I had figured that the short hop to Ridgeland Airport (3J1) could be done at 2000 feet. That turned out to be a choppy altitude and as I bounced around, I eyed the scattered clouds just above me. I figured 3000 would put me just over those puffs and into the glassy smooth air right above them, but I immediately spotted Interstate 95 and knowing that Ridgeland was just on the other side of the highway, I decided to suffer the bumps for a few more minutes.
I had never been to Ridgeland, which is part of the adventure, but it also adds to the workload. This was also when I realized that there was no AWOS to give me any weather information, and in looking at the chart, I also saw that the runway was 2600 feet, a good 1000 feet shorter than my home airport. This was still well within the capabilities of my Cherokee but I was getting one surprise after another, due to this last minute addition to my itinerary. Still part of the adventure, but I really hate being surprised in the air, even for small things.
Here’s something else I can tell you about Ridgeland – coming from the east, it’s not easy to find. I was almost at the Interstate before I finally spotted it. As it turns out, there is a ridge of trees between the airport and the highway, making it difficult to see, especially at my lower altitude. I had a pretty good idea which runway would be favored, at least if the winds were similar to what I had encountered at Beaufort, but best practice called for an over-fly of the field to see where the windsock was pointed. It appeared to slightly favor Runway 21, so I entered the downwind and touched down. I taxied up to the FBO and found the black plastic mailbox with the passport stamp. It was actually a nice facility, but closed up tight. I did see hangars and airplanes around but absolutely no people.
Not only had I never flown into Ridgeland, I had never driven there either, though I was very familiar with the name- the exit sign on the Interstate had always been one of my landmarks that I was getting close to the state line. The town was originally named Gopher Hill, after the Gopher Tortoise, indigenous to the area at that time. According to their website, they can still be found in the rural areas of the county, but are considered a threatened species. The town even has a statue of the turtle in the Gopher Tortoise Square.
The town is small, with a population of just over 4,000 as of the last census, but their police department stays busy. If you look at the map, you will see that Ridgeland is shaped like a fishing bobber, with a larger section in the middle and two legs projecting out of each end, to cover as much of I-95 as they can. This explains the police activity- they do a lot of work on the interstate and come into contact with a lot of bad people moving through the state. One of the complaints reported to the police was about noise from low-flying airplanes. Just out of curiosity, I checked out the street that the complaint originated from, and saw it was abeam the numbers on Runway 3, on the left downwind leg for Runway 21.
The name was changed to Ridgeland in 1912, because the town didn’t think Gopher Hill was an appropriate name for the county seat and the new train station. The town is built on the highest ridge between Charleston and Savannah, but this is still the Low Country, so it’s not exactly a vista view. I guess I get it, but I really like the idea of living in a little town called Gopher Hill. According to Wikipedia, the male to female ratio is over three to one, but that is largely due to the Ridgeland Correctional Institution that sits inside the town limits.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the full name of this field is the “Ridgeland- Claude Dean Airport”, named for the local pilot who, a licensed pilot since 1947, managed the airport for years. He was involved in the local aviation scene for his entire flying life and died in September 2016. His obituary, a great read, mentions that “…we all assume he is now relieved that he will not have to pick between Trump or Clinton.” He certainly was very involved in the new expansion just started there- a brand new 4200 foot runway, and converting the present runway to a taxiway, thus eliminating the present necessity of back-taxiing on the runway.
Before I took off, I went inside the FBO men’s room- both the restrooms are outside the FBO and left open for visitors, which is nice. But it was the note posted on the bathroom wall that I wanted to take a picture of: “The floor is not part of the trash can! Use this facility like it is ours, not yours! Signed, the other humans.”