Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hart State Outdoor Recreation Area (Blog Hike #368)

Trail: Big Cricket Trail
Hike Location: Hart State Outdoor Recreation Area
Geographic Location: north side of HartwellGA (34.37633, -82.91272)
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: January 2012
Overview: A figure-eight nature hike featuring a small waterfall and large lake views.
Area Information:
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Hartwell, take US 29 north less than 1 mile to Ridge Road and turn left on Ridge Rd.  Take Ridge Rd. 1.7 miles to Hart State Park Drive; there is a 4-way stop at this intersection.  Turn left on Hart State Park Drive.  Drive 0.3 miles to the state park entrance and continue straight to enter the park, paying the small entrance fee.  Turn left at the first two intersections and park in the signed trailhead parking area on the left.

The hike: Consisting of only 147 acres on the west shore of Lake Hartwell, tiny Hart State Outdoor Recreation Area (known as Hart State Park until September 2011) is best known for its campground and lake access.  The self-registration campground boasts 62 developed sites and 16 tent sites.  The most popular activity at the lake is fishing, though the park also offers a swimming beach and boat ramp.  The park, county, and lake are all named for Nancy Hart, a patriot heroine of the Revolutionary War.
            For hikers, two trails wind through the park’s land.  A short 0.5 mile nature trail (not described in this blog) connects various points of interest in the campground.  The newest trail in the park is the more substantial 1.5 mile Big Cricket Trail described here; it takes hikers on an interesting journey around a small inlet of Lake Hartwell.  The trail passes through the park’s remote southwest corner away from the main campground, so you can expect a fair amount of solitude despite the small size of the park.
            The campground is only open March 15 through September 15, but you can hike here year-round.  If the campground is closed (as it was on my visit), you will need to park by the park office outside the main gate and walk the final few hundred feet to the trailhead.  However you arrive at the trailhead, the trail begins by heading south away from the paved campground road and into the woods. 
Trailhead: Big Cricket Trail
The Big Cricket Trail forms an oblong figure eight with the entrance trail connecting to the bottom of the southern lobe.  The trail is marked by yellow laminated signs with black arrows printed on them.  White interpretive signs help you identify some of the trees and other plants in the forest.  The largest trees in this forest are broadleaf trees such as yellow poplar, maple, and beech.
            The trail swings right and dips through a drainage as houses beyond the park boundary come into view on the left.  At 0.2 miles, you reach the fork that forms the southern of the two lobes.  A laminated arrow directs you to take the more obvious route to the left; the western arm of the lobe going right is hard but not impossible to distinguish from the surrounding woodlands.
Crossing a small footbridge
            At 0.35 miles, the two arms of the lobe come back together as the trail crosses a small drainage on a wooden footbridge.  Rhododendron crowds this drainage.  At just over 0.4 miles, you reach the longest bridge on the trail, a bridge over an inlet of Lake Hartwell.  An observation platform halfway across the bridge allows for views both up the inlet and down toward the lake.  On my visit during a minor drought, the water level in the lake was quite low, but I still saw several ducks navigating the still inlet waters.
Bridge across Lake Hartwell inlet
Lake Hartwell, as seen from bridge
            Immediately after crossing the bridge, a quick detour to the left will lead you to a small cascading waterfall along one of the inlet’s tributaries.  Just past the waterfall, the trail forks to form the main northern loop along the trail.  Again as directed by laminated signs, I turned right here to hike the loop counterclockwise.
Small cascading waterfall
            The trail makes a sweeping left turn as the main channel of Lake Hartwell comes into view on the right.  All of the land comprising Hart State Park is old farmland, and an interpretive sign describes the practice of terracing used to promote good soil and water conservation.  As the name suggests, this practice calls for terracing the land in a stair-step fashion to conserve water and prevent erosion.  Some of the terraces are still visible along the trail today.
            The trail continues to curve left as it climbs gradually away from the lake.  For a short time the trail appears to join an old farm road as more signs of the land’s agricultural past become apparent.  At 1.1 miles, the main loop is closed.  After walking back across the long bridge, you can turn left to follow the western arm of the southern semi-loop.  The western arm stays closer to the campground and therefore is less scenic than the eastern arm, but it does look different than what you saw before.  After the two arms reconnect, a short walk through a wide ravine is all that remains to return to the trailhead and complete the hike.

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