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TIME TO EXPLORE Lexington

Couple enjoying the lake at night.
Couple enjoying the lake at night. Photos The State

Lexington wasn’t 20-something miles from South Carolina’s capital city when it was established as Saxe Gotha in 1735.

Mostly because Columbia wasn’t established until 1786.

It’s proximity to the capital city may be why Lexington has been one of the fastest growing areas in the state in recent years. But the town doesn’t rely on Columbia for its entertainment.

Indeed, Lexington offers residents and visitors plenty of things to do. Here are a few of those:

Lake Murray

Perhaps the largest and most popular attraction in Lexington County is Lake Murray.

The 50,000-acre lake has 650 miles of shoreline and is 41 miles long and 14 miles wide at its widest point.

The Capital City/Lake Murray Country Regional Tourism Board offers options for visitors to enjoy Lake Murray, including a listing of boat rental businesses.

Two popular and easy ways to enjoy Lake Murray are the parks that flank the Dreher Shoals Dam. The lakefront parks at the dam offer picnic facilities, swimming, fishing and a boat launch, as well as a nice place to view one of Lake Murray’s spectacular sunsets. The park on the Lexington side of the dam has a beach and swimming area, but is only open from April to mid-September, and has operating hours that change depending on the time of year.

The park on the Irmo side of the dam is open year-round, 24 hours a day. It offers picnic facilities, fishing docks, a boat launch and restrooms.

Another popular spot on Lake Murray is Sandy Beach, but it is not accessible by car. You can only reach it by boat or bicycle, boat being the most popular choice.

Sandy Beach, also known as Bundrick Island, is beyond Bomb Island on the Lexington side of the lake, at the north end of Brady Port Road. There is no parking available on Brady Port Road.

Lake Murray dam parks information:

Lexington side: 1797 North Lake Drive, Lexington

Irmo side: 1201 North Lake Drive, Columbia

Cost: $3 Cars and trucks, $2 motorcycles, $5 passenger vans (only applies from April to Labor Day on Irmo side)

Lexington side operating hours: Open April to mid September

www.lakemurraycountry.com/business/lake-murray-dam-recreation-park-sites-walkway

www.sceg.com/about-us/lakes-and-recreation

Dreher Shoals Dam Walk

One of the more impressive structures in Lexington County is the Lake Murray dam, officially named Dreher Shoals Dam.

The original earthen dam was completed in 1930, and cost of $20.1 million. The dam is 1 1/2 miles long, 375 feet thick, 208 feet high and covers 99 acres. Four spill gates, each 37 1/2 feet long by 25 feet wide, are on the Lexington end of the dam.

In 2005, construction of the new backup dam was completed. It cost $275 million. Included in that project was a pedestrian walkway across the dam.

The Lake Murray Dam Walkway spans 1.7 miles across the top of the dam along S.C. 6. The walkway is 1.7 miles one way and offers lake views the entire trek, and a peek of the downtown Columbia skyline, which is 11 miles away.

The walkway is flanked by two parks (see above), which offers parking:

1797 North Lake Drive, Lexington

1201 North Lake Drive, Columbia

www.lakemurraycountry.com/business/lake-murray-dam-recreation-park-sites-walkway

Lexington County Museum

Located in the heart of the town of Lexington, the Lexington County Museum is quite worthy of a visit.

The museum opened in 1970 with a collection of structures that transports you from the colonial era to the Civil War. The 7-acre museum complex features 36 historic buildings, and includes artifacts and structures made and used in the area before 1865 that share what life was like for local residents during those times.

Some of the historic structures include the original Lexington County Post Office, the oldest documented house in Lexington, and the house where the traditional song “Give Me That Old Time Religion” was composed.

Most notable among the buildings is the 10-room John Fox House, which was built in 1832. Originally a plantation home, the house is furnished with period pieces that illustrate antebellum living conditions. It is the only structure original to the property.

Exhibits inside the buildings focus on locally made and used artifacts including furniture, quilts, pottery and rifles. Historical interpreters open a door into the past through fun and fascinating demonstrations.

The museum also has many cool events throughout the year, including a Haunted History Halloween Program Oct. 17-18 and occasional Murders and Mysteries tours. Go to www.lexingtoncounty

museum.org/events to keep up with the museum’s events.

231 Fox Street, Lexington

Museum Tour Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday (Last tour begins at 3:30 p.m.); 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Closed Mondays, major holidays and major holiday weekends.

