Lying in the Sandhills region of South Carolina, Sesquicentennial State Park is a pine-filled respite from the nearby state capital of Columbia. Featuring over 1,400 acres of forest, camping, picnic areas, trails, and a lake, “Sesqui” was once a popular swimming destination in the 1950s and 60s as visitors traveled to Centennial Lake with their families and friends. Although now closed to swimmers, current visitors continue to enjoy boating and fishing in the lake and the surrounding streams.
Completed in 1940 through the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Sesquicentennial Park is one of the oldest in South Carolina and many of the original buildings still remain, built during the 1930s as the CCC worked across the country. The campground consists of 84 sites, 71 with 30-amp electric and water hook-ups. The crushed gravel road into the campground is fairly bumpy with a narrow entrance, but we saw many large Class A’s and fifth wheels somehow squeeze through the entrance and wind into spots all over the campground during our visit. The sites in the first loop appeared to be the smallest, but sizes are clearly listed on the reservation website when you’re deciding which site to choose for your visit.
Sesqui lies within the Gills Creek Watershed which contains over 70 miles of streams and lakes covering 47,000 acres of land. Once a resource for drinking water, agriculture, and recreation, the watershed is now among the largest impaired urban watershed in South Carolina. Feel free to skip the next paragraph if you’re not interested in a quick lesson on pollution and the need for increased awareness of what we as humans contribute to the environment.
Gills Creek Watershed is impacted by stormwater runoff which contributes to increased coliform bacteria levels (which originates in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, so yes – poop in the water), low dissolved oxygen, and higher levels of mercury. Solid man-made surfaces like pavement and rooftops prevent rainwater from soaking into the ground, and as the water runs through fields, streets, and neighborhoods, the runoff gathers sediment, fertilizer, pesticides, oil, and pet waste on its way to the Congaree River outside of the Congaree National Park. Storm water runoff isn’t collected and treated like sewage or drain water would be from a home connected to a municipal sewer system. Anything we put on the ground ends up directly in the waterways, especially in areas impacted by urban sprawl. The park posts this information on boards around the lake as a reminder to visitors, and maybe to show everyone that we can no longer swim in Centennial Lake because we’ve polluted it over decades of abuse. Just something to think about as we wash our RVs, fill our gas tanks, drive across interstates, and park in giant paved deserts at the grocery store.
As the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed buildings throughout the areas that would become parks, they used native materials like stone, cypress, and pine in the projects. The bathhouse at the Sesqui Park (former) swimming area was controversial at the time because of the choice of building material – concrete. The project administrators eventually accepted the idea amidst disagreement that the building would resemble a tomb, but chose in favor of the lower maintenance cost. The building was constructed using native sand from the surrounding hills, and the CCC created a unique building that reflects the surrounding natural environment.
The park also has a reconstructed log house on display, originally built in the 1700s. The house was saved from disrepair in 1969 as a team dutifully disassembled the building log by log, transported the materials to the park, and reconstructed the home, repairing and replacing logs as necessary.
Multiple trails wind through the park, some partially paved sidewalks along the lake, others the soft sandy soil for which the region was named. Ashley needed to ship something from her Etsy store, so we rode our bikes along one of the trails leading out of the park and into a nearby recreation area with a ball field and playground, then to a small shopping center with a post office. A mountain bike trail also runs behind the park, as well as a wide, sandy access road trail around the perimeter. The soil can be pretty soft in spots (it is mostly sand, after all) so if you choose to ride any of the trails that allow bikes, just be aware of any areas that might require significant pedaling or quick braking to avoid an unintentional dismount.
Our visit to Sesquicentennial was a nice contrast to our recent trip through Asheville, trading the sights of the city for falling pine needles and the occasional odd howl in the middle of the night. The park facilities were in decent condition, with warm showers and clean bathrooms. Site quality varies from small, uneven tent sites, to fairly level pull-throughs, so take your time when choosing online if you decide to book a visit. We saw a wide range of campers during our visit – large RVs as mentioned earlier, to truck campers and even an SUV fitted with a rooftop tent system. Our site neighbors were in town for the college football game that weekend, and were traveling from Pennsylvania in a rented RV to see how they’d like the experience. We chatted a bit and learned they were in the market for an RV and had visited the show in Hershey recently. Once again, the more we travel the more we find people with similar interests or from familiar areas. So to Dave and Dana – good luck in your search and we hope to cross paths again soon!
Anyone wishing to visit Columbia without staying in the city could use Sesquicentennial State Park as a good base for exploring. We didn’t venture into the city on this trip, choosing instead to remain closer to “home” and take advantage of the hiking and biking trails and catch up on some neglected chores. This stop was roughly halfway between Asheville and Savannah (featured in the next update) and made for a convenient location to break up the drive. We’ll probably choose another park to visit on our next journey through South Carolina simply because this was our one and only stop so far, but Sesquicentennial is a pleasant park resting on sandy hills covered in long-needled pines. Should your travels take you close to Columbia, be sure to enjoy a walk or bike ride through the trails at Sesquicentennial State Park.