Thursday, May 27, 2010

Aiken State Natural Area, South Carolina. Part VII. Interview with Park Manager, Troy Crider.

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The last full day here at Aiken State Natural Area. Not long after dark last night I heard someone very quietly setting up on a nearby campsite.

co 01 What a surprise this morning to see another Aliner parked three sites away. Not only an Aliner, but also two kayaks! Chris and Tina from Columbia are frequent visitors to South Carolina’s state parks. Very experienced campers. I’ll bet they’d be great interview subjects.

crider 01 After breakfast and some writing in the Mobile Studio, I was off to the Park Office for an interview with Park Manager, Troy Crider.

Special thanks to Mr. Crider for taking the time to do this interview. He was especially busy today, since his campground was fully booked for the Memorial Day weekend. With spill-over to the primitive camping areas. And at present, Aiken State Natural Area has only two Rangers to handle everything: Park Manager Crider and Ranger Jason Robinette. Somehow they manage to get everything done.

crider 02 As usual, we began with a personal introduction and Mr. Crider’s background. He was born and raised in Columbia, in a South Carolina Park Service family. ClickToListen And had plenty of opportunities to visit State Parks as a child. No wonder he became a Park Ranger!

ClickToListen Moving on to Mr. Crider’s preparation for a Park Service career and academic background, I learned that he began as a history major at USC, Columbia.

Before long, however, background won out. A summer job at Myrtle Beach State Park persuaded Mr. Crider to transfer to Coastal Carolina’s Recreation and Sports Management program. Where he was able to continue working part-time at the Myrtle Beach State Park. You may recall that Santee Park Manager, Nathan Maiwald, also is a product of that Coastal Carolina program.

crider 03 I then asked Mr. Crider about his career in the South Carolina Park Service. Beginning with his part-time work at Myrtle Beach while studying at Coastal Carolina. The photo above is of Mr. Crider’s name tag. It notes he’s been a Park Service employee since 1996. Sorry about the quality of the photo.

As it turned out, Mr. Crider spent six years at Myrtle Beach. ClickToListenOne of the busiest Parks in the system. Mr. Crider credits long-serving Myrtle Beach Park Manager Robert Turner with mentoring him during his stay there. Mr. Crider also served several years at Edisto Beach State Park, one of my favorite Parks in the System.

crider 04

ClickToListen With time running short, we shifted focus to the Aiken State Natural Area. Mr. Crider has been Park Manager here for just two years. He described Aiken as a natural resource park. Where he and the Park Service try to maintain a balance between development of the facility for use by the public and natural resource management.

As you look around Aiken State Natural Area you’ll see the benefits of that balancing act. Resources are maintained as close to their natural state as possible, while still providing opportunities for the public to enjoy those resources. The hiking/walking trails within the Park are a good example of that. Also the lakes I’ve tried to describe in these posts. The combination ranges in effect from pleasant to breath-taking.

crider 05 One important advantage of a natural resource park is the abundance and diversity of wildlife visitors will find. ClickToListen I asked Mr. Crider about Aiken’s full-time creature residents. He mentioned so many that you’ll just have to click on the button to listen. He did include alligators and snakes in his description. And, like his Poinsett colleague, Park Manager McCants, noted that he’s never had an incident of snake bite in his Park. Something good to remember.


crider 06


ClickToListen By now Park visitors were beginning to drop by the office. But I asked Mr. Crider about the Park’s hiking/walking trails and about the campground. ClickToListen He quickly provided good summaries of both, and we completed the interview.

Thanks again, Mr. Crider, for your generous contribution of time and expertise to the CarolinaConsidered Project. And for agreeing to the interview during an especially busy day.

Well, that’s it. I leave Aiken State Natural Area tomorrow morning. It’s been a wonderful experience. I’ve enjoyed the stay and learned more than I expected to learn about this State’s amazing natural environment.

ClickToListen Click here to listen to the interview with Mr. Crider from beginning to end, without interruption.

Week after next I’m hoping to visit King’s Mountain State Park. Another CCC-built Park. But in the northernmost part of the State. A very different sort of Park in a very different natural environment. So stay tuned!

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Aiken State Natural Area, South Carolina. Part VI. The Historic Park Office and its Environs.

