If there’s ever a time to hit some trails in the Lowcountry, it’s right now.
The chilly weather has beaten back the bugs and made hitting the beach or the boats too uncomfortable for all but the diehards.
And thanks to the efforts of the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, the Charleston area has more options as of this week.
After nearly three years, the commission on Wednesday officially opened the trails of Laurel Hill County Park, a 745-acre urban nugget of nature wedged between U.S. Highway 17 and S.C. Highway 41 in Mount Pleasant, for people to run, walk or bike.
Long a privately held plantation, the commission acquired a long-term lease of the land that was held in trust by banks (first South Carolina National Bank, then Wachovia, now Wells Fargo) for the estate of John D. Muller Jr.
Muller, who died in 1984, instructed that it was “my will and desire that my Trustee shall cause Laurel Hill Plantation to be maintained in a natural state insofar as possible ... and that the property is generally kept in such a condition so as to make it an enjoyable place of natural, undeveloped beauty to those who may visit it.”
But Muller, a Lutheran, also indicated that extra money generated by Laurel Hill, such as timber cutting, go to Newberry College and Franke Home’s administrator, the Evangelical Lutheran Charities Society of Charleston.
Both groups were itching to have the property, or at least some of it, sold, thinking that the property was worth $100 million. The Charleston County School District even thought about getting the land for a new high school.
Whether to save or sell Laurel Hill ping-ponged through the court system until 2011, when the PRC came to the rescue with a lease proposal that satisfied all parties.
Laurel Hill, which will be primarily unstaffed for now, will be open from sunrise to sunset.
Users can park vehicles at the Park West Recreation Complex and walk to the trail head, located behind the complex’s baseball fields. Access to the property will be a newly installed pedestrian gate.
Trail users are asked to pay $1 per person at a metal pay box at the gate. Current Gold passes and day park individual passes also are valid forms of admission.
Lynn Jenness, assistant director of the park, says allowed uses include walking, running, bicycles, leashed dogs, catch and release fishing, and picnicking. Motorized vehicles, including all-terrain vehicles, horses and firearms are prohibited.
Trail maps will be posted at the trail head, along the trail itself, and also available at CharlestonCountyParks.com.
Because the park does not have trash cans, Jenness says patrons will be expected to take their trash with them. In other words, please “pack it in, pack it out.” And those with dogs are asked to clean up after them.
Jenness says vehicle access onto the property will still be limited to park special events and must continue to utilize the park entrance gate on Highway 41.
Meanwhile, the commission also has expanded the popular Wannamaker North Trail, which opened in 2012, from 8 to 15 miles and added a parking lot on Westview Boulevard in Goose Creek.
Wannamaker North runs along the northern portion of the commission’s Wannamaker County Park in North Charleston and is accessed via a separate entrance on Westview, west of Springall Drive, in Goose Creek.
PRC Land Resource Manager Matthew Moldenhauer says the expansion is the result of collaboration between the commission and the city of Goose Creek, which was awarded a $100,000 grant from the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism’s Recreation Trails Program to pay for the work on city land.
At the same time, Moldenhauer says the commission and the local mountain bike volunteer group, Low Country Fat Tire Freaks and member Brad Phillips, added another 6.75 miles of new trail to the Wannamaker North Trail for pedestrians and cyclists of all skill levels. Signs also have been upgraded throughout the trail.
“This is an exciting project for us. Wannamaker County straddles the Charleston-Berkeley county line and we’ve found the trails to be especially popular with residents from nearby communities, many of whom are within biking distance of the trail, ” says Moldenhauer.
The Wannamaker North Trail is designed for and open to mountain bicyclists of all experience levels, as well as hikers.
It features bare soil trails that were created by clearing out roots and reshaping existing dirt mounds, while keeping most of the tract’s large-diameter trees intact.
The trail winds by live oaks and beech trees, while offering natural and man-made trail elements. Future projects for the trail may include the construction of a pump track and a raised-trail challenge area to appeal to a variety of other bicycle enthusiasts.
Trail users should be aware that the terrain contains tight curves and elevation changes. Although cyclists should yield to pedestrians, all trail users must be cautious and aware of other users. Both cyclists and pedestrians should follow the posted direction of travel. Dogs must remain leashed, and strollers are not permitted.
The commission asks users of the trail to bring their own water to the facility, and to observe the “pack it in, pack it out” rule to keep the park litter-free.
Parking is available on-site near the trail entrance. Public restrooms are available at Wannamaker County Park. Admission to the trail is $1 per person for a full day’s use. Access to the trail is included with the commission’s Individual and Gold Pass memberships.
The park is open from sunrise to sunset daily.
For more information, go to CharlestonCountyParks.com/WNT.