Palmetto Trail boardwalk opens through Wateree Swamp
The Palmetto Trail, a planned 500 mile cross-state hiking trail that also allows bicycling and equestrian use on some sections, continues to expand. With over 350 miles completed, the trail path meanders beside lakes, across mountain ridges, through forests, into towns big and small, and across swamps. It showcases conservation and preservation from mountains to sea, provides free public access to active, healthy outdoor recreation, and fosters tourism, business, and economic development.
The trail now features an elevated boardwalk through Wateree Swamp to provide year-round access “to a marvelous trek through nature and history,” according to a press release.
The three-quarter-mile trestle boardwalk, opened in April by the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, is elevated 15 feet above the swamp on reclaimed piers that once supported the historic South Carolina Railroad. For a 60-foot section where the piers could not be reclaimed, PCF installed the first suspension bridge on the trail. SCE&G, a dedicated corporate partner of the Trail and the boardwalk, donated additional funding for the suspension bridge.
The PCF also added several miles of forest trails in Richland County and a trailhead on Farmstead Road off U.S. Hwy 601, which lengthens Wateree Passage from 7.2 to 11.4 miles. The boardwalk is about midway between the new trailhead and an existing trailhead located in Poinsett State Park in Sumter County.
The South Carolina Railroad achieved notoriety in the final days of the Civil War when Union Gen. Edward Potter launched his now famous “Potter’s Raid.” His troops destroyed Confederate Army stores contained in some 200 cars sidelined at Middleton Depot and the Wateree Swamp.
Today, some of the warped iron rails can still be seen at Sumter Junction (aka Wateree Junction) as one hikes or bikes the Palmetto Trail on the Wateree Passage. The PCF plans to install historical markers to commemorate the landmark.
Locally, the Awendaw Passage is the coastal terminus of the mountains-to-sea trail. The Awendaw Passage section, a 7.1 mile easy hike, has three access points with parking, including at the Buck Hall Recreation Area trailhead off of Hwy. 17 North. Starting at the Intracoastal Waterway, the trail meanders westward through a maritime forest and offers sweeping vistas of Lowcountry salt marsh along Awendaw Creek. At Walnut Grove, look for a scenic overlook and boardwalk. A canoe launch for Awendaw Creek is located at the end of Rosa Green Road, another access point to the trail. The third access point with parking is at Steed Creek trailhead, which is also where you can pick up the Swamp Fox Passage that takes you westward through the Francis Marion Forest.
The Swamp Fox Passage includes 47 miles of trails and is the longest section of the cross-state Palmetto Trail. The passage traverses four distinct ecosystems through Francis Marion National Forest. In addition to access at the Steed Creek trailhead on Hwy. 17 South, there is access at the Halfway Creek Camp Site off of Steed Creek Road, Witherbee Ranger Station in Huger and at the US Hwy 52 (western) Trailhead located not far from Moncks Corner.
The scenic Palmetto Trail is one of 16 cross-state trails in the United States and is recognized regionally and nationally as a visitor-friendly attraction. For more information, including maps and direction to trailheads, visit www.palmettoconservation.org.