Lagoon system is a big draw
(Excerpt from Island Packet Article)
Circulating throughout this 2,000-acre mid-Hilton Head Island neighborhood, the 11-mile lagoon system is the lifeblood of Palmetto Dunes. It is teeming with roughly 40 species of birds and fish, which entice a steady flow of residents and visitors to Hilton Head Outfitters, where people can rent kayaks, canoes or book a fishing trip.
The system is more popular than the beach in the minds of residents and management, who proudly claim that there's no other quite like it on the country's Eastern Seaboard. "The way the canopy from the trees hangs over, the way the lagoons just weave through here, you'll think that you're a million miles away," said Frank Gaston, manager of Palmetto Dunes Outfitters. "You feel like you're in a rain forest. The lagoon system is one of the main reasons why we were voted the No. 1 family resort by Travel Leisure and Leisure magazine. It's an incredible animal habitat -- and it's unique to us."
In the spring, bald eagles are spotted in the morning. Osprey, great blue herons and deer abound at other times. Even ornery sea otters often are spotted, sometimes in the bait basket in Trent Malphrus' boat. Malphrus, who leads fishing expeditions in the lagoons, said red fish, sea trout, flounder, black drum and tarpon are the most common catches. The biggest catch on record was in 1987 when a 58-pound red fish was reeled in, he said. "The biggest attraction here is nature," Malphrus said.
The fish population has its quirks. Because of high salinity levels in the water, the fish aren't able to reproduce. Friends of the Lagoons, a charitable organization, raises money through oyster roasts to stock the lagoons with 11-inch fingerlings each year.
Water flows in a big loop through the lagoon system, largely because of the tide gates at two points on Broad Creek. A 10-inch gap lets the water in, while a weir ensures that the water level does not change much. The tidal gates ensure the waters stay at a consistent level and the water temperature doesn't get too hot, protecting the various aquatic life. Without the gates, the unique ecosystem wouldn't thrive, and it wouldn't have the calmest waters in the area.
"On its own, my spirit seemed to relax, like a folding chair let out by a pool. Because even beauty has its limits, I shall always remain a prisoner of war to this fragrant, voluptuous latitude of the planet, fringed with palms and green marshes running beside rivers for thirty miles at a time, and emptying out on low-lying archipelagoes running north and south along the coast before the Atlantic's grand appearance. The low country had laid its imprint on me like the head of some ancient king incised on a coin of pressed copper." Beach Music, by Pat Conroy
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