It’s a harmonic convergence: Weekend high temperatures forecast around 70 with almost no chance of rain just days after the Obama administration announced its “Great Outdoors Initiative.”
The 173-page White House report, which was released Wednesday and suggests strategies to increase outdoor recreation, even included a shout-out to the Congaree River Blue Trail.
The blue trail effort focuses on boating and fishing opportunities on the Congaree, one of a multitude of outdoor recreation possibilities in the Midlands. This unseasonably warm weekend could be a great time to check out some of the natural wonders in the Midlands.
To support one of the president’s goals — getting more young people into the outdoors — here are some South Carolina spring exploration suggestions.
Midlands rivers: The Congaree River Blue Trail is just one piece of the Midlands’ wide variety of river recreation possibilities. Canoeing, kayaking and fishing can be a blast on the Saluda, Broad, Wateree and Congaree, all within a few miles of each other.
Novices might want to check with the local outfitters, who provide guided trips starting at $30. The larger outfitters include River Runner (803) 771-0353, Get Your Gear On (803) 799-0999 and Adventure Carolina (803) 796-4505. The best deal in the Midlands are the weekend canoe tours at Congaree National Park. They’re free, but you need to reserve spots well ahead of time, and the spots go fast. Call (803) 776-4396 for details. You’re unlikely to find an open spot in the next few weekends.
If you’re heading out on the rivers on your own, be cautious. The Midlands is on the fall line, which means our rivers go over the last line of rocky shoals in the state. You need expertise to get through some spots, especially the rapids on the Saluda just above Riverbanks Zoo. And be aware that anywhere on the Saluda, water levels can rise quickly when SCE&G is making hydroelectric power at the Lake Murray dam.
When water levels are low, the best short river sections for novices include the Saluda around Saluda Shoals Park, the Congaree flowing south from the Gervais Street bridge, the Broad starting at the north end of Riverfront Park and the Wateree just below the Lake Wateree dam. It’s easiest to simply go downstream, but that means you need to leave a vehicle downstream or get somebody to pick you up.
Experienced paddlers looking for overnight paddles can try the Congaree between Gervais Street and U.S. 601 or the Wateree from Camden to the confluence with the Congaree. In both cases, you’ll need to camp on sandbars or on ridges along the river’s edge.
For details on river recreation in the Midlands, go to www.congareeriverbluetrail.blogspot.com or sctrails.net (click on trails and then water).
Midlands hiking: The best place to start is on the paved trails at Three Rivers Greenway (Riverfront Park in Columbia or the Cayce and West Columbia Riverwalks) or Saluda Shoals Park near Irmo. Those waterside paths offer a nice mix of nature and enough other people that novices to the outdoors will feel safe. Most are linear trails, which means you should plan to walk half as far as you want, then turn around and return to your starting point.
If those whet your appetite for more, try the loop trails at Sesquicentennial State Park in Northeast Richland, Harbison State Forest near Irmo, Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve near Edmond in Lexington County or Congaree National Park near Hopkins in Richland County. While each park has a variety of trails, they all offer at least one loop that covers nearly two miles, which is ideal for most children. Congaree NP has the most extensive trails system, which means you can cover much longer distances if you want to make a full day of it or you can do the boardwalk loop in an hour or so.
Be warned, biting insects come out in all of these forests as the weather warms. Bring repellent, and be thankful if it remains cool enough this weekend that you don’t need to use it. On the other hand, most of the trails are wooded enough that you probably don’t need sunscreen.
Midlands biking: Just like hiking, the paved trails of the Three Rivers Greenway and Saluda Shoals Park are the best place to start for young mountain bikers. But remember these trails often are packed with walkers on sunny days. Saluda Shoals, unless there’s some special event there, is unlikely to feel as crowded as the Three Rivers trails.
The next step up is Sesquicentennial State Park, where novices can graduate from dirt roads with no vehicle traffic to more challenging mountain bike trails. The most challenging, and busiest, mountain bike trails in the Midlands are at Harbison State Forest.
Hiking and biking are free, but there are parking fees at Saluda Shoals, Harbison and Sesqui.
For details on hiking and mountain biking in the Midlands, go to www.sctrails.net, www.southcarolinaparks.com, www.icrc.net/saludashoals, www.state.sc.us/forest/refharb.htm or www.riveralliance.org.