Carolina Thread Trail: South Fork Trail – 9/24/18 – 4 Miles
Has this ever happened to you: itching for a walk in some new woods but unwilling to drive 4+ hours roundtrip from Charlotte, NC to the mountains on a Monday? Me too. Solution: the Carolina Thread Trail.
I’ve marked trails of interest on the CTT website but have been holding out until colder weather when mountain trails are inaccessible or dangerous to hike alone. But that itch wouldn’t let me wait and I pored over the list to see what would suit my time frame. South Fork Trail caught my interest, a short drive away, a two-mile one-way walk along the South Fork River connecting McAdenville and Lowell. [Note: not to be confused with South Fork Rail Trail in Lincolnton, NC.]
Parking and trailhead access are right off Exit 23 of I-85 in North Carolina, adjacent to the R.Y. McAden River Access. There are great signs telling the history of the area and practical info like the street address. The entire trail has distance markers at .5, 1.0 and 1.5 miles and section designations for 911 location. At 2 miles, the trail ends at a residential neighborhood cul-de-sac, so no public parking, but there is an access path for the locals.
Only me at the trailhead on a Monday morning, so safety first. I had left my hike plan with Jim, but I also texted him photos of the signage along with my start time and estimated end time.
Bring your mountain bike and leave your road bike at home for this natural surface trail. It is wide as greenways typically are, with plenty of room for cyclists and walkers/runners to pass each other. The trail runs alongside the South Fork of the Catawba River on land owned by Pharr Yarns Preserve, a 94.8-acre preserve protected by Catawba Lands Conservancy (a partner with CTT).
I was on the lookout for snakes (none). On most hikes I just tolerate spiderwebs because I use trekking poles, but for the flat walk today I was empty handed. After running into a H-U-G-E web (do they seem bigger near a river?) I carried a branch in front of me to ward off the big creepy-crawlies, until I got tired of the vigilance and surrendered to the silky spiderweb facials.
The trail immediately passes underneath I-85, giant pylons painted with Carolina Thread Trail (CTT) and Catawba Lands Conservancy (CLC) logos. The water was high and muddy from recent rains and the far-reaching remnants of Hurricane Florence.
My walk began with noise from the highway and planes at nearby Charlotte-Douglas airport, but quickly all that faded away to sounds of crickets, cicadas, birds and flowing water. What I expected to be a pleasant but simple walk turned into an extraordinary experience, just by looking closely at what was right in front of me. I took over 100 photos today!
Water was nearly always in sight through a screen of trees. Whenever I saw a side trail, I followed it to the river’s edge. At one short access I saw what appeared to be a very old “trail tree” with a 90-degree elbow.
At about one mile is Cable Point, a viewpoint of the river dedicated to a former Catawba Lands Conservancy Executive Director, Dave Cable, honoring his years of service. Foundation remains of buildings and stone pillars of a bridge that once crossed the river are reminders of Gaston County history.
From the website: “This is a historic trail that was originally used by the Native Americans and then utilized by settlers for textile mills. There were two mills in the woods along the trail. One was the Ferguson Mill and the other one was nicknamed Pinhook. Opened in August 1852, the Pinhook Mill was the second mill to operate along the South Fork River. According to Gaston County historian Robert Ragan, the mill received its name because mill workers would use bent textile pins to fish for lunch outside the building’s windows. During the Civil War, a small detachment of Union soldiers was sent to burn down Pinhook Mill, which was producing cloth for the Confederacy. Upon hearing the soldiers coming, mill superintendent William Sahms ran out to meet the Union troop, only to find them led by his Pennsylvanian childhood neighbor. Sahms convinced the soldiers to spare the mill and the soldiers burnt the bridge instead. The stone pillars of the bridge are still in the river.”
The river was split in several places by small islands and rock outcroppings. In low water (not today) easy wading could access these nice little spots to feel like you are “in the river.” From the side paths that I saw, I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of this but…disclaimer: please use caution when wading in any water!
Shortly after the 1.5-mile mark is a very small beach where someone has placed a simple wooden bench to sit and contemplate the water and time and life’s questions - or to eat lunch - or both. This is a natural turnaround point.
My first thought: a chiminea?
I walked the remaining half-mile to the neighborhood access point, a little surprised I didn’t encounter any residents out enjoying this trail at the end of their street, or at least dog walking.
On the return hike, I was no longer concentrating on the water and turned my attention to plant life. I noticed several huge silvery leaves scattered on the ground, looked up to see where they came from: a lovely stand of Fraser magnolias. On the tall mature trees and even on the short saplings, they were largest Fraser magnolia leaves I’ve ever seen.
Very late fading summer flowers, some in-your-face and others easy to miss:
White wood aster
Does anybody know this one?
Orange jewelweed aka spotted touch-me-not
Mushrooms, grapevines and walnuts, oh my!
Who would have thought there was so much beauty on a little strip of riverbank accessed underneath power lines and a highway overpass? Who do you know who would enjoy this little walk in the woods? South Fork Trail is a four-season trail, easily accessible in any weather or temperature, and something new can be discovered every day of the year.
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” ~Confucius