Swan Lake and Iris Gardens

 

While I don’t like working in gardens, I do enjoy visiting them, and photographing the flowers. That’s part of what brought me to Swan Lake and Iris Gardens in Sumter. The Iris bloom from around mid-to-late May until early June. Not a large window to partake of them, so timing is crucial. If you miss them, no worries, there are blooms to see throughout the year and there are the swans. If you’re really into irises, the annual Iris festival is every Memorial Day weekend. On my visit, I timed my trip to avoid the crowds.

I went mid-May and wasn’t sure the flowers would be blooming, but some were. It’d probably be better to go later in the month. It’d be nice if it said on the website when they were actively blooming, especially with spring coming early some years. Despite that, I had a good time. It wasn’t just the flowers I wanted to see, but the swans as well. This is the only public park in the entire United States with all eight swan species of the world represented.

And that’s not all to see in these 150 acres. In the playground is a Seagrave Firetruck for kids (little and grown up kids) to climb into. Sculptures dot the dot the grounds. Three of my favorite were the Untitled Boy Sculpture, the Recovery Sculpture, and the Flying Swans in Bland Garden across the street. Besides the Japanese Irises, there’s the Chocolate Garden, Butterfly Garden and a Braille Garden.

The Butterfly Garden is self-explanatory, the flowers attract butterflies, but the Chocolate and Braille Gardens are quite unique. In the former, the plants are brown like chocolate or smell like chocolate. I have to take their word for it because I didn’t smell that, but maybe because not many were blooming. The Braille Garden has signs in Braille and those who are visually impaired can smell and touch the plants. A really cool idea.

It’s interesting note: the garden is the result of a mistake. This was once a private fishing place owned by Hamilton Carr Bland, a local businessman. When the Japanese irises didn’t grow after being planted, Carr told the gardener to dig them up and toss the bulbs into the swamp. The next year, the iris burst into bloom.

Today one can wander around the two gardens, one on either side of West Liberty St. Both have irises and swans. The Heath Garden is the one with the lake and playground. Bland Garden features a boardwalk through cypress trees. An elevated crosswalk connects the two and there’s an elevator for those who can’t utilize the stairs.

The garden is open 7:30 to dusk every day except for during the Iris Festival. There’s a visitor center which is open Monday through Friday 8:30 to 5.

 

How to Get There:

822 West Liberty Street/SC763  in Sumter

Links

http://www.sumtersc.gov/swan-lake-iris-gardens

What’s Close By:

Downtown Sumter with Opera House

Poinsett S.P.

Statesburg

Manchester State Forest

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Greenwood State Park

The drive I took from Columbia to Lake Greenwood wove through the counties of Saluda and Greenwood, past peach trees and several interesting buildings. It was a great start of the day to visit Lake Greenwood State Park. The park sits partially on a peninsula on the Greenwood County side of Lake Greenwood. Besides the lake, there’s a campground, nature trail, and picnic area and more.

Even without walking the nature trail, I trekked far in this park. From the parking lot, to the John Drummond and Holly Self Drummon Environmental Education Conference Center (what a mouthful). This building houses the Civilian Conservation Corp Museum, the park being one of sixteen built by the CCC in SC. and down to lake, along it, and back again, meandering all the while.

Make sure to stop near the entrance and read the plaques about the unfinished wall. The men working here with the CCC were building the wall, when war was declared against the Germans and Japanese. They all enlisted to fight. The unfinished wall is a good tribute to those who created this park and their sacrifice in World War II

Below the Drummon Center is a good place to go fishing. I saw several people engaged in that activity as I walked around. I’m afraid I don’t have the patience. I live to move around. It’s also a nice place to gaze at the 114,000 acre lake.

There’s swimming here too, but it’s at your own risk as there’s no lifeguard. Watch the little ones and even the bigger ones if they don’t know how to swim. Or you can go boating since there’s a ramp to put your boat in the water.

The park, which is 914 acres, was built on land donated by Greenwood County in 1938. It’s well worth the visit. I think there’s an ironman competition held here every year. Check the website to find out the date.

How to Get There

Exit 74 from I-26 and head west on SC34. Turn right on SC702. The park is off that road.

Links:

https://southcarolinaparks.com/lake-greenwood

What’s Close By:

Lake Greenwood

Ninety Six NHS

Ninety Six (the town)

Battle of Camden NHL

The Battle of Camden National Historic Landmark is a nice place not only to learn about history, but to take a walk in a pine forest setting.

