Wednesday, April 3, 2019

First Glimpse of New Sassafras Mountain Observation Platform -- and a Bit of a Harangue

If you have been following this blog for a while, you probably have seen that I have been to Sassafras Mountain -- the highest point in South Carolina -- quite often.  That is because it is not far from home -- about 28 miles, and because it has a few challenging curves in the roads leading to the top.  Interestingly, most of those curves are down on US-178 between Pickens and Rocky Bottom, not near the summit of the mountain.  Once you get to Rocky Bottom, turn right onto F. vanClayton Road, just past the entrance to the Rocky Bottom Retreat and Conference Center of The Blind.  Watch for one unmarked left hand hairpin on F. vanClayton. 

Here is the route from Easley, where I live, to the summit of Sassafras Mountain:

Click here for interactive map.

It is a nice place to ride to and a nice place to see the world from, being the highest point around. 

I have kept up to date on the features of the mountain top over my ten or so years of riding.  At first, there was nothing at the top but a gravel parking lot.  There was no place to see into the distance whatsoever. I'll admit, that was a bit disappointing.  The road was potholed and rough, too.  There weren't many people who visited there as a result. 

A rustic platform was built and some trees cleared about eight years ago to give a nice view to the south and southeast.  Mountains and lakes were made nicely visible, and the platform was sturdy and unobtrusive, made, in part, of forest materials. That view from the platform made the trip to the top well worthwhile.  In fact, the place was ideal: remote feeling yet nearby, and quite beautiful.  The Palmetto Trail passes over the summit of the mountain on its way to the seashore, so you can walk a little ways -- or much further -- if you are so inclined. 

Beginning of Harangue

Then Clemson University graduate students in architecture and landscape architecture apparently decided that they should design and build a new platform, so they demolished the nice rustic one, and built a monstrosity out of mild steel and wood, poorly supported and rickety.  The steel parts are a mass of rust and have become bent by people standing on them.  The students did not properly take into account the abuse from people and weather that public structures receive.  I would certainly not want my life to be dependent on a structure they designed.  After I wrote to them about the poor structural integrity, they reinforced it with some steel cables, but the cables are installed improperly and did not correct the wobble problem.  Dan Harding, Clemson associate professor of architecture, spent our tax dollars for this thing and says that the platform "employ[s] best practices associated with sustainable construction and resource management."  From the looks of it now, it may be a pile of rusted wreckage soon.

Here is a picture of the end of the platform with the beautiful view beyond.

Fortunately, a bit later, the top of the mountain was cleared of scrubby trees so the visitor to the top has a 360 degree view from there. 

They also repaved the road to the top so it is nice and smooth.  That should have been where they stopped.  

Nevertheless, the "improvers" soldiered onward and decided to erect an observation platform at the top and some pit toilets at the parking area.  The contractor, Lazer Construction of Anderson, started in November of 2017 and isn't finished with the $1.1 million project yet.  It was supposed to be finished by May 2018, so it is coming up on a year late -- and a year without having full enjoyment of this special place. 

So efficient. 

End of Harangue (mostly)

Here is a photograph of the structure during construction.

There was a superintendent stationed at the construction site, so you could get fined by the Game Warden if you ventured up there.  (I didn't chance it.  That is someone else's pic above.) 

Here are some other pictures of the ramp leading to the new platform:

The original gravel parking lot is to the left.

The gate at the bottom was open and no one seemed to mind, so I rode up about half way to the platform from the gravel lot.  There is a nice concrete ramp and neatly-graded gravel elsewhere.  It looks as though the view will be nice from the top. 

There is a new gravel trail from the parking lot to the top as well.  It is a way to get there on foot without using the concrete ramp and without bushwhacking through the woods.

They put in a large new directional sign, too, down in the gravel lot.  The old one was a target for guys with shotguns and for large trucks turning.

The sign directs hikers to Table Rock State Park, Caesars Head State Park (more about that in a minute), and Chimney Top Gap.  I see they put a big rock between the sign and the road now to help protect it from errant vehicles. 

I wonder if they are going to do anything to prevent vandalism and traffic tie ups now that they are taking away our quiet place of respite and replacing it with more of a tourist attraction. Vandals may find this dark place to be ideal for their graffiti, and for using alcohol and drugs.  Some will use it as a place for their assignations, I suppose. 

...and the improvers won't be satisfied, even when the present construction is complete.  Phase two of the Sassafras project, which will require additional funding, is scheduled to include a picnic area, accessory trails, informational kiosks, and improvements to the old parking lot.

Well, I think I'll just have to enjoy it until they further "improve" it.  Then, we'll see. 

Anyway, I went back down the mountain to Glady Fork Road and turned right.  This road meanders to the north, in places along a river.  If you keep your eyes peeled there are some small waterfalls along the right side of the road.  There are no guardrails and the road surface is quite rough, but the ride is good enough to recommend.  At the end of Glady Fork, I turn sharply right onto East Fork Road.

After a few miles, don't miss the interesting vehicles and animals poised in a yard on the left side of the road.  And Big Hill looms ahead and requires you to negotiate a couple of tight curves as you go up.  Fun, and usually free of loose gravel.  Watch for drivers coming down the hill on the wrong side, however.

I follow east Fork to Greenville Highway, US-276, and turn right.  There are some rather straight sections through here and a few nice sweepers.  Dupont Forest (watch for the sign) is to the left as is Green River Road, a partly gravel route I have taken before.

Near the summit, lies Caesars Head State Park.  I pull in for a little rest and a quick look over the Blue Ridge Escarpment -- a drop of about 1000 feet here.

Once I have seen it all (!?), I continue to the south, down quite a few tight turns, until I get to SC-11.  From there it is a quick ride home over gently curving roads. 

Here is a map of the entire ride today, only about 75 miles:  

Click here for an interactive map.
Well, to recap today, I learned about the new Sassafras construction, and got to see the world from two high places.

Despite my harangue about the work on Sassafras, it was a good day to be out.

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