Sunday, February 5, 2017

Lake Wateree State Park (Blog Hike #618)

Trail: Desportes Nature Trail
Hike Location: Lake Wateree State Park
Geographic Location: east of Winnsboro, SC
Length: 1.6 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: January 2017
Overview: A short campground lollipop loop around a peninsula in Lake Wateree.

Directions to the trailhead: North of Columbia, take I-77 to Old River Road (exit 41).  Exit and go east on Old River Rd.  Drive Old River Rd. east 2.6 miles to its end at US 21.  Take a soft left on US 21.  Drive US 21 north 2.1 miles to River Road and turn right on River Rd.  Drive River Rd. 5.1 miles to the signed park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, pay the park entrance fee, and drive past the campground to the park office.  Park near the signed trailhead, which is located on the southeast end of the large parking lot to the right of the park office.

The hike: Created when the Wateree River was dammed for hydroelectric power in 1919, Lake Wateree is one of the oldest manmade lakes in South Carolina.  The river and lake are named for the Wateree Indians, a now defunct tribe that lived here in the 1700’s.  The Wateree Hydro Station located some 15 miles southeast of the park is operated by Duke Energy; it generates 56 megawatts of electricity.
            Established via a land acquisition in 1982, Lake Wateree State Park is quite young relative to its namesake lake.  The diminutive 238 acre park features a 72 site campground, a playground, a swimming area, a 2-lane boat ramp, and the short Desportes Nature Trail described here.  Although I came here on a day trip, the Desportes Nature Trail is probably best viewed as a campground nature trail due to its short length and lack of any unique natural or historic features.  What this trail does offer is a short, flat hike through some nice lakeside woods.
Trailhead near park office
            From the signed trailhead at the southeast end of the main parking lot, the dirt nature trail heads southwest into the woods.  At only 0.1 miles, you reach an unsigned T-intersection with trails going right and left.  The option going right leads to another trailhead near the campground, so you want to turn left to head for the nature trail’s main loop.  A scout-constructed bench and garbage can sit here.  Make sure you remember this turn on your way out or else you may end up at the campground.
Hiking on the old road
            The trail heads south on what appears to be an old road as it crosses an isthmus with Lake Wateree on either side.  In spite of the fact that the lake is all around you, the trail never goes all of the way to the lakeshore.  I kept watching for wildlife near the lake, but all I saw were some common songbirds on my chilly mid-afternoon hike.
            Just past 0.3 miles, the trail angles right to leave the old road.  A white metal diamond with a black arrow marks this turn, which could be missed if you are not paying attention. The tallest trees in the park’s forest are loblolly pines, and they leave a soft cushion of pine needles under foot.  A few red cedars and some sweetgums also make an appearance.
            A swamp forest that had standing water on my visit appears on the left as you approach the southern tip of this peninsula.  At 0.5 miles, the trail splits to form its loop.  A double-sided white arrow painted on a tree marks this junction.  For no reason, I chose to turn left and hike the loop clockwise.
Lake Wateree
            The trail loosely traces the perimeter of the peninsula but always stays at least 10 feet from the lakeshore.  Look for stray items that have washed up from the lake including what appears to be an old wooden trail bridge.  A marshy area appears to the left just before you close the loop at 1.1 miles.  Retrace your steps to the parking lot to complete the hike, making sure not to forget to turn right at the garbage can and bench.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Frank Jackson State Park (Blog Hike #617)

Trails: Honeysuckle, Azalea, Dogwood, and Magnolia Trails
Hike Location: Frank Jackson State Park
Geographic Location: west of Opp, AL
Length: 2 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: January 2017
Overview: An interesting figure-eight route that includes two boardwalks and an island in W.F. Jackson Lake.

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Opp, drive Main Street north 0.6 miles to Jeffcoat Avenue.  Turn left on Jeffcoat Ave., which turns into Opine Road after you leave town.  Drive a total of 1.1 miles from Main St. to the park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, and pay the park entrance fee at the gatehouse.  Immediately after passing the gatehouse, turn right to head for the swimming parking area.  Park in the swimming parking area, which is the lot on the left as you approach the lake.  A playground and picnic shelter are also located here.

