Friday, June 28, 2013

Hickory Knob State Park: Turkey Ridge Trail (Blog Hike #398)

Trail: Turkey Ridge Loop
Hike Location: Hickory Knob State Resort Park
Geographic Location: west of McCormickSC
Length: 1.7 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: October 2012
Overview: A quiet forest hike on winding, well-graded trail.

Directions to the trailhead: From McCormick, drive west on US 378 5.8 miles to CR 7 and turn right on CR 7.  Take CR 7 1.6 miles to the signed state park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, then drive 1.3 miles to the barn-like Long Cane Center the left.  Turn left and park in the Long Cane Center's parking area.

The hike: Visitors who drive the 14 miles of US 378 between McCormick, SC and Lincolnton, GA pass three state parks: Baker Creek and Hickory Knob in South Carolina and Elijah Clarke in Georgia.  All three parks make fine destinations and offer access to Lake Thurmond, but the recreation opportunities at Hickory Knob State Park far exceed those at the other two area parks.  Indeed, the facilities at Hickory Knob include a fine 18-hole golf course, 2 large meeting halls, the historic Guillebeau House, a 76-room lodge, a restaurant, a 44-site campground on Lake Thurmond, 18 cabins, an archery range, and a skeet-shooting range.  Thus, if you are going to visit only one of the three parks between McCormick and Lincolnton, make it Hickory Knob.
            For hikers, Hickory Knob State Park also has the area’s best selection of hiking trails, as 3 trails totaling 11.3 miles wind through the park’s backwoods.  All 3 trails make for fine hikes, but I was somewhat pressed for time on my first visit to Hickory Knob.  Thus, I chose to hike the 1.7 mile Turkey Ridge Loop, the shortest of the park’s 3 trails.  I hope to come back in the near future and hike the other two.
            The information board you see just east of the Long Cane Center is the trailhead for the 7 mile Lake View Loop, but you can start there and head downhill on the center’s access road to meet the main park road.  The Turkey Ridge Loop enters the forest on the opposite side of the park road at a wooden fence construction and a brown carsonite post.  The Turkey Ridge Loop is marked with plentiful yellow paint blazes for its entire distance.  This trail is also open to mountain bikers, but I did not encounter any other trail users on my Friday afternoon hike.
Trailhead-Turkey Ridge Loop
            An astute observer will immediately notice that this forest is not healthy: the ground is littered with logs from dead pine trees.  A closer inspection reveals that the logs are riddled with holes as if made by a hand drill, the telltale calling card of the southern pine beetle.  The southern pine beetle has been attacking the region’s pine trees for over a decade, but they have become especially voracious the past couple of years, attacking and killing pine trees already weakened by the drought.  The worst of the downed trees will need to be navigated near the trailhead, but I noticed more signs of the beetles’ activity as I proceeded around this loop.
Downed pine trees over trail
            The trail uses two switchbacks to drop to a tiny seasonal stream where it forks to form the loop.  This description will angle left here to hike the loop clockwise and use the right trail leading across the stream as a return route.  The trail descends slightly as the park road comes into view just to the left.  The golf course sits just across this road, and the only voices I heard on the trail during my hike came from golfers talking about their putts.
            At 0.6 miles, the trail reaches its lowest elevation as it curves right and begins a gradual climb.  Throughout this hike the trail alternates between shady broadleaf forest and sunny, grassy areas with a sparse canopy.  Many of the sunny areas used to be populated with pine forest before the pine beetle arrived.  Small trees are repopulating these areas, but the process takes time.  Elsewhere on this loop I saw up-standing pine trees with brown needles, holes throughout their trunks, and dust-like wood shavings around their base, very recent victims of the pine beetles.
Sunny section of trail
            Past the 1-mile marker (a metal diamond nailed to a healthy pine tree), the trail curves right again as the park road comes into view to the left.  1.2 miles into the hike, you will pass through the nicest broadleaf forest on the trail.  Only a swarm on gnats provided annoyance to me here.
Mature broadleaf forest
            The trail soon begins descending as it reenters the grassy beetle-damaged forest.  Double yellow blazes mark a sweeping left turn just before the trail crosses a pair of tiny seasonal streams, both of which can be navigated with a single leap.  At 1.6 miles, you close the loop.  Continuing straight and retracing your steps 0.1 miles gradually uphill and over the downed trees will return you to the trailhead to complete the hike.

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