Monday, March 6, 2017

Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve

Half of a weathered wood, hand-written sign reads “lower parki… area Forty Acre…”, about the only clue you’re in the right place. The 2,965 acre Heritage Preserve near Kershaw is managed by the SC Department of Natural Resources, but isn’t widely publicized due to the sensitive ecosystems it contains; Forty Acres encompasses 2,965 acres of the most diverse protected area in the Piedmont, including granitic flatrocks, waterslides, waterfalls, a beaver pond, caves, hardwood and pine forests, and a variety of wildflowers and wildlife. At least 20 national and state endangered species can be found on the Preserve, Forty Acre Rock being one of five worldwide habitats for the wild Amphianthus pusillus (pool sprite). These uncommon plants grow in vernal pools on the rock, and are among the rarest of their type in North America.

The Rock. It’s actually only 14 acres in size, but as you’re standing on the top it certainly feels like more. Forty Acre Rock is one of six National Natural Landmarks in the state, a National Park Service designation that recognizes only the most outstanding natural and geological features. In spring water will collect in the depressions on the rock, and visitors will find a variety of specialized plants growing there such as lichens, mosses, sedum, and the endangered pool sprite, making March through May the perfect season to visit.

Katawba Valley Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, DNR and other conservation groups teamed up to protect this unique site, piecing the preserve together over 35 + years from 14 separate properties, the most recent of which was added in 2015 (the Rainbow Ranch tract).

To fully experience Forty Acre Rock, hike the moderate, 4.5-mile figure-eight trail from the lower parking area. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow, except for the portion on the actual rock - make sure to take a look at a map before starting off. We prefer hiking the loops in a counter-clockwise direction, starting in the forest next to the lake, climbing up past the cave and waterfall into the rocky area east of the rock before crossing over the rock itself, then descending back down past the waterfall before looping around the beaver pond next to Flat Creek.

Similar to Bald Rock Heritage Preserve here in the Upstate, Forty Acre Rock has long been a target of vandals; graffiti, smashed glass and remnants of illegal fires cover not only exposed rock faces but also caves and even trees. In recent years the DNR is ramping up efforts to curb the abuse and protect this highly sensitive area from illegal vehicle traffic and vandalism; do your part by adhering to DNR regulations and reporting illicit activity.

The beaver pond at sunset

A few notes:
Make sure to check directions/maps before you travel as you most likely won't have a signal.
There are no facilities on the Preserve.
The official DNR Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve website can be found here.
Click here for a map of the trails…
…and this article by nature and travel magazine NatureSouth is invaluable in detailing the plant, bird and animal life that can be found within the Preserve.
Finally, more on South Carolina’s Heritage Preserves can be found in the following Femme au Foyer posts: Bald Rock, Bunched Arrowhead and Poinsett Bridge in Greenville County, Stumphouse Mountain in Oconee, and Eastatoe Creek in Pickens county.

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