In a town of 66, the Palmetto Trail offers trek into the past

An old railway trestle bridge frames the elevated boardwalk along the Peak to Prosperity Passage on the Palmetto Trail. (Staff photos by Will Harmon)

Populated by 66 individuals, the village of Peak, South Carolina, has just a few more people than the least populated town In South Carolina.

The least populated, Smyrna, is populated by 45 people. Apart from its size, Peak has the same amenities of many larger municipalities: a town hall, church, pharmacy, restaurant, and one of the oldest railroad bridges in the state. Peak is zero percent urbanized and 100 percent rural.

Aside from being one of the smallest towns in the state, Peak is home to a section of the Palmetto Trail, meandering nearly 11 miles to Prosperity. A visit to this section of the Palmetto Trail is sure to bring great satisfaction to the backpacker, adventure seeker, and outdoorsman alike.

Spanning in segments from the salt marshes of historic Lowcountry Carolina to the foothills of the Appalachians, the Palmetto Trail covers nearly 235 combined miles. Currently consisting of 23 segmentations, also known as passages, the majority of these trails are located in the upper corner of the Palmetto State. It is planned that the trail will eventually span 425 miles from the Lowcountry to the foothills of the Appalachians.

The Palmetto Trail offers stunning views over the rushing Broad River.

Currently, the Trail envelopes 12 counties. The Palmetto Trail splits Newberry County right down the middle with a 10.8-mile section of trail dubbed the Peak to Prosperity Passage. Along the Palmetto Trail, you will find numerous pieces of history, from historic battlefields to the 1890 railroad bridge that now spans the Broad River in Peak. An earlier bridge was burned to its foundation to prevent the wrath of Sherman’s forces from reaching the other side of the raging river. Presently, the 1100-foot bridge sits burrowed between the adjoining banks of the river with its steel trestles glistening in the bright Carolina sunlight.

The Peak to Prosperity Passage is met by the Alston Trailhead, which begins in Fairfield County. It then crosses the 1,100-foot-long former railroad trestle bridge, which boasts whimsical views of the Broad River. It continues to skirt along the small town of Peak, through Pomaria, and into Prosperity. Along this section of the passage, 14 small trestle bridges span across the zig-zagging Crim’s Creek.

Following the length of the trail, you will pass the green grasses of power line clearings and fields as well as dense forest where the unknown lurks deep within. All and all, the trail is a perfect day hike for almost anyone with its breathtaking scenery and rich history. The trail is easy to hike and enchanting, especially in the warmth of spring.

Despite a sign which now proclaims “Beware of Bears,” which have been sighted in the peak area, I suspect the trail is perfectly safe. With a few personal close encounters with bears on my mountain ventures, I know they normally no more want to see you than you want to see them. As long as you are vigilant and don’t do anything foolish, they could care less about you.

Don’t let the unknown deter you from a spectacular adventure-filled day in the depths of the forest surrounding beautiful Newberry County – an adventure-filled day that will be all the more adventurous when you hear a roar behind you. Didn’t know you could run a marathon, did you?

In all seriousness, I walked the trail and didn’t have any problem. It was an extremely easy walk over compacted gravel and dirt. The trail also allows bikers if you would rather ride its entirety rather than walk it.

The trail was first cut by Palmetto Conservation Corps. They purchased the 11-mile, 200-foot right of way for the passageway from the Southern Norfolk Railroad. Then with the help of South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department, the railroad trestle bridge was converted to a walkway for the trail.

The initial 6.5-mile section of the passage was opened in 2009 after two volunteers named on Palmetto Conservation’s website cleared and decked eight former railroad trestles. A grant from the State allowed a team to deck and add the handrails present today to the bridge spanning the Broad River.

It was a warm cloudy spring day when my soon-to-be 80-year-old granddad, George Hendrix, and I first stepped from the car behind the Peak Pharmacy and trekked out across the bridge. Despite the heavy clouds and threat of a sudden storm, it was a picture-perfect scene of a bridge, river, and trail.

After parking behind the pharmacy in Peak, you can walk down and to the left toward the gushing waters of the river. You can’t miss the bridge once you’re out of the car and on the trail, just feet from the road. Even the worst of photographers are sure to get great photos of this historic landmark.

Once we walked the length of the bridge, we turned and headed down the length of the Palmetto Trail, which skirts under the main road along the original path that countless locomotives followed. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong spending the day on this section of the Palmetto Trail.

Perfect for hiker, adventure seeker, and photographer alike, the Peak to Prosperity Passage is sure to have something for everyone.