What, one might ask, does the Festival of the Woods have to do with the World’s Largest Half Ironman? The answer is really quite simple and actually led Al and I to an unexpected weekend of adventure here in Aiken. Let me explain…
Fall has arrived and the early morning air is crisp and inviting; just the type of weather that calls us to one of our favorite past times, hiking the many beautiful woodland trails here in Woodside Plantation and the greater Aiken community.
Soon after we settled here at Woodside we were introduced to Jim Pierce who heads up a group of Woodside hikers. We actually met Jim on the Bluebird outing that was led by Jim Burke on The Village Trail last spring.
Jim Pierce arranges group hikes at various times throughout the year on the many trails that are interspersed throughout Woodside and also on trails in and around Aiken. The September hike was scheduled for Hitchcock Woods; a 2000 acre area within the city of Aiken boasting 65 miles of trails. Amazing! Hitchcock Woods is a wonderful gift to the Aiken community and really worthy of its own story.
All of the Woodside hikers who signed up for this event were to meet at Mitchell Shopping Center to carpool into the woods. Typically no motorized vehicles are allowed in the woods, only folks on foot or horseback. In line with that, Hitchcock Woods is a maze of trails, which should require hikers to take a map supplied at each entrance and also require that the hiker know for certain if they are “afoot or horseback” before beginning their trek A quick survey of our group ensured that we were all afoot and ready to hike!
What Al and I didn’t realize, when we signed up for this hike, was this was a very special day in Hitchcock Woods. This was day two of the 4th Annual Festival of the Woods. Lots of hikers and folks interested in learning about this wonderful place all gathered in a common area inside the woods. There were tents with displays on woods topics and staffed with folks knowledgeable on the woods and this area. There was a Wildlife exhibit by Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, a live dog agility demonstration by Palmetto Dog Club, adult tours with various talk stops, student tours by Ruth Patrick Science Education Center, merchandise for sale and lunches available for purchase. Admission to this day of the event was free.
Once everyone had arrived, the hikers were split into groups for one of the three adult tours of the woods. Our group was flanked by Nancy in the lead and Molly following close behind to ensure we didn’t loose any of our hikers. These seasoned woods women lead us through a maze of trails with five talk stops along the way. Someone who could share their knowledge and expertise of the woods staffed each stop. At the first stop we learned about the geological composition of the woods and the greater SC area. We saw actual samples of the soil banks that explained the existence of ocean waters and, later in time, river waters running through the woods in that same location. At stop number two we learned about the Longleaf Pine, its history and its importance to the country and to the woods. Stop three revealed the ongoing maintenance and restoration projects that happen in the woods. At stop 4 we saw our old friend Jim Burke sharing, once again, his wonderful knowledge of the Carolina Bluebird. From here we all were treated to a hayride back down the trail to our final stop at the Memorial Gate where we learned the history of Hitchcock Woods.
This explanation is brief and wholly inadequate to describe all that we learned and just how much fun this unexpected day in the woods turned out to be. We always enjoy hiking Hitchcock Woods but the next time we come we will come with a new appreciation for all that has gone before, a new sense of awareness for things that we previously would not have noticed and a real curiosity and desire to learn more about this grand place. We also give a huge THANK YOU to all who work tirelessly to ensure that all residents in Aiken are aware of Hitchcock Woods and invite them to come often and enjoy the beauty.
“Take only pictures, leave only footprints.”
NOTE: On Friday evening (day one) there was also a Silent Auction / Displays, Sunset Dinner at the Show Ring with wine bar and music provided by 4 Cats in the Dog House. There was also a guest speaker: Philip Juras, Artist, Student of Natural Science and History.