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Back out the hard-packed dirt road now, across Route 53 to the other side of the Park. For a closer look at the Park Office and its interesting surrounding scenery. All within easy walking distance of the parking lot there.

co 1After parking beside the fence, be sure to notice the sign at the entrance of the walk up to the Office. Click on the photo above for an over-sized image that should be legible. Depending on the size of your computer monitor, you may have to scroll around a bit to see everything. But it will be worth the effort.

The sign describes the experiences of CCC Company 4470 who built this Park. 4470 was a Black Company, formed under the 1930s’ segregated system.

co 2 Well, they did a fine job. Many of their buildings stand still today, serving visitors to Aiken State Natural Area. After over seven decades of use. Here’s the front of the Park Office. Originally built as a changing/bath house for Park visitors who came to swim in the nearby lake.

co 3Park personnel, of course, have made repairs from time to time. Here’s a photo taken from the terrace in the middle of the building, with a good view of the roof. The lighter colored lumber has been replaced recently. The darker planks and beams are original. Remarkable work. Typical of the CCC craftsmen.

co 4 Here’s a view of the small lake near the Park Office. In years past this lake, I heard, was divided into a swimming section and a paddle boat section. Now it serves neither purpose. But for my money, is far more interesting.

co 05 Be sure to walk down the hill from the Office to walk the path around this lake. From this perspective you’ll understand why I prefer the lake as it is today. The combination of clear water, fish, turtles, aquatic plant life, and the surrounding trees that have been carefully pruned over the years, makes for a remarkable sight.

co 07 And look closely at the plant life near the shore of the lake. A wide variety of aquatic plants floating in crystal-clear water. Here and there small fish dart about; large and small turtles, frogs. All very interesting.

co 06 The forest on the other side of the path also is interesting. Plenty of birds and other wildlife.

co 08 And here convenient access to the Park’s remarkable walking/hiking trail. Even if you weren’t planning to hike the trail today, take a few minutes to walk down this path. It’s smooth and easily accessible here, and will give you a good introduction to what you will see later on.

co 09 Back on the path around the lake, look at this tree! What a shape. And right here where everyone can enjoy it. Even from a car window, if necessary.

As with the trees and shrubs in the Campground area, this sort of natural beauty doesn’t just happen. Someone over the years has taken good care of this tree.

co 10 Here’s the restroom facilities for this part of the Park. Well planned out. Surrounded by those beautiful trees.

co 11 What a place to have a picnic! When I arrived on Sunday afternoon, this picnic shelter was hosting a large church group. They seemed to be having a great time.

co 12 Well, back up to the parking area and the car. Lots more to see here. But we’re out of time. Next we’ll talk with Park Manager Troy Crider. So stay tuned! 

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Aiken State Natural Area, South Carolina. Part V. Visit to the Cabin Lake Area.

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cl 1 Be sure to drive over to the Cabin Lake area of Aiken State Natural Area when you visit. It’s easy to miss if you’re relying on a GPS and not paying attention. I almost did. Ranger Jason Robinette reminded me, fortunately. So over I went.

cl 2 This is another fascinating part of the Park that’s easily accessible to visitors. Cabin Lake is larger than I expected. Not very deep, except in certain spots. But with enough acreage to support a diverse fish and plant population. Lots to see.

cl 3 This bank you see above creates the lake, separating it from the Edisto River below. It’s topped with a wide walking path. Ideal for fishing, bird/fish/animal watching, or just plain strolling. As you walk along, be sure to look to the left. You can see the Edisto River winding along below.

Here’s a short YouTube clip that describes this part of the Park. Oh, and if you wish to see a larger version, a click on the window will open the YouTube site in another window. There you can watch the clip in full-screen size if you wish.

cl 4 Click on the photo above for a more legible version of the Canoe Trail. Should be an interesting trip! Though I didn’t have time during this visit to make the run.

Back now to the other side of the Park to have a look around the Park Office and its surrounding scenery. So stay tuned.

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Aiken State Natural Area, South Carolina. Part IV. Park Features.

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mon campground Up again early this morning for the normal routine and some writing. Then off to see more of what Aiken State Natural Area has to offer. As usual, it’ll be impossible to cover everything in these posts. But I’ll try try to give you at least a glimpse of what’s available.

