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Walk in the Woods

Wildcat Wayside

with Livability Educator Jaclin DuRant

The South Carolina Park Service manages a piece of land off of highway 11 between Caesar’s Head and Jones Gap state parks called Wildcat Wayside. I found this fabulous piece of property when I was driving towards Caesar’s Head and decided to stop and take a look.

photo of waterfall near the trail head

Near the trail head at the Wildcat Wayside

Though some may be attracted by the boiled peanut vendor, Wildcat Wayside has a lot more to offer. The trail at Wildcat Wayside starts off with a steep set of stairs climbing right beside small but beautiful waterfall. The rest of the short trail is an easy, gently sloping walk that begins under a canopy of white pine and hemlock, follows a stream through thickets of rhododendron and mountain laurel, and ends at the base of a 130 foot waterslide.

photo at the base of the second waterfall

The base of the second falls at Wildcat Wayside

The water slide is both beautiful and an absolutely fascinating example of how plants adapt to live almost anywhere. Water seeps over a sloping granite outcrop while soil, moss, and other detritus accumulate in pockets and ledges in the rock and there are a variety of plant species growing directly in the falls. I will definitely be coming back and hiking in to this spot in the spring, hoping to see some of these plants in flower.

photo of a green anole

A green anole taking advantage of the sunny day

January isn’t usually the best time for observing animals, but I got lucky on this trip and found a green anole sunning itself near the falls. Even though the water was extremely cold, I took a moment on my walk back to lift up a few rocks from the stream and found a small salamander and a baby dragonfly. Dragonflies and damselflies go through incomplete metamorphosis; their young life forms (nymphs) are aquatic predators that live in streams, rivers, and wetlands. I kept this one out of water just long enough to take a picture and then put him back near the rock that I found him under. Some macroinvertebrates, like this dragonfly nymph, are sensitive to levels of dissolved Oxygen in water. Scientists can use these animals’ presence or absence in a stream to help determine the health of the stream, long after any pollutants have been washed away.

photo of a Dragonfly nymph

Dragonfly nymph

One of my favorite moments of the afternoon was hearing a loud, coughing cry and looking up to see a great blue heron glide through the trees to land on a branch on the far side of the stream. Though I always expect to see birds in the mountains, the heron was an unexpected treat. Many people think of great blue herons as coastal birds, but they live in both freshwater and saltwater habitats and will forage for food in rivers and streams as well as ponds, swamps, and marshes.

photo of Mushrooms growing on a decaying log above the stream

Mushrooms growing on a decaying log above the stream

During my short trip to Wildcat Wayside, I was impressed by the variety and beauty of nature that I encountered in half mile hike. I am definitely keeping this spot on the list for a spring hike.

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