Thursday, October 18, 2012
Beach Bonfires are the Best
One of fall’s greatest pleasures is a bonfire on the beach. What’s better than s’mores, hot dogs on sticks, maybe some guitars or drumming? This adventure doesn’t even require a long roadtrip. Although most local beaches do not allow fires, you can get a permit to have fires on Sullivan’s or Caper’s Islands.
Having a party on the beach eliminates the need to clean house, cook an elaborate meal and get dressed up. All ages enjoy it. After hosting dozens of pot luck parties and bonfires on the Sullivan’s Island beach, my family has this down to a science. With our wide-tire wagon we can haul a folding table, trash can, cooler full of food, baskets of paper goods, drinks, bocce game, chairs, tablecloth and a backpack of sweaters in one trip. It’s like a Chinese puzzle. Once the wagon is empty, we use it to haul fire wood from the car. Vehicles are not allowed on the beach.
Earlier in the day, we dig a hole for the fire. That shields it from the wind and makes it easier to bury afterwards. We make our hole about five feet in diameter and about two feet deep. Stacking the wood in a teepee arrangement with lots of fat lighter or a Dura-log in the middle gets it started quickly. It’s tricky to bring just enough wood to burn that night because you don’t want to haul any back and you can’t leave it on the beach. Bring a large shovel to bury the fire at 11 PM when the permit expires. Sand buckets double for hauling water to put the fire out easily.
Our friends love these parties and bring fabulous food that can be eaten cold or heated on the fire. Some tips are to bring garbage bags and recycling containers and get the guests’ help in carrying trash and leftover food back up. Make sure to check the tide chart and set up where you won’t be swamped by incoming tide or the wake of passing freighters. We learned this the hard way when we lost all of our fried chicken (but saved the brownies thank goodness). On one particularly memorable occasion, we stood in awe as the harvest moon rose hugely on one horizon and the sun set on the other. That’s the kind of night that makes you grateful to live in South Carolina.
Anyone, even non Sullivan’s Island residents, can get a bonfire permit at Town Hall. The permit is free but a security deposit is required. Island property owners pay a deposit of $250, non residents pay $500. You’re only charged if you disobey the rules, otherwise the money is refunded afterwards. You’ll need to indicate a location, clean up completely afterwards and not include alcohol or loud music. Once the permit application is filled out, you must obtain a signature from the Town’s Fire Department and return it with the deposit to Town Hall. Bring a copy of the permit to the fire site. It’s not uncommon for the police to patrol the beach. This permit process can take a couple of days and they aren’t issued in cases of severe drought or fire danger. Cancellations are possible when there are strong winds, flood tides or other conditions.
On Caper’s Island you must have a camping permit to stay overnight. They are free. With that permit, you’re allowed to have an “Indian fire”, a small bonfire. The number of permits is limited and very popular during the fall. Of course, you’ll need a private boat to get to Capers Island which is two islands north of Isle of Palms. An authentic South Carolina experience was a camping trip we took there with another family and our boatload of kids. While we women set up camp, the men went out and got bushels of fresh oysters which we cooked over the campfire that night. What an adventure! Reservations for camping at Caper’s Island are made through the Dept. of Natural Resources at 843-953-9360.
There are not many places on the coast where bonfires on the beach are permitted and those of us lucky enough to live here can enjoy this close-by adventure with just a little effort and planning. It’s an opportunity to have simple, wholesome fun with family and friends and enjoy the natural beauty of South Carolina.