Searching for the 'great' outdoors? We found them

jholleman@thestate.comApril 22, 2014 

Kayaking in the canal during the 4th annual River Rocks music festival Saturday at Riverfront Park.

C MICHAEL BERGEN — mbergen@thestate.com Buy Photo

We love getting out there. The explosion of walking for fun and exercise in recent years has people flocking to the Lake Murray dam, Saluda Shoals Park near Irmo and Riverfront Park in Columbia.

But no stretch of paved trail is more indicative of the growth than the Cayce-West Columbia Riverwalk, which opened in October 2012. By the end of 2014, there could be a continuous trail covering nearly seven miles and connecting with Riverland Park, Old State Road and the new SCANA property.

The Midlands has plenty of outdoor recreation groups — some structured and most less so.

Here are a few:

Kayaking and canoeing

Palmetto Paddlers was formed in 1982 to get people together on the state’s waterways.

“New paddlers can meet others who share their experience and love for paddlesport,” said Karen Kustafik, president of the group. “Veteran paddlers will enjoy the camaraderie. Our meetings include social outings and informative programs.”

Members post kayak and canoe trip plans on the website, and others sign up to join them. The group seems to evolve in cycles, with whitewater paddlers dominating for a while, then flatwater paddlers taking over for a while. Usually members can find several trips a year to their liking, and if they don’t, they can volunteer to lead a trip of their own.

The group also offers training sessions, and the trips themselves often serve as training for newcomers to paddlesports.

Saluda Yakerz started with a small group of kayakers who hung out around Riverbanks Zoo www.riverbanks.org during the week and took weekend trips to the North Carolina mountains. It’s basically a bunch of local paddlers who like to spend time together around rivers and to take shots at each other on their message board. But if you’re into whitewater paddling, or think you want to get into it, go on those message boards and introduce yourself. Soon you’ll be out on the Saluda with some new friends.

Mountain biking

Longtime member Bob Hadden says the Friends of Harbison State Forest was started to give trail users a voice in the future of the S.C. Forestry Commission property on Broad River Road. It has evolved into more of a Forestry Commission partner in managing the trails.

“Every dime that we get goes into trail building or repair,” Hadden said. The group stages frequent work days, but members have fun, too. They organize events such as Take A Kid Mountain Biking Day, and they have put together small group night rides in the forest.

The Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association’s Midlands chapter also helps build and maintain trails so its members can enjoy them. But unlike Friends of Harbison, SORBA spreads out across the Midlands with projects and events at Lynches Woods in Newberry County, Manchester State Forest and Poinsett State Park in Sumter county and at Sesquicentennial State Park in Richland County www.southcarolinaparks.com.

General outdoors

Outdoor adventure meetup groups have exploded in recent years. Several groups in the Midlands have more than 500 members, including the Columbia Outdoor Adventure Network, the Carolina Outdoors Society and the Palmetto Adventure Club. Members post hikes, paddling trips or general get-togethers they plan to lead, and others sign up to join them. The trips can vary from a light walk along a sidewalk trail to a strenuous, all-day journey down a river.

“We do fun things all the time,” said Judi George of the Columbia Outdoor Adventure Network. “You get the chance to meet new and interesting people, try new experiences and become exposed to new events that you might not have been willing to try, and you don’t have to go alone.”

Friends of Congaree Swamp offers hikes and occasional paddles through Congaree National Park that usually involve photographing and learning about the wide variety of species in the park. The members also schedule trail cleanup days and advocate for the health of the amazing old-growth forest at the heart of the park.

The Sierra Club’s John Bachman Group has been staging guided hikes in the Midlands for years. But the hikes are just part of this group known for its advocacy for nature and natural areas.

The Palmetto Conservation Foundation is best known for building the Palmetto Trail, but its members also get to go on interesting excursions throughout the state. The $50 annual membership fee entitles you to discounts on trips and other items offered by the PCF.

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