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Walk in the Woods

Sulphur Springs at Paris Mountain

with Livability Educator Jaclin DuRant

Paris Mountain State Park is an amazing resource for residents of Greenville, SC and the surrounding area. Only 4 miles from downtown Greenville, Paris Mountain offers an amazing range of recreational and educational opportunities, including fun events like outdoor concerts. In the summer, you can swim or boat in the lake, and throughout the year, over 15 miles of trails offer a variety of hikes for the experienced or beginner nature enthusiast.

photo of summer wildflowers

Summer wildflowers and their pollinators are sure to impress

Though I’ve gone on quite a few shorter trips to Paris Mountain, this summer, I decided to take a hike on the park’s longest trail, the 3.6 mile Sulphur Springs loop trail. We have had an extraordinarily wet summer, with a record breaking amount of rainfall in July, and the trail was predictably muddy to start.

photo of a wild mushroom

Calostoma cinnabarinum is an odd little mushroom that emerges from a gelatinous veil

Paris Mountain is a great place to ponder the importance of water. Almost any hike that you take at Paris Mountain will lead you alongside a stream or overlooking a lake. A short way from the start of my hike, I reached Mountain Lake, one of the smaller of the four lakes at the park.

photo of a damselfly

I caught this Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculate) in mid-flutter

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the reservoirs at Paris Mountain supplied the drinking water for the City of Greenville. In 1918, the City established the “Board of Commissioner of Public Works” and purchased the water system from the Paris Mountain Water Company. The City was a very different place then, but it’s easy to imagine that the ability to capture drinking water in so close by would have been a boon to early Greenvillians. Luckily, soon after, the Greenville Water System began the process of acquiring and protecting the drinking water reservoir of Table Rock which is still in use today.

photo of a crane-fly orchid

Crane-fly Orchid at Paris Mountain

As I hike, I am amazed by the diversity of fungi, plants, and insects that inhabit the forest floor. One particular interesting plant is the Crane-fly Orchid (Tipularia discolor). Like many orchids, this plant has specialized structures called pollinaria that contain pollen grains and attach to pollinators. In the case of the Crane-fly Orchid, the pollinaria attach to the eyes of visiting moths and are then transported to the next Crane-fly Orchid that the moth visits, helping the plant reproduce. The flower stalks of the Crane-fly Orchid are distinctive, with long spindly petals reminiscent of the animal that the plant is named after, and no leaves are present when the flower is blooming.

photo of a fern frond

A fern frond alongside a stream.

In addition to an abundance of flowers, the rainy summer has brought about a high diversity of insects, mushrooms, and other organisms. Alongside of the trail, I had the luck to spot a beautiful red and black striped millipede. Unlike their venomous cousins, the centipede, millipedes are not predaceous, but some do secrete a cyanide toxin from their skins, deterring predators. Millipedes and other decomposers eat fallen leaves and other detritus on the forest floor and are essential to many forest systems.

photo of millipede

A flat-backed millipede travels along the forest floor

The Sulphur Springs trail winds through a variety of ecosystems, allowing plenty of time for contemplation, and lots of opportunities to see different types of plants and animals. If a 4 mile hike is too much for you, consider one of the Park’s shorter trails, or just come for a picnic. An entry fee of only $2 per adult makes Paris Mountain State Park a fantastically affordable and fun place to take a walk in the woods.

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