Night Hike at Santee State Park

During the first night hike, Mr. Green found a great example of what slithers through the woods, or, as in this case lies too cold to move. Dave is shown showing off his find to any who wanted a “hands on” experience with the creatures of this region.

Mr. Green led us  on two separate night hikes. Being that he had previously worked at the park he had many stories to tell along the way. The hikes were a welcomed addition to the itinerary and a worthwhile experience. The South Carolina moon was full as we followed the trail. We called for Owls, listened and looked for more small eyes straying
back at us from the foliage, and discussed different aspects of work in the Department of Natural Resources.

On the second hike the group was much smaller, only three of us went. Mr. Green was still our guide as we attempted the bike trail which circled Lake Marion, a man-made lake mostly for use in recreation. The crisp air and nearly silent woods were broken up along the way by rustlings of brush and our own conversations. We walked until the sounds of civilization crept into our journey about 2.5 miles in, we had made it about half way through; not bad for a spur of the moment midnight hike that will be remembered
for the rest of my life!

Train Rides


Lauren and Sunil wait for breakfast

We spent 4 nights of the trip on the train. I thought a train ride would be a lot like a plane ride, but there is a lot more open space. There were also observation cars and dinning cars. These were surprisingly comfortable and had tables to play card games on. Most of us spent our waking hours on the train in these cars, playing card games. The trains also had power outlets, which was nice because Sunil and I needed to finish a paper.

On the way to South Carolina. Courtesy: Scott DesRosiers


Camp Life

Camp life is often interesting and full of surprises. This year’s trip wasn’t any different as it was raining whole day of the very first day of camping. Based on popular vote, out team leader Tim Bob decided to spend the night camping instead of spending it in a local church basement offered by former Albion College President Peter Mitchell. Putting up camp in a rain is challenging as you are trying to keep the inside of the tent dry. Luckily, we were allowed to used a shelter in the park to cook our food and enjoy our dinner. After a long wet day, we ate our dinner and were ready for an adventure back to the tent under continuous rainfall. Also, I forgot to mention it was my birthday and, I was rather very surprised that there was birthday cake for me. Thanks to everyone. We went to bed in the relative dry tent; however, I woke up in a pool of water on either side of my sleeping pad. The tent had leaked although it was supposed to be waterproof. Although, I slept quiet well, my sleeping bag and other tent gear were very wet.

I personally enjoy camp life a lot. Cooking dinners are always fun and exciting. Dr. Lincoln is very creative in making delicious and quick camp dinner. We had Taco salad, chicken chilli and spaghetti as our dinners in the camp. Morning breakfast are also very nice. A big mug of cofffe with various cereals and fruits always started the day in high note.

In addition, we made fire around the camp almost every day of the trip. We stayed around the fire and talked about things. Camp fires always provided us with the opportunity to talk about the day we just had or any Albion related issues we wanted to talk about. We also managed to have some s’more at Table Rock State Park.

Table Rock State Park

We arrived at Table Rock State Park late on March 7th 2012. Next day, after some breakfast at the camp and some clean-up, we headed to meet Interpreter Roger Scott. Scott welcomed us in a lodge that was build during recession in order to provide people with employment. The lodge was build by Civil Conservation Corps, and later used as hotel located on a hill right next to an artificial lake.

After looking around the lodge for sometime, we went to the other visitor information station where we were scheduled to meet State Park Director, Phil Gaines. Meeting with the Director was one of highlights and “coolest” parts of the trip. The Director started with the history, mentioning how he went to school with African-Americans for the first time when he was bussed from his rural town into into Greenville in the sixth grade. He also discussed segregation in in the State Park system, and how the state closed all parks at one point, rather than desegregate them. Explaining in his Southern accent, early interaction with African American community helped him understand racial discrimination present in the society.

