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.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Osceola National Forest: Fanny Bay Trail (Blog Hike #496)

Trail: Fanny Bay Trail
Hike Location: Osceola National Forest
Geographic Location: east of Lake City, FL
Length: 1.1 miles
Difficulty: 0/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: October 2014
Overview: A short, flat out-and-back to a shallow tree-filled bay.

Directions to the trailhead: The Fanny Bay Trail has two trailheads, but the easiest one to find is located in the I-10 westbound rest area at mile marker 318 east of Lake City.  The signed trailhead is located near the exit of the truck portion of the rest area.

The hike: When I hiked the Escatawpa Nature Trail in coastal Mississippi a few years ago, I thought sure I had done the only hike that begins at an interstate highway rest area.  Needless to say, this hike in northeast Florida proved me wrong.  Truth be told, there is an alternate trailhead away from the rest area, but you will need a good map or GPS to find it: it is located at the end of an unmarked dirt forest service road.
            The Fanny Bay Trail in Osceola National Forest, Florida’s smallest national forest, provides a flat and easy out-and-back that is well-suited for leg-stretching activities.  The trail leads to a boardwalk on its namesake bay, a shallow body of water that features a dense bald cypress forest.  Because of all the water, bugs will be a real problem on this hike.  I took over 20 insect bites when I hiked this trail.  This number is not a record for me, but it is too large for comfort and good health.
Rest area trailhead: Fanny Bay Trail
            To reach the trailhead in the rest area, walk out the back of the vending/restroom building and angle left around the truck parking area.  A marked crosswalk leads to the trailhead, which is identified by a blue sign on a swinging pedestrian gate.  A vehicle gate sits to the right of the pedestrian gate, and barbed wire fence lies on either side of the two gates.
            Walk through the pedestrian gate, and almost immediately you arrive at a T-intersection.  The trail going right leads 0.25 miles to the second more remote trailhead, but there are no points of interest to see in that direction.  Thus, you should turn left to head for this trail’s namesake bay.
            The trail heads west through a loblolly pine planting with dense, low greenery on either side.  This portion of the trail follows an old road, as evidenced by the firm two-track grassy/dirt treadway.  The large number of bugs will likely encourage you to hike faster, or at least that was the effect they had on me.
Hiking through loblolly pine planting
            At 0.35 miles, you pass a picnic table on the left that is located at an old cul de sac in the road.  Just past the picnic table, you reach the start of the boardwalk.  Immediately the waters of Fanny Bay appear below the wood you are walking on, and the pine planting is replaced by a dense forest of cypress trees.  This shallow densely forested body of water may not be what you think of as a bay, but it is an interesting place to visit nonetheless.
Fanny Bay
            At 0.55 miles, you reach the end of the boardwalk and a small overlook platform with benches.  The view from here is more of the same with dark shallow water and dense cypress forest.  The trail does not form a loop, so after enjoying your time at the bay your only choice is to retrace your steps to the rest area to complete the hike.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park (Blog Hike #495)

Trails: Battlefield and Nice Wander Trails
Hike Location: Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park
Geographic Location: east of Lake City, FL
Length: 3.1 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: October 2014
Overview: A pair of loops featuring a Civil War battlefield.

Directions to the trailhead: East of Lake City, take I-10 to US 90 (exit 324).  Exit and go west on US 90.  Drive US 90 west 5.4 miles to the signed park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park.  Cross the railroad tracks and park in the small gravel parking lot in front of the park museum.

