State parks history comes alive with collection of images and stories

digitalcollection1The 100-year history of our state parks system is colorful and engaging. But so much of that history for so long was tucked away in the dusty file drawers, odd bins and cubbyholes of state park offices all across North Carolina. All the old photos, postcards, brochures and the like that told the human story of state parks needed a home.

As the centennial year approached, the State Archives and State Library of North Carolina, along with Clemson University, pitched in to help by gathering much of this historical flotsam and jetsam about state parks into a manageable collection that now can be explored online.

digitalcollection 2The result is a tapestry of stories and images that reflect the close connection that North Carolinians have with their beloved landscape. The North Carolina Digital Collection presents hundreds of images of the 100-year history in easy-to-find fashion, while the State Library has compiled concise histories of the state parks for its NCpedia project, along with a compelling state parks timeline that puts it all into historical context. All the projects were unveiled online in late January as the 2016 centennial got underway.

More than three years ago, Clemson University volunteered to scan and digitize all the historical and contemporary images that belonged to the state parks. Staff began asking the parks to lend photos that were tucked away in park offices and other sundry locations. To this point, hundreds of images have been compiled and more are still being found and scanned. This effort provided raw material for the library projects. Archivists in the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources used their skills to catalogue and cross-reference more than 400 historical photos. So, if there exists a photo of a picnic at a mountain park in the 1940s, it can be found. And, the images can be downloaded directly from the website.

This is an ongoing project as more images and other materials are found. The State Archives has been indexing state parks records and once that is completed, the Archives will add a selection of documents, including correspondence.

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Centennial documentary will premiere Jan. 27 on UNC-TV and at state parks

Saving the Best: North Carolina State Parks at 100, a documentary celebrating the parks system’s 2016 centennial, will be the centerpiece of premiere viewing parties at 22 state parks on January 27, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. The hour-long show will also air at 8 p.m. that evening on UNC-TV.

filmingThe production by Tom Earnhardt is a tribute to the men and women who work in the parks, volunteers who give their time and energy and the 17 million visitors who visit state parks each year. The project was supported by the State Employees’ Credit Union and Friends of State Parks.

Earnhardt, a longtime contributor to UNC-TV on nature and outdoor topics, teamed with videographers and co-producers Mark Crews and Tucker Hayes. Mixing stunning footage and aerial views of park landscapes with interviews and a soundtrack from the Southern String Band, the team created a montage of 41 state parks and the people working as stewards of those landscapes.

“This film is a terrific story about North Carolina; it’s about who we are and where we came from. It’s also about the people who make our parks run, probably the most dedicated people as servants in our parks system, an extraordinary group of stewards,” Earnhardt said. “The goal of this program is to excite the people of North Carolina about the parks system and to educate them about the great efforts of those who work in the parks.”

“The premiere parties will be an opportunity for park staff, families, friends, supporters and the public to come together and celebrate as the 2016 centennial begins, and to talk about centennial events planned for each park,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director.

Times for the showings at state parks will vary from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. and details are to be found here. The parks participating are: Haw River, Hammocks Beach, Lake Norman, Raven Rock, New River, Gorges, Medoc Mountain, Chimney Rock, Fort Macon, Hanging Rock, Weymouth Woods, Jones, Pettigrew, Cliffs of the Neuse, Goose Creek, Carolina Beach, Crowders Mountain, Lake Waccamaw, Umstead, Jordan Lake, Kerr Lake and South Mountains.

Brochure: Motoring to Mitchell ‘magnificent beyond compare’

momi motor road1The history found in our state parks is fascinating, in part because you never know how you might stumble across it.

An example is this glimpse at a little-known aspect of our first state park, the Mount Mitchell Motor Road. It apparently was built soon after the state park’s 1916 founding to entice tourists to the mountain’s summit. It was a time when Americans were discovering motoring vacations and entrepreneurs were discovering how to profit from that. The private road climbed from just east of Black Mountain to Camp Alice, private rustic tourist accommodations just below the summit. A small railroad had been built earlier along a similar route.

