Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Kayak Paddle at Sesquicentennial State Park, March 31, 2010

Sesqui 1 February 21st I wetted a paddle for the first time this year. [Click here to read all about it.] You may recall that I’d intended to cross the road for a short paddle on the lake at Sesquicentennial State Park, near our home. The little lake where I first learned to paddle a kayak.

The Lake, it turned out, was closed for its annual maintenance. So I had to drive clear to Lake Monticello. Well, that’s not all that far. But still a longer drive, so less time in the water.

sesqui 2The Park crew had finished their maintenance, and the Lake was back to normal. In fact, nicer than I’ve seen it in years. Just look at that water! That’s a view from the kayak back toward the area from which I launch, and where the Park keeps its rental paddle boats, canoes, and kayaks.

sesqui 3 The water now is crystal-clear again. This may not be the best example to make the point. But to take the photo I purposely paddled over across the lake to the cove where the water is least clear just to see. It was much clearer than it appears in the photo.

sesqui turtle For several years I’ve seen this same turtle basking on a semi-submerged log, about 30 feet from where I took this photo. And there he was again. A bit bigger, and a bit less skittish. Good and bad in that. I’d prefer him to maintain a healthy fear of boats and their human occupants. Not everyone afloat on Sesqui Lake may be a member of Tamia Nelson’s TurtleTaxi Corps. We all should be.

The late morning and early afternoon of the 31st of March featured near-perfect paddling weather here in the South Carolina Midlands. Temperatures in the mid-70s; just enough of a breeze to keep things cool; and sunlight adequate to fill the camera’s lens with a beautiful photo no matter where it was pointed. What a treat!

picnic shelter Here’s one of the several picnic shelters around the park. On weekends it’s a popular spot for church picnics and family reunions. Often featuring barbeque cookers. I can’t count the times I’ve been invited to join in when paddling by. This particular picnic shelter has a nice white sand “beach.” Though swimming is no longer allowed in the lake.

bridge Here’s a view of the charming wooden bridge that crosses the lake’s southernmost outlet. Taken from the wrong side, by the way. Note the near-perfectly shaped tree on the left. It’s a great spot, and this photo simply doesn’t do it justice. You’ll have to visit to see for yourself!

sesqui 4 Back across the lake again. Somehow the view from the seat of a kayak always looks different. The lake is only 30 acres in total. Small by any standard. And not very deep in most places. But its diverse shoreline and clear water gives it a charm that’s hard to resist.

sesqui 5 Not to mention the wildlife! This is the northernmost shore of the lake. Marshy, wet, and ideal for birds, deer, rabbits, raccoons, turtles, and ducks. With enough dead trees here to keep any number of woodpeckers and eagles happy for a lifetime. The walking trail around the Lake runs fairly close to the shoreline here. With enough wooden walkways and bridges to satisfy the most fastidious of walkers. In years past I’ve seen huge nests up in those trees. Hawks? Eagles? Something bigger than a wren, that’s for sure.

sesqui 6 Well, back in to the take-out near the boat dock. Time to get back to work on the new CarolinaConsidered website. Click on over when you have a moment for a look around. I’ve made a few changes, and at last have an “about” page drafted. It, like the rest of the site, is a work in progress. So send along your suggestions.

Next stop will be Little Pee Dee State Park. So stay tuned.

Click here for the CarolinaConsidered website.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Calhoun Falls State Park, S.C. Part VII. Kayaking on Lake Russell

Click here for the first post in this series.

Up fairly early this morning. Well …. “early” is a relative term. When the Mobile Studio Aliner is parked in such a beautiful spot, it just means awake in time to hear the birds perform their dawn serenade.

boat ramp The occasion today was anticipation of a paddle on Lake Russell. Putting in and taking out at the Park’s boat ramp. The weather has improved considerably. Or, more accurately, the weather forecast. Sunny, mid-70s temperatures, with only a little wind. Ideal conditions under which to become better acquainted with Lake Russell. And, how better to do that than from a kayak!

The Advanced Elements Expedition inflatable/foldable kayak has been tucked away in the back seat of the car for more than a week. Together with all imaginable water safety equipment. All ready to go. So, around 10:30 a.m., I changed into kayaking gear and drove over to the ramp you see in the photo above.