He then moved forward in explaining the finncial challenges the parks in South Carolina are facing especially parks like Table Rock. The state wants the parks to be economically self sufficient, so the parks must generate revenue on their own to manage the parks . However, the Director explained there is more administrative freedom in running self-sustaining parks as suppose to State controlled parks.
The Director further shed light on the structural make-up of the parks in South Carolina and Table Rock. He also suggested us to visit the Green space in Greenville and definitely walk around Main Street. The  final destination for the day was Greenville, South Carolina and catching a train to Washington DC.

The State Park Director explaining us the history of State parks in South Caroline. Courtesy: Tim Bob

We took a lunch break after talking to the Director. In the meantime, some students along with Dr. Doug White played Frisbee while Tim Bob napped in the warm sunny day.

Tim Bob napping during lunch break at Table Rock. Courtesy: David Green

After lunch we took a mile long hike up the table Table Rock State Park accompanied by Ranger Scott. As we took this very refreshing and rejuvenating hike we were able to wintness some Dusky Salamanders and Water Snakes along the stream.

Hannah Pankratz, a geology major,looking at the rock structures on a hike to Table Rock. Courtesy: Tim Bob


After the hike were then headed to Greenville South Carolina. On the way to Greenville we also stopped at Caesar’s Head and in Devil’s kitchen.

Kayaking in Seabrook Island

Noelle and Sunli battle for position in the creek. Photo by Dave Green

The Seabrook Kayak trip was cut short because it was too windy to go all the way to the ocean. Instead we paddled around the marshland that was only somewhat protected from the wind. We learned that dolphins will sometimes swim up estuaries to coral fish and trap them up against the shoreline. We also learned about the biodiversity of that habitat. They’re several species of crab that call the marshland their home. Many insects live in the tall grass. Many of us made the unfortunate decision to wear jeans. Sea kayaks are very close to the water and are designed to take on water. They have holes right next to where you sit, so most of us got are jeans soaked. The trip was a lot of fun though and the interpretive rangers had a lot of cool information to share.

Washington DC


In DC we were given free time as long as we made it back to the station in time for the train ride out. On our first stop in DC, we ate at the matchbox, a restaurant with unparalleled sliders and very good pizza. Then we walked up the mall to the Washington monument. It started to rain so most of us found Smithsonian’s to hang out in. We went to a Thai restaurant and I tried Thai food for the first time. All in all, it was very cool to see the nations capital and eat great food.

Congaree National Park

At nearly 27,000 acres, Congaree is easily one of the largest floodplain old growth forests left in the U.S. It is home to numerous “champion trees”, trees of such immense size and age that they may be the largest living trees of their species; we were able to measure and rank some of these trees.  The floodplains, resting in the shade of 400 year old Bald Cypress groves, are home to a vibrant ecosystem of birds, amphibians, fish, reptiles and mammals.  The floodplain routinely floods, leaving a beautiful maze of trees to canoe or kayak through.  All of this land was protected by concerned citizens until 1976 when it finally became a national park.  Under the protection of the National Parks Service much of this land has been conserved and managed responsibly for the benefit of biodiversity. 

The National Park Rangers are divided into various teams managing different aspects of the park, including water management, botany, and even specialists who focus on feral boar invasion, and the supposedly extinct Ivory-billed woodpecker.  The various roles and career niches of the National Parks service, from the interpretive rangers who run guided tours and monitor the wildlife to interpretation to education and emergency services, were discussed in depth .   There are many internships and training opportunities in the various areas of the National Parks Service that were discussed, great opportunities for anyone interested in conservation and land and wildlife management positions as well as environmental education. 

There are miles of trails and boardwalks for visitors to hike along through the marshy landscape.  The park was transformed by the shifting river deposits as it migrated across the park over the past few thousand years.  Various geological and ecological studies have been performed on this park because of the pristine nature and great hardwood forests, providing a great opportunity for anyone wishing to study those subjects and was perhaps the reason that the park was preserved by citizens of the area until half a century ago.