The place is almost a surprise as one makes their way on RD58/Flat Rock Road, which bisects the battlefield. There are a number of trails to take and I choose the East Battlefield Trail and the Colonial Road. There are markers along the way that explain what happened.

A battle took place here on 16 August 1780 and was a victory for the British. The main players here were General Charles Cornwallis, British, and General Horatio Gates of the Continental army. I won’t go into too much detail as those more knowledgeable of the Revolutionary War and military matters may roll their eyes at my description. Fortunately there is an audio podcast that can explain this better than I can. And the signs along the trail are really helped.

The battle took place over an area of about 2,000 acres and partially in the dark as both forces marched through the night to attack one another. After some fighting, they stopped, starting up again at dawn. The Continental army did not do well at all. Some of the soldiers fled and the others were surrounded and captured. Their commanding officer, Baron Johann de Kalb, was mortally wounded. There’s a marker where he fell.

The scene now, as one walks through these woods and grasslands, is supposed to be pretty much like it was before. It’s peacefulness belies that this was where one of the deadliest battles of the Revolutionary War took place.

How to Get There:

On US521/US601, just north of Shamokin, take Flat Rock Road/RD58 northwest and look for the signs.

Links:

http://scgreatoutdoors.com/park-battleofcamdenlandmark.html

What’s Close By:

Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site

Camden

Goodale State Park

Lake Wateree

Croft State Park

After taking one hike in Croft State Park, and, as I headed for another, I knew that no way would I get to all I wanted to see. It’ll take me more than one day for this place. With over seven thousand acres, Croft S.P. is one of South Carolina’s Parks.

On this trip, I parked by the lake and walked nearly around it, wandering part way on the Palmetto Trail which goes through. The stretch through here is a tad over twelve miles. I don’t think I walked, but one mile of it. I did walk the entire Nature Trail, but that’s only one and a half mile, an easy, but enjoyable hike.

There are about twenty miles of hiking and biking trails in Croft State Park as well as over twenty miles of equestrian trails. Plus one can go boating and fishing in one of its two lakes. There’s also a campground.

This park, located in the foothills near Spartenburg, was once a U.S. Training base. The park opened in 1949 and was once known as Croft State Natural Area. It is popular with equestrians because of its facilities. But even if you don’t have a horse, you can enjoy all the trails that weave through the hilly terrain.

That’s what I’m most interested in. The trails. The Palmetto trail boasts the State Park Systems longest expansion bridge at sixty-five feet. It also passes several old homesteads as well as plenty of nature. The Foster Mill Trail goes along the shores of Lake Craig as well as Kelsey Creek and along ridges. The three point four mile Rocky Ridge/Whitestone Springs sounds interesting. It winds through hardwood forests and passes the historic Whitestone Springs where a bottling business once bustled. I can’t wait to go back.

How to Get There:

One can get here from either I85 or I26. The Park is located off Dairy Ridge Road. Follow the signs.

Links:

https://southcarolinaparks.com/croft

What’s Close By:

Sparenburg

Pacolet Heritage Preserve

Pacolet

Greenville

Three Rivers Greenway

Three Rivers Greenway is more than what lies in Richland County, which is already quite a bit. There’s also a good chunk in Lexington County in West Columbia and Cayce. But this post will be on the Richland County side.

The three rivers in the title refer to the Broad, Saluda, and Congaree Rivers. The latter is created by the Broad and Saluda. The northernmost point of the greenway can be accessed north of Broad River Road. At the parking lot you can see the lock that starts the Columbia canal. Walk across that and you can see the diversion dam. It’s a nice walk through the woods on the island especially on a hot day. From here you can walk all the way to Riverfront Park in downtown Columbia. Unfortunately due to the 2015 flood, part of the canal on which the walkway ran is gone so it’s not possible to get to the Gervais Street Bridge and the State Museum.

Further South, though, is Granby Park. It’s located at the end of Catawba. Here the trail continues, swooping into the Olympia and Granby Mill area and through Olympia Park before puttering out. While part isn’t along the river, it is still a nice walk through a historic mill village and mills. In Olympia Park I was lucky enough to catch sight of a blue heron.

The walkways on the river are lighted and paved with boardwalks and overlooks. You can walk, run, or ride your bicycle. It is also wheelchair accessible. It is currently twelve and a half miles long and growing. At this time they are working on a segment on the Richland County side of the Saluda River, along the zoo.

