Friday, July 3, 2015

5 things to do this summer in Greenville!

If you're looking for fun things to do with the kids this summer in Greenville, look no further; here are five things to put on your summer to-do list for kids (and budgets) of all sizes:

1.    Complete the 2015 Summer Reading All-Stars Program with the Greenville Library System. This free program has different requirements based on age (adults are welcome to sign up, too!), and although I feel the Taco Bell coupon isn’t the best prize for young children, the medal and Greenville Drive ticket are a nice reward for something we already do. Register at the branch you visit most, and don’t to forget to finish your reading by August 1st, the last day to collect prizes!

2.    Visit a dozen new parks with LiveWell Greenville’s Park Hop. Now in its third year, the family-oriented scavenger hunt is an exploration and discovery of the multitude of parks in Greenville County. We checked off 18 out of the 19 different parks this year, revisiting some old favorites and discovering a few new spots. The nicest surprise was Georgia Street Park in Fountain Inn with its ¼ mile cycling “track,” allowing bicycle newbies and tricycles the chance to drive around a small town complete with fire station and general store. Park Hoppers are entered to win prizes in addition to earning TCMU passes, Greenville Drive vouchers, t-shirts and swag bags.

3.    Check out the newest exhibit at the Upcountry History Museum, Magic Tree House. Based on the children’s chapter books of the same name by Mary Pope Osborne, the exhibit allows visitors to join siblings Jack and Annie in their journey through American history via a magical, time-traveling tree house. With a visit to Plymouth Bay for the first Thanksgiving, a trip to a field hospital to help Clara Barton during the Civil War and a visit to a one-room school house as pioneers, this might have been our favorite Upcountry History Museum visit yet!

4.    Get your fortune read at Hello from Japan! at the Children’s Museum of the Upstate. The newest exhibit takes you on a journey across the Pacific, and in addition to karaoke, a photo booth, a Japanese meal station, building a bridge and crawling through a bamboo forest, the kids can have their fortunes told. The exhibit runs through September.

5.    Explore a creek ecosystem on a ranger-led program in Paris Mountain State Park. On the Creek Ranger Hike on Friday morning families are led on a nature hike to look for animals and learn about their habitats. The kids really get involved when they’re handed nets and allowed to catch aquatic insects and other creek inhabitants for an up close look under the park microscope. For more information and to register visit the Paris Mountain State Park website.

What are your favorite summer spots this year?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Musgrove Mill and Horseshoe Falls

Just west of the Enoree Ranger District of Sumter National Forest is a small state-owned tract of land that was the site of an important clash during the American Revolution. The Battle of Musgrove Mill was fought in August of 1780 when a group of 200 Patriot militiamen attacked a Loyalist camp on the Enoree River. The Loyalists numbered closer to 500, but were forced to retreat because of the Patriot’s superior ridge position. Leading up to the American victory at Kings Mountain, the battle was a turning point in the war after the defeat three days before at the Battle of Camden.

The Musgrove Mill battle site was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and today includes a visitor center with interpretive exhibits that tell the story of the battle and how it fit into the big picture of South Carolina's pivotal role in the outcome of the Revolutionary War. Located within the almost 400-acres is also a memorial to the legendary Mary Musgrove, 2.5 miles of interpretive trails, a picnic area, a fishing pond and a canoe launch.

With the approach of the Fourth of July a visit to Musgrove Mill State Historic Site is especially appropriate, however the boys' favorite summer destination in the park is Horseshoe Falls, the small waterfall on Cedar Shoals Creek. It’s a short 0.1 mile hike on a paved trail to the falls from the parking lot off of Horseshoe Falls Road (marked State Rd S-42-10 on maps). This is not a designated swimming area and there is no lifeguard on duty, but the shallow pool beneath the falls and the sandy creek are an ideal spot to cool down on a summer scorcher.

Edward Musgrove (whose colonial home still stands as today’s visitor center) allowed British Loyalists to use his property as a hospital during the war. Local legend has it that in spite of this allegiance, Musgrove’s daughter Mary helped an injured Patriot soldier (nicknamed “Horseshoe” because of his livelihood as a blacksmith) hide in a small cave near the falls, where he gathered intelligence to aid the Patriots while he healed. On our visit the cave to the left of the falls was empty, save for a snake living in the rocks above.

The rocks at the base of the falls and in the creek at the top of the falls are algae and moss covered, making them quite slippery and hazardous. Whether searching for that perfect photograph or taking a dip, please be very careful; a slip might have dangerous consequences. We exercised caution as we would with any waterfall, even though this one is only 10 feet tall.

On our recent visit quite a few other families were enjoying the waterfall, so this might not be the hike for you if you’re seeking midday solitude. However if what you are looking for is a natural setting for some summer splashing and exploration without the entry fee of a beach or waterpark, this might be just the spot!

So, an educational hike through the Piedmont forest learning about a pivotal war of the American Revolution, followed by lunch in the shade of a giant oak overlooking the pond, topped off by a dip in the creek by the waterfall – just the recipe for an Upstate day in July!

Showing off tadpoles and a waterbug

Monday, June 29, 2015

Jāņi in Greenville, the Latvian summer solstice

It’s a good thing Jāņi occurs on one of the longest days of the year, otherwise there wouldn’t be time to get everything done!

First, the gathering of Jāņu zāles, the raw materials for the traditional flower and oak leaf crowns.

The making of the wreaths can be rather tedious, especially when the pinēja has a house full of boys! (Men's wreaths are usually fashioned of oak leaves, and I find them more time consuming to create.) Next, the rain must pass. There is a reason why Latvians have a saying līst kā par Jāņiem (raining as on Jāņi)!

