Monday, July 1, 2013

Richard B. Russell State Park: Cottage/Beech Loop (Blog Hike #420)

Trails: Cottage/Beach, Cottage Loop, Campground Spur, and Campground/Picnic Trails
Hike Location: Richard B. Russell State Park
Geographic Location: northeast of Elberton, GA
Length: 3.9 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: May 2013
Overview: A front-country figure-eight hike with views of Lake Russell.

Directions to the trailhead: From Elberton, take SR 77 north.  On the north side of Elberton, turn right on Ruckersville Road, SR 77C.  Take Ruckersville Rd. 7.9 miles to the park entrance, and turn right to enter the park.  Pass the park office and continue along the main park road.  Where the golf course road angles left, curve right to head for the picnic parking area.  The hike starts beside the picnic area restroom building overlooking the lake.

The hike: For my general introduction to Richard B. Russell State Park, see the Blackwell Bridge Trail blog entry.  The hike described here uses some of the park’s newest trails to make a figure-eight route through the park’s developed areas.  Although this hike does not feature any historic or scenic sites, the woods are nice enough to make it worthwhile.
Concrete walkway at trailhead
            Getting started on this hike is a bit tricky.  Start by walking down the concrete walkway with metal handrails.  At the first opportunity, turn left and walk on another paved path through the picnic area.  When this path splits, angle left and head uphill to the beach parking area.  Walk diagonally through the beach parking area to reach the trailhead for the Cottage/Beach Trail and the Blackwell Bridge Trail.  You could easily add the interesting Blackwell Bridge Trail (described elsewhere in this blog) to increase the length of your hike by 1.6 miles, but this hike will stay on the main loop by taking the Cottage/Beach Trail, which leaves to the left.           
Richard B. Russell Lake
            The wide compacted gravel Cottage/Beach Trail rises gradually with the beach access road just through the trees on your left.  A few interpretive signs tell of the plants in this Piedmont forest, which is dominated by loblolly pines, maple, oak, and sweetgum.  At 0.6 miles, you cross the golf course access road as the trail makes a wide sweeping left turn to begin heading west parallel to the main park road.           
Bridge over small stream
            1.2 miles into the hike, the trail dips through a steep ravine and crosses a small stream on a nice steel and wood bridge.  At 1.4 miles, you reach a major trail intersection that forms the pinch in this hike’s figure-eight route.  We will pass through this intersection again in just under an hour, but for now continue straight on a gravel path marked “Cottages.”  The park trail map calls this trail the Cottage Loop, but it is unmarked on the ground.
            The trail descends gradually as it curves to the right with the cottage area road through the trees on your left.  The going is very easy, but take your time through here: this is the nicest forest in the park.  At 1.8 miles, the spur trail to the cottage area exits left where the trail turns sharply right.
            Now back near lake level, the trail curves around an inlet, rises to top a small bluff, then descends to lake level again.  Partially obstructed views of the lake appear through the trees to the left, but no clear views emerge.  Soon the trail ascends from the lake on a gradual to moderate grade and joins an old road.           
Major intersection at pinch of figure-eight
            At 2.9 miles, you arrive back at the major trail intersection to complete the northern lobe of the figure-eight.  Continue straight to begin heading counterclockwise around the southern lobe.  The park trail map calls this trail the Campground Spur, but it looks identical to the trail you have traveled thus far.
            In quick order the trail crosses the main park road, passes through a small man-made clearing, and crosses the campground access road, gradually descending as it goes.  At 3.4 miles, the Campground Spur ends at the campground.  To begin the final leg back to the picnic area, angle left and look for the wooden portal that marks the beginning of the Campground/Picnic Trail.           
Portal for Campground/Picnic Trail

            With its dirt surface and narrow width, the Campground/Picnic Trail is by far the most primitive trail used on this hike.  The trail descends steeply but only for a short time to cross a small wet area without the aid of a bridge.  With lake in view to the right, the trail climbs gradually to emerge at the picnic area.  A brief walk through the picnic area on paved trail will return you to your car and complete the hike.

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