This morning, let’s just wander around for a while, and hit some of the highlights. Beginning just a half-mile or so up the loop road to the Fish Lake Picnic Area.

Years ago, I’m told, the Park maintained cabins here for visitors to rent. Now, in addition to the lake, there’s a fairly large picnic shelter, an artesian well with the first a good dipping pool I’ve seen, a beautiful spillway for the lake, and some incredible scenery. Here are a few photos:

loop road We’re back out on the one-way loop road now. In just two-tenths of a mile we’ve reached the Riverside canoe/kayak put-in spot for the Park’s celebrated 1.5-mile river canoe trail. This is a real opportunity.

riverside 03 Those of you who have yet to try canoeing or kayaking could hardly do better than here for your first attempt. As you’ll see below, the Park maintains a nice fleet of quite new canoes and kayaks. They even provide paddles and personal flotation devices, or life jackets. All for quite a reasonable price.

Check the float times and they’ll even wait to pick you up at the take-out point down the river! Click the photo above for details.

Next, we’ll drive out onto Old Tory Trail, and over across the road to the Cabin Lake Area of the Park. So stay tuned!

cabin lake 01

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Aiken State Natural Area, South Carolina. Part III. An Experienced RV Camping Neighbor Offers Some Tips.

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Up well before dawn this morning, and straight to the newly renovated shower facilities of the nearby bath house. Then back for a nice breakfast and some writing in the Aliner before today’s explorations.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of RV camping for me is the opportunity to meet other campers. They’re invariably friendly, helpful, and informative. They’re usually great sources of advice on how to RV camp more comfortably, and what to see in the surrounding area.

Stepping out around 9:00 this morning for a few more photographs, I met just such a fellow camper. He and his wife were camped in a nice travel trailer several sites away.

They were not only very experienced RV campers, they also live quite near this Park. What an opportunity. After some persuasion, my neighbor agreed to record a few minutes of conversation for CarolinaConsidered.

ClickToListen We began, as usual, with a general introduction. Click on the button to the left, as indicated, to listen. We then went on to his assessment of this Park as an RV camping spot. And, as a fishing spot!

Then the topic shifted to cycling. I’d seen him and his wife riding bicycles yesterday afternoon. But it turned out they also ride motorcycles. For camping! Now that must be an experience.

ClickToListen This camping neighbor knew a lot about the safe management of insect pests while camping. Not just opinion, but solid information based on professional experience. So I asked for a few suggestions. Click the button to learn how to handle the ants and other insects we’re bound to encounter at these nature-oriented RV campgrounds. And why some campgrounds have ants and others don’t. Something I always wondered about.

ClickToListen In closing, I asked my helpful neighbor about other RV camping spots in South Carolina, and more about camping with a motorcycle. Now, there’s a real challenge!

So there you have it. A fine example of the great folks you’ll meet while RV camping in South Carolina. Thanks again, neighbor, for your generosity and willingness to face the microphone.

Stay tuned, now, since there’s more to come on Aiken State Natural Area.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Aiken State Natural Area, South Carolina. Part II. The Campground and Setting Up.

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site 12 a Back around the loop, I drove directly to campsite # 12. As described on the reservation website, it’s a level pull-through. Ideal for RVs of the Aliner size. The hard-packed sand surface easily supported even the Aliner’s little front wheel. Everything neat and clean, which makes for a nice welcome.

The Park maintains primitive campgrounds, some that hosts groups. But the RV camping area here is quite small. Only 25 sites. Each with electricity and water. All now reservable.

another site The campsites are laid out in a circle that surrounds an attractive central area. I didn’t look at every site. But those I saw looked pretty much like the one above. All were appropriate for comfortable RV camping. Though some might challenge drivers of huge motor homes.

Like some of the other State Parks CarolinaConsidered has visited, Aiken State Natural Area isn’t for RV campers who usually camp at and enjoy busy “full-facility” commercial campgrounds. With their concrete sites, elaborate children’s play areas, put-put golf courses, restaurants, and comprehensively stocked campground stores.

Campgrounds where every precaution is taken to insulate RV camping guests from forests, wetlands, or even woods. Let alone the full-time resident critters who call such places home.

