Paddling adventures await at coastal state parks

The quest for family adventure and a closer connection with nature just got easier at Carolina Beach and Hammocks Beach state parks with the

Hammocks Beach has paddle trails through extensive marsh.

Hammocks Beach has paddle trails through extensive marsh.

addition of kayak and paddleboard rental services for visitors. This new recreation opportunity is in partnership with North Carolina-based Paddle NC, which also offers paddling instruction and eco-tours from seasonal kiosks within the state parks.

At Carolina Beach, the service is at a soundside beach next to the park’s marina. At Hammocks Beach, it’s located near an established paddling launch, and Paddle NC will also rent a limited number of canoes at that park.

“The state parks system sought proposals to broaden the range of recreation opportunities at Carolina Beach and Hammocks Beach state parks, and this low-impact activity fits well with our mission,” said Carol Tingley, acting state parks director. “Visitors are always finding new ways to use our state parks, and that ultimately leads to more ways to learn about and value our incredible natural resources.”

Paddle NC is owned by Walter Mayo, a graduate of the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management program of North Carolina State University and he has 20 years experience in the tourism and hospitality industry. He and his employees hold coastal kayak instructor accreditation from the American Canoe Association.

Canoe and kayak paddling and kayak fishing have become favorite activities throughout the state parks system, from fast-water floats on the New

Visitors get a quick lesson in paddling techniques.

Visitors get a quick lesson in paddling techniques.

River to bass fishing at Jordan Lake and swamp exploration at Merchants Millpond. A number of state parks have traditionally rented canoes, and “canoe hikes” with state-owned craft are frequent interpretive programs. But, none have been able to offer kayak rentals until now. Staff at both coastal state parks have had frequent requests for rental services. Both are gateways onto thousands of acres of marshland and island habitat, which offer great close-up views of nature and wildlife.

Several years ago, Hammocks Beach established 2½-mile and six-mile paddling trails to Bear Island and Huggins Island. The state park, Friends of Hammocks and Bear Island and other partners stage the first-ever Crystal Coast Paddle Festival last September with paddling tours, workshops, kayak races and dragon boat races.

Rental rates for kayaks, tandem kayaks, fishing kayaks and paddleboards range from $30 for two hours to $65 for a full day and reservations are available. Complete information on the service can be found here.

Hanging Rock artifact prompts a history contest

Last week, Park Superintendent Robin Kalish was working with maintenance staff deep in the woods at Hanging Rock State Park when she stumbled upon a very large and rusty thing – not an unusual occurrence whenever rambling around the countryside in North Carolina. When the staff had time, they cleaned the thing of leaves and debris and posted a photo to Facebook looking for anyone who could identify it.

Some experts were able to identify it for Kalish, and it turns out the thing has quite the historic value. But she’s not saying (publicly). Instead, she made a contest of it, haro_artifactasking park visitors to enter a ballot guessing what it is and (more importantly) why it could be found in this particular state park. The contest lasts through April and the winner will receive a night of free camping.

It’ll help if visitors keep in mind the interesting history of Hanging Rock State Park. In fact, most of North Carolina’s state parks offer fascinating tidbits of local history, intriguing stories that are told in the parks’ visitor centers. It should be no surprise that some of the most interesting natural features of the state also come with interesting history.

Fort Macon will become radio station for a day

Fort Macon State Park will become a communications outpost for a day during the NC Science Festival by operating a HAM amateur radio station at the fort March 29. Visitors can stop by and learn about a worldwide communications system that developed decades before the Internet was even a vague idea. Volunteer HAM radio operators have a long history of suddenly becoming communications hubs during extreme emergencies.

Fort Macon's special HAM radio postcard with its call signal N4F.

Fort Macon’s HAM radio postcard with call signal N4F.

The NC Science Festival is a statewide series of events that showcase science, technology, engineering and mathematics under the leadership of UNC’s Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. It’ll include hands-on activities, science talks, lab tours, nature experiences, exhibits and performances March 28-April 13. More details are here.

