "third" rush hour at noon here yet.

Unfortunately, Charleston and its metro area are not much different from most cities and towns in the U.S. Long ago, in the name of progress, cities were laid out, land cleared, trees decimated, wetlands filled in for suburban developments and neighborhoods around the city centers fanned out in an ever-expanding circle. Were any real efforts made to preserve patches of the old-growth forest and wildlands that surrounded the growing cities other than a few small city parks and recreation sites here and there? No, none at all to speak of. New Orleans has its huge City Park, but it is mostly golf course. New York has its vast Central Park with trees, ponds, trails and a semblance of woodland to assuage some of the chaos and madness of life in that urban juggernaut.

In Charleston we have a very nice little park near The Citadel, Hampton Park it's called, and a very venerable public space it is, too, in a city with such a long history as Charleston. It is a pleasing little oasis, but it's out of the way and only about 10 acres in size so you really can only pretend you're in a real urban park. In spring it's ablaze with azaleas, and it has some fine old trees. But I'm very much aware of being in the city.

That is why I'm so glad the county park commission is creating a large nature park about 10 miles out from Charleston in a beautiful area of marsh and maritime forest at a long-abandoned tea plantation. It will be given over to nature study and quiet contemplation of the natural world in a truly outstanding setting. I visited there once on a field trip with our state's pre-eminent naturalist, Rudy Mancke, and never forget the place. I've always wanted to go back. I still can't believe that within the year, and hopefully not too many months hence, I will be able to go to a place of serenity far enough away from the city that all its confusion and clamor are left behind. . It will be like having a state park near the city, but without the noisy recreational activities. I'm awaiting the day this park opens with great anticipation.

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