Carolina Life: Work and play along the trail

Zach Connell, 15, climbs a vine in the area the Scouts were cleaning up.
Zach Connell, 15, climbs a vine in the area the Scouts were cleaning up. Erk Campos

WEDGEFIELD — The cool, early morning drizzle doesn’t dampen their enthusiasm as the seven Boy Scouts and their three leaders set out along the trail.

Mist shrouds the canopy of oak trees, and the soggy clay squishes underneath their shoes. Recent storms knocked trees across parts of the Palmetto Trail near the Wateree River.

The path, which runs across South Carolina in a series of sections, is nearly 290 miles long — and will be 425 miles long when complete. But today, these Scouts from Camden’s Troop 348 will focus on 3½ miles in Sumter County. They must complete 10 hours of trail maintenance to earn their merit badge for hiking.

Armed with brush cutters, a mattock, loppers and shears, the boys attack the overgrowth with a frenzy.

“Don’t cut off too much,” calls out Scout leader Derick Swails. “Just take off what covers the trail.”

The cleared brush uncovers a trove of forest creatures.

“Look at the size of that night crawler!”

“There’s another one, too!”

“Whoa! I think that spider could be a tarantula. It’s HUGE!”

The Scouts work for hours, until the forest ends, giving way to an old bridge across the Wateree.

Long vines dangle from trees that have made the forest home for decades. With an approving nod from their leaders and a couple of tugs to ensure their strength, one boy at a time begins to scale a vine. Some climb higher than others. But nearly all, including Zach Connell, above, swing back and forth, Tarzan-style.

It may not be an official requirement for the merit badge, but it sure is fun.

— Erik Campos

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