Aiken State Natural Area isn’t like that at all. Here every effort has been made to allow RV camping visitors access to the hardwood and dry sand hill pine forests, the bottomland, and even the river swamps that surround them.

And to minimize activities here that would interfere with efforts to learn from and enjoy this remarkable natural environment. Nobody here will try to sell you a golf shirt, or encourage your children, for a fee, to bounce on a huge rubber pillow!

central picnic area This campground’s designers didn’t waste the area circumscribed by the campsites and road. It’s carefully landscaped with straight, tall pines, and many other species positioned here and there for best effect. This gives every campsite a nice view of the dry sand hill pine forest aspect of this Park.

fire pit benches Here’s a closer look at the central picnic area. The first of its kind that I’ve seen. Note the big stone fire pit, the surrounding in-place benches, and the electrical connection on the right hand side. Oh, that and one of four horseshoe pits. Talk about an inviting picnic spot!

bath house 2 The bath house and restroom building is positioned a discreet distance away. With shower and washing facilities fully renovated just this March. The brand new ceramic tiling and shiny fixtures were a real treat. Have a look here:

That’s all we have time for today. Lots to see and do here at Aiken State Natural Area. So stay tuned!

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Aiken State Natural Area, South Carolina. Part I. Arrival and First Impressions.

sign 1 Table of Contents for This Series

  1. Drive over, arrival and first impressions
  2. The RV campground at Aiken and set-up
  3. Campground neighbor offers RV camping tips and advice on insect control while camping
  4. Some of Aiken SNA’s special features
  5. The Cabin Lake area of the Park
  6. The Park Office and its Environs
  7. Interview with Park Manager Troy Crider

Another ideal day for RV travel here in the Midlands of South Carolina. Partly sunny, with just enough cloud cover to avoid sun persecution during the drive to Aiken State Park. Or, Aiken State Natural Area, as it’s now called.

hometoaikensna Again, I left earlier than expected. Just after 11:00 a.m. The Garmin GPS suggested an straightforward trip of about 75 minutes. From Two Notch Road, or Route 1, to Route 302, and from there to Route 53 and the Park road. Faithful to its “Avoid Highways” instruction.

Once on the road, however, I decided to drive into Columbia on one of those multi-laned highways. Route 277. To avoid church traffic congestion along the way. We’ve discussed Sunday morning driving in South Carolina here before. Route One passes quite a few successful churches in the downtown Columbia area. I’d rather take my chances with the fishermen.

Well, the new GPS seemed to take offense at this rejection of its advice. After several indignant suggestions for correcting my indiscretion, it simply froze in place. Refused to register anything. Direction; speed; route repainting. Nothing! I’d been abandoned to my homogenized super-highway fate.

Repentant, I pressed the on-off switch once. The system reset immediately. It then recognized the Odious Highway 277, and continued thereafter without incident on to the Park. Point made, I guess. Beware the wrath of a GPS scorned….

It’s always nice to travel a new secondary road through interesting country. Route 302 fit the bill this morning. New to me, anyway. Plenty of both natural and social scenery on both sides. Passing through the little towns of Pelion and Wagener. A nice drive from beginning to end.

I’ve yet to find that good book or set of articles on the history of South Carolina’s roads. Maybe the South Carolina Highway Department would know of something.

road to park Once past Baughman’s Mill Pond, when, after crossing Route 4, Route 302 becomes Route 53, the scenery changes again. Wetlands here and there. Then a bridge across the South Fork of the Edisto River. With all that implies for the environment. What a difference a change of only 50 to 75 feet in elevation can make! Click on the map out-take above for more detail.

main sign The signs for Aiken State Natural Area were clear. Even I couldn’t miss ‘em. Just turn right on Route 1699, better known as Old Tory Trail, and you’re there. Note too for future reference before you turn the dirt road extension of Route 1699 off to the left of Route 53. We’ll certainly be visiting that part of the Park before long.

one-wayOnce in past the sign and gate the road becomes a one-way 2.1-mile paved loop that passes the main picnic area and pond, the Park Office, the campground entrance, a fishing pond, the canoe/kayak put-in point on the Edisto River, and other Park features on this side of Route 53.

This loop is well worth driving. A convenient overview of much that’s available in this Park. Especially valuable for less mobile folks.