The hike: Consisting of 2050 acres in south-central Alabama, Frank Jackson State Park is centered around Lake Jackson, a 1037 acre impoundment of Lightwood Knot Creek.  The park opened as Lightwood Knot Creek State Park in 1970, but in the 1980’s it was renamed for Walter Frank Jackson, this area’s long-serving member of the Alabama House of Representatives who was instrumental in establishing the park.  The park is a major fishing destination due to the lake’s bass, bream, crappie, and catfish, and it hosts fishing tournaments regularly.  A 32-site campground, swimming area, playground area, boat ramp, and 3 camper cabins round out the park’s amenities.
            For hikers, the park offers 4 short trails that total about 3 miles.  The trails vary from lakeside to upland forest environments, and this park makes a nice add-on if you are hiking at the much larger Conecuh National Forest 20 miles to the southwest.  The route described here uses parts of all 4 trails and forms a figure-eight double loop with the trailhead at the pinch.
Start of Honeysuckle Trail
            Perhaps the park’s best trail is the Honeysuckle Trail, which forms a 0.7 mile loop around an island in Jackson Lake and the northern lobe of our figure-eight route.  To start with the Honeysuckle Trail, walk downhill toward the lake and angle right to cross a wooden footbridge, the only dry-foot access to this island.  An information kiosk on the mainland side of the bridge tells you that this is the G. Cleve Pierce Memorial Footbridge, and a small green sign announces this route as the Honeysuckle Trail.  An angler was trying his luck from this bridge when I crossed it.
            Upon reaching the island, ignore a trail that continues straight beside another information kiosk and turn right to begin a counterclockwise journey around the perimeter of the island, passing through a small picnic area en route.  The largest trees on this island are pines, but some yaupon lives in the wetter areas.  At 0.45 miles, you reach a grassy area on the southwestern tip of the island.  Some benches offer nice views of the lake, which was very calm when I hiked here about an hour before sunset.
W. Frank Jackson Lake
            Angle left to leave the grassy area and walk along the south side of the island.  A couple of new wooden bridges carry you over wet areas.  At 0.65 miles, you close the island loop when you return to the long footbridge over the lake.  Turn right to cross back to the mainland and complete the north lobe of the figure-eight.
            If you only wanted to hike around the island, the parking lot that contains your car sits just uphill.  To explore some of the park’s other trails, turn right and walk along the lake shore to pick up the Azalea Trail, which enters the woods behind the playground equipment.  Some interpretive signs describe birds commonly seen near the lake including bald eagles, herons, and hawks.
Seth Hammett Walkway
            At 0.9 miles, you reach the east end of the Seth Hammett Walkway, another long footbridge that crosses an inlet of Jackson Lake.  Turn right to walk across the walkway.  Looking to the right will yield a nice view of the island you just walked around.  After crossing the walkway, you come to an unsigned trail intersection with the Dogwood Trail.  The option going right leads only to the campground, so unless you are camping here you should turn left to head away from the lake.  A wetland appears downhill to the left as the trail passes under some power lines.
            1.1 miles into the hike, you reach the park entrance road you drove in on.  To continue this hike, angle left and use the road’s bridge to cross a small unnamed creek, then look for the unsigned Magnolia Trail on the right.  Turn right to leave the road before turning left to begin a short climb on the gravel Magnolia Trail.  The forest here features a dense understory of honeysuckle.
Starting the Magnolia Trail
            After passing back under the power lines, the camper cabins come into view as you top the hill.  Instead of going directly back to the parking area, the trail curves right to make a final loop through the woods east of the camper cabins.  A gradual descent delivers you to the lake shore, where a sharp left turn brings you on a westward course.  Soon a picnic shelter comes into view, which signals the end of the Magnolia Trail.  Walk around the picnic shelter and across the boat ramp parking lot to return to the swimming parking lot and complete the hike.