Wayside exhibit gives visitors a different view of Grandfather

A rare flat stretch on the trail offers a place to rest and learn.

A rare flat stretch on the trail offers a place to rest and learn.

Scaling a mountain or crossing a swamp certainly brings a sense of satisfaction. But learning a little bit along the way can only make the experience better.

Those small “signs” that just seem to sprout in unlikely places in state parks (we call them wayside exhibits) are designed to give visitors a better sense of place and call attention to a state park’s unique stories. Installing them is usually a routine matter – unless they’re to be perched several thousand feet up one of the state’s most rugged mountains.

Installing the first wayside exhibit in Grandfather Mountain State Park in October very nearly took on expedition status. Maintenance Mechanic Jason Jarrell led seasonal employees Derek Huss and Dallas Skeele and a BRIDGE program youth crew up the strenuous Profile Trail with the exhibit in pieces and all the tools they could carry. The operation involved others. Friends of High Country State Parks donated funds for the exhibit fame and pedestal. And, Eagle Scout Larkin Hawkins earlier had built a bench at a rare flat sretch on the trail that overlooks the valley community of Foscoe and the mountains beyond.

Exhibit names peaks in view and describes the Dutchman's pipeline.

Exhibit names peaks in view and describes the Dutchman’s pipevine seen in the vicinity.

To some degree, wayside exhibits are the descendants of wooden signs that park rangers might have carved by hand decades ago (usually in bad weather months). Now, they’re often written and designed by rangers and the parks system’s interpretive and education specialists. The goal has always been to use knowledge to make visitors feel connected to a special place. The new Grandfather Mountain exhibit names the peaks that can be seen from the vantage point and teaches a bit about the Dutchman’s pipevine growing within the view and the pipevine swallowtail, whose caterpillar eats the leaves of the vine – truly quite a bit of knowledge packed into a small metal frame.

BRIDGE crew member completes installation of the exhibit.

BRIDGE crew member completes installation of the exhibit.

Horne Creek at Pilot Mountain State Park will get a makeover

A segment of Horne Creek in Pilot Mountain State Park is getting a major makeover, the result of state grants and some hard work by park staff and park supporters.

pimo stream_blogAbout 3,200 linear feet of the Yadkin River tributary will be restored to improve the Yadkin River watershed by reducing sediment delivered from the creek. Over the years, stormwater runoff and erosion have scoured Horne Creek’s banks and deepened its stream channel, removing the stream’s connection to its natural floodplain.

Heavy equipment will be used to reconfigure and stabilize the stream channel with timber, rock and native vegetation. The project is supported by a $375,000 grant from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund and a matching $25,000 grant from the N.C. Division of Water Resources.

Park Superintendent Matt Windsor said a team of supporters made the project happen, including Dick Everhart of the park’s advisory committee, Charles Anderson of Pilot View Resource Conservation and Development, Tony Davis of the Surry Soil and Water Conservation District and Bern Schumak of the trust fund.

The project involves temporarily closing the Bean Shoals Access at the northern side of the park’s Yadkin River section. The closure is expected to last until April, although as the work progresses, rangers could reopen some trails for hike-in and equestrian access on weekends. The Corridor Trail that connects the Yadkin River section to the main component of Pilot Mountain State Park will remain open.

Staff at the state park and volunteers contributed to the project by inventorying aquatic species in the stream and floodplain, restoring warm season grasses in surrounding fields and installing interpretive signs as well as trail and picnic area construction and relocation. The park’s group camps at the river section will be relocated father from the creek floodplain.

State park’s new waste system keeps Haw River cleaner…and smells better

(Submitted by Park Superintendent Kelley King)

At the end of March, Haw River State Park sent its old wastewater treatment plant packing and replaced it with a “subsurface field treatment” system. The new system reduces environmental impacts and operating costs.

A 2010 plan was to renovate the 25-year-old plant. But, concerns about proposed water quality rules for the Jordan Lake watershed led to the decision to keep the park’s treated wastewater out of the Haw River altogether.

Haw River wetlands benefit from cleaner water.

Haw River wetlands benefit from cleaner water.

As the parks system’s first residential environmental education center, it’s vitally important that the park operates with a commitment to environmental protection. Having a failing treatment plant that fed indirectly into the Haw River (and ultimately Jordan Lake) simply was not acceptable. In addition, the amount of water and energy needed to operate the aging plant was substantial.

Water consumption is somewhat challenging to calculate since the park is served by well water. But, there is a very clear picture of energy use and cost savings. Comparing 2013 to 2014, energy costs are now 1/13th the amount for the old system.

