The Donnelley Wildlife Management Area in Colleton County‘s rural Green Pond community comprises 8,048 acres of protected land within the ACE Basin. Now owned and managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the refuge was established with the help of several other conservation and wildlife groups, including Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and The Nature Conservancy.
The area is named for conservationist and Chicago printing magnate Gaylord Donnelley, who owned nearby Ashepoo Plantation and was instrumental in spearheading the ACE Basin conservation project along with his wife, Dorothy.
The refuge was originally named Mary’s Island Reserve in honor of Mary’s Island Plantation, a former estate that once stood on the site. In fact, Mary’s Island Reserve was its name when it was purchased by Ducks Unlimited and other contributing partners in 1990. In 2005 the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources became the sole owner of the land, and it is now known as the Donnelley Wildlife Management Area.
Not only is wildlife managed and protected on the property, but cultural history is also preserved. A rice trunk, as seen above, controls irrigation of the rice fields that were once harvested within the plantation’s vast acreage. Today these former rice fields continue to be maintained in order to protect the valuable ecosystems and natural communities that have evolved here.
Boynton Home – Donnelley WMA
The Boynton House, pictured here, is a Victorian-style farmhouse built sometime around the beginning of the twentieth century. The Boyntons raised cattle on this portion of the property, and a 2.2-mile-long nature trail within the preserve is named for the family.
Located near the parking lot at Donnelley, the home stands as a prominent landmark for visitors. Sadly, its doors and windows have been left open to the elements, and the home is deteriorating.
Numerous Boyntons have lived in Colleton County over the years; however, we know little about the branch that resided at Donnelley. If you can help us learn more about the family or their home, please let us know.
What little we do know comes from “Historic Resources of the Lowcountry,” written by Cynthia C. Jenkins for the Lowcountry Council of Government in 1979:
This one-story, ell-shaped frame house is built on a low brick pier foundation. The roof is gabled with chimneys on the exterior ends. Twelve turned posts with turned balusters support the shed roof-style porch which runs across the facade and one side of the five-bay-wide house. A pediment set into the gable has imbricated shingles and a diamond-shaped window.
Richardson Marker – Donnelley WMA
Several tracts within the refuge were owned by different families throughout the years. Beneath the live oak tree (Quercus virginiana) seen above lies a commemorative marker in honor of Patricia Anne Richardson, whose family owned this land from 1979 through 1990.
Old Fields Cemetery
A small cluster of burial markers sits in front of the lodge at Donnelley WMA. Referred to as the Old Fields Cemetery due to the Fields family graves enclosed within the iron fence, the site originally was part of Ebenezer Baptist Church. The church stood where the lodge at Donnelley stands today. A few decades ago it was relocated about a quarter of a mile away on Bennett’s Point Road and bricked over; however, the final resting place of Billy Fields, a farmer who lived here at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, remains at his former property. Fields died in the 1920s.
Driving and Walking – Donnelley WMA
Miles of roads wind and intersect through the acreage at Donnelley WMA. The entrance road passes through long stands of pine trees and curves around graceful and gnarling live oak trees festooned with Spanish moss.
This live oak tree, popular with photographers, hangs over a road that crosses a dike between an old rice field prime for alligator and bird watching and the tidally-influenced Old Chehaw River.
Along the same road by the Old Chehaw River it is a common and exciting sight to watch alligators cross the road from the impoundment to the river.
In addition to the driving tour offered at Donnelley, the WMA also offers numerous nature trails to set out on foot and see more of the property. The longest of the trails is named after the Boynton Family that once lived here and spans 2.2 miles through forest and rice fields. It is advisable to wear proper attire as the grass can be thick and many creatures, some potentially dangerous if surprised, make Donnelley their home.
Exploring Nature – Donnelley WMA
The variety of natural communities found within Donnelley include wetlands, mixed hardwood forests, cypress swamps (seen below), managed rice fields, and stands of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris). Donnelley Wildlife Management Area is open to the public and offers hiking, bicycling, birdwatching, wildlife viewing, and hunting opportunities for visitors. Deer and dove hunts are scheduled by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Donnelley has been designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the National Audubon Society. Birds ranging from Mississippi kites to bald eagles and even sandhill cranes can be found in different habitats throughout the refuge. Important Bird Areas are identified as vital bird habitat sites based on scientific criteria.
The WMA is populated with around 200 alligators, and during the warm weather months dozens at a time can be seen sunning and swimming in the wetlands of the refuge. Because of the protections afforded the alligators at Donnelley WMA, at times a congregation of around 100 can be seen during the spring. Donnelley Wildlife Management Area is open during daylight hours every day except designated hunt days.
More Photos of Donnelley WMA
Reflections on Donnelley WMA
Photographer Shelly Palomaki, who took the photo below, says: “I have lived in South Carolina for about three years, always looking for places to photograph wildlife and ended up at Donnelley WMA. While waiting for Wood storks and Roseate Spoonbills to fly overhead I noticed some pretty butterflies by the marsh. I always find butterflies a challenge to photograph. It was a really hot day, in the 90’s and I was getting ready to leave, but went back to one more spot where the wood storks were earlier so this was my last shot of the day.”