Veteran Naturalist Leads the Daniel Island River Sweep
***image1***When the Daniel Island River Sweep begins this weekend, veteran naturalist Kathie Livingston will be an integral part of the operation.
Her company, Nature Adventures Outfitters, is providing kayak rentals for $10 a seat to volunteers who would like to clean up the litter-filled river marshes.
Shallow-draft kayaks are the perfect craft to access the congested marsh areas, she said. The trash will then be deposited on garbage barges anchored on the Cooper River.
This will be a homecoming of sorts for Livingston. Before Daniel Island was developed in the mid-1990s, she conducted a habitat survey on the island for the City of Charleston, where she worked as Head Park Naturalist for seven years.
A specialist in marine, wetland and forest ecology, her recommendations were adopted by the city. Consequently, Daniel Island has protective buffers for the red cockaded woodpecker, eastern fox squirrel and long leaf pines.
She also found other flora and fauna, including a large population of periwinkle snails, an indication that Daniel Island is a healthy, sub-tropical sea island. Species identified included pine savannah grass, saltwort, a small great blue heron rookery, white ibis, egrets and eastern box and diamondback terrapin turtles.
In addition, there is evidence that nomadic Indian tribes once used Daniel Island as hunting and fishing grounds, according to Livingston.
“One area on the island is of high archeological interest, because there’s an indication of an ancient shell ring,” she said.
Indian shell rings were prehistoric piles of oyster, clam, whelk and mussel shells along with bones from fish and game. The interior of these large rings was kept clear and apparently used as a common or ceremonial area, although the exact uses of the rings remains mysterious, Livingston said.
Since moving to the Lowcountry nearly 20 years ago, the Michigan native has seemingly absorbed a lifetime of knowledge about this region. A graduate of the University of Michigan, her first job at the Audubon Center in the Francis Beidler Forest was as a naturalist and canoe guide. It was an invaluable introduction to sub-tropical species, habitat and history, she said.
“Mike Dawson [Audubon Center director] was my mentor and he was a fabulous teacher,” Livingston said. “I always say it was the best $4 an hour job I ever had.”
She met her future husband, Steve, while working for the Charleston Parks Dept.
“He’s director of the department and he makes Daniel Island beautiful,” said Livingston, who left her position six years ago to found Natures Adventures Outfitters. “I married my boss and, while the mayor said I could keep working there, he also said I could never get another raise. That’s when I decided to start my own business.”
Nature Adventures Outfitters is based in the Francis Marion National Forest in Awendaw and offers a variety of guided blackwater and saltwater tours. One distinctive feature is that all of Livingston’s guides are trained professional naturalists who have university degrees in environmentally related fields.
“The Lowcountry has such an incredible diversity of habitats, and their lives are dedicated to preservation of the environment and educating you along the way,” she said.
Her guide service operates year round, thanks, in part, to hardy northern paddlers who are not averse to 40-degree water, she said.
Livingston’s love for paddling started as a teenager when she and her mother won a 20-mile canoe race, involving over 40 participants, on a swift-water river in Michigan. To be able to combine her twin passions – nature and kayaking – is a dream come true.
“Sometimes when I’m on the water I’ll hear a bird that I don’t know,” she said. “Or I’ll see an animal I haven’t seen around here before, such as the beaver I saw when I was on Wambaw Creek.”
The Lowcountry is endlessly fascinating to Livingston, thanks to its complex sub-tropical environment, which harbors exotic species such as carnivorous plants, which are found in Berkeley County.
“I love this place and it has my heart because it is so fragile,” she said.
That’s why Livingston is excited to help clean up the marshes around Daniel Island this weekend. When she worked at Audubon, she and education specialist Mark Musselman explored the area that is targeted for the River Sweep.
“We paddled those marshes and could not believe the trash that’s in there,” said Livingston, “There’s Styrofoam, tires, plastic and all sorts of unidentifiable globs of stuff. Actually, I think a lot of what we found was left over from Hurricane Hugo. We used to joke that we found everything from colono-ware [slave pottery] to Corelle Ware.”
For more information, contact Nature Adventures Outfitters, 1900 Iron Swamp Rd., Awendaw, SC 2942; Phone: 1-800-673-0679; www.natureadventuresoutfitters.com.