Fort Macon Ranger Paul Terry and Maintenance Mechanic John Schell will operate the station and contact other HAM operators around the globe from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on that Saturday. “We have been talking about doing some type of radio program/event at the park for a while now, and the science fest seemed like a good fit with its focus on science and technology,” Terry said.

The fort was given a special event call sign of N4F for the day, and developed a special QSL card – a type of postcard that HAM operators mail to each other to document making successful radio contact. The operators have made a sub-hobby of collecting these cards.

Birder volunteers 22 years at Eno River State Park

Edith Tatum, second from left, leads a birding program Saturday morning.

Edith Tatum, second from left, leads a birding program Saturday morning.

Edith Tatum has covered more miles at Eno River State Park than most rangers, most of them at a quiet, deliberate pace looking for a few friends.

Tatum is a veteran birder and perhaps the longest-serving volunteer for the state parks system, leading birding walks on Saturday mornings for more than 22 years. She began with Ranger Scott Hartley in the early 1990s, and continued when Hartley left the park as asked her to take on the job. (Hartley retired last year as superintendent at Weymouth Woods.)

“I’ve enjoyed meeting a lot of people and some have turned out to be my friends, people that come again and again and we share a common interest,” said Tatum, who has introduced hundreds of visitors to a new way of enjoying the outdoors and state parks.

Tatum took over birding programs from former Ranger Scott Hartley, who has since retired from the state parks system.

Tatum took over birding programs from former Ranger Scott Hartley, who has since retired from the state parks system.

There are good days and bad days for spotting birds, she said. “I tell people it’s a treasure hunt. Sometimes you find treasure, sometimes you don’t. When the birds are slow, I’ve learned a lot about the trees and plants and can talk about that. I can learn to tap dance with the best of  them.”

Just can’t get enough of being in a state park? Consider volunteering. State parks across North Carolina are actively seeking volunteers to help protect the natural resources, develop new amenities and serve an expected 14 million visitors this year.

At all 40 state parks and state recreation areas, volunteers such as Tatum serve in many capacities including campground hosts, visitor center aids, trail workers and special events coordinators, and they provide manpower for specials projects involving tree planting, habitat improvement, inventory of rare species and environmental education.

And volunteers make a significant difference. At Elk Knob State Park, volunteers working on Saturdays built the new park’s signature trail to the summit (and, have begun work on a second trail). At William B. Umstead State Park, they renovated and repainted historic CCC-built summer camps. Endangered sea turtles sometimes owe their very existence to volunteers who help monitor and protect nests and Fort Fisher State Recreation Area.

“Throughout our 98-year history, citizen volunteers have been critical partners of our state parks,” said Carol Tingley, acting state parks director. “Together, state parks and their volunteers demonstrate strong stewardship and build stronger communities with a conservation ethic.”

If you’re intrigued about volunteering, contact a nearby park directly. You’ll find contact information for each park on our Website. Or contact the division’s volunteer coordinator at 919-707-9346 or tara.gallagher@ncparks.gov.

Trust fund authority reviews duties, procedures

Carol Tingley, acting state parks director, talks with the newly reconstituted N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund Authority

Carol Tingley, acting state parks director, talks with the newly reconstituted N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund Authority.

ASHEBORO – The newly reconstituted North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund Authority met last week at the state zoo to discuss ethics, lobbying and public records rules and statutes as it prepares to conduct reviews of local government grants requests in the months ahead.

Jason Kay, the new chairman of the trust fund authority, wanted the board to become familiar with its roles and responsibilities before delving into decisions related to awarding grants. The board, which met Feb. 27-28, learned how much funding would be available for local and state grants in the coming year and learned about how the state parks system prioritizes projects in a presentation from Brian Strong, chief of planning and natural resources.

The board was received an explanation of the grant scoring system, and board members Lydia Boesch and Cynthia Tart provided insights on best practices in reviewing grant applications.

Representatives of partnership groups, including the Recreation Resources Services, funded by state parks and housed at N.C. State University, the N.C. Recreation and Parks Authority and Friends of State Parks made presentations during the meeting.

