Boat Trips in the ACE Basin
This 15-mile route allows small boat operators to view much of the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), and the flora and fauna typical of this environment. The trail should not be attempted by boats more than 20 feet in length, and a navigational chart and depth finder are highly recommended. Because of shallow water in some sections, the trail should be run on a rising tide to avoid being stranded.
The trail offers good fishing at several spots. A Marine Recreational Fisheries Stamp is required to fish from a private boat or to gather oysters and clams in this area.
Depart from Bennett’s Point Public Boat Landing on Mosquito Creek and head south, entering the Ashepoo River. Turning east, or seaward, travel approximately 1.4 miles to the intersection of the Intracoastal Waterway on the right at Day Marker #166. At this location you can see North Fenwick Island on the left and North Hutchinson Island - South Hutchinson Island on the right. Privately-owned Hutchin-son Island is divided by the Ashepoo/Coosaw Cut, dug by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1940s.
Continue east on the Ashepoo River for approximately 1.6 miles to privately-owned Fenwick Island divided by Fenwick Cut which connects the Ashepoo River to the South Edisto River.
Continuing east on the Ashepoo River, travel another 1.3 miles until privately-owned Pine Island becomes visible across the marsh grass on the left. About 1.5 miles farther south on the Ashepoo River, Otter Island, part of the NERR, appears on the left at Day Marker #2. Otter Island faces the Atlantic Ocean and St. Helena Sound.
From this same spot you can see Harbor Island and Hunting Island State Park to the south and Morgan Island to the west. Continue south into St. Helena Sound for approximately 0.4 miles to Day Marker #1. During spring and summer the open waters of the sound provide good fishing grounds for pelicans, royal terns, Caspian terns, and Forster’s terns, as laughing gulls cruise overhead. In the winter, look for double-crested cormorants, common loons and scaup, while herring gulls, ring-billed gulls and Boneparte’s gulls mostly replace the laughing gulls of summer.
Turn west (or right) around Day Marker #1 and enter a narrow channel into Rock Creek. This channel should be navigated with the aid of a compass and chart. At low tide look for a variety of shorebirds foraging on the extensive mud and shell flats on both sides of the channel. This area can experience rough water during bad weather.
Continue up Rock Creek approximately 1.6 miles to Ashe Island, a natural shell mound to the west (left). The marsh expanse on the right is part of South Hutchin-son Island. Another mile farther along the creek the trail passes the other end of Ashepoo/Coosaw Cut at Day Marker #173. Here the trail follows the Intracoastal Wa-terway for about 0.9 miles to Day Marker #177. The impoundments on the left drain the dredge spoil pumped from the Intracoastal Waterway during maintenance.
Turn north, or right, at Day Marker #177, leave the Intracoastal Waterway, and again enter Rock Creek. This section of Rock Creek becomes narrow and shallow, meandering for approximately 5.6 miles until rejoining the upper Ashepoo River. Boats greater than 20 feet should use caution and attempt this section only on an incoming tide.
NERR-owned Beet Island can be seen and accessed on the left. The marshes, wa-terfowl impoundments and uplands on the right throughout the remainder of Rock Creek are part of North Hutchinson Island, privately-owned and used for hunting and recreation by its owners and guests. Approximately 0.5 miles past Beet Island and on the left, the backside of the Boulder Island complex can be seen. This section of Rock Creek is abundant with estuarine life, including wading birds, shrimp, crabs and alligators. In this area of lower salinity, salt marsh cord grass (spartina) which dominates higher salinity areas, changes to black needle rush (juncus) which is not as tolerant of high salinity.
Rock Creek eventually returns to the Ashepoo River. Here, turn right with a view of Bear Island Wildlife Management Area on the left. North Hutchinson Island con-tinues on the right. Approximately 1.4 miles down stream the Ashepoo River passes the dock, club house and barns of Hutchinson Island on the right. Approximately 1.1 miles past these structures is the entrance to Mosquito Creek, returning you to Bennett’s Point Landing.
This trip is an ideal half-day outing with stops along the way to fish or view wildlife.