Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve - South Carolina
Vernal Pool (with quillwort), Forty Acre Rock - Steve Thomas
Solution Pools, Forty Acre Rock
- Joe Kegley
Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve is a contradiction of natural beauty and disfigurement. The main attraction of the preserve is a large granite flatrock (actually just fourteen acres) which provides habitat to endemic species such as elf orpine and the endangered pool sprite. Botanists, naturalists, and wildflower devotees come to the rock to observe and study this distinct wildflower community. In addition, hiking the trails for the woodland variety of wildflowers is also popular during the spring.
On the other side of the spectrum, this same rock is used as a canvas for graffiti. Young people illegally congregate after-hours smashing beer bottles, building fires, and spray painting their desired message on the flatrock. Expect to see glass slivers from the broken bottles and graffiti should you decide to visit.
The area is known as one of the best birding and wildflower spots in South Carolina. Designated as a National Natural Landmark, the preserve (2,267 acres) includes pine forests, granite flatrocks, oak-hickory hardwood forests, successional habitat, a very large beaver pond, and hardwood floodplain forests along Flat Creek.
The preserve is located in Lancaster County, South Carolina and managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. During the 2009/2010 winter season the SC DNR conducted prescribed burns on upland sites dominated by pines where longleaf and shortleaf pine grasslands will be restored.
There are no bathroom or picnic amenities at the preserve. The preserve includes two parking areas located at different sections of the property and a maintained trail system that includes foot-bridges and boardwalks. Hunting is permitted on parts of the preserve.
Click here for a hiking trail map - Forty Acre Rock Trail Map
Directions: Starting from the intersection of US 601 and SC 903 (about 7 miles north of Kershaw SC), drive north on US 601 for about 1.5 miles. Take a left onto Nature Reserve Road. The lower parking lot is about .5 miles on the left. This parking lot is near the beaver pond. To reach the upper parking lot, drive north on Nature Reserve Road for 2.5 miles then take a left onto Conservancy Road. Follow Conservancy Road to the end. This parking area is closest to the actual rock. See the above trail map for reference.
If you can overlook the the graffiti, you will find the preserve blessed with a bounty of natural treasures. As noted previously, the area is very popular with amateur and professional botanists as well as birders. Local nature clubs frequently visit the area during the spring.
Granite Flatrock Outcrops
The granite flatrocks (including Forty Acre Rock) are the heart of the preserve and are dispersed throughout the property. These flatrocks provide a unique habitat for various plant life including some endangered species. Variations of habitat include exposed rock (mosses, lichens, and ferns), rock crevices (red cedar), larger island pockets of soil (red cedar, mosses, ferns, ragworts, puck's orpine, green rock-cress), and solution pools (elf orpine, sandwort, quillwort, and pool sprites).
Pool Sprite (Amphianthus pusillus), Forty Acre Rock - Joe Kegley
Solution pools are natural depressions created by water slowly dissolving the rock surface. If these depressions contain water for weeks at a time during early spring they are also called vernal pools.
Solution pools that have a thin layer of soil but do not collect water (or the water does not remain long) are often occupied by elf orpine and/or piedmont sandwort during the spring.
Vernal pools (pools with consistent water during the early spring) offer habitat for the endangered pool sprite (Amphianthus pusillus) and several species of quillwort during the very early spring.
Some of these pools are successional with new species displacing the original. Evidence of this is apparent with grasses, sedges, and moss invading pool perimeters.
The last two weeks in March and the first week in April are prime times for observation of pool sprites and elf orpine. The flowers of the pool sprites are very small and might go unnoticed when one is standing above a vernal pool. It is best to squat down for a closer look. Note the above image, the pool sprite flower is just slightly larger than Roosevelt's ear on the dime!
Piedmont Sandwort (Minuartia uniflora) - Will Stuart
Elf Orpine (Diamorphia smallii), Forty Acre Rock - Will Stuart
Elf Orpine and Piedmont Sandwort, Forty Acre Rock - Will Stuart
Elf Orpine and Piedmont Sandwort in a vernal pool, Forty Acre Rock
- Steve Thomas
The transitional area between the exposed rock and the islands of thin soil often contain a mixture of juniper haircap moss and reindeer lichen. The larger islands of soil on the rock provide habitat for eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana L.), woolly ragwort (Senecio tomentosus), puck's orpine (Sedum pusillum), dayflowers (Commelina erecta), false garlic (Nothoscordum bivalve), spotted phacelia (Phacelia maculata), and in shady areas trout lilies (Erthronium americanum).
Note the most likely place to find puck's orpine is under red cedar trees found on the granite rock.
