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South Fork River Park is a nearby wilderness

By Alan Hodge

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Since the current health and social distancing situation, a lot of folks will be putting off long distance vacation  travel this summer. 

However,  if you think it’s necessary to drive all the way to the mountains for a walk in virgin woodlands or to paddle down a scenic river, then think again because Gaston County has a park just five minutes from downtown Mount Holly where those options and more are available for free.

South Fork River Park is located on 44 acres at the end of Mountainview Street off Hickory Grove Road. The park boasts three trails with a total length of about one mile. The main trail, from the parking area to the South Fork River, was carved from a former dirt roadbed. The trails are broad, smooth, covered with gravel and feature benches where hikers can rest. A picnic table and more benches are on the riverbank where 800 feet of shoreline have been cleared.

There’s plenty of nature to enjoy. As you walk the main trail to the South Fork River, you can hear the rapids even before they come into sight. And what a sight it is – the rushing, sparkling whitewater flows over boulders and around an island in the middle of the river.

Upstream from the rapids, the waters of the South Fork River are calmer. The smoother water is ideal for canoeing and kayaking, and the park provides paddlers with a riverbank ramp to launch their watercraft. 

Fishing will no doubt be a popular activity at South Fork River Park, as huge catfish swim in those waters.

Birdwatchers will have plenty to see with many species of warblers, woodpeckers, and songbirds populating the forest. Waterfowl of several types are also evident.

Mammals run the gamut at the park, from deer to beavers. Several types of lizards can be seen darting among the rocks and leaves that line the trails.

Plant life in South Fork River Park is diverse. The land is located where famed French botanist Andre Michaux discovered the rare Big Leaf Magnolia during the 18th century.

South Fork River Park also includes another trail that  leads to a stream at the base of a scenic cliff.

Though enjoyment of nature is the theme of South Fork River Park, there are some rules in place to preserve that tranquility. These include a ban on ATVs, hunting, campfires, alcoholic beverages and concealed weapons. The park is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

For more information on South Fork River Park, visit the Gaston County Parks and Recreation website at or call 704-922-2160.