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Explore Hitchcock Woods!

Enjoy One of the Nation's Largest Urban Forests This Summer Without Leaving Home

Article by Ashley Elvis

Photography by Gayle Bryan, Rebecca Williams & Provided by the Hitchcock Woods Foundation

Originally published in Aiken City Lifestyle

If a visit to Hitchcock Woods, the largest privately-owned forest in the United States, isn’t on your summer bucket list, then be sure to add it!  Bennett Tucker, Woods Superintendent, along with Eric Grande, Mike Grabowski, and an awesome office staff and incredibly hard-working volunteers work to protect and care for the land that spans almost 2,100 acres through the city of Aiken. This urban forest not only provides a healthy ecosystem for hundreds of species of plants and wildlife but also boasts around 70 miles of named trails for hikers and horseback riders. Hitchcock Woods is the perfect place for some summer recreation! 

From the tiniest fern to the National Champion Longleaf Pine tree (appropriately named Champ), the plant life in Hitchcock Wood is thriving. The woods staff works year round to manage the vegetation, as it would naturally exist, through conservation efforts and prescribed burning. There are also hundreds of animals to spot: deer, egrets, owls, ducks, turkey, many other types of birds and reptiles and, of course, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. This endangered woodpecker now thrives in Hitchcock Woods after seven years of work to increase the population. Today the number of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers exceeds 50 with over 30 new nestlings born this spring! Take a walk on one of the trails or have a scavenger hunt with your kids through the woods to try to spot as many of these wonders as you can! Tucker recommends using one of the maps that are placed at each of the entrances or the free app, All Trails, packing plenty of water and choosing a route before heading in for a hike or horseback ride. 

Though walking the trails is probably what comes to mind for most when they think about a visit to the woods, there are many other activities to fill the summer days. For those looking for solace and relaxation, Hitchcock Woods will definitely deliver. There are many open fields and small bodies of water that offer quiet places to sit, enjoy a book, have a picnic or view wildlife. Geocaching, an activity where a phone app or GPS is used to hide and find containers or 

“Geocaches” that are located at certain places, are a popular activity and would be a fun adventure for adults and kids. There are three official geocaches in Hitchcock Woods for folks to try to find. 

Hitchcock Woods is beloved by equestrian enthusiasts as it is a beautiful setting to ride over natural terrain in the middle of Aiken. Those without horses including inexperienced riders can enjoy the woods by horseback thanks to LaDonna Heise, owner of The Trail Riding Company. She and her stable of horses take riders of all abilities out to explore the wonder that is Hitchcock Woods several times a week. 

There’s also a place for history buffs in Hitchcock Woods! Donated by the Hitchcock Family in 1939, there are so many interesting stories explaining trail names and certain locations like The Tea Cottage which was built in the 1920s for tea time after hunts. It burned to the ground twice but visitors can walk to the location by the Tea Cottage trail. This is one of Tucker’s favorites because it is flat and shady and makes an easy walk for anyone. Cathedral Aisle, another favorite trail, is where the Charleston to Hamburg railroad ran in the early 1830s and is the first rail-trail in the country to be recognized by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Other points of interest for history lovers are Memorial Gate, 1977 Burn, Gamekeeper’s Lodge Hill and The Horse Show Ring. The Hitchcock Woods Foundation website has a lot of information to read over before visiting. 

Whether you are seeking solitude, a moment to reconnect to nature, educational information, or a way to just get some energy out, a visit to Hitchcock Woods will do it all! Aiken is so fortunate to have this easy-to-access urban oasis, so be sure to explore the woods this summer. If you happen to see our woodsman, Bennett Tucker, be sure to say hello and bend his ear; he has a wealth of knowledge and his passion for the woods and conservation is abundant. Maybe even try to spot the infamous world-record holder Longleaf Pine, Champ! 

Burn Baby Burn!

The prescribed burns that take place in Hitchcock Woods may seem to go against what we were always taught about forest fires. Fire is a natural process in the Longleaf pine ecosystem and these carefully executed burns are controlled by a skilled burn crew and are actually a necessity for a healthy and resilient forest. Led by Bennett Tucker, Eric Grande, and Mike Grabowski, a team of fire managers and members of their volunteer fire crew conducts these burns to certain sections of the woods. The burns promote forest health by mimicking natural processes of an ecosystem. This action prevents wildfires and promotes ground cover such as native grasses, legumes and forbs. It also benefits wildlife habitats by providing an ecosystem conducive to foraging and building nests. These burns take place throughout the year and are announced by signs at the entrances. The burn crew does take volunteers who are willing to participate in training. You can contact the Hitchcock Woods Foundation office for more volunteer information. 

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