Cost: $5 adults, $2 children

Note: If you visit outside of museum operating hours, download a QR Reader for iPhone or Android and follow the museum’s cell phone walking tour on-site. Scan the code located on the sign outside of each building for a virtual glimpse behind the door. Pick up a copy of the self-guided walking tour brochure on the front porch of the Hazelius House.

The Market at Icehouse

You only have a couple more Saturdays to enjoy this farmers market this season, but it will start again next spring.

The Market at Icehouse is primarily intended as a farmer/grower and local artisan market. It starts in late spring and is open every Saturday through the summer from 9 a.m. until noon at the Icehouse Amphitheater at 107 West Main Street.

Icehouse Amphitheater

Even though Lexington’s Icehouse Amphitheater just opened in October 2016, it’s become a popular entertainment spot in downtown.

And even though it’s a mere three years old, it does have history that is partially exhibited in its name.

Where the amphitheater now hosts bands, festivals, movie nights and other events, there was once an ice plant. The ice plant opened in 1928 and produced 300-pound ice blocks. Before it was an ice plant, there was a shoe shop there pre-Civil War. Later, the property housed a cotton warehouse, fertilizer and coal sales company.

Today it’s a focal point of Lexington’s plan to revitalize downtown.

The 900-seat venue hosts various community events including the Lexington Live concert series. The amphitheater also has hosted festivals, holiday events, and movie nights. Go to www.icehouse

amphitheater.com for events and more information.

The Lexington Live concert schedule:

Mighty Kicks, Sept. 19, 6:30 p.m.

Resurrection, Sept. 20

Tokyo Joe, Sept. 26

Big Time Band, Oct. 3

Southside Station, Oct. 11

Hops and Harvest, Oct. 12

Virginia Hylton Park

This downtown oasis in Lexington offers a playground for the kids (including a separate special needs playground) and fun for adults too.

The park has trails, a butterfly garden, a Camellia Garden, a creek with overlooks, a day lily garden, iris garden, koi pond, three covered gazebos, picnic shelters, grill and a horseshoe pit. Picnic shelter reservations can be made online. And there is often live music.

111 Maiden Lane, Lexington, www.lexsc.com/Facilities/Facility/Details/Virginia-Hylton-Park-7

Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Mercer House Estate Winery

Lexington has a winery that offers interactive tours.

Mercer House Estate Winery advertises scenic views on a tour that is more than a mile and encompasses up to five vineyards with current wines, usually 10 or more, which includes retired wines no longer available in the tasting room. The tours are for two to four people.

As an estate winery, Mercer House wines are produced on-site from 50 varieties of native grapes (Pepulus) and fruits grown on the property. The winery offers regular tastings in its studio, open to the public during regular business hours.

397 Walter Rawl Road, Lexington

www.mercerhouseestatewinery.com

Peachtree Rock Preserve

Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve feels like a trip back in time.

Layered sandstone formations, riddled with the fossils of ancient marine creatures, crop up on either side of the well-kept trails. Native longleaf pines tower overhead.

Near the preserve’s entrance, the only natural waterfall on the state’s coastal plain splashes into a small pool.

Rich in culture, history, unusual geology, plants and wildlife, Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve is a wonderful and educational place to visit. A new kiosk near the preserve’s titular formation — the now-toppled Peachtree Rock — describes the area’s unique natural offerings.

The big rock for which Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve was named took the shape of an inverted pyramid, balanced on its tip. This unusual silhouette was created when the waters of the Atlantic Ocean receded long ago. The lower layers of the rock eroded more quickly, creating a wide top and narrow base.

Erosion, storms and visitors carving into the rock gradually wore away at that fragile pedestal, and in 2013, it toppled.

The sandstone’s crumbly nature made it impossible to hold up the rock artificially, so the decision was made it leave it on its side. The Nature Conservancy and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SC-DNR) continue to monitor its position and stability.

While the big rock has fallen, a smaller but similar formation — affectionately known as “Little Peachtree Rock” — still stands just off the trail near the back of the preserve.

883 Peachtree Rock Road, Lexington, SC 29073

Download a plant guide/checklist and a bird guide/checklist before your visit.

www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/southcarolina/placesweprotect/peachtree-rock-heritage-preserve.xml

Lezlie Patterson, special to GoColumbia

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