At mid-week, this ramp wasn’t especially busy. So I parked in the shade of a tree, spread out the long blue tarp, and assembled/inflated the Expedition. Today it didn’t take long at all, since there were no bystanders asking questions. A rare event.

I waited for two large power boats to put in, and for one power boat to take out before trundling the fully loaded Expedition down to the ramp on its little cart. As you can see in the photo above, this is a double ramp. While I was removing and stowing the cart and its wheels, and preparing to push off, an Abbeville couple pulled into the other ramp with a huge pontoon fishing boat. We chatted a while about their experience on the Lake, and about inflatable/foldable kayaks. Until we saw a large bass boat waiting to come in just beyond the fishing pier.

Digital image  Then on with the PFD, into the kayak, and off I paddled. Out and around the Park’s Marina. All was quiet there, so they must have repaired the faulty water main. Notice how smooth the water was this morning.

That’s an advantage of this boat ramp. It’s located in the cove formed by the two finger-like peninsulas that project from the Park. That location must give welcome protection from the wind while putting in and taking out on more blustery days.

Digital image  Up the lake past the Park Office and boat gas dock, the weather and water were just perfect for a comfortable paddle. This sort of calm water paddling isn’t every kayaker’s idea of nirvana. “No excitement!” some say. A reasonable point. But I guess I’ve had enough excitement to last a lifetime, and prefer more peaceful, relaxing activities. Maybe that’s part of “ElderKayaking.”

When learning to kayak a few years ago I took pains to buy a PFD, or life jacket, that accommodated an iPod. Thinking it would be nice to listen to recorded books while out on the water. Well, the first time out, on the lake at Sesquicentennial State Park, I took the iPod. But once on the water, I never bothered to turn it on. And that was the last time I even bothered to take it along.

Digital image  There’s just too much to see and enjoy while paddling along in a kayak. Especially close to shore. Here’s an example. Looking south along the eastern shore of Lake Russell. Not far from the Park Office, as described on the sign. Note the bank of red soil at water’s edge. And the vegetation that red soil supports. It varies considerably depending on the location in the lake.

Digital image  Not far away, the shore becomes rocky, with all sorts of things to see both under the clear water, and on the exposed beach. Fish, turtles, birds, snakes. No alligators here, of course. I took this photo along the northern side of a small rocky outcropping not far from shore. These small islands must have been the very tops of hills in the area flooded for the lake.

Digital image  And here, just below one of the campsites on Loop # 2, you can see a natural sandy beach area that looks ideal for landing and launching a kayak. Very different shorelines within less than a half-mile along the lake. Very different plant and animal life along the way.

Digital image  Speaking of campsites, here’s a photo from the water of the Aliner parked on site # 66. The shoreline there is a combination of sand, red earth, and rocks.

You also have a good view of some of the Expedition kayak’s safety equipment: a spare paddle; a bilge pump; and a yellow paddle float. Some experienced kayakers chuckle over my abundance of safety equipment, given the placid nature of my paddling. But I feel more comfortable, and more responsible as an ElderKayaker, with them aboard.

Digital image  Paddling in a northerly direction up the lake, I came upon the somewhat larger island pictured here. On closer examination it looked ideal for overnight camping. Though such camping may not be allowed on this lake. Or maybe it is. No evidence of past camps visible from the water, anyway.

Digital image  I paddled all the way around the island, looking carefully at the various shoreline formations. On one side it had a beautiful sandy beach. Quite wide for such a small island. And on the other side, a couple of less sociable geese. Perhaps on their honeymoon! Just beyond the geese is where I saw the large fire ant mound mentioned earlier. Quite an environment.

The temptation when paddling along under such peaceful and interesting conditions is to go on and on. The Expedition at thirteen feet in length and thirty-five inches at the beam is a substantial boat. But it moves along with surprisingly little effort once in the water. The side-to-side, whoosh-whoosh of the double paddle borders on the hypnotic. The backbone – that sturdy bow-to-stern rubber-covered aluminum pole I’ve written about before -- gives the whole boat greater rigidity and its keel more of a V configuration. All making for an easier paddle.

