Sunday, February 5, 2017

Lake Wateree State Park (Blog Hike #618)

Trail: Desportes Nature Trail
Hike Location: Lake Wateree State Park
Geographic Location: east of Winnsboro, SC (34.43246, -80.85902)
Length: 1.6 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: January 2017
Overview: A short campground lollipop loop around a peninsula in Lake Wateree.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: North of Columbia, take I-77 to Old River Road (exit 41).  Exit and go east on Old River Rd.  Drive Old River Rd. east 2.6 miles to its end at US 21.  Take a soft left on US 21.  Drive US 21 north 2.1 miles to River Road and turn right on River Rd.  Drive River Rd. 5.1 miles to the signed park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, pay the park entrance fee, and drive past the campground to the park office.  Park near the signed trailhead, which is located on the southeast end of the large parking lot to the right of the park office.

The hike: Created when the Wateree River was dammed for hydroelectric power in 1919, Lake Wateree is one of the oldest manmade lakes in South Carolina.  The river and lake are named for the Wateree Indians, a now defunct tribe that lived here in the 1700’s.  The Wateree Hydro Station located some 15 miles southeast of the park is operated by Duke Energy; it generates 56 megawatts of electricity.
            Established via a land acquisition in 1982, Lake Wateree State Park is quite young relative to its namesake lake.  The diminutive 238 acre park features a 72 site campground, a playground, a swimming area, a 2-lane boat ramp, and the short Desportes Nature Trail described here.  Although I came here on a day trip, the Desportes Nature Trail is probably best viewed as a campground nature trail due to its short length and lack of any unique natural or historic features.  What this trail does offer is a short, flat hike through some nice lakeside woods.
Trailhead near park office
            From the signed trailhead at the southeast end of the main parking lot, the dirt nature trail heads southwest into the woods.  At only 0.1 miles, you reach an unsigned T-intersection with trails going right and left.  The option going right leads to another trailhead near the campground, so you want to turn left to head for the nature trail’s main loop.  A scout-constructed bench and garbage can sit here.  Make sure you remember this turn on your way out or else you may end up at the campground.
            The trail heads south on what appears to be an old road as it crosses an isthmus with Lake Wateree on either side.  In spite of the fact that the lake is all around you, the trail never goes all of the way to the lakeshore.  I kept watching for wildlife near the lake, but all I saw were some common songbirds on my chilly mid-afternoon hike.
Hiking on the old road
            Just past 0.3 miles, the trail angles right to leave the old road.  A white metal diamond with a black arrow marks this turn, which could be missed if you are not paying attention. The tallest trees in the park’s forest are loblolly pines, and they leave a soft cushion of pine needles under foot.  A few red cedars and some sweetgums also make an appearance.
            A swamp forest that had standing water on my visit appears on the left as you approach the southern tip of this peninsula.  At 0.5 miles, the trail splits to form its loop.  A double-sided white arrow painted on a tree marks this junction.  For no reason, I chose to turn left and hike the loop clockwise.
Lake Wateree
            The trail loosely traces the perimeter of the peninsula but always stays at least 10 feet from the lakeshore.  Look for stray items that have washed up from the lake including what appears to be an old wooden trail bridge.  A marshy area appears to the left just before you close the loop at 1.1 miles.  Retrace your steps to the parking lot to complete the hike, making sure not to forget to turn right at the garbage can and bench.