Sunday, April 23, 2017

Holly Springs National Forest, Chewalla Lake: Lakeside and Virginia Pine Trails (Blog Hike #628)

Trails: Lakeside and Virginia Pine Trails
Hike Location: Holly Springs National Forest, Chewalla Lake
Geographic Location: east of Holly Springs, MS
Length: 3.5 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: March 2017
Overview: A semi-loop along the shores and bluffs of Chewalla Lake.

Directions to the trailhead: Just east of Holly Springs, take I-22 to CCC Road (exit 37).  Exit and go north on CCC Rd.  Drive CCC Rd. north 0.4 miles to SR 178 and turn left on SR 178.  Drive SR 178 west 0.7 miles to Higdon Road and turn right on Higdon Rd.  Drive Higdon Rd. north 3 miles to the signed Chewalla Lake entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the recreation area, pay the $5 day-use fee (unless you plan to camp here), and park in the day-use area, which is reached by angling left where the campground entrance goes right.

The hike: Established in 1936, Holly Springs National Forest consists of 155,661 acres in northern Mississippi.  Most of the land comprises unproductive farm fields that had been abandoned during the Great Depression.  The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) planted over these fields with loblolly and shortleaf pines to help prevent erosion, and pine forests comprise the majority of the forest’s lands today.
            With 36 campsites, 40 picnic sites, and access to several hiking trails, at first glance Chewalla Lake Recreation Area looks like the many other lakeside recreation areas contained within Mississippi’s national forests.  However, a closer look reveals some hidden treasures.  The name Chewalla comes from the Choctaw Indian word Chiho-la, which translates to “Supreme Being,” and the recreation area features a reconstructed Indian mound that was originally located where the lake is today.  Also, Chewalla Lake Recreation Area serves as the trailhead for several trails that make good dayhiking: the Lakeside Trail, the Virginia Pine Trail, and the Pine Mountain Trail.  This hike combines the Lakeside and Virginia Pine Trails to form a 3.5 mile semiloop that begins and ends at the recreation area.
Trailhead at day use area
            Start at the south side of the day-use parking area where the signed Lake Rd. Trail (also known as the Lakeside Trail) heads south into the campground area.  An information board with a trail map is also located here, and you may want to take a picture of the trail map for reference during your hike.  When I hiked here on a nice mid-March afternoon, forest workers were conducting controlled burns to clear underbrush from the campground area, and they were also repairing some severe trail erosion near the trailhead.
            At 0.2 miles, you reach the reconstructed Indian mound, which is now located atop a low ridge.  The mound is hemispherical in shape, and some erosion marks can clearly be seen.  An observation deck located near the mound gives nice views up and down Chewalla Lake.  By looking down the lake, you can see the dam area almost a mile away; you will be there in about 30 minutes.
Indian mound

View down Chewalla Lake
            Continuing southbound on the well-worn path, you reach the campground swimming area at 0.5 miles.  The small sandy area sits adjacent to a tranquil-looking island, which is accessible via a short covered bridge.  Past the swimming area, the trail heads west to (finally!) leave the developed part of the recreation area and enter the forest, which is dominated by sweet gum trees and loblolly pines.
Covered bridge leading to island
            0.65 miles into the hike, you reach a trail intersection with trails going straight and left.  Although the signs say only “trail,” the trail marked with blue plastic circles going straight is the Virginia Pine Trail, and the seemingly unmarked trail going left is the continuation of the Lakeside Trail.  We will eventually go both ways, but for now turn left to continue your journey toward the dam.
            After crossing a long wooden bridge over a small feeder stream, you reach another unsigned trail intersection.  The trail going left dead-ends at the shore of Chewalla Lake, so you need to turn right.  At the next fork, angle left to stay on the Lakeside Trail.  Some old, faint white paint blazes mark the trail here, but this trail will need to be remarked within the next few years.
Chewalla Dam
            The trail crosses another feeder stream before climbing gradually up and around a low bluff.  At 1.1 miles, the Lakeside Trail ends at its intersection with gravel Chewalla Dam Road, which at this point is closed to vehicle traffic.  To get to the dam, turn left and descend moderately to reach the west end of the earthen dam.  For the best lake views, hike out to the end of the dam, then turn around and retrace your steps to the Virginia Pine Trail.  Turn sharply left on the Virginia Pine Trail.
            The Virginia Pine Trail parallels one of the lake’s feeder streams until it reaches the powerline that services the campground, at which point it curves right and climbs a hill.  Where the trail forks at 2.8 miles, choose the left fork that passes under the powerline.  The right fork goes directly back to the campground. 
Hiking the Virginia Pine Trail
Some more gradual climbing through a nice grove of loblolly pines brings you to the Virginia Pine Trail’s end at the area entrance road.  If you want to extend your hike, the 1.4 mile Pine Mountain Trail starts just to the left and across the road; it leads to a forest road that leads to a nice lake overlook.  I had a long drive back to South Carolina ahead of me, so I turned right and walked down the area entrance road to the day-use parking lot to complete my hike.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wall Doxey State Park (Blog Hike #627)