Haw River State Park strives to be green, but it’s also good to save some green. The park is saving over $450 a month on its power bill, but the savings do not stop there. County and state regulations require daily inspections of a wastewater treatment plant by a certified technician. That had cost the state park $1,700 a month. The plant’s advanced age and seasonal fluctuations in the number of guests were significant factors affecting compliance.

Decades-old wastewater treatment plant was retired and will be removed.

Decades-old wastewater treatment plant was retired and will be removed.

Old farm field for subsurface system will be replanted, but trees aren't allowed.

Old farm field for subsurface system will be replanted, but trees aren’t allowed.

Without getting too much into the nitty-gritty (and somewhat smelly) side of running a wastewater treatment plant, bacteria living in the plant serve to break down everything that flows through. During low-visitation periods, such as mid-winter, the bacteria could die off because they aren’t being fed enough. In order to maintain the bacteria, staff would purchase large bags of dog food to keep them alive or introduce sludge brought to the park. Neither option was inexpensive. When the park was at capacity, staff would have to hire another company to pump out what the plant couldn’t handle, costing up to $3,000 a year.

The bottom-line savings considering power bills, technicians and additional costs is nearly $30,000 a year using the new subsurface system.

The subsurface system requires very little maintenance, since an old farm field is perfectly suited for spray application. The field must be kept clear of trees, but staff was already regularly clearing it with a bush-hog, so that hasn’t added to the workload.

The last benefit of the new subsurface system isn’t monetary or physical, but one of aesthetics. The old plant was not only an eyesore, but considering the noise and foul smells, passing it while walking along one of the park’s main trails to the lake was sometimes not as serene as one would like. That experience has been improved tremendously.

Vade Mecum Springs property at Hanging Rock gets a little love

The lodge at Vade Mecum  Springs dates to the 1890s.

The lodge at Vade Mecum Springs dates to the 1890s.

Armed with dustpans, mops and enthusiasm, volunteers descended on the Vade Mecum Springs property at Hanging Rock State Park Saturday, the first of several workdays organized by Friends of Sauratown Mountains.

Students from East Forsyth High School clean the lodge interior.

Students from East Forsyth High School clean the lodge interior.

The goal was “to remove at least the top layer of dust” in the central lodge and begin upgrading rough trails on the 716-acre property,” said Ranger Austin Paul, who guided the volunteers. They also began the tedious job of hauling away more than 100 old mattresses from the lodge and nearby cabins.

The Vade Mecum Springs property – operated until last year as the Camp Sertoma 4-H Education Center – was transferred to the state parks system from North Carolina State University through legislation. Its operations will be integrated into those of the state park. Along with the lodge and cabins, facilities included a campground complex and access to the Dan River, nine miles of mountain biking trails, a recreation hall, swimming pool, chapel, athletic fields and equestrian barn and trails.

Friends of Sauratown Mountains – which supports both Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain state parks – lobbied hard for the property transfer after the 4-H center was closed in 2013, and immediately began recruiting volunteers. More than 30 signed up, including students from East Forsyth High School in Winston-Salem.

Along with old mattresses, miscellaneous furniture and dust, the volunteers found an old network of hiking trails which never had been accurately blazed or mapped. In early October, park maintenance staff and rangers worked to reopen the popular network of mountain biking trails near the campground.

Volunteers begin clearing rough trails on the property.

Volunteers begin clearing trails on the property.

State parks administrators will complete a detailed assessment of the property and its facilities along with a long-range management plan for reopening those facilities that can contribute to the state park’s mission.

The Stokes County landmark has a long history. Entrepreneurs John Sparks and J. Cicero Tise developed Vade Mecum Springs at the turn of the 20th Century as a reort revolving around the healthful Moore Springs. It was operated as a retreat and summer camp by the Episcopal Diocese and Easter Seals until the acquisition by North Carolina State University for its 4-H program.

South Mountains expands, improves streamside campground

The Jacob Fork River with its trout population flows just past the campground.

The Jacob Fork River with its trout population flows just past the campground.

Just in time for some of the best camping weather, South Mountains State Park has upgraded one of the parks system’s most scenic campgrounds.

The family campground is within babbling distance of Jacob Fork River, revered not only for its stunning beauty but its congenial trout population. It’s one of the best spots in North Carolina for fishing, casual hiking and being lulled to sleep.

