The crunch underfoot on the revamped trail at Sesquicentennial State Park might not be natural, but it feels better to the soles than the old dirt path.
Thats the first takeaway from a tour around the parks 30-acre lake on the new crushed asphalt surface. It has a give to it that the packed dirt surface didnt. In fact, it makes what has long been one of the sweetest 2-mile hikes in the Columbia area even better. Its easier to pay attention to the flora and fauna around you when you dont have to look down for roots or runoff-scraped gullies.
While anyone visiting the park in the past few weeks could have hiked the trail, the official grand opening ceremony will be Saturday.
The S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism spent $160,000 on the paving, using tax check-off funds designated for state parks by individual taxpayers. The Richland County Conservation Commission chipped in with money for the new bridge over the lake spillway.
The trail follows the same route as the old trail, close enough to the lake to allow curious children or anglers easy detours to the waters edge. But it feels different in a variety of ways. Not only is the surface both softer and smoother, the path was widened. The few abrupt turns now are winding turns, and the new trail bypasses one small kink in the old trail.
Phil Gaines, director of state parks, said a similar trail resurfacing at Lee State Park five years ago has aged well. Gaines hiked the new Sesqui loop a couple of weeks ago and was a little concerned about the freshly constructed look. He returned Friday and liked the way the fallen leaves and pine needles had softened the appearance of the crushed asphalt.
The surface is ideal for trail runners, but its loose enough for now to make it a chore to push a skinny-wheeled baby stroller. Gaines said time and trail use should harden the surface somewhat. Its wide enough for hikers walking in opposite directions to pass without one group having to step to the side.
The wood-deck boardwalk sections are a huge improvement over the former wetlands crossings. They were raised slightly and should remain above the water except after extremely heavy rains. The entire trail was designed to lessen erosion problems in the slopes leading down to the lake.
People who prefer to hike or bike on dirt trails still have plenty to choose from at Sesqui. The park also has a 3.5-mile loop trail comprised mostly of sandy roads, a 6.1-mile mountain bike trail and a short nature trail through a wetlands section.
The park was donated to the state in 1937 to mark Columbias 150th birthday. For half a century, it was on a rural section of U.S. 1 several miles from Columbia. But as Northeast Richland has grown the past few decades, the 1,400-acre park has been surrounded by businesses and housing developments.
The bike trail and a dog park are among the many changes at the park that have marked the change in the neighborhood. The lake drew thousands of revelers in the 1950s and 1960s, but the swimming area was closed a few years ago as people gravitated to pools.