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#06-200 July 31, 2006

Popular Jocassee Gorges trail reconstruction now complete

The trail at Eastatoee Creek Heritage Preserve in northern Pickens County, damaged by a tropical storm nearly two years ago, has been reconstructed and is now open to hiking.
           
The popular trail at Eastatoee (also spelled Eastatoe) Creek Heritage Preserve—part of the JimSC map Timmerman Natural Resources Area at Jocassee Gorges and managed by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR)—has been closed since September 2004 due to major damage from Hurricane Ivan. Numerous trees were toppled during the storm, and several slid down the mountain, taking the trail with it in several places.
           
Trail re-construction was accomplished in a variety of ways: by volunteer help from Boy Scouts and the Foothills Trail Conference, by DNR staff and by a commercial trail construction outfit that was contracted to build about .7 of a mile of new trail. Trail design expert Dr. Walt Cook, retired University of Georgia forestry professor, planned the new trail route. The new trail initially follows the original trail route, but then it dramatically diverges from the original trail and eventually links hikers back to the designated primitive camping area alongside Eastatoee Creek. Visitors are reminded to use only dead and downed wood for campfires and to camp at least 50 feet away from the creek.

Mary Bunch, Eastatoee Creek Heritage Preserve manager and DNR wildlife biologist, said: “The new section of trail includes a much more gradual descent to the creek, and it’s a vast improvement over the original trail and should reduce trail maintenance considerably.” The length of the trail, from the gate at Horsepasture Road, was increased in the reconstruction from the original 2.25 miles to its current 2.54 miles.
           
The Eastatoee Creek Heritage Preserve Trail is a spur of the 76-mile Foothills Trail, which follows the Blue Ridge Escarpment in South Carolina and North Carolina between Table Rock State Park to the east and Oconee State Park to the west. About two-thirds of the Foothills Trail is within Jocassee Gorges, and the trail crosses all four major rivers that flow into Lake Jocassee—Toxaway, Horsepasture, Thompson and Whitewater, along with numerous other waterways including Laurel Fork Creek.

Eastatoee Creek Heritage Preserve, a steep mountain gorge of 374 acres, features some old growth forest, a rainbow trout stream, dramatic rock cliffs and rare ferns that are maintained by the creek’s moist spray. Within the preserve, three streams—Laurel Branch, Side of Mountain Creek, and Rocky Bottom Creek—flow into Eastatoee Creek. The Eastatoee falls 600 feet in elevation to tumble across large rocks and boulders before roaring through a series of narrow channels aptly called “The Narrows.” This turbulent water system generates a fine spray, which helps maintain high humidity along the Eastatoee. This high humidity enables three species of rare ferns to thrive. One of these, the Tunbridge fern, exists nowhere else in North America. Cove and upland hardwoods, including white, red, and chestnut oaks, hickories, magnolia, red maples, cucumber tree and black locusts, comprise the dominant forest type at the preserve. Spring wildflowers, such as bloodroot, are abundant at this preserve.

The Heritage Trust Advisory Board, which guides the DNR’s Heritage Trust Program, approved funding from the Heritage Land Trust Fund to reconstruct the Eastatoee Creek trail. Funds from the Heritage Land Trust Fund are derived from a portion of the real estate documentary stamp tax, which is paid each time a real estate transaction is made. The fund is used only for the acquisition and management of significant natural and cultural resources in South Carolina. For more information on hiking in Jocassee Gorges, call the Clemson DNR office at (864) 654-1671, extension 22.
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