Just off the long stretch of highway known as Catawba River Road (or U.S. Hwy 21), nestled on a curve of the Catawba River, lies Landsford Canal State Park. This gem of a park is comprised of nearly 450 acres of a diverse group of historic and natural attractions. The ruins of the old canal and excellent stonework that diverted water from the Catawba can still be explored throughout the park. Throughout the park, the wildlife photography opportunities are endless, and a special treat is the bald eagle.
During the months of May and June, Landsford bursts to life with thousands of rocky shoals spider lilies which can be seen from the shore as well as an overlook where the Canal Trail ends and the Nature Trail picks up.
There is another rare, majestic site. Visitors can choose one of three paths: Canal, Nature, and Eagle Point trails. For this visit, we recommend the Eagle Point Trail, a 0.25-mile trail that begins at the back of the museum and ends at the north end of the picnic area. The trail’s total travel time is about 15 minutes. Along the Canal Trail is a short, seemingly mysterious path that leads to a dead end at ¼ mile. Aptly named, at the tip of Eagle Point Trail resides the bald eagle. If you’re lucky, you can see the rare, majestic bird of prey nesting. In June, watch the fledgling eagles leave after ten to twelve weeks in the nest. But in South Carolina’s fall season, nest building begins. This occurs 1 to 3 months ahead of breeding season, which is in November. December is when egg laying usually occurs, but can range from November to March.
Bald eagles nest in forested areas close to water. Lucky for us, Landsford has both. They also choose the tallest living tree, and visitors can clearly see the Landsford bald eagle’s pine in the wooded area at the end of the trail. Since eagles add up to a foot in height and diameter of material to their nest each year, it is easy to see this local bird’s abode. A pair of eagles may use a nest until the nest itself becomes so large that the tree can no longer support it. In such a case, the pair might build a nest in the same territory, nearby the previous nest.
Bald eagles in South Carolina return to the same nesting territory year after year, so you are almost guaranteed to catch a glimpse of one at Landsford. But is it the same eagle? The answer is yes, with few exceptions. For example, if one eagle partner dies, the surviving partner will recruit a new mate. Also, if the nest proves to be unsuccessful, it is unlikely that eagle will return. Assuming nothing of the sort occurs, and since eagles have strong nest fidelity, they are most likely to return to that same location each year. Since the location of the Landsford Canal State Park has been successful, it is safe to assume they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
According to South Carolina’s DNR website, in 2005, South Carolina ranked twelfth in the nation in terms of the numbers of nesting bald eagle pairs. Since 1977, occupied nesting territories increased from 13 to over 350 in 2016.
Though numbers of bald eagle pairs are increasing significantly, we are still lucky to have a pair nesting in nearby Landsford Canal State Park, just over the York County line in Chester, a 25 minute drive from the center of Rock Hill.
(This article was originally published in Issue 7 of Rock Hill Reader the Magazine. Check out more content from that issue here.)