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Walk in the Woods

Lake Conestee

with Livability Educator Jaclin DuRant

Lake Conestee Nature Park, the southern hub of the Swamp Rabbit Trail, is located just 6 miles away from downtown Greenville. I was looking for a less strenuous hike, since I’ve been recovering from a cold, and a walk through the woods at Lake Conestee was just what the doctor ordered!

photo of Appalachian Azure Butterfly

An Appalachian Azure Butterfly

I parked at the Mauldin Road entrance and began with the blue blazed loop trail. It is still early in the year for flowers, being mid-February, but the unseasonable warmth seems to have convinced quite a few wild flowers to open early. Daffodils, Corydalis, tiny Violets, and even a Snowflake brought unexpected pops of color to the forest floor. Though most of the flowers I saw were small native wildflowers, neither Daffodils nor Snowflakes are native to South Carolina.

photo of Snowflakes

Snowflakes

Non-native flowers are often used in landscaping and the occasional escapee doesn’t necessarily cause any harm, but sometimes plants that escape cultivation become invasive. Invasive plants out-compete native plants for space and resources often by growing and reproducing quickly as well as escaping the pests, diseases and predators that remained behind in their natural environments. Invasive plants by definition cause ecological or economic damage. According to the Department of Natural Resources, South Carolina spends over $450,000 annually on aquatic invasive plant control.

photo of Corydalis, a native wildflower

Corydalis, a native wildflower

I was unable to find any statistics on terrestrial invasive species, but my walk at Lake Conestee was a definite reminder of how prevalent this problem is. Privet was spread throughout the floodplain forest, slowly but surely taking over the understory. One of the best ways to help control the spread of invasive species is to use native plants in your landscaping. Not only will you be helping the ecological community, but many natives need less care, since they are adapted to our climate and soils, meaning less money out of your pocket. The Bird Johnson Wildflower Center online database is a great resource for finding native plants.

photo of Slider turtles enjoying the sun

Slider turtles enjoying the sun

The trails and boardwalks at Lake Conestee Nature Park lead through a variety of habitats from hardwood forest to wetlands. Wetlands are some of my favorite places to explore. Not only are they full of interesting plants and animals, but wetlands perform a variety of ecosystem services that are essential for our survival. Wetlands, and many wetland plants, act as huge natural filters, removing sediment and contaminants from water. Wetlands also help control and prevent floods, provide breeding grounds and important habitats for a variety of animals, and contribute to global nutrient cycling. Though wandering off into the wetlands isn’t an option, there are some great boardwalks and trails set up throughout the park. I even got a picture of some slider turtles sunning themselves on a log before they plopped into the water to hide from me.

photo of Cattails, abundant at the lake’s edge

Cattails are abundant at the lake’s edge

Lake Conestee Nature Park offers a variety of trails open to foot traffic and bicyclists. I wandered around on the blue and orange-blazed trails for about two hours. All sorts of birds flitted through the trees, from red headed Woodpeckers to Robins and Carolina Chickadees while Red-tailed Hawks soared and cried overhead. Though I didn’t actually see any beavers, evidence of their presence abounded in the form of gnawed tree stumps. It was a beautiful day. Even the insects seemed to be feeling Spring in the air.

photo of Boxelder bugs

Boxelder bugs

Lake Conestee is definitely a jewel of a spot. Free and open to the public during daylight hours, the park boasts an impressive array of plants and animals and has been named an Important Bird Area of Global Significance by the Audubon Society. Next time I go, I’m going to check out the rest of the trails. For directions and more information about Lake Conestee Nature Park, visit their website: http://conesteepark.com

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