“I Never Knew This Was Here”

One of the most enjoyable things about living in South Carolina is the weather. Even in heart of winter when the cold rains, freezing temperatures and grey skies have us longing for the warm days of spring, it happens.  As unexpectedly as winter arrives, those grey skies turn blue and the sunbeams dance through leafless trees, bringing spring-like temperatures that have us yearning to get outside. We had one of those days on January 1st as we celebrated the new year in state parks with our traditional “first day hikes.”  The rain and grey skies broke just in time for a picture perfect New Year’s Day.  

It was my goal to do at least two “first day hikes” this year, so early that morning I headed off to Aiken State Park.  It was a great hike with almost 80 new friends! Before leaving Aiken, I stopped by one of my favorite spots on the park.  Just a short distance from the black waters of the North Fork of the Edisto River stands an artesian well. Here clean clear water spurts from a rock fountain built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  The fountain is not only a great historical feature of the park but a great subject for a photograph. 
Next it was off to Sesquicentennial for my second “first day hike” of 2015.  I was accompanied by almost 100 hikers ready to start the year off on the right foot! Along the trek we saw the beauty that makes “Sesqui” such a special place.  Over 1,400 acres hidden in the middle of metropolitan Columbia provide places for reflection and the opportunity to disconnect and re-charge.  
First day hikes are more than just a nationwide initiative to get people outside. The opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors and stay physically fit is important but this year I discovered something really extraordinary, the thrill of the unexpected. Those moments that catch us off-guard and provide us with opportunities, insight and new beginnings. 
On my hikes this year, I saw the parks through visitors’ eyes and saw so many things I had overlooked before.  On more than one occasion I heard someone say, ‘I didn’t know this was here,’ or ‘why haven’t we hiked this trail before.’ During and after each hike I enjoyed talking to visitors about the programs and activities that state parks provide and the opportunities that are available in the new year.  
Later in the week I was approached by more than a couple of friends asking about the pictures that I had posted on Facebook. They asked where I was last week, saying they needed to visit those places. I responded that I was at Aiken and Sesqui… and they didn’t believe me!  “No, no,” they quickly responded, “I mean where was the picture taken of the cascading water and the old fountain? Where was that?” I smiled and said “Aiken and Sesqui.”  Great treasures hidden right here in our own backyard. 
The New Year is a reminder that time waits for no one and that the time for rediscovery is now.  Maybe this is your year to become an ultimate outsider, or this could be your year to rediscover the state park closest to you. Unexpected treasures await you. From falling water to fountains, from forts to frog's britches, from standing on the edge of North America to standing under the Eastern Continental Divide, the unexpected await you in your state parks. Where’s the best place to start?  Right in your own backyard!

See you in the parks!


Phil