Urban Goat on The Go: Columbia’s Canal Walk

Columbia, South Carolina is not the location most people would pick if you said to name a place rich in history. Which kind of makes it a secret! Only in the last fifteen years or so have the numerous ruins and historical structures been brought to wider appreciation.  One such gem that the people of Columbia have recently rediscovered is the 1891 canal that once brought cotton bales around the rapids on the Broad and Congaree Rivers. It is a great place to spend an afternoon bomb proofing a baby goat and rediscovering some history for yourself.

If you are interested in more less well known Columbia history check out Underground Columbia, the mill ruins at Riverbanks Zoo, and the network of underground tunnels beneath downtown Columbia that are currently used for storm drainage. Note these are not goat friendly…

Is it goat approved? Yes, at least for kids. The park ranger seemed amused

How you get there: Google Columbia Riverfront Park. That is the parking location. Yes, it is a ritzy looking spot for being right next to the water and sewage treatment plant.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 5.2 miles out and back to canal locks for the historical Columbia Canal.

Best season to do this hike: Any time but dead heat summer. Its easy, it’s flat, and it is going to be coated in people regardless of when you go, so you might as well please yourself in terms of the weather.


Trails to Take

There is really only 1 trail – it goes along the original tow path for the canal. To reach it there is a paved trail from the parking lot which starts near the red school house building, (this is an original school house built in the area).

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Training on the canal walk

 

The paved section descends down between the water treatment plant and the original retaining wall for what was once Columbia’s oldest, largest, and certainly creepiest jail. The Central Correctional Institute (or as my parents referred to it, the Columbia Penitentiary) was a massive granite block structure that was in use for 150 years until finally being decommissioned in 1994 after decades of complaints about how outdated the facility was. For a while you could take tours of the place, and my parents were fond of retelling stories about the walkways without rails, some of which were many stories off the ground…and how unpopular inmates were pushed to their deaths from these. The obviously very ominous and atmospheric jail, with its wonderful rusting razor wire fences, intact guard towers, looming stone walls, and even an inmate baseball diamond, was demolished several years ago to make way for some hideous cookie cutter condos. But the retaining wall is still impressive, if less creepy.

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Inside the jail before it was demolished. Note the very long drop from the upper floors…

The trail crosses over the canal itself a metal I beam bridge, to join the canal walk. Directly across from the bridge are the original Columbia Water Plant pump houses, which supplied water from the river to the city of Columbia until the modern water treatment plant was built. The modern water treatment plant lies on the opposite side of the canal and draws its water from the canal instead of the river.

To the left of the pump house buildings is the dam that powered the historical water plant and also contains the waste weir for the canal. Waste weirs are used to drain canals for repairs and to adjust water level. Unfortunately, this system was insufficient to keep the canal intact during the devastating 2015 floods, and damage to the canal, including a wall breach, is still being repaired. Interestingly, the canal we walk on today is the 1891 canal, but the first canal in this spot (built in 1820) was also destroyed by a flood. Given the nature of the Broad River to stay “broad” by flooding several times a year I suppose canal damage is inevitable.

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2015 flooding punched a hole through the canal wall and drained it

In the distance you may be able to spot the Columbia Cotton Mill, which is today the State Museum, and Gervais Street Bridge, hands down the prettiest route into Columbia. There are further canal and industrial ruins between here and these landmarks, but for whatever reason they had this section of the walk locked off today.

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Diversion dam that feeds water into the canal

Following the paved canal walk away from the water treatment plant and down the original tow path you pass under a rail line and highway bridge and by several overlooks. The canal today looks very different from when I first walked it 20 years ago. Back then it was, in the words of my hiking elder and grandmother “kind of dumpy” and significantly less busy. Today the thorny undergrowth is gone and you can see the river and the canal for almost the entire route. There is a small paved trail that comes off that you can take to get closer to the river, which is popular with fishermen and highly recommended because it sees less traffic and lets you get up close and personal with the water and the rocks of Broad River. In the spring, watch for the protected shoals spider lily, which blooms out among the rocks.

