Life in our Foothills August 2023 – Blue Wall Preserve

Published 1:42 pm Wednesday, August 30, 2023

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My wife and I have enjoyed hiking in the mountains of western North Carolina for many years. When we moved from eastern NC to Tryon two years ago one of the first things we did was search for nearby places to hike. We were delighted to discover the Blue Wall Preserve just minutes from where we live. The 575-acre tract is in northern Greenville County just on the South Carolina side of the state line and near the towns of Tryon and Landrum.

“We recognized that need for people to get outdoors and have places to go to find tonic for the soul, catch their breath, get some exercise and do so in just a beautiful, natural area,” says Kristen Austin, the Upstate Conservation Director for The Nature Conservancy of South Carolina, which owns and manages the property. 

The Nature Conservancy of SC’s Kristen Austin and Devin Yeatman at the Blue Wall Preserve

The Cherokee called the Blue Ridge Mountains the “Blue Wall,” and when you’re in the preserve looking up at the 3200-foot Hogback Mountain and surrounding peaks it’s easy to understand what inspired that name. The area is part of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Its sharp rise in elevation and abundant rainfall make it a valuable watershed and one of the most ecologically important areas in the eastern US. There are rare fish species in Vaughn’s Creek, a stream that winds through the preserve and provides drinking water to the town of Landrum. The Audubon Society has identified 114 different bird species in the preserve and designated it as an Important Bird Area 

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“This is a great place for birds to come and nest and rest while they’re migrating through,” says Austin. “There’s a number of resident species as well, so from a birders standpoint this area is a little bit more open than the closed canopy forest adjacent to it, so you get a lot of bird diversity.”

Sign near the entrance to Blue Wall Preserve

In the early 1900s, the property, which is in an area known as the Dark Corner, was a hideout for moonshiners. Austin says people have found the remnants of moonshine barrels and bottles and there’s a legendary tale about the hole in the concrete bridge near the preserve’s entrance.

“They say that law enforcement was coming back to bust up one of the moonshine operations back here and the moonshiners tried to blow the bridge up with dynamite and that’s why there’s a hole in this bridge going across the creek,” says Austin, who points out the large rock placed over the hole to keep people from falling through. 

In 1937, J. Roy Pennell, the owner of Spartanburg Cement Company, purchased the property and built roads, cabins and two large ponds. 

“Basically this was private land, closed to the public that this family used for their company business and allowed their employees to come and recreate back here,” says Austin.

Vaughn’s Creek

A local land trust bought the property from the Pennells in 1996 and turned around and sold it to The Nature Conservancy of SC the following year. Austin says the property had become a party spot ripe with alcohol and drug consumption and stands of marijuana. The conservancy worked with law enforcement to eradicate those problems and limited parking to a more visible location next to the road passing the preserve’s entrance. 

The Nature Conservancy of SC partnered with the Palmetto Conservation Foundation to manage and maintain the preserve. The foundation’s Palmetto Trail, a 500-mile, mountains-to-sea, multi-use path that’s currently under construction, passes through the Blue Wall Preserve providing an avenue for hikers. 

A popular 3.4-mile hike that my wife and I enjoy with our dog Henry is called the Twin Ponds Trail. It begins at the parking area and follows the Palmetto Trail, gently ascending as it crosses Vaughn’s Creek twice and passes by one of the ponds. At the second pond, you can take a right on a short loop trail that goes past a pretty waterfall, then winds through the woods around the pond and back to the Palmetto Trail. You can take a right to continue along the Palmetto Trail up to Vaughn’s Gap and beyond or go left to finish the loop around the pond and return to the parking area.

The author’s wife Debra and their dog Henry on the Twin Ponds Trail

I like the Twin Ponds Trail for a variety of reasons but especially the diversity of vistas that include the mountains, the ponds, the cascading creek and of course the waterfall. My wife Debra loves the diversity of wildflowers along the way, especially in spring. Our dog Henry enjoys getting in the ponds to cool off and get a drink. 

The Palmetto Conservation Foundation maintains the trails while the Nature Conservancy of SC maintains the roads and the rest of the property. The steep terrain and frequent rain can cause ruts and washouts which can make road maintenance a challenge. Beavers make it a challenge, too.

“They were tunneling and burrowing under the road and establishing dens,” says Devin Yeatman, State Fire and Stewardship Manager of the Nature Conservancy of SC. “There’s a whole honeycomb network of tunnels underneath the road that’s causing random sinkholes to appear, so we actually had to have a contractor come out here with a track hoe and excavate big portions of road and fill those in with riprap.”

The Nature Conservancy of SC’s Kristen Austin and Devin Yeatman inspect new signs at the Blue Wall Preserve

The Nature Conservancy of SC hired a trapper to capture and relocate the beavers. The Conservancy is also in a fight with invasive plant species at the preserve, like kudzu, English Ivy and Chinese Privet.

“We did an invasive species inventory, identified where they are located and then we had herbicide teams come out and treat the invasives,” says Austin.

The effort started with an acre and a half of kudzu which has been replanted with native species, a process that will continue in other areas of the preserve for years. 

View of Hogback Mountain from the Preserve

To help with maintenance and improvements The Nature Conservancy and the Palmetto Conservation Foundation partnered with Spartanburg Water, Greenville Water and the SC Department of Natural Resources to form the Blue Wall Partnership.

“It’s kind of managed by the whole neighborhood and I think that does a great job of getting a diversity of thoughts and views on trying to manage this place to be the best that it can be,” says Yeatman.

My wife and I and many others benefit from that effort. A hike in the Blue Wall Preserve allows us to disconnect from our hyper-connected world while at the same time making us feel a little more connected to the planet beneath our feet. 

Pond along the Twin Ponds Trail


The Blue Wall Preserve is open every day from dawn to dusk. Hunting is not allowed and dogs must be on a leash. For more information go to: