Saturday, November 29, 2014

Cedar Falls Park (Blog Hike #497)

Trail: (unnamed)
Hike Location: Cedar Falls Park
Geographic Location: southwest of Fountain Inn, SC
Length: 1.9 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: November 2014
Overview: A woodland loop to a wide river waterfall and historic site.

Directions to the trailhead: South of Greenville, take I-385 to SR 418 (exit 23).  Exit and go west on SR 418.  Drive SR 418 west 6.4 miles to Fork Shoals Road; there is a traffic light at this intersection.  Turn left on Fork Shoals Rd.  Drive Fork Shoals Rd. 1.8 miles to McKelvey Rd. and turn slightly right on McKelvey Rd.  Drive McKelvey Rd. 0.3 miles to Cedar Falls Road and turn left on Cedar Falls Road.  The signed park entrance is 0.6 miles ahead on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, and park in any of the parking lots near the entrance.

The hike: Tucked away in rural southern Greenville County on the west bank of the Reedy River, the land that comprises today’s 95-acre Cedar Falls Park has an extensive human history.  Long before any permanent structures were built, the Cherokee used this site as a hunting camp.  They were drawn to this site because the rocks in the river’s cascade made an ideal river ford.  The Cherokee’s hunting/trading path formed the spine of the first road through the area.
            In the 1820’s a man named Shubal Arnold built a small dam, several mills, and a general store on the park side of the river, causing the shoals to become a hub of activity.  The dam and foundations of the mills can still be seen today.  By the late 1800’s small operations such as Arnold’s became obsolete, but the power of falling water did not.  In 1910, a large concrete hydroelectric dam was built across the river’s entire width.  The stone and concrete columns you see beside the river today supported a pipe that carried water to the power generating plant, the pier of which also remains today.
            By the 1940’s local residents began buying their power from Duke Energy, and in 1950 the power generating plant was demolished.  The land later became the property of Greenville County, and thanks to funding from an oil pipeline spill fund and the federal government, Cedar Falls Park opened in 2011.  The park preserves the old industrial area, the river cascade, and adjacent mature oak/maple forest.  A secondary parking area just south of the main parking area gives direct access to the historic site, but the route described here takes you there the scenic way via a nice forest and riverside hike.  I had an excellent short hike here, and I found the park to be a new hidden gem in the Upstate.
Bench "marking" trailhead
            Start at the restroom building, the front of which contains a large trail map.  The park’s trails are neither marked nor signed, so you may want to take a cell phone picture of the trail map for use while you are on the trail.  Next, walk north beside the parking area and the play area, then continue across the mown grass to where the trail enters the woods.  This trailhead is unsigned, but a bench near the trailhead is easy to locate.
            The trail dips through a shallow ravine and crosses the small creek on a wooden bridge.  Cedar Falls Road lies just to the left of this initial segment of trail.  After crossing the creek, the trail climbs slightly and curves right to reach a trail intersection at 0.1 miles.  The trail continuing straight leads to the other side of this loop, so this description will turn left to hike the full loop.
Hiking around a ravine
            The trail passes a low knob on the right before coming to the brink of a shallow ravine.  An unofficial trail goes right, but the official route goes left to tread around the rim of the ravine.  The next of many benches lies just ahead on the left.  Truth be told, the benches are so numerous they almost serve as blazes.  If you are not sure which way to go, walking toward a bench will take you the right way more often than not.
            After treading around the shallow ravine, the trail descends gradually to reach a T-intersection at 0.3 miles.  During the leafless months the river comes into view for the first time here.  As hinted by another bench, you need to turn right to continue the loop.  Note that turning left would lead to a power line clearing that marks the park’s northern boundary.
            The next segment of trail roughly parallels the river, which can be seen sporadically through the trees to your left.  The short-cut trail exits uphill to the right, and another small stream is crossed on a wooden bridge.  At 0.6 miles, you reach a major trail intersection that presents two options: right and left.  The option going right heads back to the parking area, so you should turn left to stay near the river and head for the cascade.
Reedy River
            The trail follows what appears to be an old road through a shrubby area near the river.  0.8 miles into the hike, a bench to the left offers a nice view of the tranquil river. The trail next climbs briefly to cross a bluff, the base of which lies in the river.  A thick layer of leaves covers this part of the trail in the fall.
            Another brief section along the river abruptly ends when, 1.1 miles into the hike, the trail turns to asphalt and climbs uphill to the right.  The asphalt trail that soon exits right is called the Forest Trail; it will be our final segment back to the main parking area.  Before going that way, continue straight to visit the historic area.
1910 hydroelectric dam
            As you descend gently into the historic area, you first pass the 1910 power generating dam.  Then you pass what remains of the 1820’s dam and mill site.  Finally you reach the old power generating station site, which contains some interpretive signs to help you understand the area’s history.  The grassy generator site also gives a nice view of the rocky river cascades and the surrounding bluffs.
Cascade on Reedy River

Pier for old generating plant
            The trail ends at the secondary parking area for the historic site, so after exploring the site you need to reverse course and head back uphill on the asphalt trail.  Where the asphalt trail splits, take the left fork to head back toward the main parking area.  The trail climbs gradually with the bluffs leading to the river dropping steeply to the right.  Soon the trail curves left and enters the grassy area beside the main parking lot, the end of the hike.

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