Saturday, February 27, 2016

Croft State Park: Lake Johnson Trail (Blog Hike #565)

Trail: Lake Johnson Trail
Hike Location: Croft State Park
Geographic Location: southeast of Spartanburg, SC
Length: 2 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: February 2016
Overview: A circumnavigation of scenic Lake Johnson.

Directions to the trailhead: Croft State Park has a park entrance specifically for Lake Johnson visitors.  To get there from the interstate, take I-26 to SR 296 (exit 22). Exit and go east on SR 296.  Drive SR 296 east 1 mile to SR 295 and turn right on SR 295.  Drive SR 295 east 10.5 miles to Johnson Lake Road and turn right on Johnson Lake Rd.  Johnson Lake Rd. deadends at the shore of Lake Johnson in Croft State Park.  Park in the cul de sac at the road’s end that serves as the parking area.

The hike: For my introduction to Croft State Park, see my hike on the park’s Nature Trail from last fall.  The Nature Trail and the Lake Johnson Trail are the park’s two main hiker-only trails, but they offer very different hiking experiences.  Whereas the Nature Trail takes you along flowing Fairforest Creek, the Lake Johnson Trail circumnavigates its namesake lake.  I enjoyed both of my hikes at Croft State Park, and I think it is a wonderful natural resource for the people of Spartanburg.
Trailhead at cul de sac
            To begin a counterclockwise trip around Lake Johnson, walk slightly uphill through a grassy area toward a picnic shelter to the west.  Upon reaching the picnic shelter, angle left and look for where the single track Lake Johnson Trail enters the woods.  There are no signs marking the start of the Lake Johnson Trail, but it is easy to find if you know where to look.
            The trail heads west through forest consisting mainly of beech, maple, pine, and sweet gum trees.  Uphill and downhill sections are short but numerous and sometimes quite steep.  At 0.2 miles, the trail curves left to cross one of Lake Johnson’s tributaries on a wooden bridge, the only bridge on this hike.  Streams in this area are quite small with clear water and sandy bottoms.
Bridge over small tributary
            After crossing the stream, the trail turns south to head back for the lake.  The grassy area you parked beside now appears across the lake to your left.  The trail never strays more than 100 yards from the lake shore, so if you are ever unsure which trail to choose at an intersection, choose the one closest to the lake.
Hiking the Lake Johnson Trail
            0.4 miles into the hike, you reach an intersection with the Lake Johnson Loop horse trail.  Two brown carsonite posts bearing the universal horse trail symbol mark this intersection.  Though no signs indicate such, you need to turn left here and cross another lake tributary to continue your trip around Lake Johnson.  As usual for a horse trail, this and subsequent creek crossings are unbridged, so waterproof hiking boots are preferred for this hike despite its short length.
            For the next 0.5 miles the hiking trail runs conjointly with the horse trail.  The addition of horse traffic means 1) the trail surface will be muddier and rougher than usual, 2) you will have to step around some horse manure, and 3) trail courtesy requires hikers to yield to horse traffic.  Because horses are easily spooked by hikers and hiking staffs, yielding means moving to the side of the trail and allowing the horse traffic to pass.
Lake Johnson
            The wide hiking/horse trail crosses first the dam and then the spillway of Lake Johnson.  Nice views open up down the length of the lake during this stretch.  Immediately after crossing the spillway, be on the lookout for the narrower hiker-only trail that exits uphill to left.  Only a single brown carsonite post marks this point.  Angle left to leave the wide horse trail and continue your journey around the lake.
            The unmarked trail undulates through a couple of steep but shallow ravines as it begins working its way north along Lake Johnson’s east side.  At first you are quite close to the lake, but soon the trail curves right and gradually ascends the hillside.  The lake remains visible through the trees downhill to the left, but this area marks the greatest distance between this loop and the lake.
            At 1.6 miles, the trail curves left as it intersects what appears to be an old road.  A brief gradual descent deposits you on the south shoulder of the paved road you drove in on.  Turn left and walk 0.3 miles on the pavement to return to the cul de sac that contains your car and complete the hike.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Palmetto Trail, Blackstock Battlefield Loop (Blog Hike #564)

Trail: Palmetto Trail
Hike Location: Blackstock Battlefield
Geographic Location: west of Union, SC
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: February 2016
Overview: A short loop through a Revolutionary War battlefield and along the Tyger River.