Digital image  But the prudent paddler knows when it’s time to turn around and paddle back to the boat ramp. Especially the prudent paddler who’s hungrier than a bear, and knows lunch awaits on shore. Here’s the Expedition once again on the ramp, its little cart attached, ready to return to the back seat of the car. Again, with nobody around to ask questions about the boat, deflation and disassembly went quickly.

Digital image  In less than half an hour I was seated at one of the picnic tables just behind the Park office having a tasty and healthy lunch. Well …. at least, tasty ….. Still able to enjoy the view across the lake. This is a wonderful spot for kayaking as well as RV camping. I’ll definitely try to return in the near future.

Click here for the CarolinaConsidered website.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Calhoun Falls State Park, S.C. Part VI. Interview with Park Manager David Drake

Click here for the first post in this series.

drake 2 After spending much of the morning wandering around, taking photos, and just enjoying the Park [see the last post], Park Manager David Drake and I sat down in the early afternoon for a recorded interview. Interviews are not Mr. Drake’s favorite activity. And, he was busy as the dickens at the appointed time. But he’d agreed yesterday to do the interview, and kept the engagement.

That in spite of one of those mini-crises erupting that keep a South Carolina Park Manager’s life interesting. A water main serving the whole marina had just ruptured. With all imaginable consequences. Mr. Drake and the Park maintenance crew were struggling to fix it as I arrived. I offered to postpone the interview. But Mr. Drake declined, saying everything was under control. Oh my. Glad I’m retired!

drake 3 Mr. Drake’s office is small and functional. Even by Park Service standards. But as he mentioned during our conversation, the view from the window above his computer screen is spectacular! Right out onto the lake and marina.

We began with the usual personal introduction. Mr. Drake is a South Carolinian, born and bred. Raised not far from this very Park. In the historic town of Honea Path. A place I hope to visit and write about in the near future.

We then discussed Mr. Drake’s 22-year career in the Park Service. Years that included over a decade as Park Manager at Greenwood State Park. And the importance of mentoring new Rangers.

drake 5 What is it that makes a successful South Carolina Park Ranger and Manager? I’ve often wondered, and asked Mr. Drake what he thought. He described it as a lifestyle. Not just a job, in other words. He also mentioned the importance of an outdoors background, and his training at Clemson University. I still don’t think we have the whole answer. But this certainly is some of it.

We then turned to the facilities at Calhoun Falls State Natural Area. I tried to describe some of them in the last post. But Mr. Drake’s description was more compelling. Listen to his description of all of the activities available here. Even the most life-jaded early teenager, or late-teenager, is certain to have fun here. While learning to enjoy the out-of-doors.

community 1 The Community Center he mentions is a huge facility. This is a photo of the front from the parking lot. Note the stone chimney peeking above the roof. It extends down to a huge stone fireplace in the main central room. I couldn’t get inside for a photo. Just saw it from the window. It’s a beautiful piece of work.

com playground Step out the back of the community center onto a nice deck. Then down a few steps to one of those state-of-the-art playgrounds. This one overlooking the lake. A beautiful spot. A great place for a large family reunion, church outing, or company picnic. This community center must stay busy year-round. If the less expensive picnic shelters don’t fit your needs, this facility should.

Come to find out, the Calhoun Falls State Recreation Area team also has responsibility for a number of other public facilities in the area. Two of which Mr. Drake describes as “mini state parks.” The six thousand acre McCalla State Natural Area, the Caldwell-Hutchison Farm House, and eleven boat ramps on Lake Russell. Whew! This gets complicated.

I had an opportunity to meet Mr. Ellis, the Camp Host for Campground # 2 when checking in. Camp hosts, as we’ve discussed before, make all the difference when camping. And Mr. Ellis proved to be an ideal example. Born and raised not far from the Park, he knows all about the surrounding area. And is willing to share that information with inquisitive campers. Campground # 1 is similarly blessed with an experienced and active Host, Mr. Uldrick. I hope to meet him before leaving on Friday morning.

13 Since arriving at Calhoun Falls State Recreation Area, I’ve been raving about the RV campsites. That’s all one campsite you see in the photo above! It’s a pull-through. It’s paved. It’s level. It’s roomy. And imagine that lake view! This may be the best site in the Park. But the others are almost as nice.

