Tillman Sand Ridge Heritage Preserve
by Robin Carter
Tillman Sand Ridge Heritage Preserve is a preserve of about 2 square miles in the Outer Coastal Plain of western Jasper County, adjacent to the Savannah River. It was established to protect one of the northernmost populations of Florida gopher tortoises, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, and many rare plant species. The preserve has examples of two important ecosystems—longleaf pine savanna and Outer Coastal Plain floodplain forest. It is probably the easiest place in South Carolina to find an armadillo. It is more like some areas of north Florida than it is like most of South Carolina. This is not surprising, since it is only about 130 miles from Florida. This is one of the northernmost stations for saw palmetto and gopher apple. Both of these plants are common on sand ridges in north Florida. (There are no sand pines and no scrub jays, however.)
The preserve is well known to birders as being a good place to see two highly sought-after species—Swallow-tailed Kite and Bachman's Sparrow. Swallow-tailed Kites are present from about early March until mid August. Bachman's Sparrows are present year round, but are easily findable only when the males are singing (March through July). In addition you can also find most of the characteristic species of longleaf pine savannas and floodplain forests, with the notable exception of Red-cockaded Woodpecker. To find Red-cockaded Woodpeckers you should go about 13 miles northwest, to the Webb Center in Hampton County.
The village of Tillman is 8.4 miles west of Exit 21 of I-95 in Ridgeland, or 13.6 miles north of Exit 5 of I-95 in Hardeeville. From the intersection of SC 336 and US 321 in Tillman go west on the continuation of SC 336, which is called Sand Hills Road, Road 119. At 4.7 miles west of Tillman you will reach a turnoff to the left at the edge of the preserve. This is B&C Landing Road, Road 201. Here you have a choice. To visit the floodplain forest, follow B&C Landing Road for about 1.7 miles to the parking lot for a primitive boat launch (B&C Landing). To visit the longleaf pine savanna, continue west on Sand Hills Road. You should be able to find two access points to the preserve along the next two miles of road. The second access point has a kiosk and a small parking area.
The boat ramp at the end of B&C road is not on the Savannah River, but rather on a canal or dugout creek about a half-mile from the river. Here, during the breeding season, look for species such as Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, White Ibis, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Swainson's Warbler. If you backtrack on foot along B&C Landing Road you will get to a trail to your left (north), along the edge of the floodplain. You can walk for miles here and eventually come out on Sand Ridge Road.
From either of the access points along Sand Ridge Road you can walk into the pine savanna portion of the preserve. In addition to Bachman's Sparrow during the breeding season you should be able to find species such as Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird, Summer Tanager, and other species typical of pine forests. Look up once in a while—Swallow-tailed Kites are often seen flying over this part of the preserve. In fact it might be easier to find kites soaring and kiting over the savanna than over the floodplain forest, since it is easier to see the sky from the savanna.