Marie McAden



10 of South Carolina’s most walkable downtowns

Posted 2/15/2014 1:36:00 PM

Who says you need a dirt path or rocky trail to go hiking? City sidewalks have become a favorite in-town option for traveling trekkers.

Instead of gazing upon scenic waterfalls, mountains and rivers, you can ooh and aah at historic architecture, cascading fountains and public works of art. And the fare you’ll find in the local eateries will certainly beat the smashed peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich in your backpack.

Sally forth, urban hikers! Here are 10 wonderfully walkable downtowns:

1. Abbeville — This quintessential small Southern town — settled in 1758 by a group of French Huguenots — features a lovely town square and a restored turn-of-the-century opera house.

2. Aiken — Once the “Winter Colony” of well-to-do northerners, the town still sports historic remnants of the Gilded Age, including the grand Willcox Hotel and Rose Hill estate.

3. Beaufort — One of only a handful of U.S. towns to have its entire downtown designated a historic district, this seaport city features oak-shaded streets lined with stunning homes built by wealthy plantation owners before the Civil War.

4. Bluffton — Built on the banks of the pristine May River, the quirky tidewater town features eight antebellum homes and the colorful Calhoun Street with its eclectic mix of shops, cafes and art galleries.

5. Charleston — There’s a reason Charleston has been named the Top U.S. City by Condé Nast Traveler three consecutive years. Its rich history, well-preserved architecture, narrow cobblestoned streets and award-winning restaurants will knock your socks off.

6. Columbia — The capital city’s downtown features the State House, along with the University of South Carolina’s famed Horseshoe, a lush quadrangle surrounded by 19th century buildings. You’ve also got Main Street and The Vista — hot spots for shopping, dining and art.

7. Georgetown — The third oldest seaport in the country, this historic coastal community has a charming downtown lined with historic homes, grand old churches and museums. A grassy waterfront park and the newly renovated Harborwalk add to the ambiance.

8. Greenville — The revitalized downtown has been ranked among “America’s Ten Best” by Forbes magazine. The centerpiece of the shopping and entertainment district is Falls Park and its signature pedestrian suspension bridge.

9. Spartanburg — Morgan Square is the heart of this Upstate city’s downtown. The gathering spot dates back to 1787 and features the iconic 19th century town clock. Many of the historic buildings in the area date back to the textile and railroad boom between 1880 and 1920.

10. Summerville — Some 700 buildings in the downtown district are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Among the most notable is a three-story Victorian house that served as the residence of cosmetics executive Elizabeth Arden.

5 awesome hikes that are even better in the winter

Posted 2/10/2014 10:35:00 AM

With all the ridiculously cold weather we’ve been having this year, you’re probably ready for old man winter to pack it up and give way to spring. But consider the positive side of the season — winter is a great time to hike in the Lowcountry or most anywhere in South Carolina.

There are no bugs, no snakes and no poison ivy. The leaves are off the trees so you get a much better view of the landscape. And you won’t be sweating from the heat and humidity.

Here are five awesome hikes that are even better in the winter:

1. Awendaw Passage of the Palmetto Trail: This scenic seven-mile trail — the coastal finishing point of South Carolina’s cross-state trail system — follows Awendaw Creek through a maritime forest to the Intracoastal Waterway. Along the way, you’ll be see vast stretches of salt marsh, abandoned rice fields and a Sewee Indian shell midden dating back 3,000 to 5,000 years.

2. Hunting Island State Park: Take a leisurely stroll along a picturesque lagoon, over the marsh, through a hammock and out to a deck overlooking a tidal creek. Or hoof it through one of the state’s most beautiful maritime forests. Along with eight miles of hiking trails, the park features five miles of shoreline to explore.

3. Great Swamp Sanctuary: The 800-acre Walterboro preserve features a network of boardwalks and trails through a pristine hardwood forest and blackwater bottomland. The most historically significant of these paths follows the Colonial-era Charleston-to-Savannah Stagecoach Road still bearing the cypress remnants of long-fallen bridges.

4. Cypress Gardens: Originally part of the prosperous Dean Hall, the Moncks Corner nature preserve features three miles of walking paths that take you around the plantation’s old rice field reservoir and deep into the wooded wetlands that make up most of the 170-acre property. The extraordinarily beautiful low-lying land has been featured in 15 movies, including “The Patriot,” “Cold Mountain” and “The Notebook.”

5. Congaree National Park: More than 20 miles of trails offer visitors to the Midlands the opportunity to experience the largest remaining tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. The most popular trail is the 2.4-mile Boardwalk Loop, a mystical passage that takes you beneath a canopy of towering loblolly pines, elms, hickories, maples and oaks into a primeval bald cypress and water tupelo forest.

Glendale Shoals is more than just a scenic spot

Posted 2/2/2014 4:11:00 PM

It’s easy to see how visitors to Glendale Shoals Preserve would be satisfied just to sit and enjoy the view of Lawson’s Fork Creek, the centerpiece of the 13-acre Spartanburg County park. It’s mesmerizing to watch the water cascade like a fountain over the ledge of the dam and tumble among jumbles of boulders scattered shore to shore.