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Camp Alice near mountain summit.

Remarkably, this brochure for the Mount Mitchell Motor Road was found by a state park employee while he was renovating his 1920s-era home. Andy Griffith (yes, that’s his real name), the senior maintenance mechanic at Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, found the brochure stashed under the insulation in the home’s attic. Griffith said, “My understanding of it is that the road was open to the public sometime in the early ‘20s and only operated for a few short years.”

The brochure’s hype got the elevation wrong (it’s 6,684 feet) but it’s still enticing: “Thousands of tourists every year, including many world travellers, widely acclaim this wonderful trip beyond description, beautiful and magnificent beyond compare.”

A number of state parks have histories as former resorts or tourist attractions – Pilot Mountain, Morrow Mountain and Lake Waccamaw to name a few. And, most state parks are littered with engaging historical footnotes, which visitors can explore in our visitor center exhibit halls.

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Lake James State Park acquires land from Crescent

Governor Pat McCrory announced today that a high-quality tract of land, formerly owned by Crescent Communities, has been added to Lake James State Park with the help of The Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina and grants from two conservation trust funds.

“This acquisition will allow us to preserve the natural beauty of this splendid state park and keep it accessible to all North Carolinians for generations to come,” Governor McCrory said.

laja crescent landThe property, in two parcels totaling 129 acres, features 8,900 linear feet of shoreline and a stunning view of the Linville Gorge. The Foothills Conservancy aided in negotiations for the $1.74 million acquisition funded through the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The property acquisition results in state ownership of the entire Long Arm Peninsula on the lake’s northern section. The Long Arm Peninsula and the Paddy’s Creek watershed, totaling 2,915 acres, were added to the state park in 2005 in a deal with Crescent Resources, the predecessor of Crescent Communities. The two small parcels were withheld from that agreement and had been inholdings within park boundaries.

“What a wonderful way to highlight the 100th anniversary of the state parks with this remarkable gift,” said N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz. “We are grateful to the Foothills Conservancy and Crescent Communities for their generosity.”

“This important acquisition will protect our boundary at Lake James State Park and offer more recreation options as we continue to develop the park,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “The Foothills Conservancy and Crescent have been valued partners in the growth of this state park and their commitment to the community and to conservation is much appreciated.”

Gift adds acreage to South Mountains State Park

South Mountains State Park in Burke County, North Carolina’s largest state park, grew a bit larger in December with a gift of 469 acres.

The land, formerly undeveloped portions of the South Mountain Preserve development, was owned by a partnership led by North Carolina real estate developer, Ray Hollowell, who said he was delighted to be able to support the long-term conservation of the property by donating it to the state parks system.

somo landThe South Mountain Preserve real estate development dates to the early 1960s when television pioneer and pitchman, Art Linkletter owned a home on the property and was often seen playing golf at the Pine Mountain Golf Course with other California luminaries. Hollowell bought the property in the late 1990s.

The property includes an access road and its acquisition benefits the park by protecting the White Oak Creek watershed, which has numerous waterfalls, and is a tributary to the Class IV Outstanding Resource Waters of the Jacob Fork River. The tract also acts as a buffer for the Raven Rock Trail.

“This addition to South Mountains State Park will help protect natural resources in the park’s southeastern section,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “The donation is representative of the community’s strong support for North Carolina’s largest state park that serves more than 200,000 visitors each year.”

South Mountains State Park was established in 1974 and encompasses more than 18,000 acres.

First Day Hikes draw 3,469 to parks

firstdayhikes1On the first day of the 2016 centennial year, North Carolina’s state parks welcomed 3,469 hikers for the annual First Day Hikes event, a record number that together traveled 8,228 miles on state park trails.