Drive slowly. You’re likely to encounter bicycle riders. And probably some full-time Park residents along the way. This wetlands area is full of interesting animal life. Oh, and insect life as well. Bring plenty of bug spray at this time of year. More on that in a moment.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Poinsett State Park, South Carolina. Part VIII Walking the Coquina Trail

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trail head Another beautiful day here at Poinsett State Park in South Carolina. Sunny, with a few clouds. And not oppressively hot. Ideal for a walk around the Park’s “Coquina Trail.”

Here’s a link to a page from the South Carolina State Trails Program for a detailed description. With even a map! All told, only 1.5 miles.

bridge Not long at all. And well maintained throughout. But only the first eighth-mile or so is suitable for hikers with baby strollers or in wheel chairs. Here’s a picturesque CCC-built bridge that crosses a spillway stream from the Lake.

trail 1 A bit further on, as the trail begins to ascend the steep hill above the Lake opposite the Park Office, the going gets a bit more rugged. Certainly not anything to challenge even a modestly prepared walker, like me. trail 2 But steeper, and a bit rougher, than would be comfort-able to navigate for vehicles with small wheels. I’d foolishly forgotten to bring along my walking stick. But really didn’t feel the lack of it on any part of the trail. Still, no place for a wheel chair or baby stroller, I’m sure, after the first eighth-mile or so.

steep bank The side of this hill is remarkably steep. Bringing to mind the mountains of the Upstate region rather than the Sandhills of the Midlands. Fortunately, the trail ascends the hill gradually. With even a switchback in one place. Here’s a photo taken looking down from the trail toward the lake.

shelter Here, just before the halfway point, and near the the highest spot on the trail is a welcome CCC shelter. Coquina stone and wood. With benches along three walls. Step in and take a rest. Even if you don’t need one. The surrounding plant life is amazing. And you’ll be surprised by what you may see and hear in the way of animal life. The deer, squirrels, and birds here seem accustomed to hikers. A great spot from which to enjoy what Poinsett offers us.

half way Then on to the halfway marker. Here it is. Notice the white blaze below the half way letters. That white blaze marks the trail throughout its course. Impossible to get lost here. So, just relax throughout and enjoy the incredible scenery.

hilltop trail Turn here to continue on up to the highest part of this hill. It’s a little steeper, but not far at all. Nice to have the trails laid out here in a way that offers the hiker alternatives. Truth be told, I didn’t ascend to the hilltop this time. It looked attractive. But I had to save something for the next visit!

trail 3 From here the trail begins the descent to the level of the wetland area at the head of Levi Mill Lake.

wetland area There’s a nice view of this marshy area from here. All sorts of different plants. I didn’t see any wildlife at all. But it must have been there in abundance.

laurel group Here’s the marker for the “Laurel Group” part of the trail. I passed up that opportunity as well. It must have been stunning just a couple of weeks ago. Imagine it! Mountain laurel draped with Spanish moss. That sight alone makes the visit worthwhile. Park Manager McCants told me that I could see a few ironwood trees near that trail. Well, next visit.

wetland 2 At the bottom of the slope the trail crosses the marsh we saw from above. Look at this!

walkway And Park personnel thoughtfully maintain walkways and mini-bridges across the wettest part of the trail. Throughout I didn’t get my feet wet a single time.

lake view Before I knew it I was back on the other side of the Lake. Walking along parallel to the Park Road, between the Lake and the road. This is a very different view of the lake than that I had yesterday from the kayak.

alligator sign And, in case the well maintained trail and wooden walkways lull us into forgetting we’re in the forest, here’s a sign describing the American alligator. I didn’t see any of them, unfortunately. But they must have been around somewhere.

office furniture Before I knew it, I was past the boat slips and back at the Park Office building. It was a short walk. Those chairs looked inviting.

So there you have it. Poinsett State Park’s Coquina Trail. A wonderful walk in the woods here in one of the most unusual environments I’ve encountered.

Thanks again to Park Manager Zabo McCants, Ranger Brad, and their colleagues for maintaining this wonderful facility. It’s hard to imagine while here that Columbia is less than 45 minutes away by car. Come by and camp for a few days. You won’t be disappointed.

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