A tour of nature's treasure trove...
In a city and county where development is always the issue of the day, it’s easy to hone in on construction and forget the natural beauty of the Lowcountry. Grass is a deep green, shade from trees provides a perfect balance to the blistering heat, and a wide range of unique creatures thrive in it all.
About 11 miles from Daniel Island sits the western boundary of the Francis Marion National Forest, home to extensive stands of loblolly and longleaf pines and a testament to South Carolina’s original habitat. And thanks to the efforts of the United States Forest Service, this atmosphere is maintained through the long patrols of their law enforcement division.
Annilie Kelley is the sole U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer of Francis Marion, working to protect both the forest and its visitors.
“My job is to enforce the rules and the regulations that the forest has, while also protecting the users,” Kelley explained. “It’s almost as if you protect the people from the land, the land from the people, and the people from the people.”
Kelley has the training to deal with most calls that come through, including search and rescue needs or people living in the forest illegally.
“I get a lot of off-roading, people mudding, tearing up the forest,” Kelley offered.
Despite this, Officer Kelley clarified that she has trouble saying what the most common call is around Francis Marion.
“You don’t really have a dull day. No two days really match. It’s kind of nice that way,” she said.
Totaling nearly 259,000 acres, Francis Marion National Forest resides in portions of Charleston County and Berkeley County. In some stretches of road, the street marks the border between the two provinces.
Because of the expansive size of the forest, many amenities are offered, including shooting ranges, boat landings, campgrounds, walking trails, and fishing spots. Officer Kelley patrols in all of these areas and enforces the rules in each.
The daily experience for the Forest Service Officer is difficult to pin down, but it consists of a lot of driving and walking on the backroads of Francis Marion. Sticking close to her radio, Kelley stays ready to navigate the labyrinthine gravel streets that weave around the forest. Calls can come in about a lost individual, a fire, or something simple like a general service request from patrons.
“If one of the forest staff calls and lets me know about something they’ve seen or they’ve been noticing, I’ll try to go take care of that,” she said.
Just last week, Francis Marion Ranger District firefighters responded to a 40-acre wildfire at the Boggy Head Rifle Range (Compartment 64), according to a press release. Firefighting resources included fire crews, a dozer and one engine. The cause of the wildfire, contained about four hours after it started, is unknown and under investigation.
In a job that’s exposed to the outside elements, Kelley keeps a knowledge of the specific seasons and what they entail.
“You have hunting season, which is when you are going to have a good deal more people in the forest, you’re talking to hunters, and you have some more traffic,” Kelley noted. “And that’s a completely different user base than when you’re in the middle of summer and you have the kids who are out of school coming to play. You’re always going to have something different going on.”
The free flowing nature of the job leads Kelley to believe the best trait for a Forest Service Officer to have is flexibility.
“Being able to go from the serious to the not-so serious as the situation dictates,” are also key abilities, she said.
As the only Forest Service Officer at Francis Marion, Kelley often gets assistance from the Department of Natural Resources, Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department, and the Charleston County Sheriff’s Department.
“It makes sense to contact who you need, and they do the same thing with me as well. If there’s something with the forest, they’ll call me,” she said, emphasizing the working relationship she developed with other law enforcement agencies.
In addition to keeping up with other officers, Kelley said that staying in touch with the local community is another way to effectively police the forest.
“Talk to people,” she quietly stated. “Don’t forget them, either.”
Before Kelley worked with the Forest Service, she worked in recreation at other parks and forests for roughly three years. “The big thing was, I was making a lot of the same contacts, talking to people about a lot of the same issues,” the officer stated. “You got to stay on the road, you can’t tear them up, don’t litter, there’s a trash can over there. And it’s nice to do something about it.”
Although she’s doing similar work, Kelley said that making an impact is the biggest reason to transition into a role with the Forest Service.
“It may not be a big impact, but it’s something,” she added.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
The Francis Marion National Forest offers a wide range of recreational opportunities for visitors, including the following:
Boating (public launch at Buck Hall)
OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) riding
The Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center is a great first-stop for those wanting to learn more about what the Francis Marion National Forest has to offer. Visit the center at 5821 US-17, Awendaw, S.C. Additional information can be obtained at www.fs.usda.gov.
*The Francis Marion National Forest is home to a variety of wildlife, including the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
*In 1989, Hurricane Hugo’s 130 mph winds leveled more than a third of the forest.
*The forest is comprised of nearly 259,000 acres and is bounded by the Santee River, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean.
*More than 320 volunteers hauled some 18.79 tons of garbage from the FMNF as part of the 9th Annual Palmetto Pride clean-up initiative in 2016.
*According to the FMNF website, the forest “is literally steeped in history. Indeed, the wet boots of Revolutionary War soldiers under the command of Francis Marion (the forest’s namesake) splashed through the swamps of the present-day national forest, protected only by the certainty of their enemy’s fear of alligators and snakes. Marion, dubbed ‘Swamp Fox’ by the British troops whose supply lines he disrupted with surprise attacks from the swamps, adapted the fighting techniques of the Cherokee Indians to thwart the British in coastal South Carolina.”
*A 4000-year-old prehistoric Native American Shell Ring is located near the salt marsh in FMNF.