Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve

The first time I ever turned off of Highway 276 onto Persimmon Ridge Road was almost ten years ago; we were in pursuit of a geocache (which is still there!) and had turned off on a steep, narrow, gravel road that was so full of ruts we quickly turned our old Taurus around to get wheels back on the pavement before the thing fell apart!

The sign at the eastern trailhead

Fast forward a decade and the gravel road is now pretty much a two-lane highway: still gravel, but otherwise unrecognizable. Our sedan was easily able to handle the grade of what is a steep mountain road, but although we saw more than one SUV and truck, this time we weren’t the only ones with two-wheel drive.

The granite outcrop and Heritage Falls

Persimmon Ridge Road connects with Highway 276 on both ends, 1.25 miles east of Wildcat Wayside to ¾ a mile north of Bald Rock Heritage Preserve. It is only 3.5 miles long, but will take significantly longer to travel than the paved 276 as it winds its way along the southern edge of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. Along with the previously mentioned Bald Rock, this section of Mountain Bridge is home to three other Heritage Preserves: Watson-Cooper, Ashmore, and Eva Russell Chandler - our destination this gorgeous spring day.

Heritage Falls where the granite outcrop starts getting slick and steep

The 253-acre preserve is right on the Blue Ridge Escarpment, and the area is well known for its biodiversity and ecological communities. Owned and managed by the SC Department of Natural Resources, Eva Russell Chandler is home to several rare plant species including Grass-of-Parnassus, Indian paintbrush and Divided-Leaf Groundsel. The Preserve is also primitive in terms of amenities, with few trail markers, no restrooms, and a parking area that runs on the side of ‘wide spot in the road.’

The sign, gate and old road next to the parking area

Going north on 276 from Bald Rock Heritage Preserve, make a right on Persimmon Ridge Road in ¾ a mile: the turn-off can be easy to miss, but it’s the first turn and is right in a curve. Proceed on Persimmon Ridge for ½ mile where you’ll see a turnout on the south side of the road; the old roadbed is gated, but please do not park in front of the gate as this provides access in case of emergency/fire.

The Eva Russell Chandler loop trail totals about ½ a mile, and emerges back out on Persimmon Ridge Road just a couple hundred feet down the road. To start, follow the old roadbed until the trail turns off to the east into the hardwood forest: look for the series of wooden steps leading up to the trail as the sign seems to have gone missing. After crossing a little foot bridge, you’ll soon come to an old homesite, made known by the chimney and stairs that still stand on site.

Soon you’ll emerge on the granite outcrop with a beautiful view of the Upstate. Here Slickum Creek flows down the edge of the escarpment providing for a unique ecological community at its base – a cataract bog. Cataract bogs form where a permanent stream flows slowly over a steeply sloped rock outcrop, a thin layer of soil forming just on the edge. The loop trail does not take you to the base of the falls, which are known as Heritage Falls or Slickum Falls, and it is dangerous to try to descend the slick granite face. There have been fatalities at this site; the rock face is steeper and slicker than it appears. To reach the base of the falls it is advisable to take a second trail, which although longer, circles around at a more moderate pace (see here for trail info).

What I find fascinating about the cataract bog community is that not too far away you’ll find various lichens and prickly pear cactus, two plants that can grow in harsh, dry conditions. Both plant communities are fragile; please exercise care to protect this beautiful area.

prickly pear cactus

From the scenic viewpoint over Heritage Falls, the loop continues back north along Slickum Creek. The forest floor is covered with a dense thicket of Southern Lady, New York and Christmas ferns, and the sound of running water surrounds you as you hike. You’ll emerge back to Persimmon Ridge Road 100 yards from the parking area at another Preserve sign.

While we saw a few other hikers at the granite outcrop, we pretty much had the place to ourselves considering it was a holiday weekend. We emerged from the forest energized, but hungry, and piling back into the car we backtracked to Bald Rock, where we spread our picnic blanket out and enjoyed the afternoon sun. Two granite outcrops, two very different experiences….

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