Tour of Duty
According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, salt marshes are transitional areas between land and water, occurring along the intertidal shore of estuaries and sounds where salinity ranges from near ocean strength to near fresh in upriver marshes. South Carolina has more marsh acreage than any other Atlantic coast state (344,500 acres of salt marsh). For the volunteers at the Coastal Discovery Museum, educating locals and visitors alike is a task enshrouded in passion.
Pam Wozniak moved to the Lowcountry full-time in 2008. "I knew in 1979 that we (my husband and I) would retire here," Pam said matter of factly. Having been a volunteer for the Girl Scouts for many years, Pam sought out opportunities to volunteer in her new community. "I walked into the Coastal Discovery Museum and just said, 'I'm looking to be a volunteer.' They said 'Do you want to start today?'" And the rest is history.
Pam started at the front desk, and then attended the Coastal Discovery Museum's docent college to learn all the programs for those interested in leading educational programs and tours. "I'm kind of a 'jill-of-all-trades,'" she said laughing. "I still work the desk, but I also lead educational tours and programs about the salt marsh, the butterfly enclosure and blue crabs."
The blue crab tour is every Tuesday and Thursday at 9:30 a.m. "There are five or six docents who know the tour, so we switch on and off." The tour is approximately an hour and a half in length, and begins with an educational tour of the salt marsh, including information on various birds, fish, animals and plants that inhabit it. The crab pot (baited every Monday and Wednesday with chicken necks) is pulled up, hopefully with crabs. "We explain the difference between the males and females, how they must be at least five-inches, point to point, to be taken, and how the females must legally be thrown back." Pam explained, giving me a little taste of what can be heard on the tour. "We teach people how to safely hold the blue crabs by holding it up by its swimmerets. A lot of people do back up, but I love watching people hold the blue crabs as they go from fear to amazement." A pinch from a crab can be really painful.
For the last half hour of the tour, guests are taught how to steam and clean the crabs. The crabs are steamed for about 10 minutes in boiling water, until they turn from blue to orange. There is a myth that during the steaming process the crabs "scream" or "cry." This is merely air escaping from underneath the shells. "A lot of the time I do have to explain why the crabs are missing a few legs after the steaming process." After the blue crabs have been steamed, the messy and fun part begins-cleaning and pickin'!
"We have them remove the legs, swimmeret's and claws, then the male/female part, separate the top shell from the bottom shell, remove the gills and anything else that isn't meat." The final step is to break the shell in half and gather the meat behind the ribs and claws, of course...and dinner ensues. "We tell the guests that sometimes we'll catch a lot and everyone gets their own crab to eat and sometimes they may have to share."
The Coastal Discovery Museum is Pam Wozniak's home away from home. Her husband even volunteers at the museum, as well. "In all of our tours, we try to incorporate other aspects of the wildlife or history of the Lowcountry to encourage them to learn more things about the area," Pam explained. "I haven't taken all of the tours...probably about 80% of them." Most of the tours are family oriented, but for some, children may lack the needed focus for certain tours. "The most interesting tour that I've been on was a horseshoe crab educational program. We got to tag them and DNR came out to talk about breeding and to tag and measure them. We drilled holes into their hard shells and inserted white metal tags with numbers on them. It was very interesting."
The Coastal Discovery Museum is always looking for volunteers to lead tours, educate guests and help with things like events. Visit coastaldiscovery.org for tour topics, times and dates, as well as a way to volunteer and get involved. For program information call 843-689-6767. You can also stop by the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn at 70 Honey Horn Drive, Hilton Head.
Family: Husband, Lou; son Jay, 36 and Samantha, 32
Favorite Girl Scout Cookie: I spent too many years around Girl Scout Cookies, so I don't really eat them anymore. If I had to choose...it would be thin mints.
Favorite place for fresh seafood: Benny Hudson's Seafood Shack.
Famous Wozniak: Steve Wozniak is an American inventor, computer engineer and programmer who co-founded Apple Computer with Steve Jobs and Ronald Wayne. Unfortunately, there is no relation.