 

Link:

http://riveralliance.org/project/three-rivers-greenway/

Myrtle Beach State Park

Over time the city of Myrtle Beach has crept up on this park, but it still remains an oasis from the hustle bustle. If you camp here a week, which we’ve done, checking out Myrtle Beach and its tourist amenities are part of the trip.

On my last trip to Myrtle Beach State Park, I got in early morning while the sun still stretched long shadows across the ground. If you don’t like battling traffic, early morning is the best time to get around. They were just setting up for the beach crowd as I moseyed to the long pier. Fishermen and women already staked their spots on it, poles out, waiting for that nibble. Here’s a great spot to see the sun come up.

There’s a lot the park has to offer besides swimming and fishing. There’s biking, hiking, birding, and camping. They have 350 campsites and a few cabins for rent. If you little ones, partake in the scavenger hunt. You don’t have to be a child to do it, it’s for all ages. Each takes about an hour and each qualify for the Habitat Patch which is only available here.

Besides the one mile beach, there are two trails, the Sculptured Oak Nature Trail and Yaupon Trail. Both are easy. The former is half a mile long and the latter .4 miles. You can combine the two for a longer hike if you want. The Sculptured Oak Nature trail takes you through one of the last stands of maritime forests in this part of South Carolina and it’s a Heritage Trust site. When you walk along the beach, take note of the sand dunes system and the sea oats.

This park was one of the first parks in SC, opening in 1936. It was built by the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corp, which built so many parks during that period.

There is a fee to enter the park. Check the website as prices vary throughout the year.

How to Get There

Located off US17 BUS/S. Kings Hwy

Links:

http://southcarolinaparks.com/myrtlebeach/introduction.aspx

http://www.myrtlebeachstatepark.net/

What’s Close By:

Huntington Beach

Myrtle Beach

Georgetown

Brookgreen Gardens

Riverbanks Zoo

Even though this blog highlights sights of no or low cost places, I have to include Riverbanks Zoo.

I’ve been going to this zoo since it opened way back in 1974 and it’s well worth a visit. Check out the web page for specials. There are special two-for-one days when one brings a canned food item(s) and in January and February they have free Fridays for those who live in Richland and Lexington counties. If you don’t live here, maybe you know someone who does.

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is located in both Richland and Lexington counties on the Saluda River off I-126. The zoo portion is in Richland and the botanical garden is in West Columbia, in Lexington County. A bridge over the river connects the two. On the zoo side, they’ve recently remodeled the entrance and added new exhibits like the sea lions.

There’s koalas, flamingos, gorillas, elephants, bears, lions, monkeys, and more, more, more. There’s a petting zoo with farm animals, there’s a merry-go-round, there’s Waterfall junction in the botanical garden where kids can play. I’d never seen that until this year and wished I was years younger so I could play there. I did anyway a bit when no one was around.

When I first came to live in SC, way back when, the zoo was still in the making. The first animal, Happy the tiger lived in a cage on Gervais Street. I think it was an Exxon station and a garage. That’s long gone now.

When the zoo opened we ‘adopted’ a Toucan and were Zoo members. How’s it changed since then and yet there are bits I remember from the old days like the small animal exhibit that’s like a long cave. You can play find-the-animal in some of those.

There is a gigantic birdhouse where birds live in a variety of ecosystems. They have penguins too. There’s the Aquarium Reptile Complex, where I can hours. Like the birdhouse, the complex shows fish in their various ecosystems, which in this case is the ocean, desert, tropics, and South Carolina. They even have sharks.

Riverbanks zoo is Columbia’s number one tourist attraction and is ranked as one of American’s top zoos. If you can, stop by and visit. It’s well worth the trips.

How to Get There:

It’s right off I-126 at Greystone Bvld.

 

Links:

https://www.riverbanks.org/

 

What’s Close By:

Downtown Columbia

Lake Murray

Dreher Island State Park

I think the first time I went to Dreher Island SP was to attend a picnic. Who’s picnic I can’t remember. I didn’t come here often because it’s a bit of a drive. The park is situated on Lake Murray, where it’s not so heavily developed. It is made up of three islands all connected by bridges and one causeway. On my last trip I stopped on the first island at the park store area. I wanted to get a picture of those huge beach chairs. There’s a huge anchor as nearby too. From the parking lot I strolled out toward one of the bridges and looked out toward the lake. It was a short, but pleasant walk.

