They weren’t recorded, registered, taxed, or regulated. Naturally, urban-dwelling environmentalists hated the river shacks of rural South Carolina, and they recently succeeded in persuading the Palmetto State’s greasy pols to impose a permit system incorporating a sunset law completely eliminating these private refuges of individual freedom from South Carolina’s waters in five years. The state’s governor expressed regret at the death of a rural tradition, but he wouldn’t stick his neck out by vetoing the new law.
These days, Huck Finn would not be permitted to raft down the river to get away from Aunt Polly and her civilized regime of rules. Old ladies of both sexes have long since taken care to extend the jurisdiction of the Leviathan state right down every river’s main channel, and up every tributary and every backwater, lest some free American escape from civilization and its discontents, or evade its taxes and its rules.
For who knows how long, people have plopped these river shacks into watery coves and curves along the South Carolina coast. They permanently anchor their shacks miles from the nearest landing and use them to fish, hunt or just get off the grid for a while. Some contraptions are so modest that to call them shacks is too kind, while others are so well appointed that they all but cry out for granite countertops and potpourri.
It all sounds so innocent, so idyllic â€” so American, in a Huck Finn kind of way. That is, until you consider that the river shack owners are essentially laying claim to public property without paying license fees, taxes or, in some cases, even respect. A few people use the river as their personal toilet; others abandon their shacks, leaving the structures to rot amid the natural splendor.
But environmentalists who see these shacks as an affront to the concept of resource management recently succeeded in lobbying for their extinction. This spring the state passed a law requiring owners to seek permits for the structures â€” recent surveys counted at least 170 on several rivers and Lake Marion â€” with the stipulation that in five years all shacks must be removed from the water. …
The issue even posed a dilemma for Gov. Mark Sanford, who ultimately decided to allow the river shack bill to pass into law without his signature. While he supports land preservation, he explained in a letter to legislators, he wonders about increasing gentrification, and â€œthe idea that someone could tie a bunch of 55-gallon drums together and stake out a house on the waterway is representative of what I would consider the magic of â€˜old time South Carolina.â€™ â€
But Patrick Moore, a lawyer working for the Coastal Conservation League, which led the legislative fight against river shacks, sees no dilemma. â€œThe idea that these shacks are some sort of entitlement of our natural heritage is, frankly, an insult to that very heritage,â€ he says.