Dr. White and Quinc Gonzales measure the width of a massive tree in the swampy terrain to determine if it could be a champion tree








Evidence of the woodpecker population of Congaree National Park. Research has been performed to identify the species of woodpeckers feeding at these trees concerning the beak width of common woodpeckers in the region and the critically endangered Ivory-billed Woodpecker.










The majority of Congaree park is floodplain, home to massive Bald Cypress trees anchored to the marshy soil by their "knees".









Beautiful 5-lined Skinks and anoles crawl along Congaree National Park in the thousands. Beautiful to some, "just a lizard" to others.

Seabrook Island and Pluff Mud

During our stay on Seabrook Island, we went on a hike through the maritime forest.  The forest is made from old sand dunes giving it an interesting topography and diversity of life.  There were different species of trees ranging from conifers to palm trees, and even Spanish Moss and Palmetto’s. Randomly, in the middle of the forest was a tight rope course which we all had to walk across even though it was just a few feet above a dry ditch. It was surprisingly challenging even though it was a pretty simple course.  However, everything is more complicated when someone is jumping on the other side to get you to fall off.

Sunil successfully walking across the tight rope course. Courtesy: Dr. Lincoln

Once we had all made it across, we continued our hike and reached the estuary where we walked in the water and enjoyed the beach. The final part of our hike involved walking a short distance back into the forest to find pluff mud. Pluff mud is a very fine grained mixture of organic materials, sands, and silts. Most of us decided to get into the mud and walk around. It seemed to be similar to quick sand by the way you would sink into it when you stepped in and tried to walk. Due to this suction, there were a few mishaps where people fell in or almost lost a shoe.

Sunil, Ken, Lauren, Hannah, Noelle, Heidi, and Mr. Green after playing in the pluff mud. Courtesy: Heidi

After getting covered in the pluff mud, we headed back to the estuary to rinse off, even though the water was pretty chilly. It was then time to head back to camp and start dinner, but we had one more adventure of seeing dolphins playing near the shore.


Angel Tree, The longest Living Oak in South Carolina


 Visiting the Angel Oak was an impressively humbling experience. The Oak (Quercus Vrginiane) stands a towering 65 feet tall has a circumference of 25.5 feet and shades an area of 17,000 sq. ft. This 400 year old tree has impressive numbers, but it’s not until you stand underneath its canopy and navigate the twisted spiders of its limbs that you feel her weight and resilience. Admitting I had to stop and attempt to draw this angel before me, even at many hundreds of yards away the full extent fell off the paper, and at my vantage point I was also in perfect line to capture my fellow tree hugging friends circling the tree and playing under its branches.

CSE Group members circling Angel Oak


Seeing this long-standing example of life sustaining against the odds has a certain breathtaking presence all of its own, but adding in that this particular region of South Carolina is prone to fire and hurricane commands respect of the oak’s winning within nature.

Lunch with John and Karen Vornakis

Lounging at the Vournakis' House

Lounging at the Vournakis’ House

After a rainy night, we left Huntington State Park to eat lunch with Albion Alum’s John and Karen Vornakis. The lunch took place at Dr. and Mrs. Vornakis’ home that overlooked a beautiful scenic wetland. Talking with both Dr. and Mrs. Vornakis was great because they brought up old stories of Albion and campus life while they were here. Dr. Vornakis also informed us of his Greek life and even got to bond with one of the students on the trip that is also in the same fraternity he was a part of. Aside from hearing about Albion, Mrs. Vornakis informed students about the houses in South Carolina. She explained that the houses near the coast were required to be built with no basements. The layouts of the houses normally have a common level on the first floor, gathering area and kitchen on the second floor, and on the third floor were the bedrooms. Both Dr. and Mrs. Vornakis also assured the students that our degree’s from Albion College will be helpful within the real world. Everyone on the trip was glad to have reassurance that their degree would be valuable after college and thoroughly enjoyed their hospitality.

Lunch at the Vournakis household.