I then asked Mr. Drake about visitors to the Calhoun Falls State Natural Area. He said that many of the visitors and RV campers are from the local area. That is, from Abbeville, Anderson, and other nearby towns. He also confirmed that Calhoun Falls offers senior citizens from other states the South Carolina resident senior discount. That’s 35 percent!

In response to my question about plans for the future, Mr. Drake described improvements to the campground showers, and gave a detailed description of the new fish cleaning station. Both projects interested me. First the campground showers. It’s a relatively minor thing. But it shows that Calhoun Falls is aware of the importance of the shower facilities for RV campers, and that they are keeping track of that detail.

fish cleaning station work The fish cleaning station turned out to be far from a minor project. You can see some of the equipment involved in preparing the infrastructure in the photo above. Not only is this cleaning station automated. It will have its own septic tank. I’ve yet to see one of these. A good excuse to return to this Park.

Digital image  One good rule of thumb when interviewing State Park personnel is Never to ask them how good the fishing is in the nearby lake or river. Fishermen, it seems, and those related to that endeavor, are allowed – if not expected! – to exaggerate. But I had to ask. Nearly every person on or near the Lake was there to fish. And all of them described the fishing as glorious. The photo above is of a cove across from the Park where trees have been submerged to attract fish. That new fish cleaning station should get a good work-out!

So, there you have it. An interview with Mr. David Drake, Manager of Calhoun Falls State Natural Area. I assure you that Mr. Drake’s description of the Park, its facilities, and the surrounding area are in no way exaggerated. It’s really that nice here!

Click here if you’re prefer to listen to the interview from beginning to end.

Click here for the next post in this series.

And, click here to go to the CarolinaConsidered website.

Calhoun Falls State Park, S.C. Part V. Something for Everyone to Do!

Click here for the first post in this series.

Upll Through Site Having a great time here at Calhoun Falls State Natural Area. Today, Tuesday, it was sunny. So I decided to drive around to take pictures of some of the Park’s facilities. The photo above is of one of the many wide, easily accessible, pull-through sites in Campground Loop # 2. I won’t waste your bandwidth with photos of them all. Just too many. The campsites at this Park have to be the best I’ve seen to date. Especially good for folks with wheelchairs, or even for mobile ElderCampers, like me.

According to folks in the main Office, this Park was planned and laid out in the 1990s. I think first by the Corps of Engineers. Not sure about that. But it makes sense. Since the Corps has control of the Lake and its surrounding real estate. Permits required for most everything done within a few hundred feet of the shoreline. This later date of origin accounts for many of the Park’s advantages. Well, that and strict attention to maintenance over the years.

Ant Hill Speaking of maintenance and upkeep, here’s an example. This part of South Carolina is Fire Ant Country. It hosts more fire ants than even my Midlands yard. Which all along I’d thought must be fire ant headquarters for the State.

You’ll see examples of fire ant industry along every road in the region. Including the road leading into the Park where this photo was taken. I even saw a large mound on the shore of an island in Lake Russell. Now, how in the world did those ants manage to get there? Swim? Burrow? Hitch-hike?

I mention this because somehow the maintenance folks here at Calhoun Falls have managed to banish fire ants from all public use areas in the Park. I didn’t see a single mound. How in the world did they do it? Wish they’d share their secret so I could use it at home. It must be a constant battle for them.

Playground 1 Calhoun Falls State Park has much more to offer than its campsites and beautiful lake views. The folks who planned this Park have included facilities for many other activities. Facilities designed, apparently, with every age group in mind.

Playground 2 Take, for example, the playground areas. There are several throughout the Park. They’re somewhat newer versions of the one we saw at Santee State Park, week before last. All are well constructed and well maintained. Even the most cautious parents and grandparents needn’t worry about their little ones climbing around on this equipment.

We never had anything like this OverHome! Gone, I guess, are the days of discarded rubber tires suspended from horizontal tree branches by ropes of dubious reliability.