Morrow Mountain deer released into new home on Cherokee lands

deerrelease1

(The following was adapted from a media release of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.)

On Monday, 21 young white-tailed deer from Morrow Mountain State Park were released from a special four-acre compound high in the Smoky Mountains onto the Qualla Boundary, tribal lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The deer will be carefully tracked and observed by scientists and tribal members on a special 5,130-acre natural preserve area of the reservation.

Supervisory biologist, Dr. Caleb Hickman of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Fisheries and Wildlife Management Department, observes a herd of white-tailed deer reintroduced into the wild.  (Photo: Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians)

Supervisory biologist, Dr. Caleb Hickman observes a herd of white-tailed deer reintroduced into the wild. (Photo: Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians)

The release is the result of a unique wildlife relocation program – augmenting the sparse herd of the Cherokee with healthy deer from the state park. (Find the original blog about the program here.)

When the fur trade depleted the population of white-tailed deer in western North Carolina, nobody anticipated the consequences. Now, centuries later, the Cherokees who have inhabited the region for more than 10,000 years, are hoping to bring back this prized native species.

“The white tail population native to the Qualla Boundary, home to our tribe for centuries, has dwindled,” says Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, “and we are committed to restoring the population of this native species as part of our commitment to environmental preservation.”

The deer have lived in the compound since mid-January. They were carefully examined, tagged and fitted with radio collars at the state park before transfer and confinement in the holding area, prior to the “soft release” into the wild.

Morrow Mountain rangers and biologists move captured deer during collection process in January.

Morrow Mountain rangers and federal biologists move captured deer during collection process in January.

According to Hicks, this is about more than restoring the native deer population. “This is an important, cutting-edge scientific study to see if these animals will survive and proliferate. We will track and monitor them carefully and, hopefully, in a few years they will again become a viable and self-sustaining species in our mountains just as they were centuries ago.”

The Eastern Band’s Fisheries and Wildlife Management Department is supervising the deer release program in cooperation with the state parks system, the National Park Service, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and the N.C. Department of Agriculture. This is the first stage of a three-year effort.

At the forefront of the replenishment project is Dr. Caleb Hickman, himself a Cherokee tribal member and the supervisory biologist on the project. “We are tracking these deer and others released earlier to determine their movement patterns, whether they will form family groups, and if they will prosper in the years ahead. Like the successful elk reintroduction that took place 12 years ago, these deer represent a stock in the future of wildlife on the Qualla Boundary.”

“We rely a lot on ‘citizen science’”, says Hickman. “People living in the area observe the deer and send us reports of their sightings. This is critical to helping us determine their whereabouts, their condition and their socialization habits. This is one of the most controlled species enhancement programs ever undertaken in North Carolina and we are learning a lot.”

By year’s end, Hickman projects that more than 50 deer will have been processed through the Cherokee program. Of those, 29 are females and many are expected to give birth to fawns following the winter breeding season, Hickman said.

New Website helps plan field trips to state parks

(Submitted by field trip curriculum assistant Nathan Swick)

We may be a bit biased, but with so many incredible educational options available, we feel there’s no reason why North Carolina’s state parks shouldn’t be the number one field trip destination in the state. To make this happen, we wanted to make sure teachers, group leaders, and instructors could easily find information they need for informed decisions about where to spend precious out-of-classroom time.

Students search for aquatic life at Eno River State Park.

Students search for aquatic life at Eno River State Park.

A new field trip Website for North Carolina state parks makes it easy for teachers to find what programs are available, where those programs can be found, and how those programs fit into their classroom curriculum. We hope students will be able to blend the natural resources of state parks into their science and history lessens to broaden their perspective, personalize the learning experience…and get outdoors.

Teachers can go here and use search fields to find programs that best fit their needs for curriculum, distance, or subject, and easily make arrangements to bring students out for a unique hands-on experience.

Imagine discovering aquatic invertebrates at Eno River State Park, launching a carnivorous plant safari at Carolina Beach State Park or getting up close and personal with the rock cycle at Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, one of North Carolina’s scenic wonders.