Trail: Nature Trail
Hike Location: Wall Doxey State Park
Geographic Location: south of Holly Springs, MS
Length: 2 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: March 2017
Overview: A loop hike around spring-fed Spring Lake.

Directions to the trailhead: Near Holly Springs, take I-22 to SR 7 (exit 30).  Exit and go south on SR 7.  Drive SR 7 south 6 miles to the signed state park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, pay the park entrance fee, and park in the parking lot in front of the Park/Lodge Office.

The hike: Established in 1938 as one of Mississippi’s original Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)-built parks, Wall Doxey State Park protects 750 acres on the main road south of Holly Springs.  The park centers around 60-acre Spring Lake, which as its name suggests receives all of its water from nearby springs.  The park was originally called Spring Lake State Park, but the name was changed in 1956 to honor Wall Doxey, a local politician who served first as a U.S. Representative and then as a U.S. Senator from 1929 until 1943.
            Today Wall Doxey State Park comes across as a park that time has forgotten, which has both positive and negative implications.  On the positive side, the park receives little traffic, and the CCC-built stone buildings give an old-timey charm few places can match.  On the negative side, almost every facility in the park is in some state of disrepair, including the 64-site campground, the group camp, the picnic pavilion and bath house, and the park’s 9 cabins.  The same goes for the park’s only hiking opportunity, the 2 mile Nature Trail encircling Spring Lake that is described here.
Lake view near lodge
            From the parking lot in front of the Park/Lodge Office, walk to the left of the lodge for a fantastic view of Spring Lake, which from here sits about 15 feet below you.  Then turn left and start walking an unmarked dirt path south parallel to the lake on your right.  Next you pass the CCC-built bath house and pass through the picnic pavilion area before leaving the developed part of the park.  All of this time you are heading for the earthen dam that forms Spring Lake.
            At 0.3 miles, you reach said dam, and the trail curves right to cross the dam.  Some bald cypress trees live in Spring Lake’s shallow water, and a swarm of midges greeted me on the warm cloudy morning that I hiked here.  After crossing the dam, the trail curves right to continue its clockwise journey around the lake.
Cypress trees in Spring Lake
            Next the trail enters what appears to be an old primitive camping area or picnic area.  Where other trail options go left, stay right to remain on the trail closest to the lake.  A barely legible sign says “trailhead” at this point, and some old wooden signs also stand in this area.  Some old wooden benches give partially obstructed views of the lake provided you trust the bench to hold your weight.  Spring Lake makes Wall Doxey State Park an above-average birding destination, and I saw a large number of Canada geese and titmice on my hike.
            For the rest of its journey up the isolated west side of Spring Lake the trail rises and falls moderately up and down some lakeside bluffs.  Some wooden steps take you up and over the bluffs, but they also are in poor shape.  Sweet gum and maple trees cover these bluffs, as do some red cedars.
Climbing a bluff
            At 1.2 miles, the Nature Trail descends the last bluff and merges with an old road that enters at a sharp angle from the left.  A few hundred feet later, you reach Spring Lake’s only significant feeder stream, which you cross on a narrow wooden footbridge.  This footbridge seems a little dubious given this park’s general state of disrepair, but it got me across the stream with no problems.
Narrow footbridge
            Now on the east side of the lake, the trail stays on the old road, which features some old stone culverts.  Highway noise from nearby SR 7 filters in from the left.  At 1.75 miles, you reach the park’s cabin area and boat ramp.  Angle left to head up the boat ramp road, then look for the continuation of the Nature Trail that exits right and heads steeply uphill, the steepest hill on this hike.  I passed an armadillo burrowing into the ground in this area.  At the top of the hill, you reach the back of the Park/Lodge Office and the lake view you started with, thus marking the closing of the loop and the end of the hike.