Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge Teams up With The Citadel to Protect Historical Sites, Natural Habitats 

Written By

Spring break.   

For many college students it means a trip to the coast, hanging out on a beach. Or to the mountains, enjoying the ski slopes. Or to any other vacation spot, getting away from the school projects, research papers, and prepping for exams.   

For some it means work – hard work – but work that’s fun and makes a difference. 

Cadets from The Citadel, a military institution in Charleson, South Carolina, chose to spend their time with the staff at Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge away from classes, campus, and other collegiate commitments.   

Working closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service team at Waccamaw, nine cadets helped preserve and conserve the landscape both for the wildlife on the refuge and those who visit.   

“I like to do volunteer work, but this is my first time working in nature,” said Josiah Conard, a freshman cadet.  “I am grateful for the opportunity to preserve [the refuge].” 

Service projects on the refuge included infrastructure improvements, beautification of historical landmarks at Waccamaw and in the community, and natural habitat enhancements.  

The students spent a couple of days at Sandy Island Preserve, which is part of the largest protected freshwater island on the East Coast.  Co-managed by the Service and The Nature Conservancy, the preserve is home to the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and longleaf pine forests, among other rare plants and animals. 

Sandy Island is also steeped in cultural and historical significance.  The remote island is the ancestral home for generations of descendants of emancipated people who created a thriving community there during the Reconstruction Period by growing and exporting rice.  The island’s forests were also used for shipbuilding and the turpentine industry. 

Service personnel, cadets, volunteers and members of the Sandy Island community family partnered to trim trees, clear brush, spruce up two historical cemeteries, a playground, and the grounds of the original school built on the island --- now used as a library.  In addition, Service volunteers helped erect a weather shelter in one cemetery in the heart of the community where families and friends can pay their respects in the shade, rather than in the South Carolina sun. 

“I can’t express how grateful I am,” said Deborah Greggs, a former resident of Sandy Island who remains an active member of the community there.  “They don’t know how much I appreciate them.” 

One remote cemetery is a popular pilgrimage for residents and hundreds of family members who travel via boat from the mainland to gather on the island for reunions every other year.  Several of Sandy Islands’ founding fathers are buried there. 

“I like helping different communities.  The cemetery is historical grounds.  There are so many unmarked graves of former slaves here,” said Zoey Ellison, a freshman at The Citadel.  “Helping people and taking care of the environment is important to me.” 

The Service team guided the students through several wildlife habitat improvement projects as well.  Some cadets helped build a fence around a youth hunting facility, which also doubles as a barrier and protection for food plots for turkeys and deer against wild hogs.  Others helped give wood ducks a boost, complementing their nests with wood chips and installing boxes along the Great Pee Dee River where cavity-nesting migratory birds can safely create nests, protected against predators.  

“This refuge is more than 36,000 acres, and much of it is open to public use.  Our small team can’t do what we need to do to manage for the diverse wildlife and all the visitors we get without volunteers.  The Citadel has been extremely helpful to us.  I am impressed with the enthusiasm of the cadets and their work ethic, and I hope they will share these experiences with others, instilling the importance of taking care of our natural resources and helping save it for generations of people and wildlife,” said Craig Sasser, manager of Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge. 

Cadets also conducted educational, leadership, and team-building activities while on the refuge.   

This marks the third time the Service and The Citadel have partnered to offer students an alternative to traditional spring break activities.  Several of the cadets who spent this school vacation at Waccamaw volunteered on previous trips to the refuge, which celebrates its 25th year in 2023.   

The refuge was established on December 1, 1997 to protect and manage diverse habitat within coastal river ecosystems and to provide wildlife-dependent recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography and environmental education. The wetland diversity on the refuge provides important habitat for migratory birds, fish and other wildlife.   

Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge consists of wetland habitats ranging from historic, broken and actively managed tidal rice fields, to blackwater and alluvial flood plain forested wetlands of the Waccamaw and Great Pee Dee Rivers. These tidal freshwater wetland ecosystems are some of the most diverse freshwater wetland systems in North America. They not only provide important habitat corridors for wildlife, but they also play a critical role in the filtration and storm water retention for the primary drinking water resource of the greater Grand Strand region.   

The Citadel, with its iconic campus located in Charleston, South Carolina, offers a classic military college education for young men ad women focused on leadership excellence and academic distinction. The approximately 2,300 members of the South Carolina Corps of Cadets are not required to serve in the military, but about one-third of each class earn commissions to become officers in every branch of U.S. military service. Citadel alumni have served the nation, their states and their communities as principled leaders since 1842. The Citadel Graduate College, founded more than 50 years ago, offers dozens of graduate degree, graduate certificate and evening undergraduate programs in the evening or online. Consecutively named Best Public College in the South by U.S. News & World Report for 12 years and No. 1 Best Public College for Veterans in the South for five years.  

Editor’s note:  During National Volunteer Week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeast Region celebrates the efforts of generous volunteers who contribute to the agency’s mission of working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.  For more information on volunteer opportunities, go to https://www.fws.gov/volunteer-opportunity .  

Story Tags