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Since my early days of learning to kayak, I can often recall a mentor in the sport recommending that I visit Sparkleberry Swamp. Honestly, I had never heard of the place nor even knew which state it was in. But at every sea kayaking event I attended, someone would bring up a trip to Sparkleberry. At the Sea Kayak Symposium in Charleston, South Carolina, someone finally tuned me in to the location of this highly regarded paddling destination.

Sparkleberry Swamp resides in Rimini, South Carolina on upper Lake Marion. It is part of the 1,600-acre Upper Santee Swamp system. The swamp derived its name from the abundance of sparkleberry trees (Vaccinium arboreum) in the waters. Upon first glance, Sparkleberry Swamp is mesmerizing with its abundance of vegetation, fog rising from the water, and wildlife.

Sparkleberry Swamp is home to more than 150 bird species, and our group was fortunate enough to observe a hawk nest high in the trees. The high bird count in Sparkleberry Swamp earned it the designation as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.

The Karma RG was the perfect vessel for experiencing Sparkleberry Swamp. With it’s playful hull design, I was able to weave through all of the trees and narrow passages within the swamp. The stern dry storage hatch kept my lunch dry and allowed me to pack extra layers (and a camera). Being able to toggle the retractable skeg was very helpful in transitioning between shallow waters in the swamp to the open waters and wind gusts of Lake Marion.

An important piece of gear to bring with you to a waterway: a trash bag

Upon visiting Sparkleberry Swamp, it broke my heart to see trash all around the boat launch. Empty beer cans, plastic containers, food wrappers, and other trash attempted to tarnish the beauty of this natural wonder. Also, a mere 1,200 feet from the swamp lies the Safety Kleen Landfill, a 279-acre dump containing industrial waste separated from the environment by a liner.

I do not want to lose this pristine wilderness nor be deterred from coming to it because toxins in the water, so I brought a trash bag with me to the boat launch and was able to fill it with ease (which made me sad). I hope others will assist me in returning Sparkleberry Swamp to the pristine condition it deserves. The beauty of Sparkleberry Swamp is something that has left a permanent impact on me, and I hope to inspire another paddler to visit the area and go paddling.