Paddling the Pacolet

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


By John Lane
HubCity Writers Project

I love our local rivers and I want everybody in Spartanburg to love them as well. The only way to really love rivers is to come into close contact with them, and with that in mind, on a sunny, fall Sunday a group of Spartanburg County community members of varying skill levels put in on the lower end of Lawson’s Fork under the bridge on Goldmine Road. We floated a hundred yards, turned right at a big rock at the confluence with the Pacolet River, and headed downstream for a three-hour float to the town of Pacolet.

The festive flotilla contained one large raft, a canoe, and eight colorful plastic kayaks. Among this group was the mayor of Pacolet, an executive of a local foundation, the directors of several non-profits, business folks, local citizens, college professors, a professional river guide, and an elementary school student.

You don’t have to have an army to enjoy the river, but you should always take a river trip with at least one friend. It’s good to have someone along to enjoy the scenery but also to help stay safe on the river. This isn’t Six Flags, and there aren’t any attendants stationed along the way.

The stretch of river from Lawson’s Fork to Pacolet is an easy paddle. The river is about 100 feet wide, and on normal days, not much more than three feet deep. There are only a couple of very small ridges of rock—whitewater—in the river. There’s plenty to see though: on our trip we stopped to watch a mother Muscovy duck and her ducklings motoring along the river’s edge. Somebody else spotted a muskrat, and a couple of great blue herons lifted off the treetops.

About a mile downstream we passed the lone, scarred abutment of a bridge washed out in the great flood of 1903. Beaching there, we climbed out of our boats to enter the Pacolet River Heritage Preserve, and I told the group about how Native Americans thousands of years earlier had chipped soft soapstone here to make cooking bowls. I showed them “the bird man,” an ancient petroglyph on a rock near the river.

“This river is our original highway,” I said, “and there are plenty of places to stop and marvel along the way. These natural museums don’t need tax money to operate.”

There are only two residences along this stretch of river, one high on a bluff, and another tucked up in the woods. We passed a place with two rocking chairs on the bank, but Ma and Pa were nowhere to be found. The river slows down in the last mile or so, and becomes lake-like, because the Pacolet dam is ahead. Everybody paddled harder to reach our final destination.

This particular trip was no ordinary outing. This was an exploratory expedition of sorts. There’s a growing group of people in Spartanburg County who see the rivers as one of our primary resources. We hope that more folks—both locals and visitors from other areas—will discover the beauty and accessibility of our waterways for recreation, contemplation, and inspiration.

Several of the participants were calling the trip “The Lawson’s Fork-Pacolet Blueway Float,” and others, slightly tongue in cheek, “The Paddle Pacolet Passage Product Development Trip.”

“Blueway” refers to a waterway that can be paddled. The naming (or branding, if you want to be corporate) of this stretch of river is a big deal, the planning and construction overseen by The Palmetto Conservation Foundation. Soon there will be signage and kiosks and maps on a website, and we hope that more and more people will discover how easy it is to paddle the Pacolet River. The “takeout” near the old mill town of Pacolet is on the right side of the river above the dam. (You have plenty of time to get out, so don’t worry about floating over the dam. There are signs. Pay attention.) We had a van meet us there, at a parking lot where you can leave a car. The town of Pacolet maintains this takeout. The gates to the parking lot are open dawn to dusk.

On our trip we stayed in Pacolet an extra hour and talked about the best ways to alert the public about the beauty of our rivers and how accessible they are. Find a group of friends and paddle this river yourself!



John Lane, HubCity Writers Project

John Lane is the author of My Paddle to the Sea, Circling Home, Waist Deep in Black Water, and other books. A founder of the Hub City Writers Project, he is a professor of Environmental Studies at Wofford College and directs the college’s “Thinking Like a River” initiative.


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