Hello, and welcome to South Carolina Natural Resources, a blog created and maintained by the staff of the S.C. Department of Natural Resource’s Office of Media and Outreach.

Over the coming months, we hope to bring to our readers a lively daily discussion on topics related to natural resources conservation, hunting and fishing, outdoor recreation and tourism, SCDNR projects and initiatives, and other news and information that will be of value to our state’s sporting and conservation communities. It’s just one more way the SCDNR is working to fulfill its mission as the primary steward of and advocate for our state’s amazing natural resources.

Whether you are lucky enough to be a Sandlapper by birth, or are one of the many thousands of folks who have “voted with their feet” to make South Carolina their adopted home, you know without a doubt that this is one special place. With the responsibility for managing more than 1 million acres of wild public lands (and counting), the SCDNR has a huge responsibility to the present and future citizens of this state. And we know that it is the sportsmen and women, the hunters and anglers, and the other individuals who love spending time in the outdoors, who make wildlife and natural resources in this state and in the United States work. Without the funding provided through hunting and fishing licenses and permits and the excise taxes paid on outdoor sporting goods equipment, firearms and ammunition, as well as the working partnerships with landowners and sportsman’s groups, our amazing conservation efforts would be a fraction of what they are today. So for that we say, “thanks,” and please come back and visit often to find out what your state Department of Natural Resources and the larger outdoor community in South Carolina are up to.  We value your input, so if you have ideas for topics you’d like to see covered here, please contact site administrator David Lucas at lucasd@dnr.sc.gov. We look forward to hearing from you.

Our Honest Dogs and Horses…

Our Honest Dogs and Horses…

Green-jacketed staff members of the Aiken Hounds await the beginning of the "Blessing of the Hounds," a Thanksgiving Day morning tradition for the 102-year-old club.

Green-jacketed staff members of the Aiken Hounds await the beginning of the "Blessing of the Hounds," a Thanksgiving Day morning tradition for the 102-year-old club.

Members of the Aiken Hounds “staff” wear green coats, in part because of the frugality of the 100-year-old organization’s founder, Mrs. Louise Hitchcock, Larry Byers explains to me from atop a beautiful and powerful horse, as we wait for the group’s annual Thanksgiving Day Blessing of the Hounds to commence.

Byers serves as co-Master of Foxhounds for the club, along with longtime club members Linda Knox McLean and Joey Peace. Staff members serve as hunt masters and organize the hunts, for the “field” of riders that include club regulars and guests.  It’s a steeplechase-like affair, as the riders cross hill and dale following a pack of baying foxhounds.  There’s no fox at the end of this chase, though, the hounds follow a “drag” (a piece of cloth inundated with fox scent) laid down prior to the start of the ride.  In this case, the “hunt” is all about the dogs and the riding.

Many in the crowd were "all ears" as Larry Byers explained a bit about the history of Aiken Hounds and the origins of the Blessing of the Hounds tradition.

Many in the crowd were "all ears" as Larry Byers explained a bit about the history of Aiken Hounds and the origins of the Blessing of the Hounds tradition.

In the Lucas household, Thanksgiving morning normally involves a heavy dose of dogs as well, in the form of the sleeping late and rooting for the Labrador retrievers and other working dogs in the Purina National Dog Show. But this year the TV dogs would have to wait, as we were up early and headed up the road to horse- and dog-crazy Aiken, to meet up with South Carolina Wildlife magazine editor Joey Frazier, photograph the Hound Blessing for a future SCW article and soak up as much of the atmosphere at this revered Aiken tradition as we could. 

Crowds begin gathering an hour before the event, with visitors jockeying for a coveted position along the wall of Hitchcock Woods' Memorial Gate.

Crowds begin gathering an hour before the event, with visitors jockeying for a coveted position along the wall of Hitchcock Woods' Memorial Gate.

What a fantastic time! If you love dogs or horses, there isn’t a better way to spend your holiday morning.

But back to the coats, collars and other regalia being sported by the riders:

Despite being a very wealthy lady, apparently Mrs. Hitchcock, a formidable horse woman and accomplished rider in her own right, still knew the value of a dollar, so when she decided to start an organization dedicated to running foxhounds back in 1914, she decided that the green coats already on hand at she and husband Thomas Hitchcock’s estate for use in running their beagle pack would suffice for foxhunting attire as well.

So, as several hundred spectators strolled the approximately three-quarters of a mile walk from the Aiken Historical Museum down South Boundary Avenue and along a lovely, sandy lane to the “Memorial Gate” entry into the Hitchcock Woods, gathering along the wall and on the overlooking ridge, horsemen and women dressed in green, black and other colors also began to fill the area around the gate.  In addition to the blessing, the event would also include the awarding of “colors,” for several members, chamois collars that denote expertise in riding and dedication to the club, explained Byers.

The Hitchcock’s eventually donated a large portion of their estate to a non-profit foundation, and since then generations of riders, hikers, and nature enthusiasts of all stripes have been able to enjoy the 2,100-acre “Hitchcock Woods,” where a conservation easement signed in 1997 and a woods stewardship program that includes restoration of a longleaf pine and wiregrass ecosystem within the woods make this incredible urban forest a valued natural resource for the people of Aiken. Recently, the Woods was proud to become home to some endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers “translocated” from the Francis Marion Natural Forest, Hitchcock Woods board member Randy Wolcott told me. Wolcott had read my recent blog about the translocated RCWs at Donnelley WMA and was eager to talk about the future of RCWs in Hitchcock Woods. Hopefully a trip to see the birds there will be a future project for the SC Natural Resources Blog.

After the crowd had gathered and was welcomed by Ms. McLain, Mr. Byers delivered a brief history of the traditions of the club and the blessing, and then it was time to get down to business, the blessing of the animals by Father Grant Wiseman from St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church, a portion of which reads:

Bless us all, especially our honest hounds and our horses,

Keep us safe in our communion with these Woods.

Bless the creatures which fly, run, slither and scurry

Beneath this blessed canopy of trees.

 Beautiful!

There’s nothing quite like a morning walk in the woods to make you feel thankful for all the abundant natural resources that we enjoy in South Carolina.  Consider a visit to Hitchcock Woods on your next visit to Aiken, or maybe even start a new Thanksgiving Day morning tradition in your house by attending next year’s Blessing of the Hounds.

 

 

 

Easy or Adventurous? Wateree River HP Has You Covered

Easy or Adventurous? Wateree River HP Has You Covered

 A Good Day Hunting…

A Good Day Hunting…