We want North Carolina’s students to learn about the amazing natural resources in our state parks. We want them to realize why these places are so important and to appreciate the natural and historic legacy that is protected for North Carolina’s citizens and visitors. And we want to make it easier than ever for educators to bring students out to the parks.

North Carolina park rangers are certified environmental educators.

North Carolina park rangers are certified environmental educators.

So, check out the brand new Website and peruse the great educational opportunities there…and check out our video of a typical field trip experience! And of course, you can call or email a state park anytime with questions or to get help in tailoring an educational program for your group.

Colleagues celebrate Ledford legacy at state parks

Ledford, h is wife Susan (right) and friends watch a short video about his career.

Ledford, his wife Susan (right), and friends watch a short video about his career.

Lewis Ledford’s legacy to the state parks system and to North Carolina was celebrated Saturday at an event for the retiring director of the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. Ledford ended a 37-year career with the state parks and will serve as executive director of the National Association of State Parks Directors.

As more than 300 people gathered at NCSU’s State Club, a recurring theme was Ledford’s work ethic, integrity and dedication to “the culture he instilled in the state parks,” as described by Brad Ives, assistant secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “When you realize what special people he hired and trained and mentored in the system, you see that we have a culture that’s going to outlast Lewis Ledford,” Ives said. “He set up the state parks system in a way that will succeed and thrive without him.”

Former State Senator Walter Dalton added, “He made a good living for himself but a good life for all in North Carolina.”

Ledford receives a division plaque from Chief of Operations Mike Lambert.

Ledford receives a division plaque from Chief of Operations Mike Lambert.

Ledford joined the state parks system as a ranger in 1976 and was the first person to rise through the ranks to the director’s position.  He served in many management capacities including superintendent of Mount Mitchell State Park, west district superintendent and superintendent of state parks. He succeeded Phil McKnelly as director in 2003. His successor has not been named though Deputy Director Carol Tingley is acting director.

Under Ledford’s leadership, state park lands increased by more than 50,000 acres and the system has boasted a record visitation level of more than 14 million. Ledford guided the creation of six new state parks including Chimney Rock and Grandfather Mountain, as well as a state trail and six state natural areas. He directed the launch of a full-service reservations system and numerous other technology innovations.

McKnelly said that garnering law enforcement benefits for park rangers and increasing staff pay were among numerous Ledford achievements within the division, along with his efforts to support national state park and recreation goals. “This was behind-the-scenes work that Lewis was always willing to do,” McKnelly said. “That same honesty and integrity will now help 50 states instead of just one.”

Brad Ives, assistant secretary of the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, talks about Ledford's legacy.

Brad Ives, assistant secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, talks about Ledford’s legacy.

Ledford told the group that being one of only seven directors in the 98-year history of North Carolina’s state parks was a “unique experience.”

“I’m excited to continue working with state parks,” he said. “We’re all truly standing on the shoulders of those who’ve come before. We’ve got to make those shoulders broad, whatever station in which we serve, if we are to make this state parks system great.”

Former State Senator Walter Dalton said Ledford improved life for all North Carolinians.

Former State Senator Walter Dalton said Ledford improved life for all North Carolinians.

Mike Leonard of The Conservation Fund (right) leads attendees in the state toast.

Mike Leonard of The Conservation Fund (right) leads attendees in the state toast.

Morrow Mountain deer finding new home on Cherokee tribal lands

Maria Palamar, a veterinarian with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, adjusts radio collar and ear tags on captured white-tailed deer.

Maria Palamar, a veterinarian and biologist, with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, adjusts radio collar and ear tag on captured white-tailed deer.

Morrow Mountain State Park is participating in a long-term project to relocate white-tailed deer from the park in Stanly County to reservation lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Partners in the initiative are the state parks system, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, biologists from Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee Fisheries and Wildlife Management program.

