Friday, March 18, 2011

February 9th Interview with Chester State Park Manager John Wells

Click here for the first post in this series and table of contents.

06 j wells office door

Like all Parks in the State System, Chester State Park has experienced the personnel freeze necessitated by State budget constraints. So at the moment, newly appointed Park Manager John Wells is operating with only one part-time support person, a crackerjack camp host couple, and community volunteers when he can get them. Still, Mr. Wells took the time necessary on Wednesday, February 9th, to do a CarolinaConsidered interview and even to show me around the Park.

wells at desk[A parenthetic comment here about Park personnel response to budget constraints. Tight budgets have challenged South Carolina’s State Park System for as long as I have been doing these interviews. However, I’ve yet to hear a word of complaint about the lack of funding or lack of personnel. On or off the record!

Park managers and their assistants instead talk about the resultant challenges in a positive way, and about opportunities to show how well they can do under existing conditions. Before coming to South Carolina, I spent many years in Washington, D.C., and have had far too much first-hand experience with federal bureaucracies and federal bureaucrats. I therefore have been most pleasantly surprised to see, in contrast, how South Carolina State Park personnel have responded to tight budget conditions. This, of course, includes Chester’s Manager, John Wells.]

We began the interview, as usual with some personal background. Mr. Wells was born and raised in Darlington, South Carolina. Listen to his description of his childhood there. As well as his description of his training at Clemson University.

Mr. Wells only recently arrived at Chester State Park. But he brought with him many years of experience within the Park Service. Equally important, that experienced included assignment to parks in all parts of the State. Large parks; small parks. Mountain parks; coastal parks. Have a listen.

By this point in the interview, Mr. Wells was getting anxious to talk about “his” Park. The topic I’d told him we would be focusing on during our conversation. Especially interesting here, I think, is his explanation of the relationship between the Park and the Chester community. Now, I’ve already cautioned you about Mr. Wells’ assessment of the fishing in the lake here …..

At the conclusion of our conversation I asked Mr. Wells about the future of Chester State Park. Lots of improvements being made here, even now, and more to come. Be sure to notice that huge barbeque pit behind the Meeting Building. South Carolina barbeque on that scale would be something!

Thanks again to Mr. John Wells, Park Manager at Chester State Park, for your time and description of this Park.

An Early February Visit to Chester State Park, South Carolina. Part One. First Impressions

12 front sign chesterSouth Carolina’s Chester State Park is another of those state parks we don’t hear much about.

We don’t hear much about, that is, unless we happen to live in or near Chester County, South Carolina. This Park, with its 165-acre lake, gentle hiking trails, picnic shelters, and kitchen-equipped meeting building, is located just a few minutes drive from historic Chester, the County Seat. And isn’t all that far from anywhere else in Chester County.

lawn 01Chester is a Community Park in the very best sense of that designation. Frequently visited by the residents of Chester County for camping, picnicking, ball games, archery tournaments, and fishing. Yet, this Park also attracts visitors from nearby Charlotte, Columbia, and the Greenville area.  We’ll see why in a moment.

chester campsiteI arrived mid-Sunday afternoon, February 6th, and went directly to pull-through site # 4 to set up. As expected, the site was flat, with a solid surface, and whistle-clean. Within a few minutes of arrival, Camp Host Frank came by to check me in and answer questions. Competent, effective, friendly camp hosts add a great deal to the State Park camping experience.

campsiteI’ve visited Chester State Park only once before, and that was at least ten years ago. Just to drive through. Since then, the RV campground has been improved considerably. The photo above is of a typical back-in campsite. Look at that solid surface. That isn’t concrete. Just very hard, well maintained dirt. A surface like that makes a big difference for those of us with travel trailers light enough to push around a bit on the site.

bath houseMany readers e-mail with specific questions about bath house facilities. Well, here’s the Chester State Park RV campground bath house. Full facilities, of course. like every other South Carolina State Park campground I’ve visited. It’s hard to see in this photo, but in the past few months a lot of work has been done on the outside of this early 1970s building.

inside bath houseInside, everything was spic and span. And working properly. Including the showers. The campground wasn’t busy. So, not a lot of folks around to make a mess. But counterintuitively, less-used bath houses can be ignored, with only sporadic attention. This one was cleaned at least once a day while I was there. Good to see.

