The era of modern day Hilton Head Island effectively began with the 1956 bridge. Since that time, Charles Fraser initiated the process of crafting Sea Pines Plantation – the signature of which is the Harbour Town Lighthouse.
His vision was based on protecting the natural beauty of the land – wrapping human environments within the natural landscape of this sea island rather than imposing man and his structures upon it. His ideas included: “No building taller than the tallest tree”; “Paint in natural earth tone colors”; “Make the oceanfront available to as many as possible, while disturbing as few as possible.”
Quite different than the developers of his era, Charles Fraser saw community building as a means of preserving the land as well as opening it up for human habitation. To this end, he looked at the property as a whole, carefully noting the natural elements that must be protected. The largest surviving trees were protected from the land-clearing process; lot lines and street plans often were cut around trees rather than through them. At a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Great Oak known as the “Liberty Oak,” that can be seen jutting into the harbor at Harbour Town, is a prime example of his reverence for the land. He also saw the importance of the unique story that Hilton Head Island and, in particular, Sea Pines Plantation have to tell. The little Gullah graveyard dating back to the slavery period, still used by native island families, is a good example. Tucked between some million dollar town homes framing the 18th fairway, the graveyard is still available to descendants of the original families for visits and burials.
Fraser’s development plan preserved substantial acreage dedicated to “Open Space” or nature preserves. In the 650-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve, there are delightful nature walks and trails that enable residents and visitors to experience the island’s remarkable, subtropical beauty as it was seen by the early explorers. Within Sea Pines, several areas have been protected and are open for visitors to freely explore including the Tabby Ruins of the Baynard Plantation “Great House” and the ghostly but beautiful ruins of the rows of slave cabins.
Thanks to Charles Fraser’s responsible and careful development plan, it takes very little effort to enjoy the abundant wildlife that has been a part of the island environment for hundreds of years. White-tailed deer, raccoon, possum, otter, and even mink inhabit the wooded and marshland landscape. Additionally, Hilton Head is a bird watcher’s paradise with hundreds of species recognized as regular visitors and year-round residents. The ancient owner of the ponds and brackish waterways, the alligator, is always sleeping in the sun on warm days except during the chilly winter months when he retreats to his den for a season of hibernation. The surrounding ocean is richly populated with succulent Blue-claw Crabs, oysters, and shrimp, not to mention dozens of varieties of fish. The Atlantic bottlenose dolphin frolic all around the island as well as the occasional manatee. Yes, there are sharks too, and at certain times of the year jelly fish wash up on the beach along with a variety of shells and starfish.
By the way, if any creature you encounter has signs of still being alive, please return it to the ocean. Every creature serves an important purpose in the balance of nature in this area. Even with a current permanent population of over 35,000 people, Hilton Head Island and Sea Pines Plantation are still a nature lover’s dream.
A YOUNG JACK NICKLAUS,
AND GOLF COURSE DESIGNER PETE DYE, PONDERING THE NEXT CHALLENGING HOLE AT THE HARBOUR TOWN GOLF LINKS