Finding the 7 geological wonders of South Carolina, one hike at a time, and why it matters.
When Marie Goff, the retired Brigadier General of the South Carolina National Guard, and her husband Eddie Goff, also a high-ranking retired member of the military, decided to call The Market Common in Myrtle Beach home in 2015, they had little idea about how much hiking, biking, climbing, kayaking, white water rafting, and driving from location to location around South Carolina would be in their near future.
The couple involved themselves with the South Carolina 7 Expedition (SC7), named for the Seven Geological Wonders of South Carolina. It was created by individuals and an affiliated group of nonprofit organizations dedicated to environmental education, floodwater mitigation, eco-tourism, and projects designed to counter the effects of man-made climate disasters. Here, the Goffs met friends new and old and saw parts of the state they barely knew existed. After their second expedition with SC7, Marie assumed the role of social media influencer and is among the core team. On July 30, 2022, the couple completed their second annual trip with the group and has already committed to SC7’s fourth annual 30-day expedition in July 2023.
Mostly along the Palmetto Trail, trekking from the mountains to the sea, in addition to taking many side trips along the way, the 30-day journey starts in Oconee County in extreme upstate South Carolina and ends at Bull Island just north of Charleston. As a part of the SC7 of 2022, the Goffs were involved in many of the educational and hands-on programs along the way. Along the Palmetto Trail, through the SC National Heritage Corridor and other parts of the state, they would see for themselves, one hike at a time, the Seven Geological Wonders of South Carolina over the course of the 30-day journey. The pair would meet influential leaders and impassioned advocates also volunteering their time and expertise in service to the SC environment, and perhaps especially the coastal environment from Beaufort to Little River, and right here along the Grand Strand.
Just what is the SC7?
In their own words “the South Carolina-based nonproift SC7 is a partnership between two SC based non-profit organizations, Global Eco Adventures (under the leadership of Dr. Tom Mullikin) and the SC National Heritage Corridor (Michele McCollum, CEO). The mission of SC7 is to “get people in the outdoors so they can gain an appreciation of the outdoors, and therefore begin to actively do their part to protect the outdoors.”
Additionally, the two nonprofits partnered with the South Carolina Floodwater Commission, also lead by Mullikin, a Camden native and part-time Coastal Carolina University lecturer. Mullikin also teaches at USC and a university in Ecuador. He is a practicing environmental attorney, a world-renowned explorer, retired commanding general of the SC State Guard, a recognized National Geographic expert, and a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society. He is currently leading the effort to build a flood-mitigating, information-disseminating ocean reef off the coast of South Carolina. A “Smart Reef” deployment in coastal waters from Charleston to Little River on July 30, 2022, marked the final day of the 2022 expedition for the SC7.
The SC7 derives its name from the “Seven geological wonders of South Carolina.” In brief, and in order from West to East, these wonders are: Oconee County and the Chattooga River in the western-most Upstate (an untamed white water river famed as the shooting location for the film “Deliverance”), Sassafras Mountain (the highest point in SC, some 3,533 feet above sea level), Jocassee Gorges (named by National Geographic as one of the “50 Last Great Places” on Earth, where the mountains meet the Piedmont), Congaree National Park (a 27,000-acre park in the middle of SC boasting some of the oldest living trees in North America), Edisto River (the longest, free-flowing black river in North America), Ace Basin (where the Ashepoo, Combahee and South Edisto (ACE) Rivers form the largest undeveloped estuary on the east coast, some 350,000 acres), and Bulls Island near Charleston (a beautiful, remote and slowly disappearing barrier island with a maritime forest and home to some 275 bird species.)
“The initial list was developed by my son, Tom Jr., and I,” says Mullikin. “We were inspired by the National Geographic cover article “50 Last Great Places on Earth,” and South Carolina’s Jocassee Gorges that made that list. Tom Jr. and I were at base camp on Mt. Everest a few years ago years ago, and we decided to focus on South Carolina instead of the Himalayas in the middle of winter. The SC7 list is not exclusive, as we visit and are concerned with many other places in the state. The Palmetto Trail gave us a roadmap for the SC7, as a place to start.”
Marie Goff worked closely with Mullikin in her position with the National Guard and his as commander of the State Guard during various weather disasters that state faced, and she knew of his expertise, energy, and enthusiasm, so joining with his efforts after retirement seemed a natural progression. Having completed their second annual 30-day expedition, the Goffs can reflect on the highlights of the trip, and what drove their move to Myrtle Beach and drove their participation with the SC7.
“We both love the outdoors,” says Marie Goff, “and when we retired, we knew we wanted to be somewhere near the beach and where we could be outdoors and out of traffic. In the Market Common we have all of that, plus great restaurants, a movie theater, wonderful people – we just love our neighbors – and plenty of things to do.”
