Friday, October 31, 2014

Reed Bingham State Park (Blog Hike #494)

Trails: Upland Loop, Birdwalk, and Little River Trails
Hike Location: Reed Bingham State Park
Geographic Location: west of Adel, GA
Length: 2.2 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: October 2014
Overview: A loop hike through several habitats featuring long boardwalks.

Directions to the trailhead: In southern Georgia, take I-75 to SR 37 (exit 39).  Exit and go west on SR 37.  Drive SR 37 west 5.6 miles to Reed Bingham Road and turn right on Reed Bingham Rd.  Follow the paved road to the park entrance, and then pay the entrance fee.  Just before reaching the park lake, stay on the main park road as it curves sharply right.  Follow the main park road to the cul de sac at its end, which also serves as the trailhead and Nature Nook parking area.

The hike: Consisting of 1613 acres, Reed Bingham State Park fulfills a vision of its namesake Amos Reed Bingham.  As early as the 1930’s Amos Bingham envisioned the creation of a dam on the Little River that would supply electricity to the surrounding rural area.  The river’s flow was deemed insufficient for hydroelectric purposes, but Bingham’s dream persisted.  After 20 years of lobbying, a 71-year-old Bingham finally persuaded local government officials to build a lake and park on this site.  Cook and Colquitt Counties purchased the land and deeded it to the state of Georgia in 1958 to establish the park.
            The park remains rather popular today partly due to its large lake and partly due to its location only 6 miles west of I-75.  A 46-site developed campground and a pioneer campground provide accommodations, and 7 picnic shelters attract social events.  The park also has a paddle-in campground located on an island in the park’s lake.
            For hikers, Reed Bingham State Park boasts 7 miles of hiking trails in two hiking areas that are connected by the 1 mile one-way Yearling Trail.  The northern hiking area has its own trailhead that is not easily accessed from the main park area.  Thus, this hike forms a loop through the southern hiking area, which features easy access, many habitats, some Little River views, and some long boardwalks.
Trailhead beside Nature Nook
            Start the loop at the rear of the cul de sac where a brown road sign bearing the words “Coastal Plain Nature Trails” and a blue carsonite post sit beside the Nature Nook interpretive center.  The trail heads east before curving left to head north through a sparse longleaf pine forest with dense grassy understory.  Many bugs swarmed around my head even in October, so be sure to wear insect repellent when hiking here any time of the year.
Hiking through longleaf pine
            Just past 0.1 miles, the short Turkey Oak Trail exits to the left.  Continue straight at this intersection.  The park map calls this trail the Upland Loop, but some signs on the ground seem to indicate that this is the Little River Trail, which will actually be encountered later.  Regardless of the name, some numbered posts correspond to a trail guide, though the guide dispenser at the trailhead was empty on my visit.
            At 0.3 miles, you reach another trail intersection where the Birdwalk Trail exits right.  Turn right here to leave the Upland Loop and begin the Birdwalk Trail.  Some more potentially confusing signs again falsely indicate that this is the Little River Trail.  Just past this intersection you pass a wooden trail shelter that provides the opportunity to rest if needed.
            The Birdwalk Trail quickly leaves the longleaf pines to enter wetter forest with a large number of Southern magnolia trees and a dense understory of ferns.  A long boardwalk carries you across the wettest of the wet areas.  The Birdwalk Trail turned out to be appropriately named: I saw and heard a large number of songbirds in the dense shrubby understory.
Frog on lilypad
            Just shy of 1 mile, the trail passes beside a small muddy pond with lots of lily pads.  My approach sent several frogs leaping into the water, but one frog chose to remain perched on its lilypad.  Almost immediately after passing the pond, you come to a three-way intersection where the Birdwalk Trail ends.  The Yearling Trail exits right to head for the park’s northern hiking area, but this hike angles left to begin the Little River Trail.  Somewhat surprisingly, the trail signs at this intersection do label the trails accurately.
            The sandy-based nearly flat Little River Trail heads southwest through a dense understory of saw palmetto.  At 1.4 miles, you reach the start of the park’s longest boardwalk.  This boardwalk traverses a wetland featuring dense greenery, but two side boardwalks exit right and lead to views of the Little River.  Up here in the area just above the park lake, the river flows still, broad, and deep.
Little River
            After passing the second river overlook, you quickly reach the south end of the boardwalk, where the trail turns to gravel.  At 1.9 miles, the Little River Trail officially ends at a junction with the Upland Loop.  Angle right to begin the final segment back to the trailhead.
            The Upland Loop climbs very gradually as it reenters the longleaf pine habitat.  Where the Turkey Oak Trail exits left, continue straight on the Upland Loop.  Soon thereafter the trail reaches the trailhead parking area cul de sac at an information board and trail guide dispenser, thus marking the end of the hike.


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