Options in South Carolina’s Old 96 District
Thomas R. & Deborah A. Fletcher
The remote location of
’s Old 96 District ensured we would not be overwhelmed with tourist traffic.
However, it was our stop by Godfrey’s Market in Hodges, that
offered a glimpse into the area’s rural way of life.
As we pulled up, an early 60's Chevy truck sat out front–nothing
unusual, but evocative of a bygone era. Godfrey’s,
in business for more than fifty years, is one of few remaining country stores
where one may purchase about anything from a chainsaw to chopped liver.
Smoked hams hang along a wall as if placed by a set designer.
Wash tubs–like those used back in the wringer-washing machine dark
ages–hang along another. The
country location, the carry-most-everything-you-can-imagine country store, the
old truck–it was a Mayberry flashback.
We expected to see Andy and Barney emerging from an aisle of canned
goods. We did see Aunt Bea as we
were leaving. She was pulling away
from the gas pumps in her 1972 Ford Thunderbird.
Well, actually, it wasn’t actually Aunt Bea, but it could have been.
Located along what’s referred to as “
,” the Old 96 District offers an abundance of outdoor adventure options.
Although the area remains mostly undiscovered, we predict it will soon be
a rising star on the outdoor enthusiast’s Mid-Atlantic map.
Three state parks, Lake J Strom Thurmond, and
mean a plethora of outdoor activities are available.
Hunting and fishing are popular with many, but our emphasis is on the
less resource-depleting activities of biking, hiking, horseback riding, boating,
and canoeing. I-26 and I-385 pass
through a small segment of the region’s northernmost segment, otherwise, the
region remains interstate-free, yet, within a two-hour-drive from
The district takes its name from an important political and economic
center in the Carolina Backcountry during the Colonial and Revolutionary War
periods. Located along the trail
Upper South Carolina
foothills, Ninety Six may have obtained its name from early,
cartographically-challenged traders, who thought it was ninety-six miles from
the wayside to Keowee Cherokee village, the first Cherokee village in the
foothills. During the
Revolution, Ninety Six was a hamlet controlled by the British and Loyalist
forces until it was abandoned in July of 1781.
, eight miles west of McCormick, is
’s only state resort park. The
park, located on
(still referred to as “
,” by those who remember the lake’s original name), has all the amenities
for an outdoor adventure. The park
has a boat dock; 75 campsites; fishing boat rentals; nature trail; restaurant;
kayak rentals; bicycle rentals; rental cabins; a 78-room lodge; and an 18-hole
golf course. Among the rentals is
the Guillebeau House, built in the 1700's the cabin was home to Andre
Guillebeau, a French Huguenot settler. It
is the only such Huguenot structure remaining in the area.
The home has been fitted with water and electric, but it remains
astonishing that such an historic treasure is available for public rental.
, both nearby, offer many of the same outdoor options.
While Baker Creek has 100 campsites, Hamilton Branch offers 200.
The town of
has an interesting story. The town,
like the county, is named for inventor Cyrus McCormick, whose wife is credited
with the layout of the town. The 19th
century discovery of gold in the area brought a breeze of prosperity.
Incorporated in 1869, the railroad brought growth and greater prosperity
to the town. By the late 1980's,
however, McCormick’s fate had apparently turned.
The town was profiled in a news weekly magazine as a dying town.
The town’s residents decided they didn’t agree with the magazine’s
assessment. They refused to resign
themselves to the foretold fate. Efforts
were put in place to diversify the town’s economic base.
Cultural tourism was considered as part of that plan, resulting in the
restoration and opening for public touring of the long-closed Dorn Grist Mill.
The historic downtown building facades have been restored and there is a
sense of vitality in this town of 8,800.
Savannah Lakes Resort & Marina, on the banks of
, makes a good base of operations for exploring the area.
The resort’s Parrot Cove Restaurant offers a surprisingly
diverse menu, and the food is very good. The
resort’s 80 rooms all have lakefront views.
A 350-seat theater is available for meeting space, as are several more
intimate boardrooms. With 1200 miles
of shoreline and 70,000 surface acres,
presents much to be explored. The
marina offers pontoon boat rentals. Pontoon
boats are a slow, stable means of water-based transportation; great for family
outings. We spent a morning
exploring the secluded recesses and coves, during which we saw a bald eagle and
a number of ospreys soaring above the lake.
Two fishermen, bass boat snuggled behind a small island, turned their
attention from their fishing to offer a friendly wave as we puttered through.
Growing interest in trails and a significant portion of the traveling
public’s interest in “active vacations,” led to a 1997 meeting of
concerned groups. Made up of public
land managers, economic development agencies, trail interest groups and those
interested in promoting nature-based tourism, the meeting resulted in the
formation of the Mecca Trails Association.
The association’s goals include developing an area-wide network of
trails using public and private property; to create recreational opportunities;
and to promote nature-based tourism. The
association aims to meet those goals as it works to improve existing trails;
establish connecting routes between existing trails; and showcase the rural and
natural attributes of the
region. Currently 186.5 miles of
trails are open for a variety of activities including horseback riding,
canoeing, hiking, and biking. The
long-range plan is to have all the trails in place by 2010, when hundreds of
miles of new and connecting trails are slated to be complete.
The region’s extensive, undeveloped, public lands in this rural
environment means plenty of room to explore without bumping elbows with others
seeking the same experience. The
infrastructure to support a large tourism base is not in place, which means now
is the time to explore this gem of an outdoors destination, before it’s
If You Go: