With 20,000 acres to traverse, it is only natural for folks to want to explore Palmetto Bluff, including me.
As a newfound fitness fanatic a few years ago, I was always seeking my next challenge. I was raring to lace up my running shoes and plot a course for exploring the Bluff on foot. Then the Palmetto Bluff Half Marathon was born, but always with the intention that it would be the catalyst for an endurance series that would encourage active residents, visitors, and guests to see the majesty of the Bluff in a new way. When runners from 27 states registered for the half marathon in year two, we knew we were onto something.
A discussion with the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy Team revealed the members’ desire to create a second fundraiser to complement their annual Burn Festival Dinner and create an annual tradition for residents and visitors alike. Before we knew it, the idea of a second race suddenly blossomed into so much more. What if we run only on trails? What if it is more than a 10K? Would folks run a 30K? Could we make this an ultra-race? Our idea turned into excitement, then into plans. Thus, another Palmetto Bluff race was born: the Buffalo Run.
Charting the Course
“We’re getting good at this,” says Conservancy Director, Jay Walea, as we drive along the new trail for the Buffalo Run. He, of course, alludes to the miles upon miles we logged trying to map the half marathon course three years ago. We drove that loop dozens upon dozens of times. (Jay might argue it was more.) Each time we tweaked the path just a tad, in the hopes of hitting the magic 13.1-mile mark. We went up curbs and off roads. Jay even joked that he needed an oil change after one of our afternoons of course charting. But we finally figured it out.
Now that Jay is an “expert” race-course plotter – having also mapped the way for the 2013 Race for Ellie trail run – he was eager to get in the field and figure out how to blaze the trail for the Buffalo Run.
While the Palmetto Bluff Half Marathon brings runners down the main road into Wilson Village and then through the River Road neighborhood, the Buffalo Run will give runners an all-access pass to trails that wind through several different habitats in the private and limited-access sections of Palmetto Bluff.
Although the start and finish of this trail run is on pavement, the Buffalo Run’s course soon shifts to the sandy soil of a fire line maintained to protect the surrounding mixed hardwood and pine forest from wildfires. The path continues to Camp Eight Road, a wide gravel road that once led workers to the still and the camp of an early 20th century turpentine operation. Some of the pine trees in the hardwood upland on the left and in the pine flatwoods on the right (two distinct ecological zones separated by only a few inches of elevation) bear the characteristic scars of being “catfaced” a century ago to collect pine gum.
Rounding the curve of Camp Eight Road, runners will briefly follow Cemetery Road and then head to the Cemetery Loop Trail. Leaving the gravel road for the sandy trail, racers will see the pine uplands give way to the ancient maritime forest and the edge of the New River marsh. The old dikes and levees of antebellum rice fields stretch off into the distance, and ospreys soar overhead. Deer, wild turkeys, and fox squirrels are often seen along this section of the route, which briefly rejoins the gravel Cemetery Road before continuing along another sandy fire line. Here, the old upland hardwood and pine forest leads to a young pine plantation, a reminder of the land’s tenure as a managed property of Union Camp.
The path intersects and continues along Whitehouse Road, a wide, manicured dirt road, and the forest becomes older and a mix of hardwoods and pines. In the early morning, this is a perfect place to spot a buck or doe grazing on the grass at the edge of the woods. After a short distance, runners will leave the dirt road for another sandy fire line, a narrower trail that skirts beautiful wetlands with red maples before looping back to
Whitehouse Road. Whitehouse Road continues to the paved road and the leads to the finish/starting line.
What’s Buffalo got to do with it? (Yes, we hope that Tina Turner’s melody is now coursing through your brain.) In the 1960s the Loomis family owned Bull Island, the wooded island near Calibogue Sound, just a short jaunt via the May River from the Bluff. On the island, the Loomis family had a herd of buffalo that would often swim in
the river, meandering (as much as a 2,000 lb. animal can meander) down Cauley’s Creek, eventually beaching at
the Bluff. (Local lore suggests that the buffalo were intended to be bred with cattle to create “beefalo.” We can neither confirm nor deny this rumor.) The Bluff’s wildlife team, then led by Philip Buckles, would herd them out. And eventually they’d swim back again. The Bluff has, after all, been a much sought-after gathering place for centuries for humans and animals alike.
It seems that the swim eventually became too much for one big bull who decided to take up residence at the Bluff. Who could blame him? He was here to stay, which was OK for a while, until he got aggressive and started charging vehicles as they drove down the main road into the Bluff. So, Buckles called Mr. Loomis to discuss the situation. Mr. Loomis told Buckles, “Do what you have to do.” And, he did. Long story short, the head of said-buffalo now hangs over the fireplace of Buffalo’s (marketing brilliance) in Wilson Village.
Written by Courtney Hampson