archery rangeDay-use facilities at Chester State Park are top of the line. An archery range?? Well, this Park has a tournament-level range that’s maintained by a local archery club. Twenty-some stations with targets provided by the club. There may be other archery ranges in the Park System, but I’ve yet to come across one.

community centerThe Meeting Building, with its facilities for large indoor gatherings, is beautifully located near the shore of the lake. There’s a great view from the back porch. More on that lake in a moment. I’ll let Park Manager John Wells describe that enormous barbeque pit out back during his interview. Lots of weddings held here each year. As well as family reunions and corporate retreats.

picnic shelter 2Even more actively used are the Park’s picnic shelters. Many of South Carolina’s CCC-built parks maintain these durable and practical structures. Chester has three and they’re used year-round by groups large and small. The one you see above is wheelchair accessible. With paved walkways and comfortable grades throughout. Good parking too.

09 j wells trailChester, like most South Carolina State Parks, maintains an interesting walking trail. Accessible from either the public use area or the RV campground. Be sure to save some time for a walk along this trail during your visit. In the words of Park Manager John Wells, it’s “Geezer-Friendly.” That is, smooth, and not too steep. Ideal for those of us whose knees no longer work as well as they once did.

10 unusual spillwayAs important, a walk along this trail offers beautiful views of the lake and the near-certainty of seeing interesting wildlife. Turkeys, deer, ducks, owls, and many other critters.

11 unusual spillway cornerPlus, you’d get to see one of the most interesting CCC-built spillways in the whole Park system. It’s the first one I’ve seen configured as you see above. That’s a corner! Hmmm.

chester lakeAnd speaking of water, I’ve got to mention something about the lake at Chester State Park. It’s fairly large at 165 acres. And since Park land surrounds all of its shore, it is maintained by the State Park Service. They must do a good job since the lake is chuck-full of fish.

lake and dockNow, it’s never a good idea to ask a South Carolina Park Manager how good the fishing is in his or her Park’s lake. Park Manager John Wells was no exception. He mentioned bass, crappie, and catfish, if memory serves.

lake and boat houseBut I did have the opportunity to ask a couple of older local gentlemen who happened by about fish in the lake. They both assured me that it’s a prime fishing spot, well known in the area. One of them also said there was no need to mention that fact in any articles I might write about the Park! Oh my.

Stay tuned here. Coming up is an interview with Park Manager John Wells. He was appointed here less than a year ago. But he’s had a long and interesting career in the South Carolina Park Service.

Click here for that interview.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Interview with Mr. Pete Richards, President of the Friends of Fort Fremont Organization in Beaufort County, South Carolina.

001 fort emplacementSouth Carolina is chuck-full of interesting historical sites. modern ones too, of course. But I most enjoy the historical. The ruins of Fort Fremont in Beaufort County is an excellent example.

pete 06We’ll have more specifics on Fort Fremont itself in a subsequent post or two. But while visiting Hunting Island State Park in January, I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Pete Richards, president of the Friends of Fort Fremont Historical Park organization.

09 friends websiteMr. Richards lives on Fripp Island, just a skip and a jump from the Hunting Island State Park Campground. So, over I went. Loaded down with all sorts of equipment: notebooks, recorders, cameras, and even a couple of tripods. About half of it necessary.

04a deerIt was my first visit to Fripp Island. What a nice place to live. Beautifully landscaped, with all sorts of wild life just wandering around. I photographed the buck above right in Mr. Richards’ back yard. That’s not a telephoto shot! He’d lost one antler and looked about to lose the other. And, he clearly expected a handout!

We began the interview with Mr. Richards’ description of the Friends Group. It’s objectives, organization, and activities. You can double-click the video window below to open a larger screen right in YouTube, if you wish.

Next, Mr. Richards described the Friends Group’s plans and aspirations. An ambitious agenda. As well as the support of Beaufort County and surrounding areas.

Time, as usual with these interviews, was running short by now. But I had to ask Mr. Richards about Clemson University’s Master Naturalist Program in the Lowlands. He had credited his involvement with Fort Fremont to participation in that program. Here he explains all about it.

Thanks again to Mr. Pete Richards for his time and hospitality. Lots more to come on Fort Fremont. I’m hoping to interview another member of the Friends Group Board who knows all about the Fort’s history and its historical significance. So stay tuned.

16 fort front