The City of Aiken’s Carolina Bay Nature Reserve project is at the point of “substantial completion.” That’s all the “environmental news” that’s worth reporting today: The remainder of this column is what might be considered “commentary.” Read on at your own risk.
This column, in a number of articles (see “Suggested by the author” at the end of this article), has highlighted work that the City of Aiken has been doing at its Carolina Bay Nature Reserve. The first article appeared in Examiner on February 11, 2011, but that was not the article I wanted to write about this relatively unique city property. Today’s article is the one I wanted to write: So, here it is.
Yesterday, we (TobiJuan and I) visited the bay for the first time in a month and found what we suspect to be a complete project. In any case the work that we understood was to be done has been done, and the bay trail is once again quite passable. As a matter of fact, we would like to suggest that everyone in commuting distance of Aiken drop by the site and check it out for themselves. If you like a natural setting in a downtown area, we believe you will like Aiken’s Carolina Bay Nature Reserve (or Preserve, as the case may be.) Incidentally, if you want a short diversion while you are reading this article, click on any of the underlined links to find out more about the various places.
To get to the Reserve from downtown Aiken, you first head south on whatever downtown street you might be on until you get to Park Avenue. (This works fine starting one block west of the intersection of Richland Avenue–i.e., US 1–and Laurens Street, and continuing all the way to the east edge of town.) Starting from Newberry Street and all points west, you head east on Park till you see the Aiken County Court House on your right. Of course, if you were several blocks east of the downtown area when you started, you would need to head west on Park initially, seeing the courthouse on your left after you passed St. Mary Help of Christians Church right next to that courthouse. You then turn onto Whiskey Road and drive South, alongside the courthouse, and cross a railway cut, the one we were told in our SC history classes that was built to be used by the railroad company that built the “Best Friend of Charleston,” the first steam locomotive in America with a regularly scheduled passenger service. The City of Aiken got its name from William Aiken, the president of that railroad company, The South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company. Next you drive past the Wilcox (hotel, inn) on your right and the “county” Library on your left. Continue on Whiskey for another mile or so, passing Hopelands Gardens on your right, the Green Boundary Club on your left, and, after the road widens into a four-lane, the Palmetto Golf Club, established 1892, on your right. Continuing just a bit further, you will see shopping centers first to your left and then to your right after which you will come to Price Avenue on the left and Silver Bluff Road on the right. Turn left on Price Avenue (you will see Aiken’s Virginia Acres Park to your right, after you make the left turn,) and drive about half of the block to see the Carolina Bay in the trees to your left. Make that left turn in front of the bay and enter the bay’s parking area. Park (the price is right) in front of the sign (with the attached portolet,) and you are ready to begin a short hike around the property.
Beyond the parking lot sign, to the left, you will see an open-air structure, the Observation Deck and occasional outdoor classroom, complete with overhead fan. Beyond that structure is the Carolina Bay, proper. Beyond the parking lot sign, to the right, you will see the city’s “climbing wall.” My suggestion to the newcomer is to walk straight in, towards the observation deck, until you see a pine tree with a large green marking (see the accompanying “slide show”) on its trunk at, roughly, eye level. Those with outdoor experience would call this a “blaze.” Look to your right when you first see this tree and you will see several more blazed trees next to and beyond the climbing wall. Follow the blazes and you will walk, roll, or ride the main trail around the reserve, a relatively easy walk of just under one-half mile. Whether you are walking, rolling or riding, watch out for the tree roots! Several benches are provided to those who feel the need. (A shorter trail that hugs the shoreline of the bay is also available. Rollers and riders should avoid this one, though–too many roots.)
Bird watchers will undoubtedly enjoy this property. Earlier articles have discussed some of the birds I have seen there, to include herons, hawks, and migratory waterfowl. Storks, egrets, and an occasional kingfisher may drop in. I’m told warblers are available, if you bring your binoculars. Early visitors will sometime see flocks, in season. Permanent residents include a couple of farm ducks (white) and several mallards.
Fishing, while officially off limits, is done (“no fishing” signs are no where to be seen.) To my knowledge, no one has experienced any grief over fishing in the bay. While the fishing is not great, it may be a good place to take a new young fisherperson-to-be for an initial experience.
Hunting is, of course, not tolerated. The squirrels wouldn’t like it, and it is strictly against the law.
What is tolerated is, as indicated above, bird watching, rousting some of the many squirrels or rabbits, finding and picking up (if you wish) an occasional box turtle (don’t hold them very long–they belong in the park, it’s their home,) observing the turtles in the bay, “yellow belly sliders,” perhaps, spying a snake (not many of these, and I’ve never seen a poisonous one, still, leave them alone and they will leave you alone.) Also tolerated is walking around the bay to your heart’s content, getting a little exercise, breathing in some good, fresh air, and, as required, getting that needed mental adjustment by going for your own personal flight of fancy in this little piece of wilderness nestled between apartments, private homes, a shopping center by Whiskey Road (one of Aiken’s busiest streets,) and Virginia Acres Park proper.
One last comment: While this project was initially a source of controversy, with quite a few people against changing anything at the bay, the City decided to move forward with its project. And, while some may criticize some aspects of the project, the end result looks to this Examiner to be quite satisfactory. The City Council, the office of the City Manager, City Engineering, PRT (Parks, Recreation, and Tourism), and all others involved in the successful conception, construction, and completion of this project should be congratulated on a job well done. One other person deserves recognition: Ms. Amy Banton of the AikenStandard wrote an article that resulted in an intitial clean up of the bay and, I suspect, also catalyzed the subsequent work there. She, too, deserves the gratitude of all of us who use and enjoy Aiken’s Carolina Bay.
If you have any questions about the bay, or any other park facility in Aiken, contact the City at 803-642-7600 (press “3” for PRT) or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org . If you have any questions about this article, email me, Stephen V. Geddes, at email@example.com. If you would like to receive an email when future environmental news articles are published (they don’t come along every day), click on “Environmental Newsletter sign up,” above. And thank you for visiting rootshed.com.