Guest Column by Cameron Shook
In one of the fastest growing areas of York County, it’s hard to find new things that you might never have seen before. We all want to feel like we’re discovering something for the first time. Despite becoming more and more developed, there are still some hidden gems scattered around Fort Mill proper. You just have to know where to dig.
Here is Cameron’s list of the top 5 places to explore (or, rediscover at least) in Fort Mill.
#1. Upper Room Chapel.
One of the more odd parts of Fort Mills history was from 1978 to 1989 when PTL ministries established “Heritage USA”, an evangelical amusement park. Once a huge draw, attracting tens of thousands, bankruptcy and scandal finally closed the entire project. While the castle, the waterpark, and roller coasters have been demolished, there are still remnants of this enormous undertaking scattered around. On the banks of Sugar Creek, one such reminder is the Upper Room Chapel, and at first glance you’ll think someone built a stone castle, and as you walk around it….you’ll still think someone built a stone castle. Meant to be a replica the Upper Room from the New Testament, you can walk around the grounds and admire the beautiful stonework or hike the short trail that they have that runs along the creek. It’s one of the only buildings I get excited to see because it’s so different, and if you enjoy taking photos of interesting architecture, it’s one of the best around.
#2. Lake Wylie Dam.
Originally built in 1906 and expanded again in 1924, the LakeWylie Dam has been a long time feature of the Catawba River in Fort Mill andwill be here for much longer still. With 4 turbines and 11 overflow gates,massive amounts of power, and water, are pushed through here every day. As part of the Duke Power relicensingagreement for use of the Catawba River, they have expanded the access to thearea around the Dam with fishing piers, hiking trails, and more parking spacesfor people wanting to paddle (or, tube, though I don’t recommend it) thesection of the river south. At different water levels, the feel of the area isdifferent too; with all of the rain of the past 6 months, more often than notthe river has been extremely high, which is both terrifying and powerful towatch. During the summer drought, when barely a trickle is flowing from theDam, it becomes a series of pool to walk around and explore….just don’t get toofar from shore in case they open the gates and you get swept away.
#3. Catawba Fishing Weir
While accessible by foot, hiking on land owned by the museum of York County, the best way to experience a piece of ancient engineering is to paddle south from the Lake Wylie Dam where there is the remains of an ancient Native American fishing weir. Approximately a 2.5 mile paddle, just before reaching I-77, there is an island on river left, and the river carves a channel around it. The upstream point of the island is a popular spot to stop, with a pebble beach not often found on the Catawba. If you then either paddle, or hike across the small island, towards the Fort Mill bank you will find the entire channel has had rocks piled in such a way to force all of the flow through a V, just wide enough for a kayak. Back when it was still “operational” a basket or net would have been placed in that V, snaring all of the fish that were attempting to make it down stream. It’s a humble reminder that, though the dam upstream has changed the course of the river for the last 100 years, there are far older engineers who have shaped this same waterway for millennia.
#4. Anne Springs Close Greenway.
#The crown jewel of the Fort Mill outdoor activity scene is far and away the Anne Springs Close Greenway. While not a public entity like a State of County Park, the non-profit maintains over 2100 acres and 40+ miles of hiking, biking, and horse trails for the public to use for a nominal fee; if you live in the area, the yearlong membership fee of $49 per individual or $99 per family is a pretty fantastic deal and goes to the support and maintenance of the facility. While there are interesting historic cabins, and the beautifully restored Dairy Barn, one of the more remote places is the site of the old Grist Mill. The 1.5 mile hike brings you to the remnants of a 250 year old mill dam alongside Steele Creek, and a replica of the original grist mill with a working water wheel. Supposedly, this is what the “Mill” in “Fort Mill” comes from; the “Fort” from a long disappeared colonial-era British fort which was nearby.
#5. Baxter Trails
#While Baxter Village is hard to miss, there are some trails tucked away in corners that you may not know about. There is a short trail extending from the YMCA down past the 2 ponds beside I-77, several small walking loops which start at the Library, but the crown jewel is the 5.6 mile out and back which starts at Allison Park and goes all the way down to the river and back. While the elevation gain and loss isn’t what I would consider “mountainous”, if you’re unprepared for a 5 mile trek it’s going to make the day much more difficult. Take along a small day pack with food and water, and depending on weather, a rain jacket and insulating layer. Also, there are a few branches and deadends that spur off the trail; I would highly recommend using AllTrails.com to map your trip and check it often to make sure you’re not wasting time and effort going the wrong way.
While Fort Mill is different now than it once was, there are still pockets of interesting and wild places to get you away from the hustle and bustle. Do you have a favorite place that wasn’t mentioned? Post it in the comments below!
Cameron Shook is an avid outdoors enthusiast who also writes for YC Magazine. Contact Cameron through [email protected] Follow him on Instagram: @shookscamphere