A nicer walk is the Little Gap Trail. it’s 2.1 miles long. It’s further in at shelter # 7. A side trail from this took me to this pleasant overlook below. Besides this trail there is a short nature trail and a multiuse trail that runs through the loop. I found it interesting the park has wild geraniums. I have to go back when they are in bloom. I’ve only seen the ones in flower pots.

Dreher Island State Park was first leased from SCE&G in the 1970’s. I couldn’t find much else on the history of the park. It’s 348 acres and offers twelve miles of shoreline. You can go fishing, hiking, and birdwatching. You can spend the night in villas. I didn’t see them so I don’t know what they look like. I do know they are lakeside. One can rent shelters including tournament shelters for fishing tournaments. I’d never heard of this before, but then I don’t fish.

There’s camping in the park too. The park doesn’t have any designated swimming areas. Swimming is at your own risk. Please keep an eye on the little ones.

How To Get There:

From I26, take exit 91 and drive west toward Chapin. Turn right onto US76. You’ll be on this for a very short while before making a left on St. Peter’s Church Rd (Road 29). There should be signs from then on. You’ll make a left onto Dreher Island Rd (Rd 231) and another left on State Park Rd.

Links:

http://southcarolinaparks.com/dreherisland/introduction.aspx

What’s Close By:

All of Lake Murray is right here. There are several parks for swimming around the lake.

The towns of Columbia, Newberry, and Lexington are not far.

Goodale State Park

The Cypress trees standing in the waters of the lake are amazing. Breathtaking. As I took pictures I imagined myself a fashion photographer shooting beautiful models. Stand still. Perfect. Cloud, move more to the right. Fantastic.

Goodale State Park is not the largest of parks, it is 763 acres, but it’s impressive with a 140 acre lake, The Adam’s Grist mill pond from the Civil War times. They rent boats and canoes so one can partake in the three mile canoe trail that goes through the cypress strand. Besides the canoe trail there is a one-mile foot trail, a nature trail. Or walk along the lake which is the first thing I did so I could pictures of the it.

 

How to get there:

From I-20, exit 98 onto US521 toward Camden. In Camden turn right on US1/DeKalb St. Go about three miles and make another right onto Stagecoat Road. After 2.3 miles turn left onto Park Rd and look for the signs.

 

Links

http://southcarolinaparks.com/goodale/introduction.aspx

 

What’s Close by

Town of Camden

Battle of Camden Site

Hamilton Branch State Park

I enjoyed my walk around the Hamilton Branch State Park, a peninsula jutting out into Lake Thurmond. I strolled along the water’s edge marveling at the red rock. It was a picture taking paradise and a blue butterfly obliged by wanting its picture taken. There were ducks and geese. And other birds, but I’m a lousy bird watcher so I’m not quite sure what kind. On the other side of the peninsula, the rocky shoreline makes a gentle arc around the bay. Tall pines shade the road leading into the park and the wind blowing through swept out the heat. It was July when I visited so you know it was hot, but not in the 100s thank goodness, but a balmy high 80’s that would eventually rise into the low-middle 90’s.

mccormick-hamilton-branch-sp-05-butterfly

 

mccormick-hamilton-branch-sp-17-park-road

Hamilton Branch may be the smallest of the three parks nestled in the woods along Lake Thurmond, but it’s plenty big enough at around 730ish acres. It offers about 286 campsites that I’m told fill up fast in the summer. 171 of those have water and electricity while the rest have 50 amp service. Plus there is primitive group camping AND, I was very happy to see this, 13 camp sites with water. I stress the latter because there’s where I like to camp. I don’t like parking between the behemouths.

mccormick-hamilton-branch-sp-16-lake-thurmond

While this park doesn’t have much in the way of formal hiking, you can walk take the 1.5 mile Paleo Hiking trail or, if you have a bike, there’s a connector to the 12-mile Stevens Creek Bike Trail. The former takes one through the forest where a variety of animals live.

Other ammenities are picnic shelters (3), fishing, two boat ramps, swimming, and a playground for the little ones.

 

How to get There

The park’s physical address is 111 Campground Rd, Plum Branch, SC.

Located on US #221 / SC #28 between Modoc and Parksville, 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) south of McCormick, SC.

 

Links

http://www.southcarolinaparks.com/hamiltonbranch/introduction.aspx

 

What’s close by

 

Lake Thurmond Visitor Center

The city of McCormick

Baker Creek State Park