Historic Pee Dee rivers earn national trail designation

A 66-mile stretch of the Lynches and the Great Pee Dee rivers, where Francis Marion bedeviled British troops during the Revolutionary War, has been designated a national recreation trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The federal agency announced the designation for South Carolina’s Revolutionary Rivers Trail on Friday, ahead of Saturday’s National Trails Day celebration. It was one of 21 trails nationwide earning the designation Friday, and it increased the number of national recreation trails in South Carolina to 17, including the Three Rivers Greenway and the Congaree River Blueway in the Midlands.

Local tourism leaders in the Pee Dee River Basin began publicizing the trail last fall, running ads in national magazines and online sites.

The national designation “will give us more publicity and help to build awareness on the history that is related to the rivers,” said Holly Beaumier, director of Florence Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Most of the trail is on the twisty Lynches River, with its water stained black by the tannins released by leaves falling from overhanging trees. Also designated as a state scenic river, it’s a gorgeous ribbon of water for paddling kayaks or canoes.

Local outfitters have offered guided paddling trips in the area for years. Tourism leaders got those outfitters together with historians to create trail maps and online guides to provide details on how to access the river and on the region’s important role in winning independence from England in the Revolutionary War, Beaumier said.

When the American patriots were struggling against the British in more traditional warfare, Francis Marion’s ragtag troops were successful using guerrilla tactics while hiding out in the swamps and islands of the local rivers.

His main hangout was on Snow’s Island on the Lynches River, a swampy area that’s still so difficult to navigate that trail organizers recommend guided trips. A statue of Marion has been erected along the trail at Venters Landing.

The trail starts at Lynches River Park, near U.S. 301.

If you aren’t a paddler, there’s a hiking trail along the river in that Florence County park. The trail features eight landings in the 60-mile section on the Lynches. The trail also includes about 6 miles of the Great Pee Dee River before it merges with the Lynches.