Monday, March 12, 2018

Ashmore Heritage Preserve

The Upstate’s Heritage Preserves are not only some of the most interesting and scenic of the region’s natural areas, they are also a well-kept secret. These sanctuaries are just a little further off the beaten path than the popular State Parks, but attract only a small percentage of the traffic, making for enjoyable hikes close to home without the crowds.

Panoramic shot of Lake Wattacoo from the emergency spillway

Among the Heritage Preserves closest to Greenville (just 35 minutes!) is the Ashmore Heritage Preserve, located just south of Caesars Head State Park and helping to form the Mountain Bridge Wilderness. The 1,125 acre Preserve includes a portion of the Mountain Bridge Passage Trail, as well as the 1.5 mile Wattacoo Pond Loop, the perfect trail to hit this spring.

Wattacoo Pond Loop shown here in pink, parking designated by a "P" near the blue star

Ashmore is located on Persimmon Ridge Road just 0.8 miles north of Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway 11. Although portions of Persimmon Ridge Road are gravel, the Preserve is only a short distance from the paved section, and is generally accessible to most sedans. There is room for a handful of cars on the right (east) side of the road, and the two trailheads to the Wattacoo Pond Loop are the red gates to the north and to the south of the parking area. These are also the trailheads used to access the Mountain Bridge Passage Trail, which will eventually connect  Hwy 11 to the Foothills Trail through Jones Gap and Caesars Head State Parks. The trailhead will be at what was formerly Camp Spearhead, the property to the south.

One of the better-visible purple/pink blazes - really blends in

The trails are blazed (including a purple/pink for the Wattacoo Pond Loop), however in many places the paint has faded; with multiple trails/old roads crisscrossing this area, it is a good idea to take a look at a map before setting off. In general the trail heads downhill to the lake and then back up to the road, but the northern half of the loop has a second dip down to Wattacoo Creek. For a more detailed hike description, see this blog post.

The waterfall is visible during the winter from across the lake - look in the upper half of this photo

The portion of the trail that winds around the Lake offers beautiful views of rock outcrops and a water slide on Green Mountain. There is a beaver pond below the dam, and evidence of the beavers at work is plentiful. On the far side of the lake is a natural bog, habitat for rare plants such as orchids, pitcher plants and sundew. Other plants that can be found at Ashmore include a wide variety of ferns, as well as Indian Paint Brush, Grass-Of-Parnassus and Piedmont Ragwort.

The pitcher plant bog next to Lake Wattacoo adjacent to Loop Trail

In addition to the flora, three animals on the state's list of special concern species live on the Preserve: the green salamander, the state-endangered Rafinesque's big-eared bat and wood rats. You’ll find a DNR-constructed bat roosting station on the Loop, and see plenty of evidence of deer, bear, turkey and all kinds of birds. While circumnavigating the lake the trail crosses a spillway on some stones; I’m told this is a favorite spot for snakes in warmer weather.

A DNR-constructed bat roost for Rafinesque's big-eared bat

While a spring hike will bring a multitude of wildflowers, a summer hike might reveal the pitcher plants in full bloom, and autumn foliage is entirely a show in itself. For a longer hike jump on the Mountain Bridge Passage Trail north to a waterfall on Wattacoo Creek, or south to the old Camp Spearhead. For a challenge explore the Chandler Rock Trail which makes the steep climb up Green Mountain. Take a picnic with to enjoy while admiring the view of Lake Wattacoo, or bring a fishing pole to test your luck in the lake. And when you’re finished, head a little further up Persimmon Ridge Road to Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve, or jump back out to Highway 11 and Wildcat Branch Falls… Whatever you choose, you are bound to find the solitude and natural beauty you were searching for… See you on the trail!


Wondering what other Heritage Preserves are in our area? These are my favorites:

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