Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Chester State Park

It can be hard to tear ourselves away from the spectacular State Parks of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, but the parks in the Midlands have their own allure. Especially this time of year (before it’s gotten too hot), a weekend at one of these parks is a great budget getaway, especially as at least eight of them are under a two-hour drive from Greenville. These include Landsford Canal (with its beautiful rocky shoal spider lilies), Dreher Island, and the Civilian Conservation Corps-constructed Chester State Park.

Located between Columbia and Charlotte, Chester SP is in the South Carolina’s Piedmont region; gentle hills covered with hardwoods, the 160-acre Park Lake in the center. With 523 acres of trails, campgrounds, fishing and a disc golf course, there is plenty to keep you busy for the weekend. Or if you’re looking to do very little of anything, the lakeside scenery is the perfect backdrop for enjoying the latest novel and taking a nap in a hammock enjoying the breeze coming off the lake.

Chester State Park Lake spillway

In the 1930s the Park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the same program that allowed for the formation of Paris Mountain State Park. A number of structures built by the CCC are still in operation today, one unique feature being the stone spillway at the west end of Chester State Park Lake. Water pours into a trough and out, creating a waterfall effect. A short distance farther there is an actual waterfall, and both are easily reached via the 1.3-mile Caney Fork Falls Trail. The trailhead is at the main parking area, and the hike winds past the boathouse and the camping area, hugging the shore of the lake and providing ample opportunities for wildlife viewing or fishing. For more on the Civilian Conservation and how they built Chester State Park, consider attending the program The Way We Worked - The CCC at Chester State Park on July 15.

Caney Fork Falls

The park is a popular place to fish for bass, bream, catfish and crappie. There is a bridge near the playground, a fishing pier located in the camping area, and a pier area around the boathouse that all may be used for fishing. Well-worn trails on the shores are a testament to foot traffic from those fishing from the banks. A valid South Carolina fishing license is required.

Chester State Park Lake bridge

The boathouse houses multiple johnboats that can be rented ($10/day), and a boat ramp allows visitors to launch their own boats. Kayaks and canoes are a popular way to tour the lake, and Chester SP hosts unique monthly Twilight Paddling excursions, ranger-guided twilight boat tours taking paddlers on an outdoor adventure from the historical boathouse to the new bridge. See the website for dates, or inquire at the park office. The office has a small store, handles boat rentals, and the info kiosk in front is where those of you participating in the Ultimate Outsider program will find the park stamp.

The boathouse and fishing area

The 25-site campground is just adjacent to the office, the sites capable of accommodating tents to 40-ft RVs. There is also a primitive group camping area available for rental, which is where we camped. The large, grassy area was previously a horse showing arena, and the old structure that at one point housed the judges still sits to one side. The stars viewed from this part of the park were absolutely incredible, with only minimal light pollution disrupting the view.

Primitive camping area

The 18-hole and 9-hole tournament grade disc golf courses are located near the primitive camping area. The first SC State Park tournament sanctioned Disc Golf Course, 3 loops are suitable for tournament play, and 18 holes have alternative tees for beginner/amateur level players.

The Park is also a great spot for birdwatching, and we saw plenty of wildlife on our visit including a bald eagle, black rat snake, evidence of a beaver and one of the largest lizards I’ve seen in SC. The wildflowers were also bountiful – just keep one eye out for poison ivy!

Clockwise from top left: bluebonnets?, a red-headed woodpecker, fire pink, Indian pink, a broad-headed skink & blue-eyed grass

Our stay in Chester State Park was a relaxing change of pace. The environs are highly different from the Upstate state parks, and it was interesting to observe the differences in wildlife and plant life. Spring is a beautiful time to visit, although I hope to return in the fall to see the park in its autumn colors. For more information on Chester State Park, visit the SC state park website. Admission  to the park is $2/adults, $1.25/seniors and age 15 & younger free. The park is open daily from 9am-6pm, and 9am-9pm during Daylight Saving Time.

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