Directions to the trailhead: Between Spartanburg and Clinton, take I-26 to SR 49 (exit 44).  Exit and go north on SR 49.  Drive SR 49 north 5.5 miles to Blackstock Road and turn left on Blackstock Rd.  There is a sign for Blackstock Battlefield at this intersection.  Drive Blackstock Rd. 1.2 miles to Monument Road and turn right on Monument Rd.  There is no sign for the battlefield at this intersection.  Drive single lane Monument Road, which is paved at first but then turns to gravel, 1.4 miles to the small Palmetto Trail parking area on the left.  There is no road sign for the parking area, but there is a large trailhead sign visible from the road.

The hike: The date was November 20, 1780 when the focus of the American Revolution turned to upstate South Carolina’s Blackstock Plantation.  Following the Patriots’ major victory at Kings Mountain the previous month, Patriot Brigadier General Thomas Sumter worked to build support in interior South Carolina.  A month later, Sumter’s efforts had resulted in a Patriot militia under his command with over 1000 members.  In an attempt to disrupt Sumter’s recruiting activity, British Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis dispatched his subordinate Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, who had never been defeated in battle, with 500 men to interior South Carolina.
            Despite being outnumbered 2 to 1, Tarleton’s troops had superior training and chased Sumter around South Carolina’s interior.  Sumter finally decided to make a stand at Blackstock Plantation, figuring he could use the land’s high relief and plantation’s sturdy buildings to his defensive advantage.  Although Sumter was severely wounded in the battle, his calculation proved accurate: the British took more than 150 casualties while the Patriots took only 7.  Also, Sumter’s wounding forced him to resign his command, which led General Washington to appoint Nathanael Greene as Patriot commander in the South.  Greene would be the man to ultimately lead the Patriots to victory.
            Blackstock Battlefield was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.  The plantation’s structures no longer stand today, but the area’s high relief can still be experienced on this short loop, which also takes you to the former plantation site.  This loop currently stands alone, but when fully completed the state-long Palmetto Trail will pass through the site.  This section of the Palmetto Trail will connect north to the trail’s Glenn Springs passage and south to the trail’s Enoree Passage.
Trailhead signboard at parking lot
            Two trail entrances marked by carsonite posts present themselves near the large trailhead signboard, one going straight and the other going right.  These two trails form the battlefield loop.  This trail description will start on the one going straight and return on the one going right, thus hiking the loop clockwise.  The trail heads northwest through a pine planting, climbing slightly.  The loop is marked with red paint blazes, but some of the famous yellow i-shaped blazes of the Palmetto Trail also appear here.
            In 400 feet, you cross one of many old dirt roads that criss-cross this area.  Soon you reach the edge of a bluff that is steep enough to feel like the edge of the world, an odd sight in this part of the state.  The trail descends the bluff using several switchbacks (real mountain switchbacks!) to reach the Tyger River floodplain.
Tyger River
            A Palmetto Trail camp site with picnic tables appears to the left as you approach the bank of the Tyger River, which was wide and muddy on my visit.  Upon reaching the river, the trail curves right and joins another old road to climb briefly.  Chunks of milky quartz rock, easily identified by its shiny white color, jut up on and around the trail.
            At 0.4 miles, the trail curves left to leave the old road and rejoin single-track path.  Watch for the red blazes to ensure you do not miss this turn.  For the next 0.4 miles the trail parallels the river on a fairly level track.  Thick stands of privet appear beside the trail.
            0.8 miles into the hike, the trail curves right to leave the river and head directly up the hillside.  Fortunately this hill is a lot less steep than the one you descended a few minutes ago.  Just shy of 1 mile, you come out on the edge of a meadow that used to be one of Blackstock Plantation’s fields.
Entering the meadow
            The trail curves right to follow the edge of the field.  Watch for a white metal diamond with an arrow and the word “trail” to find where the trail reenters the woods on the right, but before you exit the meadow area angle left to visit the Blackstock Battlefield monument.  The monument consists of a single stone pillar with an interpretive sign that stands near the crest of the hill on which the plantation once stood.  Imagine being a Patriot militiaman standing here with your rifle waiting for the British to emerge from the trees on the other side of the field below.
Blackstock Battlefield monument
            The gravel road that cul de sacs around the monument area is an extension of the road you drove in on, but to stay on single-track trail longer head back to the metal diamond trail marker to continue the loop.  The trail climbs moderately but only for a short distance to reach the highest elevation of the hike.  The thick pine forest prohibits any views.  A brief descent returns you to the trailhead area to complete the hike.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

George T. Bagby State Park: Chattahoochee and Lake Trails (Blog Hike #563)

Trails: Chattahoochee and Lake Trails
Hike Location: George T. Bagby State Park
Geographic Location: north of Fort Gaines, GA
Length: 1.7 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: January 2016
Overview: A short loop hike featuring wetland areas.

