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.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Dupont State Forest: Cedar Rock (Blog Hike #488)

Dedication: Blog hikes #487 and 488 are dedicated to my dad, John Prager, who went home to be with the Lord 23 years prior to the day I hiked these trails.

Trails: Corn Mill Shoals, Big Rock, Cedar Rock, and Little River Trails
Hike Location: DuPont State Forest
Geographic Location: southeast of Brevard, NC
Length: 2.8 miles
Difficulty: 8/10 (Moderate/Difficult)
Last Hiked: August 2014
Overview: A somewhat challenging, occasionally steep hike over a large rock outcrop.

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Brevard, drive US 276 south 10.9 miles to Cascade Lake Road, the intersection of which is located 1.6 miles north of the South Carolina state line.  A brown DuPont State Forest highway sign marks this intersection.  Turn left (east) on Cascade Lake Rd.  Drive Cascade Lake Rd. 1.7 miles to the signed Corn Mill Shoals Access on the left.  Park in the large gravel parking area.

The hike: For my general comments on DuPont State Forest, see my hike to the forest’s famous waterfalls.  This hike does not pass any waterfalls, but it does take you to a large exposed granite rock outcrop that offers fantastic views.  The granite is hot and sunny in the summer, so plan this hike for a cool and/or cloudy day if possible.
Start of Corn Mill Shoals Road
            Begin by crossing paved vehicle Cascade Lake Road and picking up gravel Corn Mill Shoals Road.  Walk around the vehicle gate and ignore the Longside Trail, which exits left.  After walking 0.1 miles on wide gravel Corn Mill Shoals Rd., you reach the junction with the Big Rock Trail that forms this loop.  This intersection and all intersections at DuPont State Forest are well signed.  To do the big climb first, I chose to turn left on the Big Rock Trail and use Corn Mill Shoals Road as my return route.
            For the next 0.6 miles the Big Rock Trail climbs on a moderate but persistent grade as it gains 360 feet of elevation.  Some big rocks in the trail pose challenges for mountain bikers but little problem for hikers.  Near 0.25 miles, you reach the first bit of exposed granite.  This area is called Big Rock.  Some partially obstructed views open up to the left, but better ones will be had when you gain more elevation.
            The trail goes back and forth between sunny granite and shady pine forest as you continue to climb.  Some rock ledges make nice benches if you get tired, but make sure you look for snakes before you sit down.  Soon you enter the next exposed area, this one larger, higher, and with better views than the first.  I had been hiking in the hot sun until I reached this area, at which point a cloud came over.  Thanks, dad!
View west from Big Rock
            At 0.7 miles, you reach the height of land as the trail makes a sweeping 180-degree curve to the right.  Ironically given this trail’s name, this point is called Cedar Rock rather than Big Rock.  Whereas views opened up to the west on your way up, they now open up to the east.
0.9 miles into the hike, the Big Rock Trail ends at a signed junction with the Cedar Rock Trail, which goes right and left.  Both directions go down to the Little River Trail, so you could go either way here.  I chose to turn right and take the shorter but steeper option.
Junction, Big Rock and Cedar Rock Trails
            The trail descends over bare rock, at first gradually and then more steeply.  This trail is not as well worn as the Big Rock Trail, so you will need to look for the cairns (small rocks stacked one atop another) to stay on the trail.  The exposed granite you see across the valley to the right is the east side of Big Rock where you were earlier.
View east from Cedar Rock
            Eventually you descend into pine trees, where a couple of final exposed rocks need to be climbed down.  At 1.6 miles, the Cedar Rock Trail ends at a junction with the Little River Trail, which goes left and right.  Turn right to continue this loop.
            The hard hiking is now over as you begin the dirt/gravel, gradually sloping, streamside Little River Trail, heading upstream.  The river through the dense greenery on your left is occasionally heard but almost never seen.  The Little River is indeed little at this point in its journey, but it accumulates considerably more water before it tumbles over the forest’s famous waterfalls some 3 miles north of here.  At 1.7 miles, you reach Tom Creek.  You could cross using the shallow mountain bike/horse ford, but intelligent hikers will use the thick wooden bridge to the right.
Hiker bridge over Tom Creek
            South of Tom Creek, the Little River Trail climbs gradually over a series of dirt waterbars and curves to the right as it leaves the riverside.  Mountain bikers like to “get air” as they come toward you over the waterbars, so keep your eyes forward.  At 2.3 miles, the Little River Trail ends at an intersection with Corn Mill Shoals Road, which goes sharply left and softly right.  Angle right to start the final segment of this loop.
            Quickly the Burnt Mountain Trail exits left as the wide path that is Corn Mill Shoals Road continues straight, heading west.  After crossing Tom Creek, which flows under the road via plastic pipe, you start a gradual to moderate climb to a low saddle on the west side of Big Rock.  Soon the trail levels out for the last time, and a short easy walk remains to return you to the trailhead and complete the hike.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Holmes Educational State Forest (Blog Hike #487)

Dedication: Blog hikes #487 and 488 are dedicated to my dad, John Prager, who went home to be with the Lord 23 years prior to the day I hiked these trails.

Trails: Demonstration and Wildcat Rock Trails
Hike Location: Holmes Educational State Forest
Geographic Location: southwest of Hendersonville, NC
Length: 3.3 miles
Difficulty: 8/10 (Moderate/Difficult)
Last Hiked: August 2014
Overview: A steep climb followed by a rolling loop through young forest.

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Hendersonville, drive Church Street south 0.5 miles to Kanuga Road and turn right on Kanuga Rd.  Kanuga Rd. becomes Crab Creek Rd. after leaving town.  Drive Kanuga/Crab Creek Rd. 9.5 miles to the signed state forest entrance on your left.  Turn left and drive the gravel forest road to the parking area and cul de sac at its end.

