When Bubba Rector was a young shrimper in the 1960s, there was only one restaurant on the creek, The Lorelei, a casual seafood house located in the same general area as today’s Shem Creek Inn. Then, The Trawler opened, drawing long lines of devotees who waited patiently under its lighthouse for a table and a bowl of the famous crab dip. When it came to recreation, the creek was largely the domain of lucky residents who used its upper reaches for swimming, crabbing, and fishing.
That was back when the total population of Mount Pleasant was around 4,000. Today? About that same number descend on the creek during any given week, making it a virtual parade of on-the-water recreationalists. Dozens in power boats tie up at the dockside restaurants to eat, drink, and socialize and often don’t leave until late at night.
“I’ve watched the change over the years,” says Pam. “It used to be a working creek. It’s now more of a party creek.” While she allows that she enjoys seeing people have fun, whether on pleasure boats or paddleboards, she has concerns about the melding of the factions. “The boarders and kayakers seem to flock to the boat when Bubba is docking. Some just don’t know the difficulties that come with docking a 70-foot boat in a creek not quite 100-feet wide. The boat has to make a wide turn, back up, and then turn again to dock. They simply don’t know how dangerous this can be—how the water gets churned up and the wash from the propellers can turn them over in an instant.”
Cindy Tarvin agrees: “We have no issues with the recreational boaters on the creek. After all, it’s their creek, too. Yet large power vessels like trawlers have the right of way for a reason. Shrimp boats don’t have brakes. The Miss Paula can’t just stop and get out of the way like a smaller power boat can. I’m afraid it is only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.”
Chris Crolley, who has run Coastal Expeditions outfitters on the creek for more than 20 years, agrees that there are issues, but only to a point. On a typical day, his company places some 25 to 40 people on kayaks or paddleboards, through individual rentals or via ecotours. “What concerns me is the safety of novices on self-powered vessels that haven’t received quality instruction. Shem Creek isn’t a public pond: It connects with the Atlantic Ocean. There are real risks—wind, tides, oyster shells, weather, and power boats.
“Before our clients get on a board or a kayak, we over-instruct,” he continues. “We certainly make sure they know to steer clear of the trawlers. We also make sure they understand real risks versus perceived risks. For instance, they probably won’t be bitten by a shark, but they can get cut by oyster shells. We make sure they know about the tides, about the rules of the road, and the etiquette of water recreation. Our whole purpose is for them to have an enjoyable, safe experience on the water. What’s more, we paddlers are following a tradition that goes back literally thousands of years, when the Sewee paddled these waters. That is the creek’s real heritage.”
Yet today’s reality is far different from the pristine solitude known by the Sewee. There are times when the creek is positively glutted with water traffic. This raises an important question: What is the saturation point? When is it a case of too many, too much?
To read the next section, “State of the Water,” click here.