Saturday, December 13, 2014

Harbison State Forest: Stewardship Trail (Blog Hike #498)

Trail: Stewardship Trail
Hike Location: Harbison State Forest
Geographic Location: northeast of Irmo, SC
Length: 3.6 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: December 2014
Overview: A woodland interpretive loop with Broad River views.

Directions to the trailhead: On the northwest side of Columbia, take I-26 to Harbison Rd. (exit 103).  Exit and go north/east on Harbison Rd.  Take Harbison Rd. to its end at US 176 and turn right on US 176.  The signed forest entrance is 0.5 miles ahead on the left.  Turn left to enter the forest.  Where the paved road turns right, angle left on the gravel road and pass through the forest gate, noting the time when the gate will close and paying the entrance fee.  Continue along the excellent gravel forest road 2.1 miles to parking area #6, which is located just before the public portion of the road ends at a vehicle gate.

The hike: For my general comments on Harbison State Forest, see my blog entry for the Midlands Mountain Trail.  If the Midlands Mountain Trail is the best trail at Harbison State Forest, as I claim in the blog entry linked to above, then the Stewardship Trail described here might be the second best.  While this trail does not lead to any waterfalls or magnificent vistas, it provides a nice woodland hike and leads to the best Broad River views Harbison State Forest has to offer.
Trailhead: Stewardship Trail
            The green-blazed Stewardship Trail forms a loop, so you could take the trail either east or west out of the parking area.  This description will start at the information kiosk on the east side of the parking area (in front of your car if you park with the usual orientation) and hike the loop counterclockwise.  The trail descends gradually through the first of several loblolly pine plantings.  At 0.2 miles, the connector to the Midlands Mountain Trail continues straight.  Angle left to remain on the Stewardship Trail.
            Just past this intersection you pass some holly trees that keep their green pointy leaves in the winter when all surrounding trees turn bare and brown.  The next 0.6 miles meander and undulate gradually as you head in the general direction of northeast.  The meanders and undulations of this trail seem to make it popular among mountain bikers.  If you hear bikers coming (you will usually hear them before you see them), simply step to the side of the trail and let them pass.
Wooden bridge across stream
            After crossing several small streams on wooden bridges, the forest’s canoe landing parking area comes into view through the trees on the right.  0.9 miles into the hike, you cross the gravel road that serves this canoe landing.  The best Broad River view lies just ahead, so you should continue straight to stay on the Stewardship Trail.  A sign here tells you that the loblolly pines you have been walking through were planted in 1999.  Some numbered posts indicate the existence of an interpretive brochure, but none were available at the trailhead, and the forest office could not provide one for me either.
            Just past 1 mile, you reach the signed spur trail to River Reststop.  Turn right to hike the faint spur trail 100 yards to some benches that overlook the Broad River.  The view is partially obstructed by trees, but this is a nice, peaceful, scenic section of the river.  Although no modern development can be seen from here, the sounds of industry remind you that you are only 10 miles from Columbia.
River Reststop
            Back on the main trail, a few more creeks are crossed via nice wooden bridges before you reach the next dirt service road at 1.6 miles; this intersection is denoted as point T.  The service road to the right quickly deadends at a small meadow beside the river.  The Stewardship Trail curves left to head west and begin a long, gradual climb away from the river.
            The trail climbs gradually through more pine plantings, some of which date only to 2003.  This section of trail passes very near the forest’s northwest boundary, so respect the private property to your right.  At 2.3 miles, the trail briefly splits with an easier option going right and a more difficult option going left.  The two options come back together in only 0.2 miles, so you can choose either route you wish.
Climbing the ridge
            After the two options re-merge, the trail becomes more rutted as you approach the top of the ridge.  Some plastic material has been buried under the trail in an effort to prevent erosion, but those efforts have been only moderately successful.  Just shy of 3 miles, you cross a service road twice in short order.  As you have probably concluded, Harbison State Forest has a network of unmarked service roads that make for nice hiking and mountain biking provided you can navigate them without the assistance of maps or blazes.
            At 3.1 miles, the connector to the Firebreak Trail exits at a soft angle to the right.  Angle left to stay on the Stewardship Trail.  The final 0.5 miles are a meandering ridgetop course through more loblolly pines.  The gravel forest entrance road comes into view through the trees on the right, and soon thereafter you arrive at the west end of the parking area, thus marking the end of the hike.

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