Thursday, September 25, 2014

Edisto Memorial Gardens (Blog Hike #489)

Trail: Boardwalk Trail
Hike Location: Edisto Memorial Gardens
Geographic Location: west side of Orangeburg, SC
Length: 1.1 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: September 2014
Overview: A flat stroll featuring boardwalk along the Edisto River.

Directions to the trailhead: Edisto Memorial Gardens are located four blocks west of downtown Orangeburg at 250 Riverside Drive.  This address is 1 block north of SR 33 or 2 blocks north of US 301.  Park in the small blacktop parking area on the east side of Riverside Drive.

The hike: Owned and operated by the City of Orangeburg, Edisto Memorial Gardens (pronounced ED-diss-toe) consist of 175 acres on the city’s western fringe.  The gardens were first developed in 1920 when Andrew Dibble, Orangeburg’s first Superintendent of Parks, planted 5 acres of azaleas.  Nurseries and greenhouses were added later, and a rose garden was added in 1951.  Today about half of the gardens’ land consists of cultivated gardens, while the other half consists of natural riverside habitat.  The gardens’ big annual event is the Orangeburg Festival of Roses, which is held the weekend before Mother’s Day.
            For hikers, the gardens’ highlight is a 2600-foot boardwalk constructed in 1992 that takes visitors along the west bank of the Edisto River.  Combining the boardwalk with some of the trails through the developed part of the garden makes a short but nice walk.  The figure-eight route described here explores all major points of interest in the garden.
Start of boardwalk
            Start by crossing Riverside Drive and picking up the boardwalk as it passes under a wooden entranceway.  Spanish moss-draped oak and evergreen trees greet you as you walk toward the river on the wooden boardwalk.  The garden’s famous rose garden lies to the left, but there were no roses blooming when I visited in late September.
            After crossing the packed dirt service road, you reach the Edisto River and the Edisto River Waterwheel.  I visited the garden the day after a thunderstorm, and the river’s current was strong enough to propel the waterwheel at a decent speed.  As I observed the waterwheel in operation, I noticed that the designers of this device did not believe in today’s water conservation adage “every drop counts:” as much water was spilling back into the river as was going into the mill trough.
Edisto River Waterwheel
            The boardwalk angles left as several side boardwalks give additional views of the river.  A low wooden berm attached to either side of the boardwalk helps ensure wheelchairs and strollers do not fall off the wood.  Some additional side boardwalks exit left to oxbow lakes, or old river channels that have been cut off from the main channel by erosion.  Bald cypress trees grow abundantly in the wetland.  I saw some common songbirds and a large number of aquatic insects while walking this boardwalk, but the gardens are too close to development to make for good wildlife viewing.
            At 0.4 miles, you reach the Oxbow Interpretive Center, a wooden open-air structure that features exhibits about the oxbow wetlands.  Continuing down the main boardwalk leads to a boat dock area right beside the deep, black water.  As I was strolling the boardwalk, the layer of dirt on the wood kept me thinking that the boardwalk needed some minor repairs and a good scrubbing.  When I reached this area, I met a boy scout from local Troop 245 who was working on such repairs as part of his Eagle Scout project.  Most trails are built and maintained by volunteers, so be sure to stop and thank trail workers any time you see them on the trail.
Walking along the boardwalk
            Continuing past the dock, you quickly reach the end of the boardwalk at a dirt parking area right beside the US 301 bridge over the Edisto River.  You could turn around and retrace your steps back up the boardwalk, but another option is to walk parallel to US 301 and pick up the dirt service road at a green vehicle gate located just past a natural gas pipeline shack.  Walking under the bridge is not advised.
            The two-track service road uses a dike-type structure as it heads north with the oxbow wetland to the left and the cultivated garden to your right.  A short side trail exiting right leads to a picturesque view of two wooden bridges connecting an island in the gardens’ pond to the mainland.  At 0.7 miles, you cross the boardwalk at the pinch of the figure-eight route formed by this hike.
Bridges to island in pond
            The service road comes right up to the river bank to give you one last look at the river.  At 0.9 miles, the service road ends at an intersection with Riverside Drive.  You could turn right and walk back to the parking area along Riverside Drive’s wide shoulder, or you could take a sharper right turn and walk back through a mowed-grass seasonally soggy bald cypress grove.  Either choice will return you to the trailhead to complete the hike.

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