First, I’d like to thank Daniel Bates for ‘talking’ with US 17 – and sharing with us his vision for the Bulls Bay Historic Passage in Charleston County, South Carolina. I’m especially fond of the stretch of Highway 17 that runs through the newly designated Bulls Bay Historic Passage, so I was excited to hear about the project and to learn more about the vision for this extraordinary stretch of US 17.
For those of you less familiar with this stretch of Highway 17, the Bulls Bay Historic Passage runs from Awendaw, South Carolina to McClellanville, South Carolina – and encompasses about a 40 mile stretch of US 17.
US 17: Let’s start by having you telling us about the Bulls Bay Historic Passage. How did the idea for this project evolve and what is your role in the project?
Daniel Bates: It all started several years ago with the formation of the “Sewee Summit”. The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation hired Noel Thorn to form this “summit” to explore various aspects affecting the McClellanville / Awendaw area. One of those aspects was jobs and employment, which resulted in a group of area business owners (including myself) and political leaders sitting down together. These meetings eventually led the group to unanimously approving the formation of a Chamber of Commerce to serve the McClellanville and Awendaw areas. I was elected to serve as the first Chairman. Gil Shuler was hired to help us with the name and we have to give him credit for the “Bulls Bay Historic Passage” idea. “Bulls Bay” is a significant geographic formation within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Great fishing all around it and home to some of the best oysters in the world. The “historic passage” part really captures the unique slender shape of land that makes up the area and its unique cultural and historic qualities.
US 17: What makes the Bulls Bay Historic Passage unique?
Daniel Bates: Wow! Where to start? We are bounded by two massive protected lands; a quarter of a million acres contained by Francis Marion National Forest on the west and the 22-mile stretch of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge on the east, not to mention the Santee Coastal Preserve and thousands of additional lands protected under conservation easements. These protected natural resources combine with the historic and cultural resources in the area to create a place unlike anywhere else in the world. They set the stage for the rural nature of the area and a community and way of life which has remained very much the same while other areas have succumbed to over-development.
US 17: What will be the role of the Bulls Bay Chamber of Commerce in the Bulls Bay Historic Passage?
Daniel Bates: Our role is really three-fold in nature. The first is the more traditional role of promoting businesses that you often see accomplished by chambers of commerce or business owner associations. The second is that which you often see conducted by a visitor or tourism bureau, to promote the area as a whole, including activities, events, places of interest. The final aspect of the group could be seen as a conservation body. The members of our chamber agree that the preservation of our natural, cultural, and historic resources are key to the long-term success of the area. I feel that it is this final role which truly sets us apart from most traditional chambers.
US 17: On the Bulls Bay Historic Passage webpage, the need to balance economic investment, jobs and drawing people into the region while protecting the magnificent landscape and rich culture and history of the region is mentioned. The Passage sits in between Charleston/Mt Pleasant and Georgetown/Myrtle Beach where more growth is evident with each visit – how does the Bulls Bay Chamber of Commerce plan to keep this balance within the Passage region?
Daniel Bates: By identifying the natural, cultural, and historical resources as those which are most important to the area, we need to work backward from there and ensure that any promoting we do involves embracing and protecting these things rather than exploiting and destroying them. The reason for the creation of a separate chamber for our own region rather than simply joining up with those that serve the metro areas to our North and South is precisely because we felt like what we have to offer is different from those areas. If you are looking for golf courses and tennis courts or night clubs, shopping malls, and busy board walks than Bulls Bay Historic Passage is not for you and we are OK with that. We’re something simpler, something quieter, more back to nature, and we think that there are those out there who will appreciate these qualities. At the same time, our proximity allows for visitors staying in Charleston or Myrtle Beach area to enjoy a trip to experience what we have to offer as well as visitors staying in our area can enjoy day trips to all of the great things to see and do in these neighboring areas and then come back to nice relaxing place at the end of the day.
The final piece of the puzzle that you discussed was the “balance”? That’s really the million dollar question that doesn’t have a simple answer. If we turn on the tap supplying growth to the area, we have to be prepared to know when and how to turn it off. The Chamber is an apolitical organization, but that does not mean that we can not make recommendations on behalf of our business members on how municipalities control growth and development across the area.
US 17: What is your vision for the Bulls Bay Historic Passage – say five years or 20 years in the future? How do you hope it enhances the region?
Daniel Bates: One of the things we said from day one was that if we were a huge success in promoting the area but the way of life that we hold so dear was changed, that we would consider our efforts to have been all in vain. My family traces its roots to the original French Huguenots who settled along the Santee River in the late 1600’s and it’s where I decided to return home to raise a family of my own. I wanted my children to have the same experiences playing in the creeks and pine forests here that I did growing up. These resources have been preserved for us by generations before us and should be continue to be protected. I am reminded of these priceless treasures that exist in this region every day from visitors who stop into my real estate office.
Our vision of the future for the Bulls Bay Historic Passage would have it look much like it does today. We know that some commercial growth will occur along the highway 17 corridor. I foresee more eco-tourism jobs such as kayak and fishing guides and historic tours to service visitors to the area with minimal impact and more opportunities for current businesses like restaurants, artist galleries, boutiques, and stores as interest in the area grows. Finally, if there were to be an “industrial” aspect to the growth, I see it being more toward environment friendly light industry such as small boat building or furniture making. I’d love for there to be some really fun event every month of the year, something that gets people out and spending time with one another, because our community is really our strongest resource of all. I hope that the Chamber is seen as a work horse for all that is good in the area and was able to provide opportunities that the area might not have otherwise experienced without the combined efforts of our members.
US 17: I want to make sure our readers know about the Bulls Bay Historic Passage website – http://bullsbay.org/. Also, how can an individual or business – from within or outside of the Passage region – get involved? Who would they contact?
Daniel Bates: Individuals are welcome to volunteer or donate to the cause. We have begun our membership drive for business and organization leaders and have nearly 100 members. A lot of these are from within the area but there also service providers such as lenders and lawyers who serve our area but are located outside of the area. As the chairman, I am currently the main point of contact and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 843-606-0622.
US 17: Not surprisingly, I love any project that showcases the Highway 17 corridor – which I think is amazing all the way from Winchester, Virginia down to Punta Gorda, Florida. I sometimes daydream about making the entire highway a heritage corridor, so I’m always thrilled to see a small section/region receive such deserved recognition. I always have to ask – how much of Highway 17 have you traveled down? Besides the obvious stretch covered by the Bulls Bay Historic Passage, do you have another stretch of Highway 17 that is a favorite?
Daniel Bates: I haven’t gotten to enjoy all of it, though I love experiencing it second-hand through your blog. I think that the stretch along Georgia’s coast over their beautiful marshes and estuaries is always beautiful. It’s similar to glimpses you find driving along the Bulls Bay Historic Passage, I can’t help but roll down the windows for that stretch to enjoy that unmistakable smell of pluff mud in the salty air.
Thank you Daniel, for sharing your vision of the Bulls Bay Historic Passage with US 17 – I look forward to watching your vision turn in to exciting new opportunities for this wonderful stretch of Highway 17! Keep us posted.