Monday, May 11, 2015

Sumter National Forest: Parson's Mountain Recreation Area (Blog Hike #515)

Trails: Parson’s Mountain Lake and Parson’s Mountain Tower Trails
Hike Location: Sumter National Forest: Parson’s Mountain Recreation Area
Geographic Location: south of Abbeville, SC
Length: 4.3 miles
Difficulty: 6/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: May 2015
Overview: A semi-loop featuring abandoned gold mines and an abandoned fire tower.

Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of SR 28 and SR 72 on the west side of Abbeville, drive SR 28 south 2.1 miles to Parson’s Mountain Road.  Turn left on paved Parson’s Mountain Rd.  Drive Parson’s Mountain Rd. 1.5 miles to the signed recreation area entrance on the right.  Turn right on the entrance road, pay the small entrance fee, and park in the cul de sac parking lot for the swimming area.  There are restrooms, picnic tables, and a swimming beach at the trailhead.  Note that the recreation area is only open May through mid-November, so you will have to park outside the area’s entrance and walk to the swimming area if you come here in the winter.

The hike: Have you ever heard of the South Carolina gold rush?  It was no California, but in the mid 1800’s Parson’s Mountain and west-central South Carolina became a regional hotspot for prospectors seeking to strike it rich.  The area’s most successful mine was the Dorn Gold Mine, which was located in what would become the town of McCormick.  Opened in 1852, nearly 1 million dollars of gold was unearthed before the mine was closed in the late 1850’s.  The Dorn Gold Mine is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
            The mines on Parson’s Mountain were not as successful as the Dorn Gold Mine, but you can still see the abandoned shafts at Sumter National Forest’s Parson’s Mountain Recreation Area.  The area and mountain are named after James Parsons, a pioneer who was granted this land by King George III of England in 1772.  The recreation area features a 28 acre man-made lake, a swimming area, a 23 site campground, and numerous picnic areas.
            Parson’s Mountain Recreation Area also serves as a trailhead for the Long Cane Trail, a 23 mile route that is popular with backpackers.  Dayhikers have two trails to choose from.  The 2.5 mile Parson’s Mountain Lake Trail circles the lake, while the 0.9 mile one-way Parson’s Mountain Tower Trail forms an out-and-back to the mountain’s summit.  Because the Tower Trail is only accessible from the Lake Trail, it makes sense to combine the two trails to form the 4.3 mile hike described here.
Trailhead and Point E
            To find the trailhead, walk downhill toward the beach and turn right at the restroom building.  Five posts labeled A through E mark major points in Parson’s Mountain’s trail system.  This trailhead is point E, and starting here will provide a counterclockwise journey around Parson’s Mountain Lake.
            The trail heads into the mixed broadleaf forest with the lake to the left.  I noticed several turtles on logs as I hiked around the lake.  Common trees include maple, beech, tulip poplar, and hickory with some tall, old pine trees thrown in.  At 0.2 miles, the trail seems to fork with the sunny left option heading toward a wooden bridge and the shady right option heading into the woods.  The left option quickly ends at a lake overlook, so after a possible brief detour you will need to choose the right option to continue the loop.  Watch for poison ivy near the edge of the forest.
Parson's Mountain Lake
            Almost immediately after re-entering the forest, you reach a bench and point D, where the trail curves sharply left.  The narrow dirt trail, which is marked with white paint blazes, undulates gently to arrive at Mountain Creek, the main tributary for Parson’s Mountain Lake.  There used to be a bridge across Mountain Creek, but it had collapsed prior to my arrival, forcing me to wade the several inch deep water.  More generally, when I hiked here in early May, I encountered numerous downed trees, and it seemed the trail had not been cleared or otherwise maintained for quite some time.
Hiking Parson's Mountain Lake Trail
            After crossing Mountain Creek, the trail climbs moderately to reach a bench that offers a partially obstructed view of the lake.  Now heading south, you dip to cross a couple of smaller tributaries on shaky wooden bridges.  At 1.3 miles, you reach the junction with the Parson’s Mountain Tower Trail; this junction is marked as point B.  We will eventually turn left to continue the loop around the lake, but for now turn right to head for the mountain’s summit.
            The trail climbs at a gradual to moderate rate first along and then away from a small creek.  The forest here is considerably younger than the forest near the lake.  1.8 miles into the hike, you cross gravel Tower Road, where you need to angle right to find the trail on the other side.  Two trails appear to leave the road’s shoulder at this point.  The path on the right that goes directly up the hillside is the old route, while the new official route is the narrower one on the left.
            After ascending a single broad switchback, you reach the abandoned gold mine.  Several shafts extend vertically into the ground, and wire fences keep people and things from falling in.  Old mine shafts are notoriously unstable, so you should respect the fences and keep out of the mine.
Abandoned gold mine
            The grade intensifies after passing the mines as the trail continues uphill.  2.2 miles into the hike, you come out at the fire tower clearing on the summit of Parson’s Mountain.  At 832 feet, Parson’s Mountain stands several hundred feet above the flat surrounding Piedmont.  An official U.S. Coast and Geodesic Survey marker sits on the summit, as does a 1930’s-era fire tower.  The tower used to be open for climbing, but its state of disrepair recently became sufficient to force it closed.  Trees around the summit prohibit views, but two picnic tables make nice places to sit and enjoy a snack on the breezy mountain summit.
USGS summit marker

Parson's Mountain fire tower
            The Parson’s Mountain Tower Trail ends at the old fire tower, so your only option is to retrace your steps downhill to point B.  Continue straight at point B to continue the loop around the lake.  The trail climbs slightly to intersect an old road right beside a small pond.  This pond is formed by an earthen dam that maps call the Four H Club Dam.  My approach scared several frogs into the pond’s murky water.
Four H Club Dam
            Stay with the white blazes as the trail crosses the old road and curves left.  You are now heading east with more down than up as the lake again comes into view through the trees to the left.  At 3.7 miles, a final moderate descent deposits you at the paved boat ramp parking area, which marks an alternate starting point for this hike.  This trailhead is marked as point A.
            To get back to your trailhead and point E, angle left and pick up the paved boat ramp access road as it crosses the dam that forms Parson’s Mountain Lake.  Stay on the road as the Long Cane Trail exits right and some campsites and picnic tables appear on the left.  After curving left to cross a final tributary of Parson’s Mountain Lake, look left for a wooden sign that says “trail” and bears the universal hiking symbol.  This trail is the final segment of the loop around the lake, and it would be almost impossible to find without the sign.  If the trail looks too rough, just stay with the road.  The faint trail climbs slightly and curves right to arrive back at the swimming area, thus completing the hike.

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