Along the southern tip of Georgetown County lies a land untouched by modern developments. The landscape of the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center spans more than 24,000 acres and shifts from longleaf pine forest to maritime forest and ocean beach with marshes and managed wetlands in between. Calling these vast habitats home are over 200 different species of birds and a host of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects. Depending on the time of year, visitors lucky enough to secure a pre-scheduled tour may see wildlife such as eagles, bobcats, alligators, turtles, snakes, waterfowl, deer, butterflies, and a whole lot more. The Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center encompasses North Island, South Island, and the majority of Cat Island in Georgetown County’s portion of the Intracoastal Waterway at the mouth of Winyah Bay. The land was donated to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) in 1976 by Tom Yawkey with the intention of it being preserved for research, education and protection. Although the SCDNR manages the land, the Yawkey Foundation, established by Yawkey in his will to fund the care of the property in perpetuity, works closely with research partners and the Center to ensure its preservation and use for vital wildlife studies. The Center remains a reflection of Yawkey’s vision to this day, a place where animals and natural ecosystems can thrive, and people are only an occasional visitor.
Although the 31-square-mile preserve is primarily a field research lab where numerous studies of alligators, sea turtles, birds, and botany have been conducted, a limited number of free tours are available to the public. The types of tours vary, but have included guided forest walks, birding trips, and photo safaris. Specialized tours also focus on the history of the property, which is documented back to the 1700s; a cemetery experience where sacred spaces are visited and the lives of people who lived on the land for hundreds of years are reflected upon; and group painting sessions that offer the chance to create a work of art in the beauty of nature.
Tours are offered seasonally, typically from September to May, and capacity is limited to 14 people. Tours last four to five hours and begin at 10 a.m. Reservations are required for all tours and can be made by contacting Patty Wham at the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center office via email at WhamP@DNR.SC.GOV, or by phone at 843-546-6814.
Location: 1 Yawkey Way S, Georgetown