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Aiken County wildlife area opens to the public Saturdays in March

Aiken County’s Crackerneck Wildlife Management Area and Ecological Reserve will be open to the public on the first four Saturdays during the month of March (2, 9, 16 and 23). The final Saturday (March 30) will be reserved for a youth turkey hunt.

Crackerneck Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and Ecological Reserve is composed of 10,600 acres owned by the U.S. Department of Energy. The area is located in Aiken County, along the Savannah River and south of the town of Jackson, off SC 125. Access is through the check station gate on Bent Rim Road, which is 0.1 mile left at the paved end of Brown Road. Detailed maps/brochures of the area that include special rules and regulations can be requested in advance by e-mailing and providing a name and postal mailing address. Maps are also available at the check station where visitors sign in. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) office on the Savannah River Site can be reached at (803) 725-3663.

The area will be open for scouting, fishing and some other outdoor activities. All visitors must sign in before entering and sign out prior to leaving. No managed trails exist on the property. Bikes and horses are confined to the 50-mile road system and selected firebreaks. No weapons are allowed during this period. Hours are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Insect repellant is recommended for all users, and recreationists should bring their own water. One port-o-let is located at the check station.

Hunters are encouraged to utilize these open dates to scout the area prior to turkey season. Habitat changes are continually occurring due to timber harvests, prescribed burns, weather events and road construction.

Fishing will be allowed during the Saturdays when Crackerneck is open. At Skinface Pond, the bass limit is two per person per day with a 14-inch minimum, catfish are five per day and the bluegill limit of 30 is the same as state creel limits. Limited bank fishing opportunities are available at Skinface so a small boat is recommended. In addition, a couple of swamp lakes are accessible with small boats, but the fishing has been extremely poor here in recent years.

No bike trails currently exist at Crackerneck WMA. Mountain bikes are restricted to the 50-mile road system and selected firebreaks. Most roads are improved with crush-and-run and offer relatively smooth riding.

Great opportunities exist for birders to view spring migrants and winter or permanent residents. Birding for terrestrial species is productive and easy due to the road system that traverses a variety of habitats. Wetland species occur, but are difficult to access and observe. SCDNR personnel at the gate can provide locations for species of interest.

No hiking trail currently exists at Crackerneck WMA, but the 50-mile road system goes through scenic areas and is a suitable substitute. In addition, hikers can utilize a 30-mile network of firebreaks that will get them off the beaten path. The more adventurous hikers can blaze their own trails just as hunters do. For anyone entering the Savannah River swamp, a compass and/or GPS unit are strongly recommended.

Many people just enjoy touring the road system to see what can be observed, whether it be wildlife, wildflowers, old home sites or cemeteries and forestry and wildlife management practices. The entire 50-mile road system can be enjoyably ridden in under four hours. All roads, including jeep trails, are maintained in excellent condition.

Limited opportunities exist for canoeing in Skinface Pond or a few accessible swamp lakes that are picturesque. Alligators, snakes and a variety of water birds will be encountered. Access to Upper Three Runs Creek is prohibited for any reason.

Horses are limited to the 50-mile road system and selected firebreaks. While most roads are crush-and-run, they are well vegetated and horses seem to handle them well. Main roads have wide clearances so shoulders are an option. Firebreaks can be utilized when not planted for wildlife. Several places around Crackerneck are large enough to park several horse trailers.

Photographers have grand opportunities with wildlife, wildflowers, scenic vistas, and forestry and wildlife management practices, to name a few. However, photographers should have realistic expectations when trying to photograph wildlife. While abundant, wild animals at Crackerneck are truly wild and elusive. Stealth is necessary for success. Most animals are more active at dawn and dusk rather than mid-day.