The project augments the reservation’s sparse population of white-tailed deer, an animal that figures prominently in Cherokee lore and cultural traditions. The deer will be gradually released onto the 56,000-acre Qualla Boundary, in habitat improved for browsing and currently off-limits to hunting.

Many of the captured animals were found close to park roads and campgrounds.

Many of the captured animals were found close to park roads and campgrounds.

In each of the next three years, 25-50 deer will be relocated, primarily females in small family groups. Initial collections began in January, with biologists using darts to tranquilize the animals, collecting data on age and health, and fitting each with a tag and radio collar. The deer are transported to the reservation in small individual crates with 3-5 crates carried on each vehicle. Upon arrival, the animals are subject to a “soft release” – initially kept in a four-acre, penned area and closely monitored for about four weeks before being released. This is located on a 5,600-acre Tribal Reserve property, set aside for communal mixed-use activities (such as fishing, plant and firewood gathering, recreation, etc.)

The Cherokee Fisheries and Wildlife Management staff has been active in developing suitable browsing habitat, in part through a prescribed burn program, and is refining a long-term white-tailed deer management plan.

“We’re pleased that the state park can fulfill this request for white-tailed deer on the Cherokee reservation in a way that’s consistent with wise natural resource management, “ said Carol Tingley, acting state parks director. “Morrow Mountain State Park sustains an abundance of healthy native deer that can readily be identified and collected.”

A 2013 herd health study by the state park and the Wildlife Resources Commission suggests that such a project will benefit the remaining herd and habitat at Morrow Mountain. The relocation project is carried out under specialized scientific protocols developed by the wildlife agency.

“Environmental protection of the Natural Resources of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has been paramount for my administration. The Cherokee Fisheries and Wildlife Management program has worked to protect those resources and has worked to restore native species to the region,” Cherokee Principal Chief Michell Hicks said.

Deer in individual crates are loaded for the four-hour journey to the Cherokee Qualla Boundary reservation.

Deer in individual crates are loaded for the four-hour journey to the Cherokee Qualla Boundary reservation.

A byproduct of the relocation project will be a unique research opportunity that can offer insight into white-tailed deer health and best practices for rebuilding and sustaining healthy herds. This type of information will benefit wildlife management agencies as well as private, nonprofit groups involved in deer rehabilitation.

Record-level attendance at NC state parks continued in 2013

Crowders Mountain State Park added a parking area at its visitor center which fills on most weekends.

Crowders Mountain State Park added a parking area at its visitor center which fills on most weekends.

For the third straight year, attendance at North Carolina’s state parks and state recreation areas hovered at a record level with 14.2 million visits in 2013. Among 40 state parks and state recreation areas, 19 reported increases in attendance in 2013. Fort Macon State Park in Carteret County reported the highest attendance at 1.19 million visits, followed closely by Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Dare County with 1.18 million visits.

“Throughout fluctuations in the economy and the tourism industry, visitation at state parks has remained steady and robust, and that reflects the value North Carolinians place on outdoor experiences and the state’s rich natural resources,” said Carol Tingley, acting state parks director. “Also, visitation at this level reveals the strong contribution that our state parks make to North Carolina’s tourism economy as well as the economies of the local communities in which they’re located.”

A recent economic study revealed that travelers spend an average $23.56 a day to enjoy the state parks. The analysis by North Carolina State University’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management estimated the state parks system’s total annual economic impact at more than $400 million.

Over the past 25 years, the state parks system has seen a dramatic 80 percent increase in visitation. In 1988, 7.89 million people visited state parks and state recreation areas.

Weather over the course of a year can have a significant impact on state park attendance. Heavy rains in late spring and early summer dampened visitation at many parks, but otherwise the system was not affected by winter storms or tropical storms or hurricanes during 2013. Several relatively new state parks reported strong attendance, especially Carvers Creek State Park in Cumberland County with 38.740 visitors since it opened in September. Mayo River State Park in Rockingham County experienced a 69 percent jump in visitation, while Dismal Swamp State Park in Camden County reported visitation up 40 percent.

Here are the complete year-end totals for each state park.

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