Places We Protect

The Washo Reserve

South Carolina

View of a forest of tall, thin cypress trees with white birds in them.
Egrets in a wetland The Washo Reserve is a 1,040-acre natural area owned by The Nature Conservancy which features a 200-year-old freshwater cypress lake. © Felicia Sanders

The Washo Reserve is a 1,040-acre natural area owned by The Nature Conservancy.

Overview

Description

Please note the boardwalk closure, effective February 2022.

The Washo Reserve is a 1,040-acre natural area owned by The Nature Conservancy and co-managed with SC Department of Natural Resources. The reserve features a 200 year old freshwater cypress lake and cypress-gum swamp, which harbors the oldest wading bird rookery in continuous use in North America.

In the 18th century, the Washo area was purchased by Joseph Blake, whose name is often associated with the reserve. It became part of the network of plantations which prospered on cotton, rice and indigo. Being a plantation owner cultivating the marsh rice field, Blake's main interest was to create a freshwater reserve supply for controlled flooding. This was accomplished by damming a small creek running from McClellanville to the Santee River through this portion of the Santee Swamp.

Civil War and a large hurricane in 1898 were fatal to the Blake Plantation. By the 1900s sportsmen had discovered the value of the various diked marshes surrounding the Reserve for hunting. The Santee Gun Club was founded in 1898. Over the years the club expanded its land holdings in Charleston County to several thousand acres, including the Washo Reserve.

During the 1930s, more than 500 nesting pairs of common egrets were estimated on the Washo Reserve. Wood stork, now an endangered species in South Carolina, were first observed in Washo Reserve in 1994.

In 1974, the Santee Gun Club donated to The Nature Conservancy more than 24,000 acres of property now known as the Santee Coastal Reserve. While TNC deeded most of the property to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, TNC retained the ecologically sensitive Washo Reserve.

Recently, The Nature Conservancy has been working collaboratively with partners to help maintain Washo Reserve as a viable wading bird rookery, particularly for the endangered American wood stork. Dying cypress trees and increased amounts of aquatic weeds threaten the interior rookery used by more than 150 nesting pairs of wood storks. A new water control structure was installed to help manipulate the water levels to better manage new cypress growth. In January 2013, 275 new cypress trees were planted, many of those within dead cypress stumps in the interior of the 200-acre wetland. In the summer and fall of 2013, the aquatic weeds will be chemically treated with an aquatic approved herbicide to promote open water around the wood stork nests.

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Size

1,040 acres

Explore our work in South Carolina

Washo Reserve is jointly managed with the SC Department of Natural Resources, who also manage the surrounding property called the Santee Coastal Reserve.

Boardwalk Closure

As of February 2022, we made the difficult decision to close an 800-foot wooden boardwalk and observation deck at Washo Reserve. The wood throughout the structure was rotting due to constant dampness and sun exposure, and it was no longer safe for visitors to use. Estimates to replace the boardwalk were more than $400,000, with additional funds needed for annual maintenance.

We realize the deck closure will disappoint some visitors. The good news is, the view offered at the water control structure—in fact, an even better view—is accessible further down the same trail. Simply continue down the Ormand Hall Trail until you reach a dirt road, turn right, and step out on the water control structure for a magnificent view of the lake at Washo Reserve.

Thank you for your understanding and help keeping our visitors and the wildlife at Washo safe!

Find More Places We Protect

TNC owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

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