‘This is a great place to bring a family’: Sgt. Jasper Park offers fun for everyone
About a half mile off Interstate 95 in Hardeeville, sits Sgt. Jasper Park. At first, the park feels small — just a playground, pavilion, and a gazebo that overlooks a lake. But after doing a 360-degree spin, entries to trails, bikes, boats, and a disc golf hole emerge.
The park is more than 321 acres, with nine lakes. There’s a disc golf course that twists and turns through the foliage and around the water. The trails take visitors along a scavenger hunt, past an interactive sundial, picnic areas and seemingly deep into nature.
In reality, Hardeeville-Ridgeland Middle School, Coastal Carolina Hospital and three different main roads are all about a mile away each.
When Jasper County Parks and Rec director Johnny Davis began working for the county 12 years ago, the fate of the park was uncertain. Davis said the state was contemplating shutting it down because it wasn’t getting enough traffic.
Since his takeover in 2005, Davis has worked to finish the trails, get disc golf up and running, dedicate an island for the Boy Scouts to work on survivalist skills, and even created an interactive learning scavenger hunt.
“This is a great place to bring a family,” said Davis. “Bring a picnic basket and come and find a place on the lawn, or under the shelters, you can walk, fish, bike, kayak, canoe, in tandem or solo, it’s just added a nice feature to the park.”
Sgt. Jasper Park became Davis’ project — its development is guided by his personal vision.
Some of the activities, like disc golf, weren’t what Davis initially thought would take off in the park. And others, like the canoes and kayaks, seemed like a natural fit.
The disc golf course draws in players from across the state and the Lowcountry. Every year the park’s course hosts a tournament.
“It is huge, very popular. We have players that stop off I-95 everyday. A lot of people will even walk the course without playing,” said Davis. “The great thing about disc golf is you can throw it (disc) any way you want. It’s an addicting sport. We host three major tournaments a year — one in April called the Border Battle Challenge where we have players from South Carolina take on players from Georgia, and it’s Ryder Cup format. Next year will be our 10th year doing that and we do it as a fundraiser — the players choose a different local charity to work with each year.”
But the course is open to anyone. Frisbees of all different weights, materials, and colors are available at the park’s front desk for rent. Disc golf is anything but a good walk spoiled.
Spend time at the water
An afternoon at the park wouldn’t be complete without spending time by the water. The different lakes and ponds are home to many varieties of fish, frogs, some water snakes, and even a few gators (none larger than 6 feet).
Lilly-pads and water lillies are sprinkled across the top of the lakes, like in a movie. Among the nine lakes, Davis said all are good fishing spots, but the best might be the lake just across the main entrance.
Fishermen can purchase day passes, six-month, or year-long passes to fish on the grounds. They can choose to fish from the ground, off one of the landings, or even take out a kayak or canoe.
The boat rentals are the most popular summer activity. Once a month during the summer the park hosts Kids N Kayaks. Sun City Kayak Club and Higher Ground Outfitters come to the park and teach kids how to kayak and paddle board.
Since its introduction last month, park assistant Wendy Beard said weekends have been full of families coming out to rent the kayaks and canoes.
The next Kids N Kayaks is July 20 and Aug. 11 from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
The trails are the home training site for USC Beaufort’s cross country team. Davis said the park also hosts four to five 5K runs a year. It would be the race site for USCB but the runners’ spikes would damage the boardwalks that make up sections of the trail. But it’s a favorite training site for trail runners.
“All our trails are multifunctional. You can bike on them, play Frisbee golf, run,” said Davis. “On the fairly new trail, I set up the scavenger hunt. Along the way you have helpful nature signs with all the pertinent information on it. It gets people on the trail, lets them venture and see what’s all around.”
Davis still hopes to see the park grow. He plans to build cabins and outdoor restrooms, as well as develop an area for traditional tent camping. It’s also in the plans to build multifunctional fields.
“We’re trying to purchase small cabins to rent out so they can stay in a cabin setting,” Davis said. “We also just were awarded a small grant to build the outdoor restrooms. It’s all in the works, we’d love to be done by this winter with the outdoor restrooms and provide tent camping. There’s an RV park, which is privately owned that we have a good relationship with — they’ve been wonderful. We’ve gotten away from the RV side but want to provide the tent camping.”
Sgt. Jasper Park is open 363 days a year, only closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving. The trails, canoes, bikes, and kayaks are always available to the public.
There’s always something to do, see, discover, and learn along the paths of the park just a half mile off the highway.