LITLE RIVER, SC (WMBF) - There's a public park in Little River that some call the area's best kept secret. With 115 acres of coastal forest, tidal march and intracoastal waterfront, Vereen Memorial Historical Gardens has been part of the Horry County park system for decades.
Despite its historical value, despite its natural beauty, this is an oasis few people know is even there.
Flanked by two subdivisions sits this 115 acre park, and if you didn't know it was here, don't worry, because neither do most of those who live in Little River.
"Where is that place? Never heard of it. Where is Vereen Gardens?" is what amateur photographer Tony Morano would have said seven years ago. Today, Morano is looking to win another local phone book cover - he's shot the covers of 4 so far.
"I just caught this place by chance," he says. "Somebody told me, you ought to go by there, take a look. There's a park, and I used to pass this when we would go to North Carolina to take pictures."
Nestled at the intersection of highways 17 and 179; blink and you will miss it. But once inside, there's much to grab your attention, beginning with the park's history. The Vereen family that donated this former plantation to the county dates back to the Revolutionary War. The family cemetery is still preserved here, including the grave of Joshua Vereen. He actually entertained President George Washington when he visited the area immediately after the war, and his entourage came down Kings Road.
Horry County historian Ben Burrows shows the last remnants of that then dirt road on the ground s of Vereen Gardens.
"It was an important highway because all of the traffic between the northern colonies and the southern colonies, they would have come, if they were coming by land, they would have come down this road," Burrows says.
From Kings Road to four miles of groomed trails and elevated board walks, this small pocket in the heart of the city is a real prize whether you're looking to get moving or catch a still. Guy Stile has lived "next" to Vereen Gardens for 10 years, but he discovered it only last year. Now, this bird watcher can't get enough.
"There's almost every bird you can think of here," Stile says, "and then you go down to the Intracoastal Waterway and there's different birds there."
Keeping the place clean and the trails clear is John Hartwell's job. He's been volunteering at Vereen gardens for 13 years. He doesn't really know why more people don't take advantage of this place, but he knows exactly why they should.
"It's peace and quiet. There are no ball fields out here. You can come out and just relax and walk or read or whatever you want to do," he says.
Not only is the park a great place to unwind, but the C.B. Berry community center on the grounds is available for group gatherings, weddings, and other special events. Vereen Gardens will celebrate its 40th anniversary this coming June.
The bottom line at Vereen Gardens is whether you're looking for a quiet moment alone without ever leaving town, or to get a little exercise hiking, walking or running these "impossible to get lost on" trails and boardwalks, or want to just grab another nugget or two to satisfy your hunger for history, you might want to expose this best-kept secret to your family.
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