Friday, June 28, 2013

Lake Conestee Nature Park: Forrester Farm and Lakebed Trails (Blog Hike #403)

Trails: Forrester Farm and Lakebed Loop Trails
Hike Location: Lake Conestee Nature Park
Geographic Location: south side of GreenvilleSC (34.77741, -82.35173)
Length: 2.8 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: October 2012
Overview: A barbell-shaped hike with good aquatic wildlife viewing opportunities.
Hike Route Map: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=724210
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: Near Greenville, take I-85 to the Mauldin Road exit (exit 46C).  Exit and go south on Mauldin Road.  Take Mauldin Rd. 2.4 miles to the signed entrance on the right.  Turn right onto the park road.  Pass restored Municipal Stadium on the right and some other baseball fields on the left.  Park in the rear parking lot by the large wooden overhead sign that says, “Lake Conestee Nature Park.”

The hike: Though it appears as a tranquil area of recreation today, the 400 acres comprising Lake Conestee Nature Park have a long industrial history.  The first mill was built here in the 1790’s; the Reedy River provided the power needed to run the mill.  By 1815, the Carruth Armory, a gun factory, was operating on this site.  Next came a paper mill and factory complex in the mid-1800’s.  The current dam that forms Lake Conestee was built in 1892.
By the early 1900’s the Reedy River had become very polluted due to unchecked industrial development.  In 1925, Conestee Mills filed a lawsuit to stop the pollution, a lawsuit that would pave the way for further environmental protection for this and other areas.  Over the following years the lake began to fill in with sediment washed downstream from various construction projects between here and downtown Greenville, including the construction of I-85.  Thus far nearly 90% of the original lake has filled in, and part of this hike passes over the fill. 
In 2000, the Conestee Foundation was formed to preserve what remains of the lake.  The foundation has created Lake Conestee Nature Park by purchasing 4 parcels of land surrounding the lake with additional purchases planned for the future.  The park’s fine trail system comprises one of the best trail systems in the Greenville County park district.  The hike described here forms a barbell-shaped route that explores the trails on and east of the fill.  Although this is a small park, there is much to see on this hike.           
Trailhead at Lake Conestee
            Begin by walking under the large wooden overhead Lake Conestee Nature Park sign and picking up the single-track dirt entrance trail.  The trail heads slightly downhill to reach a bench overlooking the Reedy River and an adjacent intersection with the Forrester Farm Trail, which goes left and right.  This hike will eventually go both directions, but for now turn right.
            The trail parallels the river upstream through the mixed Piedmont forest, which contains more broadleaf trees than pines.  At 0.2 miles, you reach a boardwalk that carries the trail across a low area beside the river.  The soil under the boardwalk was dry when I hiked this trail in mid fall, but it probably becomes wet other times of the year.
Boardwalk of Forrester Farm Trail
            At the north end of the boardwalk, the Forrester Farm Trail climbs gradually to its end at a wide gravel entrance trail.  Turning right on the gravel trail would quickly lead to a secondary trailhead, so you should turn left and cross the clay-bottomed Reedy River on a high and wide iron/wood footbridge.  Upon reaching the west side of the river you begin the Lakebed Loop, which is marked with blue paint blazes.  Turn right at the first two opportunities to hike the loop counterclockwise.
Reedy River, as seen from trail bridge
            0.5 miles into the hike, a short spur trail exits right and leads to the bank of Reedy River.  From this vantage point you can see the calm, shallow, still river and the sediment that continues to build in the bottom of the river.  Back on the main Lakebed Loop, the trail curves left away from the river and enters some young pine forest as it ascends gradually.
            At 0.6 miles, the wide trail abruptly comes to a metal sign that says “Trail Closed Do Not Enter.”  The Lakebed Loop turns left here to begin following a narrower path and arrive at the old west shore of Lake Conestee at 0.7 miles.  You may not recognize Lake Conestee at this point: the channel is only a few yards wide, the water is only a few inches deep, and plants such as grasses and lotus cover most of the water surface.  60 years ago this point marked the edge of the open water, so the effect of the sedimentation is quite apparent.  The lotus put on a nice flower show in late summer, so this area is not without beauty in spite of the sedimentation.
Sedimented-in channel of Lake Conestee
            At the edge of the channel, where the yellow-blazed Henderson Farm Trail exits right, the Lakebed Loop turns left to cross the channel on a boardwalk.  After crossing the boardwalk, you reach an area of slightly higher ground called Taylor Island.  At the next intersection a trail continues straight to shortcut the loop.  Turn right to hike the full Lakebed Loop.
            The trail descends slightly to enter a wetter area that comprises the heart of the sediment-filled lake bed.  Some two-plank-wide boardwalk takes you over the worst of the wet areas, but some other wet areas will need to be stepped around or over.  Because this area was underwater only a few decades ago, only younger trees grow here.
Narrow boardwalk on Lakebed Loop
            Near 1 mile into the hike, a wider boardwalk spur trail exits right to quickly arrive at an overlook that provides an excellent view of Lake Conestee.  The lake is wider here than when you crossed it on the boardwalk, but the effects of sedimentation still permeate the view.  An interpretive sign tells you that where you stand now was the middle of the lake 60 years ago, and the river’s main channel has shifted from near this spot to its present location 500 feet to the east.  Given the shallow water, large quantity of grass, and even a few young trees, the waterway here still looks more like a marsh than a lake.
Shallow lake at overlook
            Back on the main trail, the trail passes some more wet areas as it curves to the left, soon reaching the current river channel.  The trail parallels the river as it heads upstream to close the Lakebed Loop at the west end of the high iron/wood bridge over Reedy River.  Turn right to retrace your steps cross the bridge, then turn right again to retrace your steps along the Forrester Farm Trail.  Where the trail you entered on exits to the left, continue straight to explore the entire Forrester Farm Trail.
            The Forrester Farm Trail curves left as it assumes a level course through young forest with dense understory.  The river has now disappeared out of sight to the right.  Near 2 miles into the hike, the trail splits to form its small southern loop.  Angle right to hike the loop counterclockwise.
            About 400 feet later, you arrive at the southern-most overlook of Lake Conestee.  The water here is much deeper and wider than what you saw at previous overlooks, although some algae still grows in the shallower water near the shore.  This overlook offers some of the best wildlife viewing on this hike.  On my visit a blue heron was wading in the shallow water, and several turtles were sunning on logs.  Take a few minutes here to see what you can see.
Blue heron at final Lake Conestee overlook
            Continuing around the loop, the trail climbs slightly to pass through the edge of a picnic area before reentering the forest, now heading west.  Some baseball fields are located uphill to the right here.  At 2.3 miles, you close the short loop.  Retrace your steps along the Forrester Farm Trail to the bench at the spur trail to our trailhead, then turn right to walk gradually uphill to the parking area, thus completing the hike.

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