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The canal lock

The walk is easy, flat, and unless you are into swimming you can’t get lost. The tow path terminates at the restored canal locks. 20 years ago this area was fenced off, but now you can walk across the locks to an upper parking lot and there’s an actual plaza to overlook the diversion dam that feeds water into the canal. This spot is popular with fishermen and with bird watchers for the abundance of feathery mayhem that collects at the diversion dam.

Then turn around and head back.

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BE WARNED

  1. Traffic is heavy and parking is tight at Riverfront Park. Bring you something small and people friendly for this one, (and be prepared to pick up after it).
  2. Apparently they have problems with alligators in the canal now. Avoid feeding the goat to the wildlife.
  3. While this is such an urban walk the backpack and hiking gear will be unnecessary and totally out of place, bring a water bottle if you are going in summer – the asphalt bakes you to death.
  4. The area is patrolled by bored park rangers. If you need to avoid the rangers go to the new parking area at the canal locks instead of going to the one in Riverfront Park. However, the ranger I ran into did not seem bothered by the baby goat.

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In sum: 

Water manager during the 2015 flood: “Nobody panic okay, but I think we just poked a giant hole through the canal supplying all of our water…”

Urban Goat on the Go: A Wonderland of Art on the Raleigh Greenway

Even fancied tilting at a windmill like Don Quixote or wanted to be Lord of Some Giant Earthen Rings? Let your imagination run wild by exploring North Carolina’s Art Museum and adjacent cultural properties! Built on land that first held a juvenile detention center and then became a cow pasture for the nearby vet school, the Art Museum has grown over the years to include not just the main buildings, but also numerous outdoor art works worth visiting that you don’t need to fall down a rabbit  hole or speak to a drug addled caterpillar to enjoy.

Beyond the Art Museum is Meredith College, which includes student art works near the greenway trail, but also hosts a unique tunnel which is repainted to a new theme each year by the current graduating class. This year’s theme was the unusually nerdy choice of blending Alice in Wonderland, the circus, Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, and what I’m pretty sure was Disney’s Maleficent all onto two white walls and half a dozen poles. It is pretty surreal.

Location: Raleigh greenway trail system, including Reedy Creek Trail and House Creek Trail, starting at the North Carolina Art Museum

Is it goat approved? Only if the goat is on leash, you can pick up after it, and the goat is great with people, strollers, and bikes. I find this trip to be great for bomb proofing kid goats and a unique change from hiking in the woods, but it is not a low stress easy walk. Though those used to the overly inquisitive nature of people living in the Northeast will enjoy the significantly lower attention the goat attracts in North Carolina, where people are more into horses. As a plus, museum guards and docents seem to be cool with even visiting the sculptures near the main buildings with a goat in tow.

How you get there: Google.Then park in the large parking lot off Blue Ridge Road where the ugly grey building with the “we hoped it would make it less ugly but actually just draws attention to it” trellis in front of it is.

Time for hike:  4.8 miles out and back, but add another mile on for wandering around the ex-pasture that they have set up as a sculpture garden. This is an out and back hike. 

Best season to do this hike: WINTER. Gets hot in the summer and full of people when the weather is nice.

Trails to Take

*There are no pictures with goats in them for this hike because it is extremely difficult to stand still long enough to get a picture with a goat in it without being talked to death by other visitors or mobbed by kids.*

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Be Lord of the Earthen Rings

From the parking lot you want to go down hill on the paved trail between the windmill and the art museum’s pond. The trail comes up to the big earthen rings and splits. Go right, down the hill, until a small trail comes off to your left near a pillar made of rocks, (there is no understanding art, just accept that it is a weird pillar). Off this trail is another small trail to your right into the woods.

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What happens when artists build windmills
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House with pinhole camera

This trail goes into the woods, across a creek, then up to a small building that is actually a cool pinhole camera. The camera effect only works when the sun is very bright, and you have to close the door the whole way so it is really dark, then count to 20 for your eyes to adjust so you can see the effect. This building is small, so if you are hiking by yourself you won’t be able to fit 1 human and a goat inside of it comfortably…especially if other people want to go in at the same time!

Past this is another bridge over a dry wash, and then the trail winds up and dead ends into the greenway. You want to go left away from the parking area. Trail winds down into a bottom land area with the notorious biker destroying bridges, (see “Be Warned” section), then up a hill. At the end of the climb is the bridge across the highway.

