The Waccamaw River begins its course at Lake Waccamaw, a Carolina
Bay in Columbus County, North Carolina. Downstream it forms
the county line between Columbus and Brunswick Counties, flowing
generally southwest and parallel to the coastline; it is separated
from the ocean by approximately 15 miles (24 km). It enters
South Carolina and flows southwest across Horry County, past
Conway. Near Burgess it is joined from the northwest by the
Great Pee Dee River which rises in north central North Carolina.
It continues southwest, separated from the ocean by only five
miles (8 km) in a long tidal estuary. The long narrow point
of land along the ocean formed by the lower river is called
Waccamaw Neck. At Georgetown it receives the Black River (South
Carolina) from the north, then turns sharply to the southeast
and enters the ocean at Winyah Bay, approximately five miles
(8 km) north along the coast from the mouth of the Santee River.
The lower river is navigable as far as Conway, and has formed
an important commercial route for the region since the 18th
century. Before that, it was equally important for various Native
American cultures. Its lower course in South Carolina forms
part of the recreational Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, which
joins the river from the northeast at Bucksport, South Carolina.
The river's extensive wetlands offer habitat for diverse species,
including the Carolina pygmy sunfish and the American black
"Extensive forest communities cover the Waccamaw floodplain,
including cypress-gum swamp and bottomland hardwood forests.
The bottomland hardwood forests of the Waccamaw are unique in
the Carolinas in containing abundant Atlantic white cedar and
live oaks, along with the more typical laurel and overcup oak
and loblolly pine."
A portion of the habitat has been acquired by The Nature Conservancy.
Land along the Waccamaw, the lower Pee Dee and Little Pee Dee
rivers has been acquired for habitat preservation. Additional
land is being acquired for the new Waccamaw National Wildlife
Refuge. In the 19th century, planters had extensive rice cultivation
on lands of the lower Waccamaw River. This labor-intensive crop
required thousands of slaves, mostly Africans and their descendants.
After the American Civil War, emancipation lead to decline of
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