Sunday, September 29, 2013

Chester State Park (Blog Hike #444)

Trail: Caney Fork Creek Nature Trail
Hike Location: Chester State Park
Geographic Location: southwest of Chester, SC
Length: 2.6 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: September 2013
Overview: A mostly flat out-and-back along the north shore of Park Lake.

Directions to the trailhead: From the junction of SR 72 and US 321 southwest of Chester, drive SR 72 west 1.5 miles to the signed park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park.  Bear left to pass the entrance house, paying the small entrance fee, and stay on the main road to arrive at the grassy ballfield where it forks to form a circle.  Angle right to head counterclockwise around the circle, and look for a small red sign that says “nature trail and boathouse” with an arrow that points right down a gravel road.  Turn right down this gravel road, and park in the small gravel parking lot near the boathouse.  There is room for 5-7 cars down here.

The hike: The tall, stately pines that line the park entrance road give away this land’s long history as parkland.  Purchased from the Lake View Corporation in 1935, the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) did the hard work to turn this land into the park we see today. Chester is a small town, but the park’s central location halfway between Columbia and Charlotte make this park a popular location for reunions and gatherings.
            Though only 523 acres in size, the park has a wealth of recreation opportunities.  The park’s 160-acre lake and adjacent boat house provide good fishing and boating.  Chester State Park also boasts a meeting facility, a 25-site year-round campground, and a 27 hole disc golf course.  For hikers, the Caney Fork Creek Nature Trail is the park’s only trail, but it provides a pleasant, easy lakeside walk between the boat house and the dam.
Concrete steps at trailhead
            The trail starts by climbing 6 concrete stairs with a wooden handrail at the far end of the boat house.  For the entire outbound distance the park lake remains on the left, often in view.  At 0.1 miles, the trail descends 8 stone steps without a handrail.  These stone steps are probably the work of the CCC.
            After treading around the first of three inlets, you reach a picnic area at 0.25 miles.  The first half of this trail passes through the park’s developed area, so the sounds of activity will be nearby in season.  A clearing just downhill from the picnic shelter gives a nice view across the tranquil lake.
Wide grassy trail
            The trail reenters the forest on a grassy track and treads around the second inlet to skirt the park’s campground at 0.6 miles.  A creaky wooden pier provides more nice lake views down the length of the lake. Past the campground, the trail leaves the developed area of the park, allowing more quiet and solitude to be had.
Tranquil Park Lake
            After passing around the last inlet, the trail moves slightly away from the lake and assumes an elevation about 8 feet above lake level.  Pine needles offer a cushy trail surface here.  At 1.3 miles, you come out at the spillway for the dam that forms Park Lake.  Stained black by years of lake overflow, the concrete and stone spillway makes an interesting if man-made destination for this trail.  The trail ends at the spillway, and there are no other trails in the park, so the only option is to backtrack to the boat house to complete the hike.
Spillway at dam

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