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Highway Bridge

Once across the bridge bear right and you’ll pass under Wade Avenue through a tunnel. This tunnel is closed at dark! On the opposite side is Meredith College. The side of this tunnel that vehicle traffic uses is painted each year by the graduating class at Meredith. They choose a different theme every year and  it’s interesting to drop by and see what the new theme is.

Beyond the tunnel the trail skirts the edge of Meredith’s campus, which has some interesting architecture reminiscent of a late 1800’s manufacturing building style in the center of campus. As you near the dorms there are also sometimes small art projects in the woods done by the students. Eventually the trail crosses the entrance to Meredith college, past the track, and dead ends at the stoplight. I usually turn around here, but if you really want to go crazy about it, cross the stoplight and go up hill past the gas station. This will take you across a bridge over a rail line, then take your next left at the stoplight just beyond the bridge and you’re on NC State’s campus, which also has trails/buildings/swarms of students to explore.

Art Museum 1

Art Museum 2

Be Warned!

  1. Be careful of any biker approaching you in spandex with a serious look on his face. While there are defined lanes for traffic in parts of the greenway, the predominate way that cyclists navigate the hordes of pedestrians is by zigging and zagging at the fastest speed possible through them. Which looks like a lot of fun to me, but maybe not to the goat you’re with.
  2. The bridges at the bottom of the first hill as you leave out of the art museum area are slick, and it is very likely that the aforementioned high speed cyclist, if unfamiliar with these bridges, will wreck. So estimate where the carnage is going to happen, and how far the bike and rider will slide, then pick a spot out of the way to watch the ensuing mess. I’ve seen about half a dozen people wreck, (which adds up to at least 1 person every time I walk the trail).
  3. No water sources for goats. There is a dog watering station, but the goats are curiously uninclined to drink at it. Perhaps they don’t want dog cooties.
  4. You are committing to collect goat poop when hiking in town, so bring several grocery bags and some hand sanitizer.
  5. The tunnel under Wade Avenue closes at dusk to all traffic. Don’t get stuck on the wrong side!

In Sum: Dealing with hordes of curious humans all the time by visiting this location often may lead to enlightenment and greater understanding of the human condition. Or it may just cause you to go insane and start headbutting everyone who speaks to you.

Urban Goat on the Go: Hiking Cornell and Cornell’s Plantations

Is your goat feeling like an outcast relegated to the rural lifestyle when all she really wants is to be a glamorous girl in the city? Well I wouldn’t recommend New York City as particularly goat friendly, (unless you plan to feed the homeless or something), but Cornell University is a pretty cosmopolitan place that can be visited on four hooves. So take a day to teach your goat how to navigate stop lights and sidewalks instead of creek crossings and switch backs!

Location: Cornell University & Cornell Plantations

Is it goat approved? If the goat is on leash and can handle large crowds of people then this walk works. If the goat cannot do leashes and prefers to keep humans at arm’s length stay clear!

How you get there: Park in the Cornell Plantations (google it!). See trail map for further indication of parking locations.

Time for hike: About 5 miles round trip, but you may want to take several side trips, especially in the plantations or if you have not visited Cornell’s awesome gorge infested campus. This is an out and back hike.

Best season to do this hike: Every season but you may like winter (during winter break) and summer (during summer break) the most as this dwindles the number of students on campus.

Trails to Take

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Dogo the art critic surveys the sculpture garden

Start off at the parking area indicated at the Cornell Plantations. If that little lot is full, there are other nearby parking locations within the plantations themselves. Walk from the parking area towards a group of buildings (Plant Production Facility) that sit on the Forest Home Road. There will be a group planting of ornamental plants between these buildings and the hillside. Walk into this group of ornamental plants (some of which are toxic to goats!). There is a set of stairs up the hillside. Take it. At the top of the stairs is a sculpture garden which is pretty cool and was originally created in the 1960’s when this area was a cow pasture.

From the sculpture garden walk down Arboretum Road (or on its edge), then climb up the trail on the hill that Arboretum Road runs along the edge of. At the top of this hill is a large metal bell that you, (or small child of your choice), can ring. Walk around on the trail at the top of the hill to view the rest of the garden from a safe, and relatively people free, distance.