Then, a family portrait (or two), before everyone scatters! (And before those clean linen pants get dirty…)

Once all the guests have arrived it’s time for the Jāņu feast! Among the offerings you might find sklandrausis, the traditional dish made of rye dough and filled with potato and carrot puree and seasoned with caraway seed, or smalkmaizītes, the little sandwiches with a variety of toppings. But you definitely will find Jāņu siers, the cheese all the most dedicated saimnieces will tie for the occasion!
Once darkness falls and the bonfire is lit, we burn the vaiņagi from the previous year, along with all of our worries and fears.

We jump over the bonfire, for reasons ranging from health and happiness to protection against mosquitos. The fire illuminates the night until the sun rises the following morning.

The children join us in rotaļas, but as the adults keep singing on into the night they drift in and out between adventures. 

The little legs finally tire, their little stomachs drowsy with food and sweets, and guests reluctantly bid farewell. It is with the approach of dawn that we finally get tucked into our beds, dreaming of Jāņu adventures past and present. Upon waking the next morning we might think it was all a midsummer night’s fairytale, if not for the woodsmoke lingering in our hair and the oak leaf vaiņagi wilting in the sun of another SC summer morning…

Friday, June 26, 2015

Twelve Mile

When one thinks about recreation on public lands here in the Upstate, they are most often thinking of one of more than a dozen State Parks, or the National Forest land that includes the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area in the very northwest corner of South Carolina. However, if you are on one of the many man-made lakes in the Upstate, chances are the lake is managed and patrolled by the South Carolina State Parks, the SC Department of Natural Resources or the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). And although common to find State managed public lands in the area, it is a little more unusual to find USACE managed recreation areas – however that’s exactly what the Twelve Mile Recreation Area is.

After our exploration of the Bob Campbell Geology Museum and the SC Botanical Gardens in Clemson we needed to cool down, and so headed a few minutes up the road to the northernmost tip of Lake Hartwell for a couple of hours spent in the water and the sun. A sandy beach combined with the scenic setting on Hartwell Lake make for a pleasant locale for a summer day full of play.

Lake Hartwell is a man-made lake bordering Georgia and South Carolina on the Savannah, Tugaloo and Seneca Rivers. The Hartwell Project originated with the goals of hydro-power, flood control and navigation. It was only later that recreation, water quality, water supply and fish & wildlife management were added, and today there are nine campgrounds and 15 day-use facilities operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers on Hartwell.

Within Twelve Mile a boat ramp allows for access to the 962 miles of shoreline, and shelters and facilities offer comfortable picnic areas. The beach area has a playground, and there is plenty of shade in the park on those hot summer days.

Eventually Vilis had his fill of sand-eating and I was starting to bake, so we rounded up the boys and headed for home. As far as swimming in man-made lakes goes I find this to be one of the nicest beaches in the Upstate, and the proximity to Clemson makes for an easy stop if in the area (or a day trip if coming from Greenville). Hope you’re enjoying these summer days as much as we are, and I wish you an awesome weekend full of all the stuff that makes summer great!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bob Campbell Geology Museum at Clemson

It was the Bob Campbell Geology Museum that brought us out to Clemson this time (our previous visit having been the 9th annual Upstate Farm Tour and the Clemson University Student Organic Farm). It was a hot and sunny day, the type of weather perfect for the succulents and plants in the Chihuahuan Garden. This high-altitude desert collection contains about 300 species of cactus and other species from Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. Accustomed to the cold temperatures of winters in these deserts, the cacti can survive the winters here in the Upstate.

The garden in the courtyard directly in front of the geology museum is the Lawrence A. Sutherland Family Garden. The Sutherland garden has a diverse planting of trees, shrubs and perennials, in addition to rocks and mineral specimens, mining artifacts and mill stones. Try explaining to a group of 3-6 year olds that the old mining apparatus is not playground equipment, that they cannot add to their rock collection via the crystals and ores found trailside, and that rocks should not be flipped in search of wildlife. Luckily a sand-sifting station (as might be found on an excavation) is located at the door of the museum to busy little hands, and soon we had regrouped and were ready to enter the museum.

What started as a small collection managed by Mrs. Betty Newton of the geology department at Clemson University grew over the years, and thanks to Mr. Robert S. "Bob" Campbell and his wife Betsy, the museum was built in 1998 to house all the gems, minerals, fossils and like that had accumulated over the years.  Home to a remarkable collection of over 10,000 rocks, minerals, fossils, lapidary objects (carvings, gemstones), and artifacts (mining equipment, Native American tools), I could have easily spent hours there; however with the three boys in tow our visit was a bit briefer.

Photo credit to Heidi Johnson

Upon entering we were greeted by the life-sized skeletal replica of the ferocious saber-toothed cat Smilodon that once roamed this state, affectionately nicknamed Clemson’s “oldest tiger.” However the group rather quickly dispersed in all directions to complete the scavenger hunt that had them exploring the samples on various touch tables and searching for certain specimens within the museum.

The Fluorescent Mineral Room has one of the region's largest displays of fluorescent minerals. We stepped inside and closed the door, to the delight of kids and adults alike!

The gemstone collection is impressive, with over 2000 sparkling gemstones to admire and covet. Geodes of every size and color rounded out the display, with a giant amethyst geode weighing 450 pounds impressing even the boys.

The boys each received a small mineral to take home as a souvenir for completing the scavenger hunt, and we descended back through the cactus garden to the picnic tables below for a well-earned snack. The Museum is located within the Clemson Botanical Gardens, and as we had already come all this way we couldn’t pass up the opportunity for more exploration. Heading back towards the entrance we parked once more, passing a few hours traversing the gardens; however, with close to 300 acres to explore, we really haven’t even scraped the surface yet of this superb botanical, historical and educational resource right here in the Upstate – we will be back.

Photo credit to Heidi Johnson

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