Saturday, February 14, 2015

Milliken Arboretum (Blog Hike #506)

Trails: (unnamed)
Hike Location: Milliken Arboretum
Geographic Location: Spartanburg, SC
Length: 1.7 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: January 2015
Overview: A fairly flat hike through a grassy arboretum dotted by trees and duck ponds.

Directions to the trailhead: Milliken Arboretum is located on the campus of the Milliken Corporation in suburban Spartanburg.  The arboretum is most easily accessed from Exit 5B on I-85 Business in Spartanburg.  Follow signs for visitors, and park on the southeast side of the large blacktop visitor parking area, which is located immediately southeast of the corporate campus’ main building.

The hike: Owned and operated by the Milliken Corporation, a multinational chemical/textile company, Milliken Arboretum sits on 600 acres adjacent to the company’s headquarters in Spartanburg.  The nationally-recognized arboretum is the brain-child of Roger Milliken, a former President of the Milliken Corporation and grandson of the company’s founder.  The arboretum came into its own in 1989 when it acquired a large collection of trees exotic to South Carolina due to a partnership with a nursery in Oregon.
            The arboretum is open to the public, and the weekend is the best time to visit if you want to avoid the crowd of Milliken employees who come to the headquarters on weekdays.  Also, the open grassy nature of the arboretum makes this hike a hot and sunny one during the summer, so I recommend a winter visit.  I came here on a seasonally warm Saturday in January and had a short but nice hike.
            Milliken Arboretum does contain a system of official trails, but there are no trail maps at the parking area, and the trails often blend in with the large mown grass areas.  Thus, the trails can be hard to follow.  The hike described here roughly follows the route of the longest trail, which traces the perimeter of the arboretum.  The open grassy areas make it easy to create your own route if you see fit.
Arboretum Entrance
            Enter the arboretum on a concrete path that departs the center of the southeast side of the parking lot.  The concrete quickly runs out as you top a low ridge, and the arboretum’s grounds come into full view.  A small cluster of sycamore trees can be found on this ridge.  These trees are distinctly out of place here, for in their natural environment sycamore trees are mostly found in ravines along creeks.
            A small formal garden lies to your right here.  The garden contains some dedication plaques and a fountain that shoots water 20 feet into the air.  The fountain is surrounded by a green curtain of southern magnolias that give the location an air of seclusion even though busy I-585 lies only 100 yards beyond the fountain.
Fountain in formal garden
            Back on the grassy main trail, angle right to walk around the first two of several ponds and begin the loop around the arboretum.  These ponds appear to have been dug out of the South Carolina red clay by backhoe.  As I walked along the edge of this pond, a mixed group of white, mallard, and wood ducks apparently accustomed to people feeding them swam over toward me.  This learned behavior is why most parks prohibit feeding of wild animals: a group of ducks swimming toward you looking for a meal is one thing, but a bear running toward you looking for a meal is quite another.
Ducks in pond
            The mown-grass trail heads southeast parallel to the arboretum boundary with I-585 just yards to the right.  A few groves of loblolly pines briefly keep the highway out of sight, but the noise is ever-present in this part of the arboretum.  Milliken Arboretum is a great place to bring a tree book and do some tree identification as you walk, but you will need to bring a good tree guide: the arboretum has over 70 kinds of trees, and most of them are not native to South Carolina.
            At 0.5 miles, the trail curves left to cross the earthen dam of another pond.  A couple of mallard ducks were swimming in this pond, but they made no movement in my direction.  After crossing the dam, continue straight where another trail angles left.  The outer-most trail climbs slightly as it approaches the arboretum’s southern boundary, which is marked by tall loblolly pine trees bearing no trespassing signs.
Approaching the southern boundary
            0.8 miles into the hike, you reach the easternmost pond on this property.  Turn right to walk around this pond.  When I hiked this trail late one winter afternoon, the pine trees reflected beautifully in the pond’s calm waters.
Pond reflection
            The trail stays near the arboretum’s southern boundary until, at 1.2 miles, you reach a paved road that is the SR 9 entrance to the Milliken facility.  Another grassy area lies across the road, but the official trail turns left to parallel the road as it heads back toward the main parking area.  Some ornamental trees line the road, and a natural-grass meadow area lies to the left.
            Just before reaching the main parking lot, the trail curves left at 1.5 miles to pass the last pond on the left.  Very quickly you close the loop.  A right turn and short walk over the low ridge will return you to the parking area to complete the hike.

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