It has been our tradition to do a hike with our Lowcountry Unfiltered group on the first Second Saturday of the year. This year Second Saturday is a bit later in January as New Year’s was on a Sunday. I guess that’s as late in the month as it can get. This year we decided to return to the site of our first Swamp Stomp, Congaree National Park.
November 6, 2014
Election day – always a bummer in South Carolina for someone of the political persuasion like mine. Even so, I walked down to our local polling place to cast my ballot. While I was in line to vote, my good friend Tim Taylor came up behind me. We caught up while in line, and decided to have lunch together. Since Tim had the Election Day off from his job at the Roper Mountain Science Center, over lunch we decided to head over to Lake Connnestee Nature Park.
We drove over to the park headquarters. There we met Gina Varat and David Hargette, who work at the park. They filled me in on some of the happenings at the park, such as some of the history walks and an upcoming Nature Journaling class with author John Lane. Tim chatted with them a bit, then we headed on our way.
It seems I wasn’t the only one itching to get out and shoot some photos when our planned outing went belly up due to weather yesterday. Sunday’s weather was perfect, and Alan wanted to take his new Nikon DSLR for a spin. So, we planned to meet somewhere local. There had been an article in the Greenville News about additions to the Lake Connestee Nature Park, so we decided to check them out.
Our plan was to meet at the parking area at the dam, or so I thought. At the appointed time I got a call from Alan saying he was at the entrance to the park. Turns out he was behind the old Braves Stadium, so I headed in that direction. Then, it turned out that there were TWO entrances to the park with large signs that look like this…
Alan was at one, and I was at the other. Through the magic of cell phone technology we got it sorted out, and rendezvoused at the correct trail head.
We had loaded up with breakfast at Battens in Wedgefield, and now it was time to go exploring. There were eleven us, divided over three vehicles. Luckily, I had three FRS radios so we could coordinate our travels. So, we set off.
We got off the main highway, and as we entered Manchester State Forest the pavement just kind of gave out. We road on a fairly fast clip, past forested areas and farmland, most of it with “Posted. No Tresspassing” signs.
And so it was only two of us left. Chip had to get back to family, and Stephen had to get back to church. Houston and I got up, had a quick breakfast, then packed up the mountain of remaining food and gear into our trucks. At the Devil’s Fork State Park store we checked out and each bought souvenirs. We both bought copies of Claudia Hembree’s “Jocassee Valley” book, and I bought two more stickers for my kayak.
Sometimes after weekend like this it’s nice to step back and do an overview. We decided to do that quite literally. We left the park and headed up Highway 130 toward the Bad Creek Project. We had taken Laura’s mom up here for a picnic sometime back, and it has fantastic views of Lake Jocassee. This time, on our way up, we encountered a family of turkeys.
At the overlook itself we had clear views of the places we had paddled the day before. We could see where the Whitewater River enters the lake, and even had a view of the Lower Falls. We could also see where we had stopped for lunch and other places along our paddle route.
Boynton House sits abandoned and forlorn in a remote corner of the Donnelley Wildlife Management Area, part of the ACE Basin. It was once the main house for a vast rice plantation. Now the wooden filigree is falling apart, and bat guano fills several of the rooms. On this particular trip, we also found out that it is cursed.
Normally we do a paddling trip the second Saturday of each month with the Lowcountry Unfiltered group. This time we decided to do something different. One of our members, Rob Dewig, has a new job with the Colleton County Museum. We wanted to check out his new digs. We also planned to do a bit of bike riding in the ACE Basin.
I got up far too early on Saturday morning and drove on down to the Lowcountry. Five other hearty souls joined me at the main kiosk for Donelley. It sounded like a disciples convention – Thomas (me), Matthew, James, John, James, and a young guy whose name starts out C-h-r-i-s-t. (Christian, Jimmy’s son). Yeah, we were in for trouble of Biblical proportions.
Normally on a second Saturday I’d be off with the guys from Lowcountry Unfiltered. They had a great trip planned for today, but due to various reasons I wasn’t going to be able to join them. Instead, I teamed up with Dwight, his wife Sue, and son Adam to explore Congaree National Park and a bit of Lower Richland County.
Lower Richland County is located in a wedge formed by the Congaree and Wateree Rivers up to their confluence, where they become the Santee River. The area is also known as the “Cowasee” Basin, a name created by combining names of those rivers. Congaree National Park makes up most of the Cowasee Basin, but there are also lots of historical locations, including one interesting ghost town.
I headed down to Congaree on this clear, cool Saturday morning. I arrived at the park early to find an already packed parking lot. There were groups of Boy Scouts, as well as other tour groups gathering. I have to admit – I tend to be selfish with my wilderness experiences. I don’t mind others around, but lots of loud people make it hard to see wildlife. I was a bit worried.
Dwight, Sue, and Adam arrived, and soon we were off, headed down the high boardwalk. The plan was fairly simple. We would stick to the trails and boardwalks for the most part, but we wanted to do a little bushwhacking. We also wanted to find at least one champion tree.
It was the first second Saturday of 2011, and my friends from Lowcountry Unfiltered decided to brave another swamp stomp in the Congaree Swamp National Park. We did this once before in January a couple of years ago. At that time it had been raining all week, and we had one of the coldest, wettest hikes we’ve ever experience. This time around it was cold, but fortunately much dryer.
Last time we wandered around with a vague notion of where we wanted to go. This time we had a target, or, more appropriately, targets. We were looking for champion trees, and we wanted to see how many we could find before we wore ourselves out.
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Monday Laura and I celebrated our 22nd anniversary. We usually like to get out and travel a bit on our anniversary. It was cold and windy, even in Florida, so a paddling trip or boat ride was out of the question. Instead, we decided to head inland to the Kissimmee Prairie, a 54,000 acre nature preserve north of Okeechobee.
Our directions from Amy were to drive down to Orange Avenue in Fort Pierce, then head west until it ended at Highway 441. It was 25 miles of the straightest road I think I’ve ever seen on this side of the Mississippi. It was another 20 miles on 441 through some of the most desolate countryside in the state. There were large ranches and orange groves dotted with small single-wide trailers. I couldn’t imagine living out here, especially in summer.
When we got to the Prairie we found a large flat area that alternated between palmetto scrub, grasslands, and wetlands interspersed with palm tree and live oak hammocks. A couple of dirt roads traversed the area, but for the most part the only way to see the place was on foot.
I had been sneaking off on paddling trips for the past several weekends, so Laura decided it was time for both of us to get away. We headed down toward the coast, and one of our favorite locations, Francis Beidler Forest.
Beidler Forest is located in the Four Holes Swamp area, and is maintained by the Audobon Society. It features a mile-long loop trail on a raised boardwalk that winds through the cypress swamp. In addition to huge ancient trees, the swamp is home to many species of birds and other wildlife. This time of year is when the prothonotary warblers are in town, and we were hoping to spot a few.