Celebrating rural communities

  • Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Bulls Bay Historic Passage Chamber of commerce is a new entity designed to serve the areas of McClellanville and Awendaw. IMAGE PROVIDED

Charleston isn’t the only city worth paying attention to in the Lowcountry. The rural pockets of Hungryneck are often forgotten, but that could soon change.

In an effort to preserve, promote and enrich rural McClellanville and Awendaw, a group of citizens and business owners have created the Bulls Bay Historic Passage Chamber of Commerce.

Like most chambers, the group will promote the area and local businesses, but this rural area is particulary unique in that its deeply rooted history should be celebrated in harmony with and enriched by the extraordinary natural resources that surround it.

The uniquely combined 300,000 plus acres of the Francis Marion National Forest and Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, the “Bulls Bay Historic Passage,” located about 25 miles northeast of Charleston, reflect everything that makes the Lowcountry of South Carolina one of the finest places in the nation to live and work.

In an examination of how best to meet the needs of the people of the Bulls Bay Historic Passage, the chamber was created. The vision is to provide economic and job opportunities and tourism built on the area’s rich heritage.

According to Daniel Bates, president of the chamber, this region’s top draws for economic investment are the unparalleled combination of magnificent natural resources and the three centuries of rich culture and history of its people. Leveraging these requires bringing people to the area to see the natural resources, to buy products made locally and to build and expand business and job opportunities that support those efforts.

“Through our working together our new Bulls Bay Historic Passage Chamber of Commerce will not only provide real opportunities for the area’s people, but help enhance and keep our landscape the special place it is,” he explained.

This project been many years in the making, he said. Prior to the idea of a chamber of commerce, it was the Seewee Summit and specifically something that was bank rolled by the Donnelly Foundation designed to reach out and assist the rural area of McCleallanville and Awendaw with issues such as jobs, transportation, infrastructure and health issues troubling the area.

Bates was involved with the job side of the summit. The group all agreed that creating the chamber would be more beneficial as a whole.

They hired Gil Shuler, a local graphic designer and branding expert. The result - the Bulls Bay Historic Passage.

The idea was to bring the name back to the area known as Bulls Bay and pay homage to a brand that existed for a long time. While centered on McClellanville and Awendaw, anyone who services the area is welcome to become a member.

Natural resources

In the Francis Marion National Forest hiking, kayaking, bird watching, hunting, fishing and camping opportunities abound. Countless species of plants and animals are abundant and healthy. Water and air quality is unsurpassed.

Freshwater marvels called Carolina Bays are still intact. Tens of thousands of acres of wetlands filter the water that makes its way southeast through the forest to sustain the richness of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge abuts the forest and bordering the Atlantic Ocean.

The Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, made up of barrier islands, marsh, beaches and maritime forest is an international Biosphere Reserve, harboring most species of South Carolina’s sea and shore birds and is home to substantial yet fragile sea turtle populations and nesting grounds.

Together the Francis Marion National Forest and the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge constitute a magnificent collection of invaluable Lowcountry resources.

Cultural asset

Interspersed throughout the landscape of the Bulls Bay Historic Passage are human communities that are an important center of the unique Gullah/Geechee culture and traditions.

Families that are the descendants of enslaved Africans brought to the region over 300 years ago established local settlements following the Civil War.

Direct descendants of those families live in the same settlement areas to this day, representing three centuries of family ties to the land.

They are the keepers and guardians of the rich Gullah culture with its direct connections to African traditions; their bonds to land, culture and family are cherished.

Equally proud of its local roots is the current generation of some of the first European families to have settled in the Lowcountry, still living on or near their ancestors’ land.

Family names long familiar in the region are still prominent today.

Throughout this country few places can be found where the same families, black and white, have been on the same landscape for over 300 years. An amazing cultural asset.

Bates said the chamber will help local businesses get customers to the door, but the trick to it all is making sure they don’t ruin what they have while promoting it.

“If we were a vast success and looked back five years ago and didn’t recognize our towns anymore then we would consider our efforts a failure,” he said.

“We want to attract more people but want them to come with the understanding that we’re not trying to change the area. We consider it low impact tourism and eco-tourism.”

In addition to coming and staying for perhaps a week, he explained, tourists could take advantage of kayaking, boating, Bulls Bay wildlife Refuge, local restaurants and but local items.

“The idea is to have no trace of them left behind,” he said. And because there is not a local visitor’s bureau or park and recreation type center, this idea for a chamber should work.

In addition, the web domain www.bullsbay.org will be the Bulls Bay Chamber’s outwardly facing tourism and visitor website to promote the local business members.

Another primary goal is to attract business to the area.

Initial benefits

A website featuring a member directory, describing chamber business and offering tourism related information such as upcoming events and activities to enjoy in the area.

A social media presence on popular sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn.

Networking opportunities for members to interact with each other, to build valuable partnerships and referral networks.

Educational opportunities addressing needs and concerns of small-to-medium sized businesses.

Future benefits

With expanded membership and/or grants we hope to continue to increase exposure to the area through promotion of the Bulls Bay brand, including: expanded functionality and content on the website; development of print brochures to be distributed to local businesses, area hotels, visitor’s centers and for direct mail purposes; expansive highway and store-front signage program,; greater member benefits; and possibly a visitor’s center of our own.

Founding members

All new “Founding Member” memberships are $100 and recognition that your status as a “Founding Member” will remain through the life of the Chamber.

Please note the Chamber of Commerce is in formation and is intended to be 501C-6 (non-profit) organization.

For more information, visit the website at www.bullsbay.org or call Bates at 843-606-0622.

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