Directions to the trailhead: The entrance to George T. Bagby State Park is located on the west side of SR 39 4.2 miles north of Fort Gaines or 17.8 miles south of Georgetown.  Enter the park and drive to the large blacktop parking lot in front of the state park lodge where the park road ends.  Park here.

The hike: Built in 1963, the Walter F. George Dam on the Chattahoochee River creates its namesake lake that straddles the Georgia/Alabama state line.  Walter F. George was a U.S. Senator from Georgia who served from 1922 to 1957, so the State of Alabama prefers to call this impoundment Lake Eufaula after the Alabama city on its western shore.  Whichever name you use, the reservoir is a major destination for boaters and anglers.
            The reservoir’s shores host many recreational facilities, but among the best of them is Georgia’s George T. Bagby State Park.  Presently located 4 miles north of the dam, the park has actually had two incarnations.  The original George T. Bagby State Park was built in 1972 along the Pataula Creek inlet 10 miles north of the current site.  In 1989, the park expanded and moved to its current 444-acre location.  The facility today features a 60-room lodge, 5 cottages, 2 picnic shelters, and a marina and beach on the lake.
            For hikers, the park offers two short nature trails: the white-blazed Lake Trail located west of the main park road and the blue-blazed Chattahoochee Trail located east of the main park road.  Combining parts of the two trails forms the 1.7 mile loop described here, which goes out on the Chattahoochee Trail and comes back on the Lake Trail.  Slightly outdated interpretive guides for both trails can be downloaded from the park’s website.
Start of hike on bike path
            The start of the Chattahoochee Trail is harder to find than it used to be.  The dirt Chattahoochee Trail used to start across the parking lot from the lodge, but the Army Corps of Engineers paved over part of the Chattahoochee Trail in 2015 by building a bike path that connects the lodge to the dam.  Thus, this hike now starts on an asphalt bike path that heads east into loblolly pines, a common resident of previously logged and farmed land.  Ignore trails exiting left that are marked as the Chattahoochee Trail; they lead to the return portion of this loop.  Soon you pass a water tower visible through the trees on the left.
Trail pavilion
            After 0.5 miles of walking on asphalt, you reach a wooden trail pavilion located beside the bike path.  Here is where you leave the pavement.  Walk through the pavilion and pick up a blue-blazed path that leaves from the rear of the shelter.  This path is the Chattahoochee Trail, and it used to look like it does here for its entire distance before the bike path was built.
            The trail descends slightly to enter a wetter area that features some water oak trees.  The wettest area is crossed on a short boardwalk, but a couple of other areas were somewhat submerged when I hiked here the day after a good rain.  The park entrance road comes within earshot on the right, but otherwise this is a nice quiet area.
            After climbing slightly to reach a low sandy ridge, ignore two spur trails that exit right toward the park road and other sections of the park.  1 mile into the hike, a small wetland area comes into view on the left.  The trail comes very close to the park road here as it crosses the outflow of the wetland on a small wooden footbridge.  Stay left as the Chattahoochee Trail angles around the wetland.
Hiking the Chattahoochee Trail
            At 1.2 miles, the wooden trail pavilion you walked through earlier comes into view on the left.  Instead of heading toward the pavilion, angle right to stay on the western half of the Chattahoochee Trail.  In another 300 feet, the trail splits at an unmarked intersection.  Turning left would take you back to the asphalt bike path, but this hike turns right to leave the Chattahoochee Trail and head for the Lake Trail.
            Very quickly you cross the paved park road, and at 1.4 miles you reach the Lake Trail, which is marked with white paint blazes.  The section of the Lake Trail going right leads to the park’s cottage area, so you need to turn left to head back to the lodge.  The reservoir can be seen through the trees ahead and to the right here.
            The easy-going Lake Trail heads south parallel to the park road, which lies just to the left.  The park map shows some trails leaving right that go behind the lodge, but I could not find them on my visit.  At 1.6 miles, the trail climbs gently to reach the shoulder of the park road.  You could continue across the road back to the Chattahoochee Trail and the bike path, or you could turn right and walk a short distance on the road to return to the lodge parking lot and complete the hike.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Lakepoint State Park (Blog Hike #562)

Trail: Nature Trail
Hike Location: Lakepoint State Park
Geographic Location: north of Eufaula, AL
Length: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: January 2016
Overview: A loop hike mostly along the shore of Lake Eufaula.

