This is a quick out and back hike through the longleaf forests of the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge. The trailhead begins at the Tates Trail kiosk located at the dam of Lake Bee and ends at Hamburg Pond. Parking is permitted along the grassy area by the paved turn around. Out and back loop is 2.2 miles.
From the kiosk, the trail crosses the Lake Bee dam and continues into the forest. Be sure to continue straight/slightly left into the forest along an unmaintained road bed after crossing the dam and not on the service road that curves around to the right. The trail will meander a bit through what is sometimes thick undergrowth. As the old road bed begins to come to an end begin looking for a path through the heavy reed growth on your left. A path along old pond dam is marked with a “No Hunting Zone” sign. Unfortunately, going out you are facing the back of the sign which makes it a difficult find. Once you locate the sign, pass with it on your left and you should be on the path. However, if you follow the GPS track, you will find the general area. As you cross the the old dam, you will step across a small stream. A tree is across the creek to minimize your stretch. Continue straight and you will rejoin another service road at which you will go left.
Along the trail you will enjoy a mix of the traditional longleaf pine forest and hardwoods along wetter slopes. You will likely be surprised to find large rocks embedded in the embankment to your right after rounding a long bend to the right on the road. The sandhill area is seldom recognized for rocks of this size. The limestone outcroppings are remnants of larger deposits where centuries of erosion washed away all but the hardest deposits. You will also pass two grassy meadows and enjoy a very nice, shaded walk while listening to beautiful birds and other wildlife. At last, you will reach a clay and gravel service road. Turn to the right and you will find Hamburg Pond, a one acre shallow pool with crystal clear water, down on the left.
The runoff from both this pool and Lake 17 collects and funnels under a road drainage pipe down the service road you crossed. The water there is clear also thanks to the sandy soil of the region.
Early fall to late spring are the best times to maximize enjoyment on this adventure as these times exhibit the least undergrowth and more pleasant temperatures. The comforting sounds of nature on the dam of Hamburg are soothing for an afternoon nap. Summertime can be fun as well giving views of wild flora not possible during other seasons and the pond will be buzzing with bright blue dragon flies which will give photographers a challenge for a beautiful blue subject against a reflective green background. Hikers will want to take precautions from the heat which can exceed 100 degrees in the July - August months. Hunting is permitted during certain seasons, so a check of the refuge calendar or hunt brochure is recommended before you embark on your journey.
Animals You May Encounter
The refuge provides sanctuary to many animals but here are a few more common ones that you are likely to see. From their website, “ ... more than 190 species of birds, 42 species of mammals, 41 species of reptiles, 25 species of amphibians, and over 750 plant species. The refuge employs various management techniques, including prescribed burning, to maintain this ecosystem, and also supports the largest population of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker on US Fish and Wildlife Service lands.” Wildlife is more likely to be seen in the dusk/dawn hours but can happen at point during the day.
Keep an eye and ear out for snakes. Rattlesnakes typically rattle if you get to close as a warning. If you hear a rattlesnake, stop, determine the location, and slowly back away. Other poisonous snakes to look out for are the copperhead and cottonmouth. Unfortunately, neither of these have the warning system of the rattlesnake but would generally rather attack prey than humans. Therefore, it is important to look carefully before crossing logs or when walking in heavy underbrush and not surprise them. If you encounter a snake on the trail, remember, you are in their territory and slowly back away and go around their space.
Summer hikes are extremely hot and one my argue that in a pine forest is hotter than most. However, as the forest mixture varies, so does the temperature. It is shaded most of the way.