Social distancing is easy in Hitchcock Woods, which covers more than 2,000 acres and has 70 miles of trails that meander through stands of longleaf pines on go up and down hills.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the urban forest has become a popular place for Aiken residents and visitors to escape stress and uncertainty in a tranquil setting.

They walk, jog, run or ride horses while listening to drumming of busy woodpeckers and the songs of other birds.

Hitchcock Woods is also convenient for many of its users because it is located near downtown.

“I don’t know how I would get through this without Hitchcock Woods,” said Meg Ferguson, who was out stretching her legs recently. “It saves my soul. We are very fortunate to have it.”

Meghan Avrett was enjoying a leisurely stroll with her 1½-year-son, Forest, who was picking up and playing with sticks.

“I try to come out here once a day with him,” Avrett said. “It’s a nice place where he can run around. I especially appreciate it now with everything that is going on.”

The Hitchcock Woods Foundation is in charge of preserving and managing the privately-owned forest, which is one of the largest in the nation within a city’s limits.

“For me, Hitchcock Woods is about fresh air, sunshine and vitamin D,” said Linda Knox McLean, who is a member of the foundation’s board of trustees. “The air is crisp and clean, and the wildflowers are spectacular right now.”

For people not familiar with Hitchcock Woods, but would like to try it out, McLean offered some suggestions for walks.

“If you want to see a pond and turtles and birds, you should come in the Stable on the Woods entrance (at 263 Rubins Cottage Lane) and go to Black Gum Pond,” she said. “If you’re interested in history, walk to Memorial Gate (from the entrance at 444 South Boundary Ave. S.W.)”

There are plaques there that recognize prominent Aiken residents from the past and Woods lovers and supporters.

“If you go in farther, you can go to the Show Ring (where the Aiken Horse Show is held), and it is an emerald oasis there with its bright green grass” McLean said. “You can just sit in the bleachers and breathe in the air, and that is magnificent.”

Another member of the foundation’s board of trustees, Randy Wolcott, loves Hitchcock Woods during any season, but believes spring is especially nice.

“Where we did prescribed burns during the winter, there are fields of beautiful green bracken ferns, especially at Smith Cut,” he said. “The bluebirds are nesting and laying eggs, and so are the red-cockaded woodpeckers. You can see them around their nests at dawn and dusk.”

A favorite for Pat Corey, who is the chairwoman of the foundation’s board of trustees, is the Kalmia Trail.

Kalmia latifolia, an evergreen shrub commonly known as mountain laurel, blooms in April and May. Its large clusters of pink and white flowers look like big, puffy clouds.

For information about Hitchcock Woods, including its entrances, points of interest and a map, visit hitchcockwoods.org.

The AllTrails and Maplets apps are two helpful tools for navigating Hitchcock Woods, said Woods Superintendent Bennett Tucker.

There are signs posted at entrances addressing issues related to social distancing.

The directions on them include the following:

• Be respectful of other visitors and keep your distance.

• Do not come in large groups. For walkers, we recommend no more than six people.

• For riders, we recommend groups of no more than six.

“The smaller the number, the better,” Tucker said. “Folks coming out as families are good because they are all staying under one roof.”

​Dede Biles is the Aiken County government, business and horse industry reporter for the Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @DBethBiles.