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Underwater Trail Offers Different View of History

November 08, 1998|BRUCE SMITH | ASSOCIATED PRESS

GOOSE CREEK, S.C. — South Carolina's newest natural attraction is all wet.

The state's two-mile underwater diving trail allows aquatic visitors to view part of its submerged history.

Divers can explore the state's earliest ferry landing, a ship burned during the Revolutionary War and a barge and ship from the last century while swimming along the Cooper River Underwater Heritage Trial.

It is believed to be the first such trail in the nation.

"This is really a fabulous way to go down and see a wreck," said Bruce Rippeteau, director of the Institute of Archeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina, as he bobbed in the chilly water in a wetsuit below Mepkin Abbey.

"It is civilized, almost," he said.

Six buoys mark dive sites between 21 and 35 feet deep. Divers work their way down the buoy cable, then along another line near the bottom that leads to the point of interest. Underwater markers describe the sites, and divers also can get laminated guides with more information.

The entire project cost about $14,000--half put up by the state and the rest in donated services and materials, said Lynn Harris, an underwater archeologist.

Harris knew of no other diving trails in this country, although there are large single sites such as shipwrecks. There are diving trails in Australia and South Africa, she said.

Divers are allowed to take artifacts and fossils from the bottom of rivers in South Carolina as long as they don't dig for them and have a hobby diver's license, Harris said. They must tell the state what they took and where they took it from, she said.

Those interested in taking the plunge are urged to dive with the incoming tide to counteract the outgoing river current. The trail is about 30 miles up the river from Charleston Harbor. They also are urged to bring lights to illuminate markers.

In addition, divers are warned that they might have company along the trail--snakes and alligators are also in the water during warm weather.

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