Thursday, December 26, 2013

Barnwell State Park (Blog Hike #454)

Trail: Nature Trail
Hike Location: Barnwell State Park
Geographic Location: northeast of Barnwell, SC
Length: 1.3 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: December 2013
Overview: A short loop around the park’s lake with numerous boardwalks.

Directions to the trailhead: From Barnwell, drive SR 3 north 7 miles to the park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park.  Bear right at the first intersection and park in the medium sized parking lot in front of the park office.

The hike: Established in 1937, 307-acre Barnwell State Park is one of the 16 South Carolina State Parks that were built by the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  Several of the CCC’s constructions are still in use today, including two picnic shelters and the unusual tiered spillway at the dam that creates the park’s main lake.  Whether you love or hate the CCC, they built things to last.
            Barnwell State Park contains only one hiking trail, a short 1.3 mile nature trail that circumnavigates the park’s main lake.  The trail is not blazed, but it is wide and easy to follow.  While probably not a hiking destination by itself, this park makes a nice add-on to the end of your hiking day.  I came here under exactly those circumstances, squeezing this hike into the last daylight hour of a mild winter day.  Thus, my tour around this lake was quick but pleasant nonetheless.
Start of Nature Trail
            Start by walking to the right of the park office and heading through a gap in a short wooden fence.  This hike circumnavigates the lake counterclockwise, so the lake will be to your left the entire time.  The largest trees in the lakeside forest are loblolly pines, but some live oak and other deciduous trees live in the dense, green understory.
            At 0.1 miles, you pass behind the park’s meeting house where a grassy area gives a fabulous view across the lake.  The long late evening shadows that stretched over the tranquil lake made a perfect picture on my visit.  Back in the forest, some wooden boardwalks take you over some wet areas.
Looking across park lake
            0.3 miles from the trailhead, you reach a small pond that does not appear on the park map.  You could short-cut the loop by turning left and walking across the dam that forms this pond, but the official trail stays to the right to pass a small pondside picnic area.  After another short stint in the forest, you reach a dirt park maintenance road where you should turn left to cross a larger dam.  On the south side of the dam, turn left again to begin the journey down the south side of the lake.
            The trail meanders left and right but never strays more than 30 feet from the lake shore.  Some red interpretive plaques help you identify some of the trees in the lakeside forest.  At 0.7 miles, a picnic shelter appears uphill to the right as a pier extends out into the lake to the left.  My quick journey out the pier allowed me to see a trio of geese in the shallow water near the lake shore.  Note that the ground near the pier can be muddy even if the rest of the trail is dry.
Boardwalk across wet area
            Past the pier, the trail crosses another long wooden boardwalk, and at 1.1 miles you reach the dam that forms the main park lake.  You can walk out the earthen dam to view the spillway and the lake, but the trail does not cross the dam.  Instead, the trail joins the paved park road and curves left to cross the lake’s outlet creek on the park road bridge.  The turn onto the park road is not marked, nor is it clear on the park map, so pay attention at this point in the hike.
Starting final segment of trail
            Immediately after crossing the park road bridge, the trail turns left to leave the park road and begin the final segment back to the park office.  This segment consists of another boardwalk and some stone steps that give a good view of the unusual spillway.  The steps end behind the park office, thus closing the loop and completing the hike.

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