Monticello Flatwoods and Trillium Swamp
There is an amazing natural area located only a mile south of the Monticello City Limits. It’s a 720-acre US government tract that’s part of the Oconee National Forest. Not touching any public roads, the area is a bit hard to access, which makes it better, in a way.
How to Get There
From Hwy 83 a few miles south of Monticello, take Felton McMichael Road about 1.2 miles to a left turn onto Hayes Road. One mile down Hayes Road, Forest Service Road 1025 turns left and travels about 0.1 mile across private property, crosses into US government property, and promptly dead ends. Here’s the tract:
From the end of FS Road 1025, it’s all heel-toe express from there to the stuff you’ll want to see. The first part of the hike is a perfect example of what negligent farming practices and erosion did to some of our landscapes in the 1930s. Huge erosion gullies make the first stage of the hike tough. The easiest route is to go from where you park at the end of the road about 150 feet back toward Hayes Road, then take a right and walk the fire break down the property line with the cutover timber tract on your right. Follow the fire break northwest, and eventually you’ll get to a spot where you can go down the hill easily into the bottom land, where the good stuff is located. The first thing you might encounter, depending on where you enter, are the flatwoods.
What are flatwoods?
There are very few locations in the southeastern US like the Monticello Flatwoods. The Monticello Flatwoods are a scatter patchwork of upland swamps stretching from Malone Lake on Hwy 11 southward to the Glades on Hwy 83 that formed above a gabbro rock formation. Much of the area exhibits a soil type called Iredell, which is a shallow, greenish-yellow swelling clay layer beginning about 8-12 inches below the surface and extending to about 20 to 30 inches deep. In the winter, the wet clay layer swells, creating an impermeable barrier to rainfall, ponding surface water, and saturating the surface soils. Plants in the area are forced to live in a swamp-like condition for much of the winter and spring.
When summer arrives, the clay layer dries and becomes almost concrete-like, preventing upward movement of water from below and creating a xeric, or desert-like surface layer. So many the unusual plants that populate the flatwoods areas must be able to tolerate both saturated and very dry conditions. That combination, along with the gabbro rock bouldery surface of the ridges around the flatwoods makes the Monticello Flatwoods different environment from any other in Jasper County, and from most others in the southeastern United States. In the center of a patch of flatwoods south of Feldspar Road and north of Hayes Road, at the headwaters of Falling Creek, is a 12-acre beaver pond surrounded by wetlands – Trillium Swamp.
The best time of year to visit the Monticello Flatwoods and Trillium Swamp is from Mid March to early April, when the Atamasco lilies are blooming, the trillium (several varieties in the area, including Sweet Betsy and Rellict Trillium, an endangered species) is growing and blooming, the redbuds are blooming, and the bugs have yet to hit their stride. The lilies cover much of the flatwoods areas in south Jasper County in late March. Here’s the route I took while exploring the area. Not an efficient track, but I didn’t know what I was looking for or what was there. I’ll explore more later and provide a better way to see the area as a whole.
Total climbing: 3661 ft
Total time: 03:33:57
One of the interesting things about the area is the ridges that surround the swamp. They are mostly covered with dark-colored gabbo boulders – very rocky ridges. Most of the exposed boulders are not large, only a few feet in diameter. But there are a couple that are quite large. The first, Iredell Boulder, is located just north of the swamp. It’s maybe 10 feet high and creates a very noticeable feature, having a miniature Stonehenge feel about it (at least by Jasper County standards). It would provide a fun couple of hours of bouldering for those that would find it interesting to see how many ways they could find to climb to the top of it.
Another boulder of note, the Goldin Boulder, sits at the northeastern edge of the beaver pond, actually sticking out into the water and visible from anywhere around the swamp.
Below I’ve included more images with captions. This area makes a great 2-hour hike, and with a little work, I think can be made pretty accessible by mountain bike and horse.