Photograph by Judy Drew Fairchild
The abundance and diversity of wildlife on Dewees Island are a testament to its philosophy of environmental preservation. Raccoons, a variety of turtles, alligators, otters, minks, deer, frogs and birds (from anhingas to wrens and just about everything in between), all thrive on the island. In the surrounding ocean, on the beach and in the tidal pools, there are shells and animals rarely found on islands that are more densely populated with people.
I was fortunate to have South Carolina master naturalist and Dewees Island resident Judy Drew Fairchild as my guide the day I visited, and there was a new wonder to discuss with every step we took. I was told (and don’t remember) the name and several facts about every butterfly, bird, flower, mammal, sea creature, shell, tree, turtle and insect I could point to. I even ate a leaf of the Hercules club tree (also called a toothache tree) because I was told that if you chew a leaf, your mouth will become numb. Who can resist that challenge? And it worked, as effectively as anything from a drug store.
We passed cormorants, loons, egrets, herons and a pair of bald eagles that had nested on an osprey pole close to the edge of the marsh. I didn’t need a lens or binoculars to see them clearly, which is certainly the closest I have ever been to a bald eagle. And although, according to Fairchild, eagles on the Eastern Seaboard rarely take over osprey poles, this particular couple had nested in that spot for several years.
How it Works
No bridge. No cars. No stores on the island. It’s undoubtedly peaceful. But what happens if there is a fire or medical emergency? And how do common household occurrences such as appliance delivery, repairs, garbage pick-up and moving day take place?
Emergency situations are solved by the presence of a Public Safety Department, which includes a fire department with a full-time fire chief who lives on the island with his wife. There is also a first responder on duty each night who stays in an apartment at the firehouse. A helicopter landing pad permits easy transport to area hospitals, and for injuries or illnesses that don’t merit air delivery, the island keeps an emergency boat. The water system, a state-of-the-art sewage system and solid waste and recycling are all taken care of by the Dewees Utility Corporation.
There are a few construction trucks left parked at the Public Works Department that may be rented by builders, as well as vehicles owned by contractors such as SCE&G to use when they need to work on Dewees. And there is a pick-up truck owned by the Property Owners’ Association that may be rented to move large items, such as furniture and appliances, from the dock to a home.
If an item fits, it can be transported to the island via the ferry with some advance notice. For larger deliveries, including construction materials, golf carts, refrigerators and even full moving vans, there is a barge. The barge is also used to remove the garbage dumpsters and recycle bins. So while it may take a bit more planning, there is really nothing on Dewees that can’t be accomplished much as it is on islands accessible by bridges or the mainland.
Living on a secluded island is not for everyone. Organization is key, as is a relaxed attitude. Residents and visitors need to be able to plan ahead, compose great lists, yet be able to make do and move forward if they realize they’re out of soy sauce in the middle of cooking a favorite stir-fry.
As Fairchild put it, “It’s laid-back punctuated by moments of chaos.” The example she gave was a day she planned to stop by Whole Foods in Mt. Pleasant for two things, only to find it was the grand opening of the store’s renovations. The crowds were much larger than usual, and by the time she checked out and got to the ferry, she had missed it by 30 seconds.
Planning and the potential for “chaos” also means getting up in time for the 6:30 a.m. ferry for families with school-age children. School buses meet the ferry for the final trek to local schools and drop them off at the ferry dock after school. But an additional 20 minutes in the morning can mean the difference between finding where last night’s homework is hiding and going to school without it.
Shopping trips, doctor’s appointments, even school events need to be planned more carefully and in advance for Dewees residents than for other people. But these minor inconveniences, for the kind of people that flourish here, are completely offset by the positive lifestyle aspects the island offers.