Friday, August 22, 2014

Andrew Jackson State Park: Garden of the Waxhaws Trail (Blog Hike #484)

Trail: Garden of the Waxhaws Trail
Hike Location: Andrew Jackson State Park
Geographic Location: north of Lancaster, SC
Length: 1 mile
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2014
Overview: A short nature trail around the park’s fishing lake.

Directions to the trailhead: Near the North Carolina state line, take I-77 to US 21 (exit 77).  Exit and go south on US 21.  Drive US 21 4.3 miles to SR 5.  Exit and turn right (east) on SR 5.  Drive SR 5 east 8 miles to US 521.  Turn left on US 521.  The state park entrance is 0.5 miles ahead on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, pay the small entrance fee, then turn left twice to reach the gravel lake parking area where this trail begins.

The hike: Located less than 1 hour south of Charlotte, Andrew Jackson State Park marks the birthplace of America’s seventh President.  A museum on site preserves and honors the heritage of President Jackson.  Boy of the Waxhaws, a famous statue of a young Andrew Jackson riding a horse and gazing off to the west, pondering our country’s future, does the same.  The May 29, 1780 Revolutionary War Battle of Waxhaws, a major victory for the British, also occurred near this site.  The park was founded as a Lancaster County park; it was donated to the state in 1953.
            But for a wider scope of amenities, this park would be a top-tier destination for outdoor enthusiasts in the Charlotte area.  As is, the park offers only a small 25-site campground, two picnic shelters, a small fishing lake, and two short hiking trails.  I actually like this park the way it is, small and quiet.  I hiked both of the hiking trails in one visit that lasted about 2 hours.  The Garden of the Waxhaws Trail around the fishing lake is featured here, while the park’s other trail, the Crawford Trail, is featured in the next hike.
Trailhead: Garden of the Waxhaws Trail
            Start at the rear of the gravel parking area where an interpretive sign that says “Garden of the Waxhaws” marks the trailhead.  Follow the dirt trail into the woods to begin a counterclockwise journey around the park’s fishing lake, which shimmers to your left.  Quickly you pass a bench just before a spur trail to the park’s playground exits right.  A couple of spots give nice views of the lake and an island in its midst.
Park fishing lake
            Just over 0.1 miles into the hike, you cross an open grassy area on the fringe of the campground, which lies to the right.  A sign warns you to keep out of the campground, but its poor placement might accidentally divert you from the trail.  Strangely, I often found myself hiking against the signs and arrows that mark this trail even though I never deviated from the trail.  In fact, I hiked the loop in the direction recommended by the park brochure.
            Past the clearing beside the campground, the trail briefly turns to mulch and heads back into the woods.  Some interpretive signs help you identify trees in the forest, the most common of which are maple, oak, and tulip poplar.  At 0.4 miles, you reach the east end of a fairly long wooden boardwalk.  This boardwalk takes you over the wetlands formed by the lake’s main water source.  I saw numerous dragonflys up here, and several small toads hopped off of the trail as I approached.
Crossing the boardwalk
            At the west end of the boardwalk, the trail turns left to head down the west shore of the fishing lake.  This side has more up and down than the east side, but the going is still pretty easy.  Some wooden waterbars take you over the steepest areas, and some more benches overlook nice lake views.
            At 0.9 miles, you pass what appear to be the supports of an old fishing pier just before reaching the west side of the dam that forms the lake.  Here the trail surface turns to mowed grass as you begin the hot, sunny walk across the dam.  You pass a few of the park’s canoes along the shore as you approach the gravel parking area, thus signaling the end of the hike.

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