Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Bunched Arrowhead Heritage Preserve

With a series of rain events moving through the region, last week was pretty saturated. Soccer was abandoned 15 minutes in due to the increasingly steady drizzle, the week’s activities cancelled left and right leaving us high and dry with little to do. When a fall festival was cancelled Friday afternoon right before we arrived – after an hour’s drive – I wasn’t too hopeful that Saturday’s plans, a hike in Travelers Rest, would be successful.

There was still a slight drizzle as we packed the car, but although it was still cloudy, the rain had stopped once we reached Bunched Arrowhead Heritage Preserve, just outside TR city limits. The 180-acre preserve was created in 1987 to protect the federally-endangered bunched arrowhead (Sagittaria fasciculata), which occurs in wetlands within the Piedmont seepage forest. Also known as duck potato and wapato, the plant produces an edible tuber that historically has been collected as a food source. Bunched arrowhead is only found in two counties in the world – Greenville and Henderson County, North Carolina. 

The federally endangered bunched arrowhead, photographed in mid-April

Other rare plants that can be found on the Preserve include climbing fern (Lygodium palmatum) and dwarf-flowered heartleaf (Hexastylis naniflora), and as the Preserve is on migratory routes a variety of birds have been documented, including acadian flycatchers, yellow-throated vireos, blue grosbeaks and indigo buntings.

We joined the hike as members of the Greenville Zoo Nature Play family nature club; the Education Department at the Greenville Zoo has introduced this program to help bring about a love of nature in children. The club provides various opportunities to participate in outdoor activities inspired by nature, this month’s hike sponsored by Sunrift Adventure out of Travelers Rest and focusing on family backpacking basics. We joined the rest of the group at the entrance to the Preserve, and received some great tips on hiking and camping with children from our guide before hitting the trail.

The Preserve was purchased with the help of The Nature Conservancy and Heritage Land Trust Fund, and is now owned and operated by the SC Department of Natural Resources. The 1.25-mile trail traverses a range of habitats including a pond, seepage bogs, grassy fields, bottomland hardwoods and upland pine-hardwoods, giving visitors a great opportunity to see a diversity of wildlife without challenging elevation changes.

The walking trail forms a loop, and initially we skirted an open field before paralleling a stream through a mixed pine and hardwoods forest. In spring there would be an abundance of butterflies and wildflowers including Solomon’s seal and white violets. Nest boxes featured prominently along the trail, the squirrel, owl, bat and bluebird boxes home to an array of animals. We kept an eye out for kestrels, hawks and bobwhite quail in the fields, but our large group (although great company) didn’t aid our efforts to spot wildlife.

Finally we walked along the top of the old damn before closing the loop on the opposite end of the parking area where we had started. Not only had the rain held off, but we were relatively dry; only a damp pant leg or two attested to a morning spent in the woods. Lauris was excited about the hike, a handful of giant leaves from the bottomland sycamores a souvenir from the trail. And although Mikus was less enthused, stomach growling from not finishing his breakfast, once he got some food in he was quick to change his vote. Final verdict; this is a quick, easy hike only 20 minutes from Greenville, one I know we’ll come back to – and we’ll bring friends.

* Note on 11/13/2015: More on the hike from Naturally Wild here

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