Missing the Low Country during the days of the pandemic

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A Black-bellied Whistling Duck (foreground) and a Fulvous Whistling Duck (background) share space within an aviary at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina.

In the face of Covid-19, I’ve had to forego my usual spring trip to coastal South Carolina for 2020. I usually head to Fripp Island or Pawleys Island.

When my destination is Pawleys Island, I always make sure to schedule plenty of time for visiting Huntington Beach State Park, Brookgreen Gardens and even my brother and sister-in-law.

These two aforementioned attractions, Brookgreen and the state park, actually share mutual history.

In particular, I have found my previous visits to Brookgreen Gardens particularly fascinating. Brookgreen Gardens is a sculpture garden and wildlife preserve, located just south of Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.

The thousands of acres in Brookgreen’s Lowcountry History and Wildlife Preserve offer a rewarding opportunity to admire native plants and animals of the South Carolina Lowcountry as well as the huge rice plantations of the 1800s.

Of course, Brookgreen Gardens is probably more famous for its sculpture displays and art galleries. A combined sculpture garden and wildlife preserve, the 9,100-acre property includes several themed gardens with American figurative sculptures placed in them, as well as the Lowcountry Zoo, and nature trails through several ecosystems in nature reserves on the property.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • This captive Red-shouldered Hawk was rehabilitated after suffering an injury and now works in an educational program at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina to teach the public about raptors, other birds, and various types of wildlife.

I also learned from the website that Brookgreen Gardens is one of the few institutions in the United States to earn accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, as well as being designated a National Historic Landmark and being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

One of the attractive aspects of visiting Brookgreen Gardens is the fact that garden admission tickets are good for seven consecutive days. A one-time admission cost meant that I could return each day for seven days after my ticket purchase.

Parking is free and the facility also operates a free shuttle service. There are a few additional costs, including a pontoon boat tour and admission to the butterfly house.

In total, about 1,445 works of American figurative sculpture are on display at Brookgreen Gardens. The bird life is also quite diverse. During previous visits, I have observed such birds as Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Pileated Woodpecker, Osprey, Hermit Thrush, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird, Barred Owl, Red-tailed Hawk, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and much more.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A Wild Turkey forages in the gardens at Brookgreen Gardens.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A Turkey Vulture on display in the Lowcountry Zoo.

Elsewhere in the zoo, some non-releasable raptors, including Great Horned Owl, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk and Turkey Vulture, are on display. The zoo also features fun displays of Gray and Red Foxes, River Otters, American Alligators, White-tailed Deer and a few other examples of native fauna. The attraction’s naturalists also give daily wildlife shows to allow the public to get to know some of the wild residents of South Carolina. The focus shifts each day, so visitors never know whether they will be meeting an owl, a skunk, or some sort of reptile.
If you’re able to enjoy an extended stay in the Low Country, this is a must-see attraction. I visited for a few hours every day of my most recent trip and saw different things every day. In addition to birds, I saw plenty of beautiful wildflowers, as well as butterflies, dragonflies and lizards. Brookgreen Gardens is also home to an abundance of Southern Fox Squirrels, which are truly charismatic members of the rodent family.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A Black-crowned Night Heron makes identification easy for aviary visitors at Brookgreen Gardens.

Of course, with the ongoing pandemic, Brookgreen Gardens has had to make adjustments. According to the attraction’s website, the following areas are currently closed: Azalea Restaurant, the Gardener’s Cottage Ticket and Information Center, the Children’s Discovery Room, the Butterfly House. The Children’s Storybook Forest, Children’s Sensory Trail play areas, and the outdoor Children’s Reading Room are also closed. Public programming and classes are postponed until a later date. All excursions (Creek, Trekker, and The Oaks) and the shuttle are not currently running. The Courtyard Café and the Old Kitchen are open for take-out snacks and light meals. Picnic areas are closed. Keepsakes Museum Shop is open. The Jennewein Gallery and Bleifeld Gallery are reopening, May 1. Guests, staff, and docents must wear masks and observe social distancing inside the galleries and only five guests may be in the galleries at a time. The galleries are open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Restrooms are open at the Welcome Center, the Lowcountry Center, and the Campbell Sculpture Center in the Lowcountry Zoo. The Bruce Munro at Brookgreen: Southern Light exhibit public opening is planned to open on May 15.

The virus and its effects won’t last forever. Once life resumes a recognizable pace, I hope to return to Brookgreen. For more information, call (843) 235-6000 or visit http://www.brookgreen.org.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • One of the beloved Southern Fox Squirrels resident at Brookgreen Gardens.


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