The campground was expanded from 11 to 18 sites and all the sites were refurbished. Two of the sites are RV-compatible with electricity hookups. The best part may be a new bathhouse (with a family restroom/shower). The renovation is a $660,000 investment by the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, the principal funding source for state park capital projects and land acquisition. The family campground sites (as well as backcountry campsites) are now listed on the parks’ Central Reservations System and reservations are suggested, particularly this time of year.

South Mountains in southern Burke County is North Carolina’s largest state park at more than 18,000 acres. The park also offers 15 campsites reserved for equestrians surrounding a 33-stall barn. The park’s master plan calls for still more family camping opportunities eventually to be added.

New bathhouse is a welcome addition.

New bathhouse is a welcome addition.

‘New’ quilt honors old traditions at Stone Mountain State Park

Replacement quilt uses the 'stacked bar', crazy-quilt pattern of the Royal family heirloom.

Replacement quilt uses the ‘stacked bar’, crazy-quilt pattern of the Royal family heirloom.

Most folks who visit the Blue Ridge Mountains quickly learn that a quilt is much more than an aid for keeping warm or a bed covering. It’s art and a craft of love, a visual history, an heirloom, a trove of memories and more.

For years, a treasured quilt from the local Royal family has been displayed in Stone Mountain State Park’s visitor center. Park Superintendent Janet Pearson, fearing that quilt was becoming too fragile with age to display, approached the Alleghany Quilt Guild about a replacement authentic enough to represent turn-of-the-century quilting in the region.

That replacement is being presented this week as part of the park’s Old Fashion Day celebration on Saturday.

To begin the project, 13 quilters from the Alleghany Quilt Guild, Elkin’s Foothills Quilters and the Wilkes Quilt Group spent months researching fabrics and quilt styles of the era. They chose to re-create the crazy-quilt design of the Royal family quilt – called “stacked bars” – as it was the most common one used at that time and made good use of sewing scraps and worn garments.

In December 2012, a crazy-quilt top was found in a local antique shop with fabrics dating from 1860 to 1895. The top was taken apart and fabrics in good shape were set aside. Mixing in reproduction fabrics, the group arranged blocks and hand-pieced them using only tools and techniques that would have been available circa 1900. The quilters eventually used about 70 percent antique and 30 percent reproduction fabrics.

A local church group completed the quilt by hand, quilting in a quick and efficient curved design called “Baptist fan,” because the stitching follows the natural curved arc from a stationary elbow to hand-held needle.

The result is a reproduction quilt that honors the memory and tradition of those who first created quilts in the Stone Mountain community.

Old Fashion Day at the state park features traditional crafts.

Old Fashion Day at the state park features traditional crafts.

Quilters will be on hand at Saturday’s Old Fashion Day to demonstrate the skill, along with artisans in blacksmithing, looming, knife making, basket weaving and more. There’ll be bluegrass music and clogging. It’s all in the picnic area 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Hundreds Reach the Peaks at Hanging Rock

The Hanging Rock outcrop was the last peak for the challenge and offered a chance to rest and enjoy the view.

The Hanging Rock outcrop was the last peak for the challenge and offered a chance to rest and enjoy the view.

At times it was not so much a hike as a parade along the stony trails of Hanging Rock State Park Saturday.

In only its second year, the park’s Reach the Peaks event drew more than 400 registered hikers who accepted the challenge to crest five named peaks on an 11-mile trek. The event was successful beyond the expectations of the Stokes County Arts Council and the Friends of Sauratown Mountains, the primary sponsors.

The 11-mile route included five named peaks.

The 11-mile route included five named peaks.

“The 5k’s and color/mud runs and these types of events are really trending right now, and I can see why,” said Park Superintendent Robin Riddlebarger. “Long distance marathons and triathlons are not for everybody. But an event such as this, which involves the great outdoors, is appropriate for an average person’s fitness level and is a wholesome family atmosphere.”

Stunning September weather, free music and lunch for registered hikers also added appeal. While some hikers strode at record pace across the route – and some ran – the majority went at a more leisurely pace and took a few moments to enjoy the scenery at Moore’s Knob, Cook’s Wall, House Rock, Wolf Rock and Hanging Rock.

Volunteers at each of the peaks marked entry cards with arrival times. At mid-day, enough space to rest tired legs was at a premium at the end point, Hanging Rock’s rough ledges, and the namesake peak retained a festive atmosphere for hours.

Riddlebarger said area business sponsors are being attracted to the event, and the long-term effect should benefit the community.

“It’s good for the park because it gets more people here to see what awesome facilities and scenery we have that they may not have visited before. It’s good for the community because the visitors will see what the Stokes County Arts Council does and what the Friends of Sauratown Mountins do,” she said. “The event brings people to Stokes County where they can see the beauty and spend some time and money here, boosting our economy and future tourism.”