Spotted phacelia (Phacelia maculata)
- Will Stuart
Puck's Orpine (Sedum pusillum)
- Will Stuart
Woolly ragwort (Senecio tomentosus)
- Steve Thomas
The trail to the lower section of the preserve starts at the northeast corner of the main outcrop. Here one enters into the hardwood forest section of the property with occasional granite outcrops and boulders. Winding down to a seasonal waterfall and cave, this section of the sanctuary is littered with trout lilies during late March and early April. Note that trout lilies can also be found up on the main granite outcrop in some of the shady island depressions that contain soil and trees.
There is confusion as to whether the species of trout lily we observed on the preserve is Erythronium americanum (dogtooth violet) or Erythronium umbilicatum (dimpled trout lily). We're going with Erythronium americanum unless informed otherwise from a credible source. Erythronium umbilicatum has a distinctly indented apex on the fruit, unfortunately we did not observe any fruit during our visits.
Trout Lilies, Forty Acre Rock - Steve Thomas
Trout Lily, Forty Acre Rock - Joe Kegley
Other notable species observed during the springtime in the oak-hickory hardwood forests included liverleaf (Hepatica americana ), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum L.), star chickweed (Stellaria pubera Michx.), wild geranium (Geranium maculatum L.), arrowleaf (Hexastylis arifolia), and jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum (L.)).
In some of the open areas you might come across sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis L.), spiderwort (Tradescantia sp.), or dayflower (Commelina erecta).
Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum (L.))
- Joe Kegley
Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum L.)
- Joe Kegley
Sundial Lupine (Lupinus perennis L.)
- Will Stuart
Cave, Forty Acre Rock - Joe Kegley
Take note that the trail starting from the top of the rock down to the seasonal waterfall and cave is somewhat steep and may become un-manageable after a heavy rain or during the autumn when the chestnut oak acorns have fallen.
There are a couple of caves in the area though none spectacular. The one easiest to find is next to the trail less than a quarter mile below the northeast section of Forty Acre Rock. During the springtime a waterfall may flow over some of the granite foundation near the cave.
Like Forty Acre Rock to the west, this cave is covered with graffiti. Unlike the main outcrop, the graffiti in the cave is more condensed. You may even find an occasional tree with graffiti in the surrounding area. Nothing appears to be off limits to the vandals who frequent the area.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources may try a new technique to deal with some of the graffiti found on the main granite outcrop using 'cosmetic fires'. The fires will be used to blacken and cover up the graffiti. SC DNR is hopeful that the soot produced will help prevent future painting by providing a loose and erodible substrate that spray paint will not adhere to.
Because fire has the potential to directly damage certain rare plants, SC DNR is implementing this technique slowly and cautiously in areas that are not ecologically sensitive.
Hardwood Floodplain Forests and Flat Creek
There are two easily accessible areas where one can enjoy Flat Creek and its floodplain forests. The first area is near the beaver pond, west of the granite overlook. A boardwalk directs you to Flat Creek and the associated floodplain. When visiting this area during the spring, expect to hear American Redstarts, Rred-eyed Vireos, Louisiana Waterthrushes, Northern Parulas, Kentucky Warblers, Prothonotary Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Acadian Flycatchers, and the occasional Barred Owl.
This first area also provides for some fine wildflower observation, including a fair number of atamasco lilies (Zephyranthes atamasca) and jack-in-the-pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum (L.)). In addition to various wildflower species found, a fair amount of switch cane grows along the trail in this section.
Northern Parula, Forty Acre Rock - Joe Kegley
Kentucky Warbler, Forty Acre Rock - Joe Kegley
The other easily accessible floodplain area is near the old US 601 bridge. This section contained many of the same species mentioned above, though we did not observe any Kentucky Warblers near the old bridge. See the trail map included in the 'Introduction' section for specifics on how to reach the old 601 bridge. Note the bridge railing has collapsed on one side so pay attention if you visit. Nature is starting to reclaim the bridge. A very large group of atamasco lilies inhabit the floodplain next to Flat Creek just north of the bridge.
Atamasco Lilies, Forty Acre Rock - Joe Kegley
Old US 601 Bridge, Forty Acre Rock - Joe Kegley
It is interesting to note that Flat Creek supposedly supports a healthy population of the Carolina heelsplitter mussel. This species is listed as federally endangered with only six known surviving populations: a small remnant population at Waxhaw Creek NC (Catawba River system), a small population in a short stretch of Goose Creek NC (tributary to the Rocky River in the Pee Dee River system), a population in a short stretch of Gills Creek in Lancaster County SC (Catawba River system), a population in a relatively short stretch of the Lynches River that extends into Flat Creek SC (Pee Dee River system), a population in Turkey Creek SC (Savannah River system), and another smaller population surviving in Cuffytown Creek (Savannah River system).
