The southern terminus of the 21-mile GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail could be considered to be in Fountain Inn, although this is actually misleading because the half-mile section there is not connected to the rest of the trail. Although plans to continue the route through Simpsonville and Mauldin have been in the works for the past several years, there is no definite plan/route to link it to the Conestee Nature Park section of the trail.
|the historic Conestee mill and dam, view from the Conestee Rd. bridge over the Reedy River|
While the Conestee section is also not connected to the main trunk of trail (that winds its way north along the Reedy River all the way to Travelers Rest), the trailhead at the historic Conestee Mill is much more realistic in name of southern terminus, as from this point the trail winds through the park two miles to Chatham Drive and then another two miles to Interstate 85 before the next gap. It’s also a relatively small gap, as there are only two miles missing before the trail picks back up again at Cleveland St. at Greenville Technical College, compared to the roughly 12 miles missing to connect it to Fountain Inn. The two miles to Greenville Tech would necessitate finding an acceptable route around the Greenville Country Club; negotiations have stalled, and attention (and funds) have been diverted to the addition of several connector trails which would link the SRT to even more Greenville neighborhoods.
|view of the dam from Spanco Dr.|
There was a mill on the Reedy River where the Swamp Rabbit trailhead is now situated as early as the 1790s, but it was small scale until the 1830s when Vardy McBee purchased almost 300 acres in the region and built a larger dam. Over the years ownership changed hands, the dam was rebuilt - it is even thought that material for Confederate Army uniforms was manufactured at the mill during the Civil War. In 1909 Reedy River Manufacturing was renamed Conestee Mill for the Cherokee word for “running waters,” but the mill ceased production in the early 1970s and foreclosed in 1978.The mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. The 8-acre property is currently for sale, and could be yours for $1,800,000.
|the kiosk at the trailhead|
There is a free parking lot for trail access off Spanco Drive, the trailhead being on the southwest end, and the first tenth of a mile of trail winds from the kiosk around the South Bay (named for the location in relation to Reedy River). Right across from the intersection with the Rusty Link connector (access at South Pine Circle off Conestee Rd.) is the South Bay Observation Deck, a good spot to look for great blue herons and other waterfowl. It was at the next observation deck overlooking Crescent Slough that we caught a glimpse of a muskrat, and altogether in this relatively short stretch we saw an abundance of wildflowers and other miscellaneous stuff exciting to the kiddos: a giant millipede, a vole, wild dewberries and quite a few turtles.
Once the trail turns west again a boardwalk goes off to the north, to Sparkleberry Island and the Heron Circle Trail (also marked River Otter Way and Froggy Bottom Link). Heron Spur, which leads to the West Bay observation deck is just a short distance from this point, and worth the detour. On our visit we observed great blue herons in the rookery, an American green tree frog, fish and more turtles.
|the great blue heron rookery|
Once back on the Swamp Rabbit you’ll come to a scenic viewpoint on the opposite side of West Bay, and a short distance later the intersection of Flat Tail Trail which connects to the parking lot at the Belmont Fire Department. From here the SRT makes a wide loop around Marrow Bone Creek, connecting to the Stone House parking lot with a couple of spur trails and to various observation points and Henderson Farm with a series of trails and boardwalks. The Sparkleberry Connector just opened less than a year ago, paving the way for bicycle traffic from Conestee Park and the bridge over the Reedy River.
|American green tree frog|
We ended our hike back at Conestee Mill, taking in the view from the picnic table situated overlooking the South Bay. The trail comes in at just under 2 miles within the park, making it a 4-mile round trip there and back, but you can always opt to turn around sooner to tailor the hike to your needs. Pack a picnic to enjoy at one of the overlooks, remember your water bottles & sunscreen, and enjoy summer at Conestee Nature Park!
For a map of Conestee Nature Park, the Conestee section of the Swamp Rabbit Trail, parking, overlooks and all other trails, please click here.