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Cypress Gardens: From the Edge of Disaster to the Edge of My Seat

Located in Monck’s Corner, Cypress Gardens is a 170-acre preserve chocked full of surprises. Some of them are fragrantly blooming along the miles of foot trails, some of them are flying through the towering Bald Cypress and Tupelo trees, and some are lurking beneath the slow moving, black water loaded with teeth.

The history of the property upon which Cypress Gardens sits dates to the early 1720s. Alexander Nesbitt came to the Carolinas and established a plantation after being given 3,100 acres on the East Side of the Cooper River. The 80-acre swamp of Cypress Gardens was originally the reservoir for the rice fields of this plantation. Nesbitt named the plantation Dean Hall after his native land of Dean, Scotland.

After his death, the plantation was inherited by two of his sons, John and Alexander, and eventually passed down to a grandson also named John Nesbitt. During the Revolutionary War, Dean Hall was confiscated because of the Nisbett’s loyalty to the crown. Some years later, the youngest John Nesbitt sold the plantation to William Augustus Carson. Many years after Carson’s death, Benjamin Kittredge purchased the property from William’s son, James. This is where things begin to change for Cypress Gardens.

Kittredge had purchased the land to be used as a duck hunting preserve, but he also brought the housing up to date and opened what is now known as Cypress Gardens to the public. After his death, his son sold the property to the City of Charleston for $1.00. In the early 1990’s, it was turned over to Berkeley County, who still owns and maintains the property today.

In an unfortunate turn of events, Cypress Gardens was nearly lost forever in the historic flooding of October 2015. After initial assessments, it was announced that the preserve would likely be closed indefinitely due to the millions of dollars’ worth of damage sustained. Much of the property was underwater requiring the use of a rowboat to access the site and up to 4 feet in some of the buildings. Many folks rallied support for the restoration of this beloved location. After four years of hard work and over $2 million worth of repairs and renovations, Cypress Gardens was able to reopen in April of 2019 much to the elation of its enthusiasts far and wide.

I had been looking forward to visiting Cypress Gardens since the reopening and it took two attempts this year before we could successfully make the trip without being rained out. I will admit to being filled with equal parts fear and fascination with alligators, so visiting them up close was high on my bucket list!

There is something eerily exciting about sitting in a small boat on the tannin-stained water surrounded by all manner of wildlife and peering very slightly over the edge in full expectation of seeing something staring back at you…or maybe my imagination was getting the better of me. Nevertheless, in my opinion, the best way to view the beauty of Cypress Gardens is by the guided boat tour. This is an additional $5 per person to the very reasonable admittance fee and quite possibly my favorite $5 of the year so far. Please note that the guided boat tours are by reservation and should be made when you pay the entry fee.

We visited on a day where there were a couple of school field trips as well, but we managed to snag a few seats on the noon boat tour. Our guide, David Lee, was hands down one of the best guides we’ve had on any excursion to date. His knowledge is vast and his admiration for the wildlife and the location itself runs deep. When you visit, be sure to request his tour…I can promise you won’t regret it. David Lee gave us the rundown of the history of Cypress Gardens as well as introduced us to a good bit of the flora and fauna. He went out of his way to get us up close and personal (within a safe distance, of course) to the largest male gator in the swamp, named Carl, along with his lovely harem of ladies.

On the tour, we were treated to what seemed like hundreds of turtles sunning themselves on the logs in the warm sunshine, baby alligators in varying sizes, and an assortment of birds. He also explained to us some of the diverse features in the swamp from the islands in the middle of the swamp that provide a great resting place for the baby alligators to stand of trees known as Cypress Alley to the water gates that control flooding. They also offer a self-guided boat tour at no extra charge where you can paddle a canoe along a marked trail through the swamp.

We also enjoyed spending time in the Swamparium and the Butterfly House. The Swamparium houses many native fish, reptiles, and amphibians, as well as a few exotic aquatic species from around the world. The Butterfly House is a large greenhouse full of flowering plant life, several species of butterflies, and a large covey of button quail that roam freely within the structure.

While visiting, you may experience a sense of déjà vu more than once. Over the years, Cypress Gardens has been the backdrop for multiple movies and television shows. The list includes The Patriot, The Yearling, Cold Mountain, Swamp Thing, and The Notebook as well as many others. Many of these filming locations can be seen on the guided or self-guided boat tour.

Whether you are a looking for a day spent walking the miles of peaceful trails, paddling the through the nearly motionless black water searching for wildlife, spotting backdrops from your favorite movies, or exploring the Swamparium and Butterfly House, Cypress Gardens offers something for everyone in the family to enjoy. Please note that we did visit Cypress Gardens in early March before the many changes due to the pandemic. We would recommend checking their website or Facebook page prior to visiting for any changes that have occurred to their hours or services.

Cyprus Gardens
3030 Cypress Gardens Road
Moncks Corner, SC 29461
843-553-0515
www.cypressgardens.berkeleycountysc.gov

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