The couple travel the world extensively and regularly, but make time for the SC7 expeditions to explore their home state. Marie Goff was raised in 96, an historic community in the SC Upstate, and was already familiar with that region, but knew there was more to SC than you might see from its highways. As avid nature lovers, the Goffs were equally concerned with the environment and knew firsthand from their work in the Guard during SC’s natural disasters, that flooding is a issue for the state, and here in communities, such as Socastee and Conway, as well as the entire coastal region.
The Smart Reef
On day 30, the final day of the SC7 Expedition, organizers, media and dignitaries met on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Yorktown in Mt. Pleasant on the Charleston Harbor. Green Beret paratroopers made dramatic jumps from circling helicopters, and Force Blue veterans, Coastal Carolina University students and faculty attended, along with the SC Lt. Governor, Pamela Evette, who spoke and also participated on much of the SC7 expedition. Mt. Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie and other dignitaries spoke in preparation and introduction of the expedition leader and keynote speaker, Dr. Tom Mullikin, who made an impassioned speech on behalf of the veterans and dive teams, the involved nonprofits, corporate partners, and the environment.
“We have been gifted this beautiful environment,” says Mullikin, “and we are to be good stewards of it,” he said. “The expedition includes a broad spectrum of people and disciplines. Clean-ups, building reefs, addressing health – just being on the trail addresses childhood obesity, diabetes and other issues. We’re really trying to get conversations started and continue to be not just aspirational, but operational in our efforts for the environment. We couldn’t do it without our public-private partnerships. We have over 100 partners for this Smart Reef deployment, alone.”
The Smart Reefs are a combination of hi-tech and concrete. Divers stabilized several of the artificial reefs to the seabed, 15 miles offshore in about 45 feet of choppy water, where they set to work.
“The reef becomes the observing system. It all connects to a surficial buoy that telemetries the data out to the satellite, and to the world beyond,” says Dr. Paul Gayes, the Executive Director of Coastal Carolina University’s Center for Marine Wetland Studies.
Three dive teams coordinated and deployed out of Paris Island, Charleston Harbor, and Little River simultaneously on July 30, thanks to the efforts of so many and the leadership of SC7.
Environmental Challenges are non-partisan
“We’ve worked really hard to rip this issue out of the jaws of vitriol and partisan politics,” says Mullikin. “The environment concerns everybody. We may differ on views of how best to address these issues, but I’ve run into climate change deniers, as well as others who want to use the environment as an excuse to build bigger government, so we see both ends of the issue. I just don’t engage with those folks on either extreme. But when you’re actively doing something, the conversation rapidly moves away from politics. The manifestations of global climate change are too big for any one governmental unit to deal with themselves. We want people to get outdoors and adjust their social and behavioral patterns as a way to deal in part with this crisis.”
Mullikin is Chairman of the SC Floodwater Commission and was appointed by SC Governor Henry McMaster in 2018.
“South Carolina is under threat from heavy rains, storms, tides and nuisance flooding, as well as hurricanes,” says Mullikin, “even the rains in North Carolina affect us here. We’ve had the 1,000-year flood in 2015, and numerous storms that have dumped record-breaking amounts of rain, and that’s only a part of the problem. Sea level rise causes erosion and coastal flooding even on sunny days. The governor is a great hero of these issues and has a passion for cleanup.”
The SC7 team has created a tremendous resource for those wishing to involve themselves in future expeditions, or to learn more about this group and annual event. A field guide with information may be found at southcarolina7.com, as well as an imbedded link to the documentary, “Higher Ground,” featuring Dr. Mullikin and others as they discuss the work done to date, and work to be done.
“People can come for a part of the day, the whole day or the entire 30-day trip, as they are able,” says Goff.
The Field Guide, which is one of several guides on the website, offers information on when and where the daytrips start and end, and how best to navigate each segment of the expedition. An Outdoor Adventure Book is designed to engage kids and a Flora and Fauna Guide from the mountains to the sea, are free downloadable resources also available on the website and all created under the leadership of Michele McCollum of the SC National Heritage Corridor.
“We are exposing people, some who’ve never really hiked at all, to the environment in some of the most beautiful places on earth, right here in South Carolina,” says Mullikin, and the Grand Strand is included in that effort. “We went to Brookgreen Gardens as a part of last years’ expedition. I’m in Conway almost every Friday, and we participate in World Clean Up day in Myrtle Beach each year collecting tons of trash and getting it out of the ecosystem.”
“My husband is a real logistics expert,” says Goff, “and he helps on the expedition making sure things run as smoothly as possible. He also helps me with my social media work in the form of photography. Folks need to be on the lookout for the 2023 Guidebook, which will have all the details needed to participate.”
“What I found in last two trips,” remarks Eddie Goff, “is that I could visit places I didn’t know existed, and places I’ve seen on the map, but had never been. If you don’t experience these things with your own eyes, you’re missing out.”
“The comradery you experience on the trail is just amazing,” adds Marie Goff. “The young people I met from AmeriCorps were was just amazing. These trips are a learning experience for all of us. Everyone would benefit from participation and will see just how beautiful and diverse our state is, and just how important the environment is to all of us.”
Visit www.southcarolina7.com for more information.