Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Lake Trail: Keowee-Toscaway State Park, SC

Click here for the first post in this series.

This morning, not long after daylight, I decided to walk the Lake Trail at Keowee-Toxaway State Park. “Walk” may be a better term here than “hike.” Since this trail too is so “accessible,” as the Park folks politely put it.

This is the newest of the Park’s hiking trails. I couldn’t find it on the Park hand-outs. In fact, it doesn’t yet even have a sign or map at the trailhead. As you can see in the photo below.

[click each photo for a larger view]

According to folks at the Park, it was a logging trail many years ago. So early loggers already had done much of the back-breaking work involved in building a relatively flat path through such rugged woods. Here and there the trail goes over hard-packed earthen bridges spanning impossible-to-avoid gullies. Imagine the sweat involved in hauling and packing down all of that dirt and stone! Of course, since the trail hadn’t been used in years, Park personnel still had a lot of work to do to get it into the shape you see below.

To enter the trail, walk down the ridge from the RV campsites, past the bath house, coming out just below the entrance to the tent site loop. The tent site area is just up the road to the right in the first photo. The trail meanders from there down the ridge to the shore of the lake. Coming out near the Park’s three-bedroom cabin I mentioned a day or so ago. I didn’t carry an altimeter during my walk. But according to Google Earth, the drop from the top of the ridge where the RV sites are to the lake shore is about 300 feet. Giving the trail plenty of character in such a short distance.

Speaking of character, this Lake Trail has very steep banks on one side for most of its length. As you can see in the photo above. Not a place you’d want to meander off the path for a closer look at an interesting tree or bush. Better to bring the field glasses! Or a rope and tackle to get back up! It doesn’t show up in the photo, but a small brook runs through the gully at the bottom. From time to time, its water rushing over rocks provides a welcome sound. Just faintly, though. The other side of the trail, of course, is as steep back up the ridge. All of this rugged terrain makes the trail more interesting. At least for me. It gives a greater sense of really being in the woods.

The photo above illustrates recent maintenance efforts. Modern chainsaws certainly beat the old-style cross-cuts we used until a few decades ago in the woods OverHome. But even chainsaws require more effort to operate than one might think. Try it sometime, on a log that size. Especially in a confined area like this, where footing’s limited, and cutting angles are bound to be difficult. Many of the trees here are huge!

Even after completion, these trails require lots of work to maintain their beauty. Even their accessibility! From beginning to end today, I didn’t encounter a single obstacle – rock, eroded soil, or downed tree trunk – blocking the path. In fact the only obstacles were planned. “Grade dips,” those bumps of hard-packed earth, built here and there into the trail to discourage erosion from down-rushing rain water. And all of those were smooth enough to walk over comfortably. I meant to take a photo of one, but forgot.

About two-thirds of the way down, crystal-blue Keowee Lake begins to flash through the trees from the west. A few more yards and it looks like the photo above! Incredible. Watch your step, though. The bank toward the lake here is steep! The water in this lake is incredibly clear. As is that in Lake Jocassee, to the north of Keowee. When boating, it’s possible to see clear to the bottom quite a ways from shore. More on kayaking Lake Keowee in another post.

This Lake Trail ends just below the Park’s single rental cabin. Cars were parked in front of the cabin, and I could see two people paddling a canoe just off the cabin’s private dock. So I resisted the urge to go closer for a photo. Instead, I walked the other way, toward the shore of the lake, on what turned out to be the remains of an old road-bed. At first I thought it was an abandoned boat ramp. Since the crumbled pavement led right into the lake. Later, the Park folks told me it’s the remains of an old road that led across to the other side of what now is the lake. Long ago flooded, with the rest of the valley, when the lake filled in. The roadbed is still clearly visible, they said, much of the way across.

This is the view to the north when standing on the edge of the old road bed. Notice those mountains in the background, and the natural sandy beaches along the shore. An incredible view! The photo doesn’t do it justice.

With more of the Park to see today, I decided to walk up the paved two-lane road that leads from the cabin to the Park entrance, rather than back up the Lake Trail. I’ll save that for another time. But even this paved road presents beautiful views around every turn. So it too is worth the walk.

The whole walk took me not much over an hour. All very slow and careful walking. With frequent stops to admire the scenery, and to take photographs. Not to rest, you understand. But to enjoy the scenery! This afternoon I hope to venture across Highway Eleven, to the other side of the Park. For a closer look at the Cherokee Interpretive Trail.

By the way, if you find any of this interesting, let me recommend a website that has it all, when it comes to enjoying the outdoors through your computer. You will find Tamia Nelson's "Outside Up North" at:

Take time to click through all of the menu items at the top of the page: "Practical Cycling," "Outside Afoot," "In the Same Boat," and even "Help Turtles Cross Roads." Then look through the headings in the left-hand margin. Tamia is an experienced cyclist, canoeist/kayaker, and hiker. Even cook! Here's where you'll find all sorts of interesting advice on how to enjoy the out-of-doors. The writing and photography will keep you coming back day after day. Make it easier on yourself by subscribing to Tamia's blog. Just click the little RSS button on the left, near the top, for instructions.

Click here for the next post in this series.

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