With brisk winter weather returning, visitors enjoyed 54 guided hikes. Though 46 hikes were originally planned, large crowds convinced some parks to add hikes. A week of soggy weather resulted in some muddy trails, but only Jordan Lake State Recreation Area was forced to cancel its hikes. Once again, the largest crowd at 809 hikers was drawn to Eno River State Park, where a New Year’s Day hike has been a tradition for more than 40 years. Raven Rock State Park drew the second largest crowd with 225 hikers.

At Medoc Mountain State Park, Ranger Sandra Fambrough said, “We had beginners and experienced hikers in our group. One family had not been to Medoc Mountain since the early 1970s. A good time was had by both young and old. A cloudy, chilly day spent with new friends, all enjoying the beauty of Medoc in the New Year.”

For the first time ever, visitors were allowed to hike the three miles up the scenic entrance road to Chimney Rock. At Crowders Mountain, 150 hikers took up the challenge of walking over six miles into South Carolina to the Kings Mountain National Military Park. The hike at Merchants Millpond State Park drew participants from five North Carolina counties and from four locations in Virginia. A group of 50 girl scouts joined in exploration of the trails at William B. Umstead State Park.

Related events during the day drew 76 people to a “Polar Plunge” at Hanging Rock State Park and 110 runners to the inaugural First Day 5K at Haw River State Park.

This was the fifth year that First Day Hikes were held throughout the state parks system. The event was the first of a string of special celebrations plansed throughout the state for the 2016 centennial year.

Here’s a gallery of some of the First Day Hikes. Click any photo to begin.

Fort Macon is 2015 State Park of the Year

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Fort Macon State Park in Carteret County has been named the 2015 North Carolina State Park of the Year by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, and will hold that distinction throughout the year-long centennial celebration of the state parks system.

“One of the reasons so many of us love living in North Carolina is due to the beautiful greenery, mountains, beaches and undisturbed land around us in the state parks,” said Secretary Susan Kluttz, N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “There are so many outstanding parks to choose from, so I know this was a difficult decision. Congratulations to all those who care for Fort Macon State Park and welcome visitors from around the world there.”

The park was chosen for its “exemplary contribution to the North Carolina state parks mission of stewardship, public service and education,” and specifically recognized for initiatives in expanded recreation opportunities, volunteerism, interpretive programming and sustainability.

“It’s fitting that during our 100th anniversary, Fort Macon will be honored as State Park of the Year. It was the first North Carolina state park open for visitors, having been created in 1924,” said Mike Murphy, state park director. “With its outstanding professional staff and careful stewardship of both fragile natural resources and a historic landmark, Fort Macon represents all that a state park should be.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith attendance of more than 1.2 million during the year, the staff at Fort Macon found time to create the park’s first nature and wellness trail, building more than 800 feet of boardwalk and raising over $40,000 in private funding for the project. Rangers and volunteers provided 1,090 free interpretive programs and hosted 14 special events and demonstrations. With help from Friends of Fort Macon, a new 600-square-foot exhibit space was created, and the staff directed major renovations to the park’s bathhouse and enhanced a sustainability program that reduced water usage by half.

Other nominees for 2015 that were designated Regional State Parks of the Year were Carolina Beach, Eno River and Mount Mitchell state parks, with Mount Mitchell earning a one-time, honorary title as North Carolina State Park of the Century, in recognition of its history. In 1916, Mount Mitchell became North Carolina’s first state park and one of the first state parks in the nation.

The state parks system began choosing a Park of the Year in 2010 with nominations from each of four districts. Each of 40 state parks and state recreation areas submits an annual report that is objectively scored on progress in recreation, natural resource protection, sustainability, public safety and environmental education. Final judging is by senior and peer administrators. To honor the State Park of the Year, a medallion is attached to a hiking staff that is passed to the current award recipient each year. Lake James State Park in Burke and McDowell counties was honored in 2014.

Fort Macon State Park was authorized in 1924 and is under the direction of Superintendent Randy Newman. The park’s 424 acres encompass a pre-Civil War era fortress, beaches on the Atlantic Ocean and Beaufort Inlet and marshlands.