Meet South Carolina's Newest Trail
by Stacy Boyce, Girls Who Hike South Carolina Ambassador
My friend Hayley and I were among those outdoor adventurers ringing in the new year on the trail. Typically, we travel at least two hours to our hiking destinations, but on this day we were lucky enough to stay much closer to home. We hiked the newest trail in South Carolina, the Lake Greenwood Trail, a mere 20 minutes from our front doors!
The Lake Greenwood State Park has been around since 1938. In the last five or so years, citizens and local organizations have been taking a close look at how to draw more visitors to the lake. The state park has over 900 acres on the lake, so it was always a crucial part of the lake conversations. Over the last several years, one of the many ideas that popped up was adding more hiking and biking trails at the lake. After nearly two years of planning, reviewing, and gaining required government approval, work on the new trail system started in October 2017.
The new trail seemed to spring up overnight. It took 64 volunteers less than three months and 50 hours to clear the trail and build two bridges. Connect Lake Greenwood, the local lake initiative and lead planning organization, divided the trail into 300 ft sections to better organize volunteers and keep track of the progress. Several volunteers offered their boats to ferry tools and people to work sections in the middle of the trail. Most of the work involved clearing tree limbs so that hikers would have a clear view of the lake. Volunteers also removed debris and downed trees from the path. Duke Energy also donated $9,800 to fund the project.
“It's been a labor of love from our partners, and they have done an amazing job. A few items remain to finish the trail, then the most important ingredient will complete the trail: hikers!” said Phil Gaines, Director of the South Carolina State Park Service. He drove up from his home in the Columbia area to join the Lake Greenwood First Day Hike and was pleased to see nearly a dozen people braved the unusually cold weather to attend the hike.
Gaines and his staff were instrumental partners in the project. Before the trail could be approved the State Park Service has to ensure no endangered species would be negatively affected. An expert on Native American artifacts also surveyed the route to look for historic preservation concerns.
The trail officially opened in November 2017 although there are a few finishing touches to be added, such as trailhead kiosks. The total trail system is approximately 4.5 miles with two terminuses. The shortest route is about one mile, but you can make a big loop several different ways at various distances. Multi-route trail systems like this are fantastic! They allow you to learn a terrain without growing bored of the same ‘ole route.
The other great thing about this trail is the topography. Lake Greenwood is in the Piedmont region of South Carolina. If you’re a language nerd, you know that Piedmont means “feet of the mountains.” In the Southeast, this region separates the flat, coastal terrain from the Appalachian Mountains. It’s a transitioning landscape, and that means hills, big ones.
“The new Lake Greenwood State Park trail system is full of surprises for our visitors. The trail is surprisingly challenging in a positive way. The trails follow the topography if the land, often taking you up small hills and across drainage areas giving you a different perspective of the interior of the park.” said Gaines.
Starting at the main terminus and heading inland along the trail you climb the Fitbit equivalent of nearly ten stories in the first mile. After coming down those “10 flights of stairs,” you turn right and begin to follow the shoreline. However, don’t expect the trail to get too comfortable. Along the shoreline, you will encounter dozens of baby PUDs (pointless up and downs). Since these PUDs are so small, they are fun, and a few even require a light running start. For nearly 2.5 miles you follow the lake into two coves where you can see birds, fish, and other wildlife that inhabit the lake.
I must confess that for years I was a mountain snob. Non-mountain trails were for casual hikers and amounted to little more than a boring nature walk. There are many things wrong with that frame of mind. First and foremost, non-mountain trails are anything but dull, and the Lake Greenwood Trail system is a perfect illustration of that. Every trail has its trade-offs, and that's why we all need a Lake Greenwood Trail system in our lives. Sometimes we need trails that are technically challenging enough to be fun but easy enough for us to soak up the scenery.
While the Lake Greenwood Trails are certainly easy hikes, the trail system offers enough challenge to keep any hardcore hiker entertained. What I liked most about the trail system is the balance you can strike between enjoying the scenery and staring at your feet, so you don’t trip. The trail is four feet wide in most places, with few rocks or roots in your way. This type of trail encourages hikers to look up and look around to enjoy more nature. Chasing a killer summit is fun, but you do spend a lot of time looking at your feet and praying for the top of the mountain to magically appear.
Who else might enjoy this trail:
- Trail runners: this would make a wicked cross country course
- New Hikers: anyone transitioning from neighborhood walks and the treadmill to the great outdoors
- Rehabbing Hikers: anyone recovering from injury who’s ready to challenge themselves (but not too much)
- Families: the trails are perfect for wearing out the kids without overdoing it on the difficulty scale
- Gear testers: From new shoes to heavier backpacks, you’ll be challenged just enough to learn your gear without overdoing it