Fort Mill Times

Take a hike and enjoy the sky show

Lakes surrounded only by flora and fauna, not houses and docks, are becoming a rarity in our area, but there are two -- Lake Oliphant and Mountain Lakes -- just south on I-77 in Chester County that have everything such lakes should have: walking paths, picnic tables, dense woods and fish. What make these places special are their seeming remoteness: 40-plus acres of quiet not far from the interstate.

I heard about Lake Oliphant from an acquaintance who suggested I hike around the lake, then enjoy a picnic lunch while watching the sky show. Sky show? I guess I would find out. My neighbor Jonie and I decided to check it out.

When we pulled in, there were several cars parked near the T-pier. Lake Oliphant is a manmade lake ranging from 25 to 30 feet deep. Before we got out of the car, I could feel the silence and serenity. Even with so many people here, it still is a quiet place. Everyone seems intent on their purpose for the day: fishing.

Jonie and I were here to picnic and take a walk. After we parked in the shade, we headed toward the other side of the picnic pavilion. Unlike Mountain Lakes walking trail, the path through the woods of Lake Oliphant circles about one mile all the way around.

Once we stepped into the woods, it became another world. The trail is not handicap accessible, but hiking boots are not needed either. The path hugging the shore led us away from most of the other visitors. Jonie asked a man, who was set up along the path, what he was fishing for. "Bream," he said, "but they ain't biting."

We walked on a bit and she whispered to me that her Daddy always said the best time for Bream is three days before the full moon and three days after. (At home, I checked: the full moon was five days before our visit.)

To catch the bass and catfish in this lake, the angler might need a boat. Motorboats are not allowed here, only manual power or electric trolling engines. Today, no one was on the lake.

As we walked along, I heard a fluttering noise above and looked through a gap in the tree canopy to see colorful parachutes. Jonie said Chester Airport and Skydive Carolina are next to the lake. So this was the sky show!

Most of the path meandering the shore is easy to traverse. We were assisted in crossing boggy areas by pieces of scattered, broken brick. We saw deer tracks and wood duck houses sitting on stilts along the shore. I saw a beautiful large bird just at the edge of the water. It was a green heron looking for a morning meal.

I learned later after talking to Joey Lindler, state lakes coordinator for SCDNR, that wild turkeys, a great blue heron, as well as Canada geese have been seen at this lake. At the water's edge, we could see dragonflies and other insects darting about, while in the shallows minnows and bream moved in and out of nooks and other hiding spaces.

The music of the song bird was only broken up by the sporadic flutter of parachutes and the occasional voice carrying across the lake.

A footbridge ahead was an adventure to get to as we needed to pull fallen branches together to get over some wet sections of the trail, thanks to recent rains. I learned quickly that holding out my arms to the side and walking on a log is not as easy as I thought.

No sooner had we crossed the bridge when we saw another bridge ahead, and another wet area before it. We almost turned back. Jonie suggested we cross by stepping on the dry areas around a line of young trees. Glad we did, because it was well worth the effort. Standing on the bridge, we had a great view of the entire lake.

From here, it was a quick walk back to the picnic area. We heard fast running water and followed the source to the lake's runoff. There we saw magenta and orange trumpet vines glowing in the sunlight.

After lunch, we sat under the trees and in anticipation, looked over toward the airport. We heard the drone of the prop plane. Soon the sky was dotted with a myriad of colored parachutes. Some floated to the ground quickly while others seemed to catch the wind, circling like hawks before slowly descending.

Before heading home, we stopped at Skydive Carolina to get a closer look. The place was jammed with sky diving enthusiasts and spectators. I learned about every 20 minutes, the plane ascends 13,000 feet before the parachutists jump. For anyone who wants to experience the sky diving thrill, tandem jumping is available. We stayed grounded.

I felt like Alice coming out of Wonderland. I didn't want to leave, yet I knew I had to come back to the real word. But unlike Alice, I can return another day to enjoy the wonders of Lake Oliphant.

Susan Doyle of Rock Hill is a freelance writer. Her column appears monthly in the Lake Wylie Pilot. She can be reached at sldoyle3330@comporium.net.

Want to go?

Lake Oliphant is located in Chester County, east of Lowry. Hours: Open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday; Mountain Lakes is open Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Amenities: Fishing regulations: three catfish, three bass, 20 bream, no minnows; boat ramp, manual or electric trolling motors only; picnic tables, fishing pier is handicap accessible, no restrooms.

More info: dnr.sc.gov/mlands/managedland, http://skydivecarolina.com.

Directions: Head south on I-77 South, turn right off exit 77 onto Anderson Road (U.S. 21), which becomes East Main Street then Albright then Saluda Road (Route 72/121). Travel about 12 miless; turn right on James P. Wherry Road (signs for airport); turn left on Darby Road. See signs for Skydive Carolina and Lake Oliphant.

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