The hike: It was February of 1864 when the American Civil War came to Florida in earnest for the first time.  Against his superior’s orders Union Brigadier General Truman Seymour led 5000 troops west from Union-held Jacksonville into north-central FloridaSeymour hoped to destroy Confederate supply railroads and recruit black soldiers with the ultimate goal of encouraging Florida, a reluctant member of the Confederacy from the start, to rejoin the Union.
            Aware of the Union’s desires, Confederate Brigadier General Joseph Finegan stationed 5000 troops of his own at the railroad town of Olustee, which was strategically located on a narrow land bridge with impenetrable wetlands to the north and south.  Seymour became alerted to the Confederate presence by his skirmishers, or small bands of exploratory troops.  Not wanting to let Seymour escape, Finegan sent his troops east to engage the Union forces.  Thus, the Battle of Olustee actually took place 2 miles east of Olustee.
            The battle raged for 4 hours with both sides taking heavy casualties, but the Union took the worst of the damage and was forced to retreat to Jacksonville.  The Union lost 34% of their troops, making Olustee the second bloodiest battle (expressed as a percentage of troops engaged) of the Civil War for the Union.  When you tour this battlefield, you will see why so many casualties were taken by both sides.
            In 1909, the Florida legislature acquired 3 acres on this site, and in 1912 it became Florida’s first state historic site.  I visited this site in 2014, the battle’s sesquicentennial.  Today the site contains a tall stone monument, a small Visitor Center that features a 30 minute film on the battle, a 1 mile nature trail that tours the Battlefield, and an old US Forest Service fire tower.  The 1300-mile Florida Trail also passes through the site.  Combining the 1 mile Battlefield Trail with a sample of the Florida Trail gives your visit a nice balance of history and nature.
Battlefield Trail trailhead
            Because the Battlefield Trail features some nice interpretive signs that give a good overview of the battle, I recommend hiking the Battlefield Trail first and then viewing the long (by park standards) video in the Visitor Center to fill in some of the details.  To execute this plan, start at the three-paneled wooden sign located across the gravel park road from the Visitor Center.  Of the two trails that depart from this point, choose the one to the right to hike the loop counterclockwise and read the interpretive signs in the correct chronological order.
            The mowed-grass trail heads north with a seasonal pond to your left and the park road in sight to your right.  If you remember that this was a battlefield as you walk, the reasons for the high casualty rate become apparent.  The flat terrain and sparse longleaf pine forest gave soldiers nowhere to hide, and the marshy land combined with the dense saw palmetto understory made running difficult.  With nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, the options were kill or be killed.  Plenty of both happened.
            At 0.1 miles, the trail curves left to join an old road and head northwest.  Plenty of sunlight comes in through the longleaf pines, so you will want to wear a hat during the warmer months to minimize sun exposure.  Continue straight where the trail crosses the end of a dirt road.  The trail here is marked with an arrow printed on a metal plate attached to a longleaf pine tree, but the plate has partially fallen off the tree, causing the arrow to point the wrong way.
Hiking the Battlefield Trail
            Where a marked short-cut trail exits left, continue straight to hike the full loop.  The open grassy area you see through the trees to the right is used for battle re-enactments, which take place every February.  Some scenes for the movie Glory were filmed during these re-enactments.
            Just before reaching the site’s northwest boundary, the trail curves left and then left again to begin heading southeast on a course that is parallel to the route you walked only minutes ago.  You see the Visitor Center through the trees long before you return to it at 1.1 miles.
            Next, I recommend stopping in the Visitor Center to view the video and stepping out the back of the Visitor Center to view the stone battle monument.  If all you want to do is tour the battlefield, your visit is now complete.  However, if you would also like to get a taste of Florida Trail hiking, a short loop called the Nice Wander Trail in adjacent Osceola National Forest allows you to do just that.
Old USFS fire tower
To get to the Nice Wander Trail trailhead, walk back out the gravel park road toward US 90 and turn right at the old US Forest Service fire tower, which is now closed to visitors.  A trail information board marks the Florida Trail’s Olustee trailhead.  The Florida Trail is marked with orange paint blazes, while the Nice Wander Trail is marked with white paint blazes.  Both trails head down the gravel road with the battlefield to your right and US 90 to your left.
Just past 0.1 miles into the Nice Wander Trail (or 1.3 miles from the start of the hike), you need to use a swinging pedestrian gate to walk around a vehicle gate in the road.  On the other side of the vehicle gate, the Nice Wander Trail splits to form its loop; a blue sign marks this point.  To hike the most scenic trail first, I chose to angle left, hike the loop clockwise, and use the gravel road to the right as my return route.
The orange and white blazes of the combined Nice Wander and Florida Trails head northwest through more longleaf pine forest with a dense understory of saw palmetto and other sedges.  Be warned that this trail is not nearly as well cut and maintained as the Battlefield Trail you hiked earlier.  You will want to wear thick pants on this trail or else the wiregrass brushing up against your legs will leave abrasions.
Hiking the Nice Wander Trail
Two signed options exiting right provide opportunities to short-cut the loop, but hardy hikers will continue straight at each intersection to see the entire Nice Wander Trail.  If ever you are unsure you are still on the trail, look for the orange and white blazes.  The blazes are sufficiently numerous to ensure that at least 1 pair of said blazes remains in sight throughout this hike. 
Near 2 miles into the hike, you reach a short boardwalk that traverses a wet area.  Lots of saw palmetto live back here, and a couple of benches provide opportunity for rest and meditation provided the bugs are tolerable.  This hike was not one of the buggier hiking experiences I have had in Florida, so you just may be in luck depending on the season.
Boardwalk on Nice Wander Trail
At the north end of the boardwalk, the Florida and Nice Wander Trails part ways with the former continuing straight and the latter turning right.  Follow the white blazes of the Nice Wander Trail as they head right and soon intersect the gravel road at a vehicle gate, where you should turn right again.  The return route along the road is very easy but very boring: the road is dead straight for most of its length.  You may be able to spot the white and orange blazes you were following earlier that now lie a couple hundred feet to your right.  Stay with the gravel road to close the loop, then retrace your steps to the battlefield Visitor Center to complete the hike.