Horseshoes Kids too old for the playground? Well, what about a game of horseshoes? I saw several pitches laid out around the Park. And look here. Horseshoes provided! That haven’t walked away. Nice to see. I can think of some places where they wouldn’t last long …

Tennis No strong horseshoe tradition in your family? Then, how about tennis or basketball. Nicely maintained courts for both.

pingpong There’s even a sheltered ping-pong table, with paddles and balls, just down the hill from the tennis courts. It’s remarkable that the equipment doesn’t disappear.

borrowgames If all else fails. If your kids are confirmed, unrepentant couch potatoes. Or, if the weather really won’t permit playing games outside, drop by the Park Office to borrow one of their many indoor games. And, have a look around the store while you’re there. You may find something you simply can’t leave without. This is an idea that’s caught on at several of the State Parks. Games, and also short-term lending libraries. Great!

trail bridge But, of course, most of us don’t go to our State Parks to stay inside for the whole visit. Not to worry. There’s plenty to do outside. The wooden bridge above is on one of the Park’s nature trails.

Digital image  Here’s another view of a Park hiking trail. This one taken from the water. Click on the photo to see the steps built in at a point of steeper descent. Nice for ElderHikers!

shelter 1 That’s not all. This Park maintains a surprising number of picnic and meeting shelters. All that I saw were in ship-shape, ready to host a family reunion, church picnic, or just a family gathering.

The one above is nicely situated with a lake view. And, like the rest of the Park’s facilities, it really is wheelchair accessible. If memory serves, these shelters can be reserved for $50 per day. And that fee includes access to all of the other Park resources while here. A real deal. No wonder so many families have their reunions here each year.

Now, the real focus of activities here at Calhoun Falls State Park is Lake Russell. Not only for sightseeing, as I’ve mentioned above. But for fishing, boating, and swimming. Most folks who visit the Park come for a lake-related activity.

swim area This is a photo of the main swimming area. Look at that sand! And at the barrier out a ways that marks the end of the safe swimming area.

swim building The photo of the swimming area was taken from the rear of this building. There are no life guards. But there are places to change and shower. It’s remarkable that these facilities, like the rest of those in the Park, can be used for only the price of admission to the Park.

marina Near the main office, the Park maintains a full-service marina. Folks store boats that are up to 25 feet in length here for only about $80 per month. Larger boats are charged an additional fee that depends on just how long they are. I’m not a big boat guy, but the facilities looked nice to me.

fish pier Fishing too, as you might imagine, is popular here. In fact, that photo of the marina was taken from the fishing pier you see above.

fishing equipment Now, I’ve learned to be skeptical of Park personnel reports of just how good the fishing is near their Park. So I won’t repeat their description here. But the Park does loan fishing rods, reels, and everything needed to try your luck. For free! Oh, and life jackets as well. This, I think, is done in cooperation with other organizations. But I didn’t get the details.

On Monday I noticed a crew digging out behind the office. Apparently running water or sewer lines. I asked and discovered that they were burying a septic tank and other infrastructure for a state-of-the-art fish cleaning station! It should be a showpiece when done. A long sink, grinders, water sluices. So somebody must be pulling fish from this lake!

boat ramp Finally, the Park maintains several boat ramps. Here’s one from which I’ll launch the Expedition kayak tomorrow. Well designed, clean, with plenty of parking. Though it gets busy here on the weekends, so come early.

That’s all we have time for today. Stay tuned, though. Tomorrow looks like a good kayaking day. More to come.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Calhoun Falls State Park, S.C. Part IV. First Impressions of the Park

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Main Sign 1 Well, in spite of the omission of Calhoun Falls State Park from the new Garmin’s database, I arrived at the Park gate in only three hours. Right on time. Though it was a bit early to check in. Not a single missed turn.

When you visit, just ignore your GPS once near the little town of Calhoun Falls, and follow Route 81. Cross that impressive four-lane Route 72, pass a couple of schools on the right, and in a mile or so you’ll see the sign above. You can’t miss it.

CF Town Sign Calhoun Falls appears to be one of those small South Carolina historic communities that in recent years has fallen on hard times. Probably due to loss of employment opportunities with a plant closing. I’ll have to learn more about it during a subsequent visit.

