Foundation preserves and protects Hitchcock Woods

Blessing of the Hounds in Hitchcock Woods.

Aiken’s Hitchcock Woods, which covers more than 2,000 acres and has approximately 70 miles of sandy trails, is one of the largest urban forests in the nation.

Established in 1939, the Hitchcock Woods Foundation protects and preserves the Woods in a natural and ecologically healthy state. It also maintains the Woods’ historic and traditional equestrian and pedestrian uses.

In addition, the Foundation fosters education and research involving the history and resources of the Woods.

Maintaining the Woods’ longleaf pine/wire grass ecosystem is top Foundation priority. Prescribed burns and thinning of trees are two of the strategies it uses.

Armadillos, deer, opossums, raccoons, squirrels, foxes and coyotes live in the Woods. Avian residents include Eastern bluebirds, Eastern screech owls, red-tailed hawks and woodpeckers.

An archaeological survey of the Woods that started last winter has found Native American artifacts that are more than 11,000 years old, an intact pottery kiln that probably was built around the time of the Civil War and a whiskey still.

“The cultural resources of the Woods are just about as important, in many ways, as the natural resources,” Dr. Harry Shealy, chairman of the Foundation’s board of trustees, told the Aiken Standard. “We need to know what is out there so we can manage the Woods properly over time. We don’t want to do anything that would impact what we shouldn’t impact.”

The Woods is the site of two of Aiken’s most popular traditions: the Aiken Horse Show and the Blessing of the Hounds.

The Aiken Horse Show will celebrate its centennial April 1 through 3, 2016. The Blessing of the Hounds takes place on Thanksgiving Day and marks the official start of the Aiken Hounds’ drag hunt season, which continues until March.

For more information about the Foundation and the Woods, call 803-642-0528 or visit www.hitchcockwoods.org.