Depending on your background, the words “enjoyable”, “enjoyable” and “fascinating” may or may not describe your impressions of a visit to Parris Island.
If you are or have been a recruit with the United States Marine Corps, your visit may have been a little more adventurous as you worked through the rigorous physical and mental challenges of 13 weeks at the Corps Recruit Depot. of the Marines.
If you were a civilian visitor, however, those words would likely ring true for a day or afternoon spent exploring some of the island’s unique natural and historical sites.
Parris Island, near Port Royal, is home to both the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, where thousands of young men and women are trained and prepared for service with the USMC, and the site of Charlesfort and the Santa National Historic Landmark Elena.
There, at the edge of the swamp and at the end of a beautiful nature trail, is the monument to one of South Carolina’s earliest settlements.
A harsh and intimidating world
In 1562, French Huguenots led by Jean Ribault settled on what is today Île Parris and settled in the New World. They named their new colony Port Royal and built Charlesfort overlooking the vast waters of Port Royal Sound. They sought refuge from religious persecution, but found a harsh and hostile world on this distant shore.
In 1566, Spanish forces arrived and destroyed the colony as they sought to reaffirm their claims to the Carolinas. The Spanish colony, Santa Elena, did not last for many years, but the name lives on in the legacy of Lowcountry history.
When you visit Charlesfort and Santa Elena National Historic Landmark on Parris Island, you’ll find a fascinating and quiet corner of the Lowcountry.
Here, the Charlesfort site has been excavated and preserved, and a monument to Jean Ribault stands over 10 feet high, commemorating the visionary French leader. Historical markers and interpretive exhibits teach you about the past and invite you to appreciate the beauty of the natural world that both sustained Native Americans and attracted early European settlers to the Lowcountry.
There is a parking area close to the site, but we encourage you to park and walk the short nature trail to fully enjoy your visit.
Surprises along the trail
The trail will take you through palm and pine woods along the marshes of the Broad River and Port Royal Strait. The trail is well maintained, easy to follow, and offers a few surprises along the way. Spanish moss sway in the breeze, songbirds sing in sunlit treetops, and nearby marshes erupt and rustle with the tides.
Your first stop will be an object that seems to connect the distant past to the modern history of the Isle of Parris: the wreckage of a WWII aircraft. The pile of weathered aluminum and rusted steel is a relic of a crashed USMC aircraft during a wartime training exercise. It’s a fascinating piece of accidental history preserved for passers-by.
From the airplane exhibit, continue along the trail to the site of Charlesfort and the Santa Elena National Historic Landmark. There, the Ribault monument stands sentry above the old settlement under the outstretched arms of living oaks and in the vast backdrop of Port Royal Sound. A boardwalk and observation deck will take you above the swamp to further explore the region’s natural wonders – and perhaps understand even more why people would sacrifice themselves so long ago to seek new life in the area. Lowcountry.
See the museum, landmark
Since you are on Parris Island, you should do your best to find two other offers open to the public. The Parris Island Museum is a 10,000 square foot repository of United States Marine Corps history and culture as well as local history, including the Charlesfort and Santa Elena National Historic Landmark.
The museum and gift shop are a popular destination and provide an informative and detailed picture of life in the Marine Corps and its contributions to American history and freedom.
If you’re looking for more of the outdoors, you can schedule a round of golf at Legends Golf Course at Parris Island. The course is open to the public and offers a great golfing experience, as well as a great pro shop and grill.
Whatever your interest, a day on Parris Island and a walk along the Charlesfort and Santa Elena National Historic Landmark Discovery Trail will be a rewarding experience.
The Charlesfort and Santa Elena Nature Trail and National Historic Landmark are adjacent to the Legends Golf Course (call 843-228-2240 or visit http://www.thelegendspi.com/index.shtml for info and timetables).
Here is the basic protocol and preparation needed for a visit to Parris Island: At the main gate, a deputy will greet you and ask for up-to-date identification. You will need to provide your destination and purpose of your visit, as well as a valid driver’s license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration.
From the gate and roundabout, take the second exit and turn right onto Wake Boulevard. Make a slight left onto Yorktown Boulevard, then keep right on Belleau Wood Road for approximately 3 miles until you reach The Legends Golf Course at the end of the road.
Make sure you stay within the speed limit and stay in designated areas. (For more information on Legends Golf, call 843-228-2240 or visit http://www.thelegendspi.com/index.shtml).
Before visiting the Charlesfort and Santa Elena National Historic Landmark, you may want to visit the Santa Elena History Center at the Coastal Discovery Museum in Hilton Head (843-689-6767 or https: //www.coastaldiscovery. org). It is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. most days and is free.
The Parris Island Museum is located at 111 Panama Street and is open daily from 10 am to 4:30 pm Admission is free. (843-228-2951 or http://parrisislandmuseum.com).