Sanctuary Driving down Calhoun Falls State Park Road [which, by the way, is in the new GPS database. Not the Park itself, but the road!] I spotted the sight in the photo above. On the left, just a half-mile from the Park entrance. “The Sanctuary,” the sign says. Looks as if developers a few years back had ambitious plans that have either been put on hold, or abandoned. I’ll have to ask about it.

Fee Station Here’s the entrance to the “State Natural Area,” as it’s officially called. Be sure to stop and pay the $2.00 entrance fee. Heck! Pay a little more, if you’re able. It’s one contribution you can be sure will be used for a good cause.

Of course, if you have camping reservations, or one of the annual passes like I have, you don’t even have to contribute $2.00! Also, don’t forget the State Parks $1.00 check-off on your South Carolina state income tax return. They need the money, and that’s a painless way to contribute to a good cause.

Enough preaching! On into the Park. This isn’t a large Park, comparatively speaking. In terms of its size on the map. Only a few hundred acres. But as you’ll see, those acres all have been put to good use. Somehow without a sense of being crowded. It also is a relatively new Park within the State system. Which gives it several advantages. Newer basic facilities; more recent designs for those facilities.

Oh, and before I forget, wheelchair access here appears to me to be easier than in most State Parks. That may be because the Park was laid out more recently, when folks had begun to take such issues seriously. My mother, wheelchair-bound herself, would have been pleased to see it.

Wheelchair ramps here abound. All of them that I’ve seen were quite level. A “Wheelchair Accessible” sign here doesn’t simply mean the facility is next to the bath house. It means efforts have been made to level and smooth the path, and to avoid steep grades wherever possible. Many of the RV campsites, for example, really are wheelchair accessible. As are many of the picnic shelters. A good thing.

Loop 1 Sign Driving into the Park this afternoon I didn’t pass the Office. So I went directly to Site # 66. There are two RV campsite loops here. # 1, as you might expect, was the first built. And # 2 was added soon thereafter to accommodate greater-than-expected demand. More on the Community Building noted on the sign above in a moment, which, if memory serves, was the original location of the Park Office.

Camping Site 1 On I drove to Campground # 2. A bit further down this finger of land jutting out into Camp Russell. An ideal location for an RV campground. And there it was. # 66. Can you imagine a more suitable site? The surface is paved and smooth, front to back. The picnic table, fire pit, and lantern hanger all have been placed on a terrace below the main part of the site, which saves space above. The drive into the site slopes downward considerably. But the area intended for the RV is perfectly flat.

Camping site 2 I backed in like a seasoned pro. Well … maybe more like an unseasoned pro. But with only three tries this time. [Compare that to eight tries at the last back-in site at Huntington Beach State Park!]. Unhooked the Aliner and turned it 90 degrees so it faced the water, as you see in the photo above. No problem at all given the paved site surface.

Park Office 1 After a quick setup, I went in search of the Park Office. There, a Ranger and a part-time assistant were most helpful. They both were familiar with the area and had all sorts of suggestions for must-see places.

The one disappointment was the lack of WiFi access. And news that the closest public WiFi access is in the County Seat at Abbeville. Oh my. It would be nice if the more remote Parks in the System were given priority for WiFi installations. But that will take time and budget, I guess.

After checking in, I drove slowly around both campground loops. Each one has its own host. Both hosts have lived in the area all of their lives, and have been hosting here for a number of years. They know their business, and maintain everything in spic ‘n span order. There’s a lot more to camp hosting than blowing leaves off campsites!

Site 13 The RV campsites in this Park deserve special attention. They are, I think, the best I’ve ever seen. In fact, after seeing so many wide, smoothly paved, sites with lake views, I decided to look for a bad one. Well, no luck. I looked at every RV campsite in Loop 1 and Loop 2. All were attractive. Every one! Apart from the double sites, purposely built side-by-side, nearly all are well insulated from neighboring sites. That is, the designers of these campgrounds resisted jamming twenty or thirty more sites into the same area to increase revenue. Quite a few sites too are pull-throughs. Like # 13 in Loop # 1 you see above.

Activities Signage That’s all for not. More in the next post on the wide range of facilities available at this State Natural Area. I think you’ll be surprised by what you’ll see. So stay tuned.

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