The Big Bang—Island Style

A quiet day fishing in Broad Creek’s open tidal channel.  Illustration by Todd Ballantine

A quiet day fishing in Broad Creek’s open tidal channel. Illustration by Todd Ballantine

DYNAMITE AND CONSERVATION makes for strange bedfellows—except in beautiful Broad Creek. This 7-mile river through the heart of Hilton Head Island is our largest nature preserve and a favorite ecotourism attraction. But would you believe this entire ecosystem may owe its life to a stick of dynamite?

The Problem with Pluff

The mouth of Broad Creek forms in a narrow channel joining Calibogue Sound. Bram Point, the tip of the Spanish Wells peninsula, guards north bank. Salt marsh adjoining Buck Island fringes the south flank. Twice daily, tidewater from the Sound flows into Broad Creek, and drains out again. The tidewaters transport and deposit millions of tons of sediment day after day. This gray-brown “pluff mud” (silt, sand, plant pieces and anything else that can float) can quickly clog a creek and shut down boat travel.

That’s exactly what happened in the mid 1950s. Logging was big business at that time. Crews felled pine trees on the north and south ends of the Island and barged the timber to Savannah. The soft wood was converted into pulp for Kraft paper products. Profitability and maybe the future development of the Island depended on a navigable Broad Creek. So what do you do when thick pluff mud closes the channel?

Light the Fuse to the Future

Loggers are a resourceful bunch. See those pines? Cut ‘em down. See that mud clogging the creek? Blow it up! Using carefully placed dynamite, crews exploded the mouth of Broad Creek. The goal: make the channel wider and deeper for all forms of navigation. The ploy worked. The barges ran. Logging generated profits used by the Fraser family and others to purchase thousands of acres on the Island and developed Sea Pines, Hilton Head Plantation, Port Royal Plantation and other communities here. The rest is history and it all started with a Big Bang.