The Catawba River winds its way from the mountains of Western North Carolina down through Mecklenburg County and into South Carolina, and if you follow it about 20 minutes southeast of Rock Hill, you’ll find the Landsford Canal State Park. It’s an interesting place that mixes history and nature.
The namesake canal was built in the 1820s to help boats navigate around a wide rocky shoal in the river. Growing around the rocks in that shoal are groups of rare spider lilies with an unusual characteristic.
“They all peak bloom at, like, one time, so over a period of a couple of weeks, you get this buildup of flowers until just about every plant out there is in full bloom,” says park manager Al James.
He’s worked at Landsford for almost 20 years. In that time, the park has seen a spike in the number of visitors, from about 10 thousand to close to 50 thousand.
It’s a little off the beaten path. There are signs from I-77 marking how to get there, but by the last few miles of the trip, the road narrows to an asphalt path, at times bumpy with potholes.
Once you get to the parking lot, it’s a three-quarter-mile hike to the spider lily overlook. Visitors can take a nature trail that runs along the riverbank or walk a path beside the historic canal. Both are shaded by a green canopy of tree branches, and a chorus of birds chirps from all directions. But beware! Mosquitoes and gnats can get annoying along the canal.
The Landsford canal had a fairly short life. It gradually fell out of use in the 1830s when the railroad came. Since then, it’s filled in a bit, and the wooden locks have disappeared. But the original stonework still stands, and it’s worth braving the mosquitoes to follow part of the canal. If you’re lucky, you can spot the pair of eagles that nest in the park year-round.
As you walk toward the shoal with the spider lilies, you sort of lose your sense of direction. When you finally get to the overlook, the trail opens up to a large deck where trees frame the view of about 20 acres of water and plants. James says this year’s bloom was interrupted by a flood in the middle of peak blooming season. “Normally, at this time of year, we would expect where all the white is on top of the plant to be completely covered," he says. "It looks like somebody laid snow or whipped cream on top of the plants there are so many blooms at one time.”
There are still plenty of white flowers, but the high water washed away the first half of the buds and blooms. Some of the plants flowered after, others were able to re-bloom. He says about 50% of the plants are in bloom right now, and it should stay that way for a couple more weeks.
Roy Bird lives nearby in York County, and he comes to see the lilies every year. He says he’s never been disappointed , even this year.
"They’re impressive, period," he says. "The fact that they can survive in all the heavy flows…it’s just marvelous to see it.”
The Landsford Canal State Park, on the Catawba river in South Carolina is an example of nature’s resilience and of human engineering. Another installment in our summer series, There & Back, exploring places you can visit in a day trip from the Charlotte region.
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