But it’s much more fun to hopscotch across the rocks and put yourself in the middle of the action. With just a little dexterity, you can navigate your way right up to most of the rapids. Near the dam, the rock outcroppings are so wide and flat, you can walk within a few feet of the waterfall.

For those who prefer to stay on dry land, there’s a shady walking trail that runs along the north bank of the creek. Visitors to the preserve also are welcome to stroll among the remains of the historic Bivingsville Cotton Factory, Spartanburg’s first large textile mill.

Dr. James Bivings built the plant in the 1830s and pioneered the concept of the mill village in the Upcountry. For nearly 130 years, the mill served as the life blood of the community of Glendale. It was destroyed by fire in 2004. The ruins include a portion of the foundation, several brick towers and the historic Glendale steel bridge.

The site also features an amphitheater and a garden tended by Wofford College’s Goodall Environmental Studies Center. For more information and directions to Glendale Shoals Preserve, click here

Catfish contest to launch Camper Cookoff Series

Posted 2/2/2014 4:04:00 PM

Time to start working on your best catfish recipes. The inaugural Catfish Cookoff takes place March 14-15 at Santee State Park and the competition promises to be fierce.

With the park located right on Lake Marion — known for its abundant population of large catfish — you won’t have to go far to pick up the seafood special.

As many as 25 chefs will have the opportunity to compete for prizes and bragging rights to the best catfish dish. To participate, you just have to book a campsite at the park for a minimum of two nights.

How you cook up your catfish is up to you. Grill ’em over an open fire, steam ’em in hot coals, fry ’em up on a camp stove. The only requirement is that your dish feature some variety of catfish.

If you fancy yourself more of a catfish connoisseur than cook, you can sign up to judge the competition. The first 50 people to register for a two-night minimum campsite will get to vote on the winners. Only one camper from each campsite can participate in the tasting.

Competing cooks will need to provide a minimum of 50 individual sample portions to distribute to the judges.

To register, call the park office at (803) 854-2408. Be sure to stipulate whether you wish to participate as a cook or judge. Registrations are being accepted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Be aware: you can’t sign up online or by calling the toll-free campsite registration number.

The Catfish Cookoff is part of the new South Carolina Camper Cookoff series. Upcoming competitions will include a:

* Barbecue Cookoff July 25-26 at Kings Mountain State Park 

* Chicken Cookoff Nov. 7-8 at Calhoun Falls State Park

* Grits Cookoff Jan. 16-17, 2015 at Myrtle Beach State Park

For more information on the Catfish Cookoff, click here or call the park office.

So much to do at Anne Springs Close Greenway

Posted 2/2/2014 11:33:00 AM

Into the outdoors? Then a visit is in order to Fort Mill’s Anne Springs Close Greenway, a 2,100-acre recreational playground for mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, fishing, camping and kayaking.

Enjoy nature, but don’t want to work up a sweat? The Greenway offers plenty for you, too. Gather the family for an old-fashioned picnic by the lake or take a stroll on an easy walking path overlooking acres of rolling hills and picturesque pastures.

And that’s just for starters. The nature preserve offers guided walks with a South Carolina master naturalist every third Wednesday and Saturday of the month, guided trail rides Saturday mornings from September to June, as well as a host of recreational events from a Greenway Challenge Series to Family Fitness Day.

Opened in 1995, the Greenway celebrates the outdoors and the beautiful piedmont landscape of the Fort Mill area. The land was donated to the public by the children of Anne Springs Close, matriarch of South Carolina’s Springs textile family, to honor their mother’s lifelong commitment to recreation and the environment.

Both are well represented in the Greenway.

The centerpiece of the preserve is the 40-mile network of trails that crisscross the property. It takes you through lush mixed hardwood forests and scenic prairies, past 200-year-old log cabins, alongside lakes and over creeks. Whether you hike, bike or horseback ride, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking vistas of the countryside along the way. I’ll tell you more about the trails in an upcoming post.

If you have your own kayak or canoe, you can paddle on Stumpy Pond and Lakes Frances or Crandall. Fishermen also are welcome to use the lake ramps to launch non-motorized boats. Not hauling your own boat? Rent a kayak at the 28-acre Lake Haigler.

The Greenway also offers a variety of horseback riding options. In addition to the weekly guided trail rides, parents can take their children on lead rides at either the indoor or outdoor arenas from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Visitors also are welcome to bring their own horses and ride any of the many miles of trails open to equestrians. Horse camping with paddocks is available for those who want to spend the night.

Primitive tent camping also is allowed on the north side of Lake Haigler. A bathhouse with showers, toilets and dishwashing sinks is located adjacent to the camping area.

Admission to the preserve is $3. Cyclists pay $5 and visitors with a horse $15. For directions or more information on the Anne Springs Close Greenway, click here or call (803) 547-4575.