The hike: Often overlooked in favor of its larger cousin DuPont State Forest immediately to its south, Holmes Educational State Forest protects 235 acres of forest land in various stages of succession.  Unlike the state forests, which are managed for timber production and recreation, North Carolina’s seven educational state forests mainly serve as environmental classrooms.  In fact, park rangers instruct classes in these forests on a regular schedule.  This particular educational state forest was originally known as Holmes State Park when the land was purchased between 1938 and 1942.
            Being overlooked can have its advantages.  When I came here on Labor Day weekend, the parking lots at DuPont State Forest were overflowing with cars, but I only passed one other person on this hike.  Also, while the forest is only open mid-March through Thanksgiving weekend, the large amount of up-and-down on the forest’s longer trails make them good early season preparation for longer, harder mountain treks.
            The forest offers hiking trails of many shapes and sizes.  The Crab Creek Trail and the Soil and Water Trail offer short loops near the picnic shelters and parking lot; they are not used on this hike.  The short Talking Tree Trail is of interest because it features some trees that play recorded messages about the forest when you push buttons attached to their sides.  This hike combines the forest’s two hardest trails, the Demonstration and Wildcat Rock Trails, to explore the forest’s higher elevations.
Trailhead beside parking area
            Finding the start of the Demonstration Trail is a bit of a challenge.  Of the two trail entrances on the south side of the parking area, choose the one on the left.  Walk uphill on a gravel trail with a grassy area to your right.  When you reach the base of the wooden steps that lead to the Forestry Center, do not climb them: the Forestry Center will be the end of our hike.  Instead, turn left on a wide trail that used to be a logging road; this is the Demonstration Trail.
            As its name suggests, the red-blazed Demonstration Trail contains numerous signs (many of them quite old) that provide information about best forestry practices.  Numbers correspond to a trail guide that may be available at a dispenser about 500 feet into the trail.  A sign warns that the Demonstration Trail will take about 2 hours to hike, an accurate estimate based on my experience.
            The trail heads east at a level elevation using the old logging road.  At 0.2 miles, the trail curves right to leave the logging road and begin climbing the steep hillside just before it passes a small spring.  You will gain 400 feet of elevation over the next 0.5 miles, but switchbacks and wooden steps keep the grade manageable.  Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) construction workers in the late 1930’s used this trail daily to access the campground construction site at the top of the mountain.  Can you imagine climbing this hill every day just to go to work?
Starting the climb
            At 0.7 miles, you reach a wooden observation deck that signals the top of the hill.  The view is completely blocked by trees, but some benches beckon you to sit and rest after the hard climb.  Though it was selectively cut in 1969, the cool, mature forest with large tulip poplars dates to the 1930’s.  Unlike state parks, logging is allowed in state forests, and you will soon see its effects as you continue along the trail.
Observation deck
            The trail curves left, passes a wildlife food plot (an area of dense, green shrubbery grazed by deer and other wildlife), and enters an area that was clear-cut in 1969 and 1970.  At this point, it is out with the old stately trees and in with the small trees and dense ground cover.  In particular, Eastern White Pine trees dominate this area.  The trail also becomes a bit narrower with plants, including briars and poison ivy, whisping at your legs.
            0.8 miles into the hike, the Demonstration Trail forks to form its loop.  As directed by a sign, ignore the old logging road that goes straight and angle left to begin walking the loop clockwise.  The trail undulates moderately as it crosses some small drainages on high wooden bridges.
            At 1.1 miles, the blue-blazed and slightly overgrown Short Cut Trail exits to the right.  As its name suggests, you could use this trail to shorten the hike by about 0.5 miles, but this description angles left for the full tour.  A gradual descent on another old logging road will bring you to a small pond.  My approach frightened some small frogs off of logs and into the water, but otherwise the pond seemed quiet and tranquil.
Small pond
            The trail arcs around the pond before leaving the pond area via a moderate climb.  At 1.8 miles, you cross the gravel campground access road.  The gravel road follows the top of the ridge, so next you descend partway into a deep hollow.  More undulations and meanders bring you to the west end of the Short Cut Trail at 2.4 miles.
Wildlife opening
            After skirting the campground area to the right, a sunny wildlife opening comes into view on the left.  The grasses in this area provide food for deer and other wildlife, while the nearby woods offer them protection from predators.  Past the clearing, the trail curves left and then right to reach the upper end of the yellow-blazed Wildcat Rock Trail at 2.8 miles.  You could continue straight to complete the Demonstration Trail loop, but for a shorter and more scenic route back to the parking lot, turn left to begin the Wildcat Rock Trail.
Cliff along Wildcat Rock Trail
            With an elevation change of almost 400 feet in just over 0.3 miles, the Wildcat Rock Trail is the steepest trail in the forest, so be glad you are descending rather than ascending its many steps and switchbacks.  The trail becomes slightly rocky as you descend through some low cliffs, and small waterfalls appear on the right.  At 3.1 miles, the rough Wildcat Rock Trail mercifully ends at a junction with the wide, gravel Talking Tree Trail.  You could go either direction here, but the shorter and easier choice is to angle left.
            A gradual descent brings you to the Forestry Center, an open air wooden structure that contains exhibits about the forest.  After viewing the exhibits, take one of the gravel trails on either side of the grassy clearing to go downhill.  These trails quickly arrive at the parking lot, thus marking the end of the hike.
            Before you leave, there is one other place you should check out.  On the other (north) side of the parking lot is an exhibit area that features some machinery used in forestry.  A helicopter and fire tower take center stage, and interpretive signs help you learn more about this equipment.  This exhibit makes for an educational way to end your visit to Holmes Educational State Forest.