A Bottomland Hardwood Restoration Project
The sun breaks through a roll of fast clouds and down in the oaks along the lake the duck hunters hug the tree trunks. They are careful not to look up and they swirl the water with their feet to help the breeze ripple the shallow water decoys. The first big ducks pass over high and choruses of duck calls are ringing up out of the woods. They are gone and the reservoir falls silent again. There is an open pocket in the trees and at the edge of the shallow pool a man and his sons wait for ducks. The water surface acorns are blown out of the pool by the wind, but the ducks will like the opening in the trees. The man pours some coffee and passes it down. The open fingers on his gloves are cold and he hopes his boys hurry with the warm drink. There is a cackle and a splash in the pool. Three black ducks are swimming in the decoys. One of the boys whispers “black ducks” and they all raise up and the father yells “shoo varmints.” The boys tumble down one of the three and the dog leaps from the platform.On the eastern end of the greentree reservoir four fellas are working a dozen mallards down to lower “figure eights.” Six ducks drop into the shadows of the trees and the other six lift and fly off. The men let loose and four rain in front and back of them. For a bluebird day the public hunters have a pretty good Saturday morning. They lean against their trucks along the road at the public access to the Hickory Top Waterfowl Impoundment. The shiny open lake is down in front of them and there are some pods of ducks out on the water. The man and his sons have six mallards and a black duck hen on their tailgate while they talk with a local Summerton hunter about his season so far. They plan to come back next Saturday when the impoundment is open again. The weather is supposed to be windy and overcast.
The above is an example of what duck hunters can experience next season thanks to the diligent efforts of groups such as: The Santee Cooper Lakes Waterfowl & Fisheries Coalition, The Department of Natural Resources, SCWA and Santee Cooper. The Hickory Top Waterfowl Impoundment is expected to be a great success mostly due to its location. Inside the dikes and pumps that control water flow from Lake Marion, the acorn shallows will attract a large number of wood ducks and mallards that winter on the lake every year. In addition to those ducks, hunters will also have an opportunity to hunt a very large number of released mallards from SCWA and a growing number of SCWA mallard cooperators who have release sites in the lake area. These release mallards and other ducks receive a lot of gunning pressure from private impoundments and the public waters of the lake-they will be looking for a place to sit. The Hickory Top WMA is the perfect place to attract pressured puddle ducks, because it will be managed for low weekly gunning with afternoons and no-hunt days to rest.
The Santee Cooper Waterfowl & Fisheries Coalition had been requesting that a bottomland hardwood restoration project be established in the Hickory Top area of Lake Marion to encompass a large amount of restored land. Dikes and water control structures would need to be installed to manage water levels in order to flood bottomland hardwoods. The area can be flooded in the winter for waterfowl and managed as a SCDNR Waterfowl Management Area (WMA) that would be open to hunters on Saturdays until 12 p.m.
On August 7, 2002, Santee Cooper attended a meeting at the Hickory Top WMA with representatives of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Santee Cooper was requested to build/design a waterfowl impoundment that would encompass 350-400 acres with an average water depth of 6-8 inches within the management area. The construction and management of the impoundment will follow the Greentree Reservoir Guidelines as established by an interagency panel of Federal and State agencies. This impoundment is scheduled to open for hunters during the duck season. With the impoundment’s shallow waters and a public access road/parking area, the hunters can just walk in and set up within the correct hunting times. This type of impoundment is a self-sustaining food source. During relatively normal weather the reservoir will produce a healthy layer of acorns, which are extremely beneficial for the ducks (predominately wood ducks & mallards) when flooded.