Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pleasant Ridge County Park (Blog Hike #451)

Trail: Leroy Smith Nature Trail
Hike Location: Pleasant Ridge County Park
Geographic Location: north of Travelers Rest, SC (35.08686, -82.47953)
Length: 0.7 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: October 2013
Overview: A short ridgetop and creekside nature trail loop.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: Pleasant Ridge County Park is located on SR 11 2 miles west of US 25 or 2.5 miles east of US 276.  The park entrance is on the north side of the road.  Enter the park and bear right at the first road fork.  Park in the first parking area.

The hike: Originally a state park, pretty Pleasant Ridge County Park has its roots in the ugly days of segregation.  In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, all of the state parks in upstate South Carolina were open only to white people.  When the doctrine of separate-but-equal became the law of the land, the state wanted to keep its parks white-only, so it was forced to establish a separate but equal park for use by black people.  The new “separate but equal” state park is today’s Pleasant Ridge County Park.
            If you visit any of the Upstate’s current state parks (Table Rock, Caesar’s Head, Paris Mountain: just pick one) and then come here, you will immediately realize that this park is not “equal” to any of those parks.  The county park has no unique natural features, but it does have some nice picnic areas, a campground, some cabins, a retreat center, and one short nature trail, the one described here.  The trail is named for Leroy Smith, this park’s superintendent from 1951 through 1979 and the first black state park superintendent in South Carolina.  Although the park receives a decent number of visitors, the trail gets little traffic, perhaps for reasons to be described later.
Nature trail trailhead
            From the rear of the parking area where the park road curves right to enter the campground, walk straight across a mown grassy area.  Two signs mark the beginning and end of the nature trail loop, respectively.  The hiking is slightly easier if you hike the loop counterclockwise, so this description will enter on the right trail and return on the left one.
Climbing on eroded trail
            Immediately the rooty and rutted trail begins climbing through young forest on a moderate grade.  This trail is never too steep, but the high level of trail erosion makes the difficulty higher than you might expect for a short county park nature trail.  The trail curves left at 0.2 miles as it nears the highest point of the hike.  On my late fall hike, I passed a maintenance man using a leaf blower to clear leaves from the trail near this point.  Sweet gum and maple are the largest trees up here, but the forest is pretty young and brushy throughout this hike.
            The descent now begins, at first on a gradual grade and then more steeply.  After a particularly steep and eroded section, you reach an old moonshine still site at 0.4 miles.  This site would be hard to identify but for the interpretive sign marking the spot.
Waterfall in creek beside trail
            Past the old still site, ignore a side trail that exits right and leads uphill to the park’s retreat center.  The loop continues by crossing a small creek on a nice wooden bridge and curving left to follow the creek downstream.  Soon a small waterfall appears in the creek to the left, and an old stone wall appears nearby.  After crossing a wet area, the trail emerges from the woods at the mown grassy area, thus marking the end of the loop.  A short walk across the grass is all that remains to complete the hike.

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