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.

Hanging Rock State Park to expand with transfer of former 4-H camp

The lodge, once known as Cheshire Hall, was built in the 1890s.

The lodge, once known as Cheshire Hall, was built in the 1890s as the centerpiece of a resort.

Hanging Rock State Park in Stokes County will expand with the addition of a former 4-H camp on 716 acres, following action by the N.C. General Assembly in its 2014 session.

Operations of the former Camp Sertoma 4-H Education Center,  also known as the Vade Mecum Springs property with Moore Springs Campground, will be folded into those of the state park. Specifically, the legislation authorizes the N.C. Department of Administration to transfer the property for inclusion in the state parks system.

Vade Mecum Springs is a Stokes County landmark, having been developed in the 1890s as a resort. It was operated as a retreat and summer camp by the Episcopal Diocese and Easter Seals until its acquisition by North Carolina State University in 1981 for its 4-H program. (Sertoma clubs were directly involved with that acquisition.) The Vade Mecum facilities include a 398-acre campground complex with nine miles of mountain biking trails and access on the Dan River, a lodge, recreation hall, swimming pool, 13 cabins, equestrian barn and trails, chapel and athletic fields. The property is located about one-half mile northwest of the state park boundary across Moore Springs Road.

“The Vade Mecum Springs property is a tremendous recreational and educational asset and will give a new dimension to one of our oldest and most beloved state parks,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “In true North Carolina tradition, members of the community initiated and supported this addition to the park, and that interest and energy will allow the camp to continue to contribute to the fabric of the community and the economic health of the region.”

Interior of one of the camp's cabins.

Interior of one of the camp’s cabins.

The Friends of Sauratown Mountains, which supports both Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain state parks, the Stokes County Board of Commissioners, the Stokes County Economic Development Commission, and other community leaders approached the state parks system about a potential transfer soon after a decision was made in late 2013 to close four of the state’s six 4-H camps, including Vade Mecum Springs. The group persuaded the local legislative delegation to introduce the transfer legislation.

In coming months, the state parks system will begin a detailed assessment of the property and its facilities and begin development of a long-range management plan for reopening those facilities that can contribute to the state park’s mission. Friends of Sauratown Mountains is developing volunteer resources to assist the state park.

The Vade Mecum Springs property has a long history. Entrepreneurs John Sparks and J. Cicero Tise developed Vade Mecum Springs at the turn of the 20th Century as a resort revolving around the healthful Moore Springs. Vade Mecum is Latin for “go with me,” and local history suggests the businessmen borrowed the name from a legend involving a Saura American Indian princess and her lover. In recent decades, nonprofit organizations relied on the camp for summer programs, and the state park often referred visitors to Moore Springs Campground when its campground was full.

Getting hiking boots on the ground at Mount Jefferson

(The following was submitted by Cameron Tingkang, an AmeriCorps team member.)

A team with the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), an AmeriCorps program, is working with New River State Park to supervise and conduct trail construction at Mountain Jefferson State Natural Area.


The intent of the team of AmeriCorps members is to add three miles of new trail at Mount Jefferson.

For seven weeks, eight team members will work alongside local volunteer groups and individual volunteers to build trail segments on the mountain. The team, Delta 1, will help preserve and protect examples of natural beauty as well as provide outdoor recreation activities in a safe environment. The team aims to add three miles to the existing trail system at the park and double the length of any other existing trail systems in the county.

“Having the AmeriCorps NCCC team has been a tremendous asset. They are progressing well with the trail project and have demonstrated some amazing trail-building skills,” said Joe Shimel, superintendent of New River State Park and Mount Jefferson State Natural Area. “This is a hard working team that is providing the grit and boots on the ground needed to get this trail open in the near future.”

The Delta 1 NCCC team is based in Vicksburg, Miss., but consists of members from all over the country. After completing their work with the state parks, members will return to Vicksburg for several days before deploying to their next project.

AmeriCorps NCCC is a full-time, residential service program in which 1,200 young adults serve nationwide each year. During their 10-month term, corps members work on teams of eight to 12 on projects that address critical needs related to natural and other disasters, infrastructure improvement, environmental stewardship and conservation, energy conservation, and urban and rural development.

Popular kids’ TRACK trails finding eastern routes

The inaugural hike along  Eno River's TRACK trail was all about discovering nature.

The inaugural hike along Eno River’s TRACK trail was all about discovering nature.

TRACK trails for kids are spreading east.

The state parks system opened its 17th, 18th and 19th TRACK trails last week at Eno River, Lumber River and Singletary Lake state parks. The goal is to open at least 30 within the next few years.

The TRACK trails and the Kids in Parks program were launched in 2009 by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. Their mission is to lure young children outdoors with the promise of adventure on self-guided hikes with parents and other adults. The trails are easy and short with colorful signs and brochures. The program also has an online component, where children can log their adventures and earn prizes.

The idea was a natural fit for state parks, and most western parks quickly adapted short trails or portions of longer trails as TRACK trails. The program has expanded to seven states and the 100th TRACK trail opens this month on the Blue Ridge Parkway where it all began.

A new TRACK trail at Singletary Lake drew a crowd of campers.

A new TRACK trail at Singletary Lake State Park drew a crowd of campers.

Importantly, the Kids in Parks Website also prepares kids for a lifetime of hiking, with tips on planning for a hike, dressing properly, packing the necessities and choosing the right trail. All the information on the program is here.

NCYCC tackles projects at six state parks

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATwo teams of teens have been hard at work improving state parks in eastern and western North Carolina this summer.

The teens are members of the North Caroline Youth Conservation Corps (NCYCC) and have been literally mending fences at six state parks as well as building trails, improving campsites, repairing facilities and pulling out invasive plants. Similar teams are at work for public agencies in the Salisbury area and in the Triangle.

NCYCC members improve canoe-in campsites at Pilot Mountain State Park.

NCYCC members improve canoe-in campsites at Pilot Mountain State Park.

“We are delighted to get more young people connected to our state parks,” said Carol Tingley, deputy director for the state parks system. “The Youth Conservation Corps offers young people an outstanding opportunity to learn about our state’s treasured natural resources while they work to preserve our state parks’ recreation opportunities, natural scenery and wildlife habitat.”

One crew of eight has been working at Carolina Beach and Cliffs of the Neuse state parks and Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, with the second crew working at Stone Mountain and Pilot Mountain state parks and Mount Jefferson State Natural Area. In most cases, the teens are camping at the parks (though Hurricane Arthur did drive them into the visitor center at Carolina Beach for a night).

The NCYCC is sponsored primarily by the Conservation Trust for North Carolina and participating agencies. The program uses the natural world as a platform for teaching job and leadership skills, service, stewardship and personal responsibility. Crews work eight hours a day, five days a week and are paid minimum wage. Each workday includes a one-hour educational program on conservation and social topics.

“The NCYCC is built on the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC),” said Jan Pender, director. “Like those who served in the CCC decades ago, NCYCC crew members learn valuable job skills as they work on high quality and cost effective projects that expand public access to our state’s public lands.”

A fire ring area at Pilot Mountain State Park gets some attention from one of 16 NCYCC members in the parks.

A fire ring area at Pilot Mountain State Park gets some attention from one of 16 NCYCC members in the parks.

That’s fitting since the CCC  is credited with creating much of the early state parks system in North Carolina beginning in the 1930s. Through CCC projects, five state parks were added to the two that existed at that time.

This is the second year of NCYCC involvement in the parks and its role has been much expanded. In 2013, crews did construction and maintenance on the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail and removed invasive species at Eno River State Park.


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