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Environmental Studies Students Get Back to Nature With Canoe Tour of Rare Cypress Swamp

by Bill Giduz
ENV Canoe Trip
David Diaz ‘15, Melissa Funsten ’16 and Sarah Bowers ’14 glide through the Biedler Forest.

Students in the Environmental Science 201 introductory class had a unique opportunity recently to take a guided canoe tour of the largest virgin cypress swamp in the world. Eleven students travelled with Professor of Biology Pat Peroni to the small town of Harleyville in southeastern South Carolina to visit Beidler Forest, an Audubon Preserve in the Four Hole Swamp complex.

The tour introduced students to bald cypress trees, some of which were 1,500 years old. They learned about the important role wetlands play in maintaining water quality and wildlife habitat, the natural history and economic value of bald cypress, and the tannin-stained, but clearm water in the swamp. There was a noticeable absence of mosquitos and noxious smells, although students did paddle through many spider webs.

Wildlife sightings included alligators and many species of birds, including White Ibis, Little Blue Heron, Porthonotary Warbler, and Yellow Crowned Night Heron. They also saw yellow bellied slider turtles, white tail deer, and huge fishing spiders. The body of this spider, without the legs, is about the diameter of a silver dollar. They are active hunters, rather than web builders. And although they probably do not catch fish, they can swim and glide across the surface of the water to prey on macro invertebrates there. In addition, pileated woodpeckers were heard calling, but remained deep in the swamp.

In addition to canoe trips, the Beidler Forest includes a 1.75-mile boardwalk through the swamp for viewing during times of low water.

Environmental Science 201 is one of the three required gateway courses for Davidson College's major and concentration in Environmental Studies. The ENV 201 faculty offer three Saturday field trips each semester. Remaining trips include an October visit to Stone Mountain State Park near Elkin, N.C., and the Weymouth Woods Sandhills Preserve in Southern Pines, N.C. The latter features a rare longleaf pine forest ecosystem which is maintained by fire, and endangered red cockaded woodpeckers that rely on these forests for habitat.