But behind the trees at the back edge of the park is a network of forested trails leading to one of the prettiest sections of the Reedy River. Here, the Saluda tributary widens to more than 200 feet, cascading over jumbles of rocks and boulders before resuming its winding course through the Piedmont.
The area’s unique geological features, coupled with a drop in elevation, made it possible to harness the force of the water to run several mills in the early 19th and 20th centuries. Over the course of 100 years, two dams were built to create the hydropower, and both still stand today.
A paved path on the right side of the parking lot takes visitors to the river and its historic dams. It also provides access to the interconnecting nature trails that run through the woods and down to the water.
Once used by Native Americans as a ford to cross the river, the shoals now serve as a beautiful backdrop for a variety of outdoor activities. For anglers, it’s a favorite spot for catching largemouth bass, bluehead chub, channel catfish, bluegill and several species of shiners. It’s also popular for picnics and sunbathing.
Nature lovers enjoy walking the wooded trails in search of wildlife. The area is home to beavers, river otters, wild turkeys, deer, foxes, coyotes, muskrats and a variety of birds, including wood ducks, hawks, woodpeckers, owls and great blue herons.
It also has a historic element. Remnants of the mills can still be found along the banks of the river. Several wayside displays explain the history of the site and how the dams were used to create power for the mills.
According to the exhibits, the smaller dam was built in the early 1800s on a side channel to feed a waterwheel that powered a textile mill, gristmill, sawmill and cotton gin. In 1910, a much larger dam was constructed across the entire width of the river to run the Fork Shoals Mill.
If you want to bypass the main playground area at the park, a secondary parking lot is located closer to the riverfront along Cedar Falls Road. You’ll find directions to the park and more information on its amenities on its website.