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Herb Garden perimeter

Get back on Arboretum Road, walk up the hill, then at the top of the hill you will see a large field open to your left. This is the hay meadow, and is a great place for lunch and to let the goat graze a bit on your way back. At the bottom of this meadow, Arboretum Road intersects with Caldwell Drive. Cross Arboretum Road and walk through the plantings of small ornamental trees. You will reach the intersection of Forest Home (which enters after just crossing a metal bridge over the river) and Caldwell Dr. Cross over at this intersection and into the gravel parking lot across the road. Walk through the gravel parking lot and look for gravel paths headed into the woods.

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Cornell Plantations Visitor Center

You are now in the Mundy Wild Flower Garden area. You do not want to go inside the massive deer fence! Goats are not welcome. Instead, take the gravel path that keeps you closest to the wooden park service buildings adjacent to the parking lot. This will lead you around the fence and to a set of stairs that go up the hillside. Go up the stairs. At the top of the stairs, continue down hill, cross the road, and go down the next set of stairs. You are now in the New York State Herb Garden. If you goat is not prone to treating every hike as a walking buffet line, this is a cool garden to stop and check out. However, poisonous plants are often present and it’s a garden right next to the visitors center so browsing might get you banned.

Walk under the archway and behind the building that sits behind the urban garden. This will take you to a small back garden, then to a paved road running along the bottom of a hill. You want to go right on this road and away from the fancy wood and metal building on your left. The fancy building is the visitors center. Which, since you don’t want to meet a lot of visitors, you certainly don’t want to visit yourself. The paved walkway leads around the hill, (keeping the hill between you and the visitors center). Once you are around the hill look for a trail cutting through the woods to the road (Forest Home Drive again). Cross the road, then head right along the edge of a stone wall. When the wall ends, look for the trail/stairs that lead down to the edge of the pond on your left. You want to proceed along the edge of the pond that runs parallel to Forest Home Dr. Don’t cross the bridge and walk on the opposite side! There will be a lot more people.

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Architecture Building with Dragon Day decoration

You will come out on a sidewalk. Walk down the sidewalk for a short ways, then look for a paved walkway to go back down towards the pond. There will be a cement bridge over the river down hill from here. If it’s not too crowded, walk out on it, because this bridge actually crosses over a pretty spectacular gorge.

Once you are done ogling, continue in the same direction you were going back up an incline on a paved walkway. This will dump you out at an intersection. The architecture building is across the road, and to your right the road crosses another ornate bridge. Continue in the direction you were heading, and cross this intersection to continue on the sidewalk. Keep walking on the sidewalk until you see a trail head off to your right. Go down this trail.

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View of the bottom of the gorge at the end of the hike

Following the trail will cause you to eventually pass a really cool suspension bridge. This one is also worth walking out on and admiring the view. If you continue down the trail you will reach a turn off that goes down a long set of stairs into the gorge. At the bottom of this set of stairs is another cool view of the gorge, but if you walk past the barricades and the signage telling you how people die in the gorges all the time there is a cliff face with a lot of sloughed off scree at the base. This is a great location to locate fossils. Check through the scree and look for pieces of slate with imprints of shells, barnacles, and occasionally more exotic critters in them if you have time.

Then turn around and walk back!

Cornell Gardens 1

Cornell Gardens 2

Cornell Gardens 3

Cornell University Hike

BE WARNED!

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One of the many entertaining gorge safety signs! The fossil area is just past this sign.
  1. People will want to pet the goat. People will want to take pictures of the goat. Most of these people will not understand anything about goat behavior or biology. You know, the same old mantra.
  2. You will need to pick up after the goat, so remember a plastic bag or two.
  3. There are few good places to give the goat a drink, (despite the number of water sources on the route), so bring a water bottle.
  4. I once got trapped in the herb garden, (which is surrounded by a fence), by a large group of people who did not understand the need for personal space for goats. It got very troublesome. Always remember that on one wall of the garden is a set of stairs set in the wall that you and the goat can use to escape if you get trapped by camera toting tourists.

In sum: Goats can be really freaked out by their own reflections. In this urban environment, take the time to find a reflective building and enjoy the antics as the goat tries to figure out how the “other goat” got inside the glass.