Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bunched Arrowhead Heritage Preserve (Blog Hike #611)

Acknowledgement: special thanks to my friend Tom King, aka the Waterfallwalker, for recommending this hike to me.

Trail: (unnamed)
Hike Location: Bunched Arrowhead Heritage Preserve
Geographic Location: northeast of Travelers Rest, SC (34.99693, -82.40284)
Length: 1.3 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: November 2016
Overview: A short loop through interesting prairie and wetland seep habitats.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From the US 276/US 25 split in Travelers Rest, take US 25 north 1.9 miles to Tigerville Road; there is a traffic light at this intersection.  Turn right on Tigerville Rd.  Drive Tigerville Rd. east 1 mile to Shelton Road and turn left on Shelton Rd.  Drive narrow but paved Shelton Rd. north 0.9 miles to McCauley Road and turn right on McCauley Rd.  Drive McCauley Rd. 0.6 miles to the preserve’s parking lot, which is located on the right behind a chain-link fence; you will see the fence before you see the parking lot or preserve sign.  Park in the fenced-in lot, making sure you plan to exit before the gate gets locked at sundown.

The hike: If you have done a fair amount of hiking in South Carolina, then for sure you are well-acquainted with South Carolina’s fine state parks and national forests, but have you ever heard of the state’s Heritage Preserves?  Unbeknownst to many, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources owns and operates a system of 93 Heritage Preserves scattered throughout the state.  Typically Heritage Preserves are small tracts of land whose amenities amount to at most a parking area and a primitive trail system.  Other states (including Ohio, where I am from originally) call this type of area a State Nature Preserve.  Thus, while Heritage Preserves do not make ideal destinations for a resort-style vacation or a company picnic, they are perfect for quiet dayhikes on secluded trails.
            This post features Bunched Arrowhead Heritage Preserve, a 179 acre tract of land located in the upper reaches of the Enoree River watershed.  The preserve is named for the bunched arrowhead plant (binomial name Sagittaria fasciculate), a federally endangered species that has only been found in four counties: Henderson and Buncombe in North Carolina and Greenville and Laurens in South Carolina.  The bunched arrowhead grows in wetland seeps including the ones found on this property.
            The preserve has only one official trail, a 1.3 mile loop through the heart of the preserve, but I found several unofficial trails here as well.  The trails are more or less unmarked, so I recommend taking a picture of the trail map at the information board for reference during your hike.  The route described here follows the official trail for its entire loop.
Information board at trailhead
            From the information board, angle left to pick up the trail as it descends slightly through tallgrass prairie.  The preserve consists of about one-third prairie and two-thirds mixed deciduous and pine forest, so the trail persistently goes back and forth between prairie and forest.  A large number of bird houses hang beside and above the trail.
            Where an unofficial trail exits right, the official trail angles left to enter the forest for the first time.  The next segment passes beside a wetland area.  This kind of habitat is prime territory for the bunched arrowhead.  After curving to the right, you meet the other end of the unofficial trail, where another left turn is required.
Re-entering the prairie
            For the next 0.3 miles the trail heads generally west near the edge of the forest with the prairie visible through the trees uphill to the right.  When I hiked this trail in late fall, numerous large bean-like seed packets from black locust trees littered the ground.  After some minor undulations, you reach the lowest elevation of this hike where a wooden bridge takes you over a small stream.  A few old green aluminum disks bearing the universal hiking symbol indicate that this trail used to be marked, but the markers are too few and far between to be of any help now.
            At 0.8 miles, a brief climb brings you to the west end of a small earthen dam.  As indicated by a metal marker nailed to a wooden post, you need to turn right here to continue the official loop.  The unofficial trail continuing straight leads to McCauley Road but not to the preserve parking lot.
Hiking across the dam
            The trail heads east across the dam, which drops off steeply on either side.  At the east end of the dam, follow another arrow that points right; the unofficial trail going straight leads to private property.  The trail treads through forest around the southern end of the private property to reach the edge of the prairie just shy of 1 mile into the hike.  Where another unofficial trail exits left, stay straight to remain on the official trail.
            The trail heads directly across the prairie before dipping again to pass through one last seepage area, which is crossed via a sequence of short wooden boardwalks.  A left curve and gradual climb brings you within sight of McCauley Road.  A final short roadside segment deposits you at the west end of the parking area, thus completing the hike.