Volunteers marked entry cards and recorded times.

Members of the Stokes County Arts Council were on hand creating paintings of the park.

Members of the Stokes County Arts Council were on hand creating paintings of the park.

Rangers reporting again on fall color as it blankets N.C.

Fall color hits the trail at Raven Rock State Park.

Fall color hits the trail at Raven Rock State Park.

Along with football and hiking, another popular autumn sport is predicting where and when the best fall color will appear.

Park rangers, who often spend at least part of their day walking forest trails, are often the first to know. So for the second year, the N.C. Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development has enlisted the rangers’ help in reporting on fall color throughout the state. Those reports will appear in a special section of the state’s premier tourism Website.

Regular updates will keep visitors posted on how fall color is progressing through the different types of forests in North Carolina, from the brilliant red of mountain sourwood to the rust-colored cedar in eastern wetlands. Western state parks have already started reporting. As the season progresses rangers in regions of the state farther east will submit similar reports.

(For the record, New River State Park was first off the mark with a report this year – only a hint of color on the first day of fall Sept. 22.)

Another feature: as they’re able, rangers at coastal parks will file reports on fall fishing. The reports will come from observation of visitor catches. Sadly, the rangers aren’t allowed to fish while on duty.

Eight state park rangers receive commissions as law enforcement officers

When commissioned, ranger are presented badges and law enforcement identification.

When commissioned, ranger are presented badges and law enforcement identification.

Eight new state park rangers received commissions as law enforcement officers recently at several, small ceremonies across the state.

Receiving a commission as a Special Peace Officer at the end of 17-week basic law enforcement training is generally regarded as the last formal step before a ranger takes on full duties in a unit of the state parks system. During the training period prior to commissioning, a ranger is assimilated into the park and begins assuming duties in resource management and visitor service.

“It requires a lot of dedication and training for our candidates to earn the right to wear the campaign-style hat of a state park ranger,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “These men and women are true multi-specialists who are frequently asked to assume many roles during a day at work from finding a lost hiker to giving an interpretive program to dealing with violations of state law.”

State park rangers are required to have at least a two-year degree, and many come to the job with four-year university degrees in curricula related to natural resource and/or park management. Beyond law enforcement training, all are trained in medical first response, search-and-rescue, wildfire suppression, natural resource management, interpretive skills and environmental education.

The rangers who received commissions are: Patrick Joseph Amico at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area; Alyssa Christine Taylor at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area; Kimberly Jean Abramowski at Falls Lake State Recreation Area; Malcolm Scott Davis at Falls Lake State Recreation Area; Nicholas Paul Dioguardi at William B. Umstead State Park; Amy Renee Shepherd at Lake Norman State Park; Chelsea Elizabeth Fowler Arey at Falls Lake State Recreation Area and Katherine Lynne Sanford at Dismal Swamp State Park.

Umstead visitors capture images of a beloved state park

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Umstead Coalition found that capturing an image of a beloved place is often an emotional experience — far beyond just arranging digital bits in a camera.

“We asked people to write little stories to accompany their photos, and sometimes it seems the stories had almost as much to do with their winning as anything,” said Jean Spooner, the organization’s chairperson, as she described its first photo contest at William B. Umstead State Park. A number of the stories were quite touching and sprang from family connections, fond memories and special moments in the outdoors.

Mike Murphy, state parks director, congratulates photo contest winners.

Mike Murphy, state parks director, congratulates photo contest winners.

The Umstead Coalition held a reception Saturday to honor the amateur photographers who contributed to the contest, and the winners in four categories: flora and fauna, activities, historic structures and images by youth.

With a calendar featuring the photos, the contest was created to raise funds as well as the profile of the organization. The state park will soon mark its 80th anniversary, and The Umstead Coalition, which is dedicated to the park’s conservation mission, will commemorate a 40th anniversary next year. Recently, its members have volunteered more than 4,000 hours renovating buildings in the park’s group camps, many of which were built as part of a 1930s CCC camp.

Mike Murphy, director of the state parks system, attended the event, congratulated the photographers and told the group, “Each park has a story to tell and part of that is how it is supported and sustained by the community.”

The winning photos are on display in the park’s visitor center, and will be posted on The Umstead Coalition Website.

Sreekar Manena, winner of the youth category, takes a keepsake photo.

Sreekar Mantena, winner of the youth category, takes a keepsake photo.


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