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September 2000

Ellicott Rock Wilderness: Rock And Stroll

History is carved in stone in this wild and scenic southern river corridor in North Carolina and Georgia.

Normally, I seek the grand vistas of mountain ridges as my hiking reward. How, then, to explain hiking into Ellicott Rock Wilderness to look for stones underfoot? The answer is easy: I wanted to see some of the beauty Andrew Ellicott experienced when he visited the area in 1811. I also wanted to find a piece of history.

Although the area is not the pristine wilderness Ellicott saw 189 years ago, it’s still perfect for rejuvenating the spirit. Miles of footpaths lead through land once scalped by logging companies, but today the hemlocks, birch trees, and rhododendrons have reclaimed their rightful place. Trails drop into the Chattooga River gorge from the north, east, and west, linking with the Chattooga River Trail, which heads south into South Carolina’s Sumter National Forest.

You’ll hear the trail’s namesake, the Wild and Scenic Chattooga, long before you see it. Even though the river is almost a mile away, the sound is so invigorating you’ll forget about your aching knees long enough to make the downhill haul toward water’s edge and a history lesson.

Settlers were fighting over the precise intersection of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, near the Chattooga headwaters, when Thomas Jefferson sent Ellicott, the day’s foremost surveyor, to chart a map that would end the dispute. Ellicott chiseled a mark on a rock in the river, but he was off in his calculations. Two years later, another survey party placed the true intersection some 10 feet away, and they, too, chiseled a rock.

Both stones are still on the east bank at the end of the Bad Creek Trail. If you hike down to the Chattooga after heavy rains, as I did, finding the stones isn’t easy. With the water running high and swift, foam obscures the marks. Persevere, however, and you’ll discover Commissioner Rock. Etched with LAT 35 AD 1813 NC + SC, it glistens at the river’s edge near a stand of hemlocks. Ellicott Rock, harder to find, is about 10 feet upstream.

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