Below is a listing of some of the plant species noted at various locations in the preserve during our spring visits to Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve.
|Atamasco Lily - Zephyranthes atamasca
||Piedmont quillwort - Isoetes piedmontana|
|Black-spore quillwort - Isoetes melanospora||Piedmont sandwort - Minuartia uniflora|
|Bloodroot - Sanguinaria canadensis L.||Pool Sprite - Amphianthus pusillus|
|Common Blue Violet - Viola sororia Willd.||Puck's Orpine - Sedum pusillum|
|Dayflower - Commelina erecta||Rue Anemone - Thalictrum thalictroides (L.)|
|Elf Orpine - Diamorphia smallii||Small's ragwort - senecio smallii|
|Eastern Red Cedar - Juniperus virginiana L.||Spiderwort - Tradescantia sp.|
|Hyssop Skullcap - Scutellaria integrifolia||Spikemoss - Selaginella|
|False garlic - Nothoscordum bivalve||Spotted phacelia - Phacelia maculata|
|False pimpernel - Lindernia monticola||Spring Beauty - Claytonia virginica L.|
|Gray reindeer lichen - Cladina rangiferina||Star Chickweed - Stellaria pubera Michx.|
|Green rock-cress - Arabis missouriensis||Sundial Lupine - Lupinus perennis L.|
|Jack-in-the-pulpit - Arisaema triphyllum (L.)||Trout Lily - Erthronium americanum|
|Juniper haircap moss - Polytrichum juniperinum||Wild Geranium - Geranium maculatum L.|
|Mayapple - Podophyllum peltatum L.||Woolly ragwort - Senecio tomentosus|
|Piedmont Ragwort - Packera millefolium|
Below is a listing of the bird species noted throughout the preserve during our spring visits to Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve..
|Waterfowl||Blue-gray Gnatcatcher||Indigo Bunting||Red-eyed Vireo|
|Canada Goose||Blue Jay||Kentucky Warbler||Ruby-crowned Kinglet|
|Wood Duck||Carolina Chickadee||Louisiana Waterthrush||Tufted Titmouse|
|Songbirds||Carolina Wren||Northern Cardinal||White-throated Sparrow|
|Acadian Flycatcher||Common Yellowthroat||Northern Parula||Wood Thrush|
|American Goldfinch||Eastern Phoebe||Pine Warbler||Yellow-billed Cuckoo|
|American Redstart||Eastern Towee||Prairie Warbler||Raptors|
|Belted Kingfisher||Great-crested Flycatcher||Prothonotary Warbler||Barred Owl|
|Black-and-White Wabler||Hooded Warbler||Red-bellied Woodpecker||Red-shouldered Hawk|
Footbridge, Forty Acre Rock - Joe Kegley
Wilderness Experience Perspective
There is ample opportunity to be alone at the preserve, but don't count on never seeing another person. The preserve is modestly utilized by the public so encounters are infrequent. Depending on the time of day you visit, you may come across other nature enthusiasts, photographers, hikers, or hunters depending on the season.
For the most part noise pollution is not a problem and you should be able to find quite areas within the preserve. Realize the old 601 road and its associated bridge is very close to the new 601 and you will hear traffic noise at that location.
There are many side trails made by prior visitors should you decide to get off the beaten path. Hiking these side trails lead to some of the less visited rock outcroppings.
The preserve is a landscape and flora destination for photographers. Unless photographing birds, expect to use a focal range of 200mm and less. Some of the flora (early spring) on the flatrock is very small so macro lenses would be very appropriate.
- Insect Repellent - While not too bad in the spring, it's good to be prepared.
Location and Points of Interest
Directions: Starting from the intersection of US 601 and SC 903 (about 7 miles north of Kershaw SC), drive north on US 601 for about 1.5 miles. Take a left onto Nature Reserve Road. The lower parking lot is about .5 miles on the left. This parking lot is near the beaver pond. To reach the upper parking lot, drive north on Nature Reserve Road for 2.5 miles then take a left onto Conservancy Road. Follow Conservancy Road to the end. This upper parking area is closest to the actual rock. See the above trail map in the 'Introduction' section for reference.
40 Acre Rock (Google interactive map)
left double click to zoom in
right double click to zoom out
click and drag to move
hover over markers to see descriptions
- https://www.dnr.sc.gov/mlands/managedland?p_id=42 - Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve - SC Department of Natural Resources.
Will Stuart, a resident of Matthews NC, was bitten by the wildflower bug in the 1970's while teaching botany in upstate New York. He relocated to the Charlotte region in 1997 and over the past years has travelled to scores of natural areas throughout the Carolinas, always looking for another wildflower species to add to his "life list".
When Will went digital in 2004, his first purchase was a Canon macro lens and now he won't leave home without it! According to Will, knowing where to go and when to go are the best kept secrets for successfully photographing wildflowers.
You can see more of Will's photos by visiting Will Stuart on Flickr.
Steve Thomas, a resident of Rockhill SC, is an avid waterfowl hunter and saltwater fisherman. A nature enthusiast at heart, Steve also enjoys studying and documenting wildflower observations. In addition, he has embarked on creating a photo life list of birds he has had the opportunity to photograph.
Forty Acre Rock ... a nature, wildlife, and photography perspective.