Directions to the trailhead: From Eufaula, take US 431 north 7.1 miles to the park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, stop at the marina to pick up a trail map, and then drive to the campground entrance, which is reached by passing back over US 431 on an overpass.  Park in either of the two blacktop parking lots beside the camp store at the campground entrance.

The hike: Located in rural southeast Alabama, Lakepoint State Park occupies 1220 acres on the Cowikee Creek inlet of Lake Eufaula (or Walter F. George Reservoir as this body of water is called by the neighboring State of Georgia).  With its centerpiece 101 room lodge, 29 cabins, 10 cottages, and a 192-site lakeside campground, the park is best known as a base camp for people engaging in fishing or boating activities on the lake.  The park’s location adjacent to Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge makes bird watching another popular activity here.
            There are no extended hiking opportunities at Lakepoint State Park or in the adjacent wildlife refuge, but piecing together some of the short trails around the state park’s campground forms the loop described here.  Because this route weaves in and out of the campground, it is probably best to think of this hike as a campground hike.  Nevertheless the many views of Lake Eufaula make this hike rewarding whether you are camping here or not.
Road side trailhead
            No trails depart from your parking lot at the camp store, so this hike starts with a walk along the campground road.  Two paved roads head into the campground, one going straight and the other going left as you drive in.  Choose the one going straight to begin walking the campground loop road counterclockwise.  After 0.3 miles of road walking, you reach the trailhead on the right, which is marked with a green road sign and a wooden stile.  Walk through the stile to begin the off-road portion of this hike.
            Almost immediately the trail forks.  The right option makes a short loop back to the campground road, so you should choose the left option.  The wide grass/dirt trail heads northwest through loblolly pine forest with a seasonally wet area on your right.  Some boundary signs tell you that the land to the right belongs to Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge.  This initial segment of trail is my favorite part of this hike because the campground is nowhere in sight.
Hiking toward the lake
            Just shy of 0.5 miles, you get your first view of wide and deep Cowiker Creek/Lake Eufaula.  A large wooded island sitting less than 20 feet in front of you prevents you from seeing the creek’s full expanse, but it does not prevent you from seeing birds.  The bird tally on my visit included egrets, herons, and Canada geese.
            The trail curves left and begins heading downstream parallel to the creek/lake, which is intermittently visible to the right.  The lowest sections of trail can get rather muddy when water tables are high, so wear appropriate footwear if it has rained recently.  Ignore spur trails that exit left to the Alabama Loop of the campground, and then skirt the edge of the Barbour campground loop.
Skirting the edge of the campground
            Just shy of 1 mile, the trail comes out at the Clark Loop of the campground.  To continue this hike you need to angle left and walk along the paved campground road, soon passing the campground boat launch.  Where the paved road curves left to continue its loop, look for the trail that heads back into the woods, staying parallel with the lake.
            After another short stint in the woods, you come out at the campground’s swimming beach.  Unfortunately, this beach had seen its better days on my visit: it looked like a spot of bare dirt at the edge of the lake.  Some benches near the swimming area make nice places to sit and observe the lake.
Lake Eufaula
            The trail heads back into the woods after tracing the edge of the swimming area.  Almost immediately you reach an odd pyramid-shaped picnic pavilion.  To maximize your time near the lake, take the trail leaving to the right of the pavilion.  The trail traces the perimeter of a narrow wooded peninsula to start heading upstream beside a small inlet.  More picnic pavilions appear across the inlet.
            At 1.8 miles, you reach the edge of the main campground area, a vast network of pads and roads that opens up to your left.  The trail skirts the main campground area as the lake on the right turns into a creek.  Just past 2 miles, the trail seems to end at an intersection with one of the campground roads.  To continue, turn right to cross a small creek on the campground road bridge, and then look for the trail on the right immediately after crossing the bridge.  Walk through another wooden stile to begin the final leg of this hike. 
The trail leaves the main campground area for good and begins following the creek upstream.  Ignore a trail that exits left; it leads to the campground dump station and trash bin.  A short distance later you come out at a final stile located beside the campground entrance road.  The camp store and your car lie just down the road to the left.