Ranger and Burn Boss Colleen Bowers and staff at Carvers Creek State Park were recently awarded the 2018 Prescribed Burning Award from the Division of Parks and Recreation. The award recognizes a team for significant contributions in the implementation and promotion of prescribed fire as a natural resource management tool. In layman’s terms, the team went “all in” on prescribed fire.
One of the newest additions to the state parks system, Carvers Creek opened in 2013 and quickly became a leader in prescribed fire management. Observing several wildfires within the Sandhills region near the park, Carvers Creek staff prioritized prescribed fire as a resource management tool. Under the leadership of Superintendent Jane Conolly, the park heavily invested in fire equipment, personnel training, and dedicated the staff time required to meet the fire management needs of the property.
Soon after getting up and running, the park was featured on a UNC-TV segment about the restorative properties of prescribed fire. Remarkably, the staff have achieved the target burn of 1/3 of the park property, or 1,200 acres of their fire adapted landscape in the past year.
Ranger Bowers extends her thanks to Thomas Crate, Jimmy Dodson, Michael Taylor and the Carvers Creek maintenance team, Jessica Schliebener, and Superintendent Jane Conolly for their contributions and support of the program.
Leadership from state and national parks, volunteers, local officials, and trail enthusiasts gathered at Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Oct. 3 to celebrate the completion of a 300-mile connection on the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail (MST).
State trails staff, members of the Carolina Mountain Club and other volunteers and supporters recently completed construction on a linchpin 8-mile section near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Swain County. That segment completes a continuous footpath from Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Stone Mountain State Park.
Development and construction of this trail section included negotiating difficult terrain east of the Great Smoky Mountains, working around the tunneled sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and through the Qualla Boundary lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. In 2016, the Eastern Band agreed to host a section of the trail through reservation lands, enabling the connector trail’s completion. In June of this year, the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation, the National Park Service’s Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Carolina Mountain Club collaborated to complete the final section of this connection.
In 2000, the MST became a state trail and a unit of the state parks system and is the state’s flagship trail. The Division of Parks and Recreation is committed to developing the MST as a continuous, off-road trail across the state. The division develops partnerships with local, state and federal land management agencies, nonprofit organizations, land trusts, and volunteers to advance the development of the MST. The Friends of the MST is a private non-profit organization that provides information on the trail, sponsors task forces to build and maintain sections of trail, and promotes thru-hiking the trail by providing interim routes to connect completed portions of the MST.
By: Katie Hall, Public Information Officer, Division of Parks and Recreation
In the heart of North Carolina, an ageless landmark rises, steep, dark and jagged, from the banks of the Cape Fear River. Less than an hour’s drive south from Raleigh, Raven Rock State Park hosts a confluence of Piedmont and Mountain region ecology that brings the some of the best of both regions together in one park.
I would call Raven Rock a “hidden gem.” Its ecology and geology are some of the most diverse and varied parks in our state parks system. The park truly has something for everyone. It is a bit farther away than our metropolitan folks are used to driving to say Umstead from Cary and Raleigh or Crowders Mountain from Charlotte, so visitation to Raven Rock is not overwhelming like the busiest parks, allowing for quiet and peaceful experiences there. This park has a new superintendent, John Privette, who is digging in to bring out the best of the park and ensure North Carolinians know and enjoy the lessons, experiences, and activities it offers.
Raven Rock is a great example of a four-season state park. Visit in spring to enjoy the wildflowers, summer to enjoy the Cape Fear river, or winter for a mild mountain-like hike closer to home that will offer quiet trails and spectacular views. Fall, of course, will bring radiant colors and ideal hiking weather.
Salamanders make their home along river bluffs and turtles of all sizes thrive in the Piedmont forest alongside lizards. The park offers a valuable stop-over for migratory birds as well as longer-term homes for others. In the spring when migratory bird visits are at their peak, visitors can observe as many as 20 species of warblers in a single day! Wood ducks nest in hollowed trees along the river and predatory birds like hawks owls soar over the river and forest.
The park’s unique topography is what makes it such an anomaly in the Piedmont . The river bluffs and cool, moist ravines are home to mountain laurel and rhododendron, as well as elm and red maple. Flat, dry uplands are characterized by pine and oak/hickory forests where sourwood, dogwood and blueberry fill out the understory. The rolling hills of the trails are reminiscent of a mountain region park, while the broad, sandy banks of the Cape Fear River remind you that you’re not far from North Carolina’s Coastal Plain.
My visit reminded me of childhood visits to “Little Mountain” in Natchez Trace’s Jeff Busby Park, just down Highway 9 from Eupora, Mississippi, my mother’s hometown. Mostly surrounded by flat areas, Little Mountain was a retreat from surrounding areas. Winding roads, shaded trails, cooler temperatures– the park really allowed us to feel like we were “in the wilderness.” We hiked, played Red Light – Green Light, and ate at the picnic areas there during each summer visit.
Raven Rock provides a similar atmosphere, and I hope it will provide more and more families the same kind of wonderful memories. One of my favorite things about visiting this park is that I grew up just over an hour from it and yet it was my first time not only to this park, but to this area of the state. Exploring our state parks system has provided this gift over and over. I hope you are all able to enjoy these experiences as much as I do. See you in our parks!
Some of North Carolina’s most breathtaking natural resources are best reached on the water. Interpretation and Education Manager Sean Higgins wanted to make sure the youth of our state can see, explore, and learn in these places.
Thanks to the Friends of State Parks, we now have two 29-foot-long Big Canoes that each hold 14 paddlers. The 28-person capacity of the two canoes will allow parks to offer educational programming that entire classes can experience together.
The Friends also funded a trailer to haul the new canoes from park to park, plus life vests, paddles and other safety gear. Thanks to these new tools, guided canoe trips will be available from the mountains to the coast to provide new and exciting experiences for all North Carolinians.
Big Canoes are safe and stable and they will provide novel, memorable experiences for young learners and adults alike.
On guided Big Canoe tours, state park visitors and students will hear stories about North Carolina’s natural and cultural history, see new parts of the most beautiful places in our state, and learn about what makes these places extraordinary.
See you in our parks!
Interpretation and Education Manager Sean Higgins shares safety tips for paddling and explains the educational value of getting visitors out on the water.
Our first Big Canoe adventurers head out on the Loggerhead’s maiden voyage at Morrow Mountain State Park
By: Kris Anne Bonifacio, Special Programs Coordinator, N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation
While hiking on the Equestrian Trail at Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve, Drae Wright took in the surrounding longleaf pine forest and the blue sky above and an idea came to her: “I should do more of this. I really need the exercise and the outdoors. Why not pick a bigger goal and make it an adventure? How about all the trails in all the state parks?”
She accepted the challenge she posed to herself just as quickly as the idea came to her.
Drae is 68 years old and she began her state parks Passport adventure in March. But really, her journey to her new lofty goal began last December, when she was reading the book The End of Alzheimer’s by Dr. Dale Bredesen. The doctor, who earned his medical degree at Duke University, has earned praise for what he calls “the first program to prevent and reverse cognitive decline” — a series of lifestyle changes to protect brains from “downsizing.”
Reading the book was a wake-up call for Drae who is in the age group, 65 to 85 years old, of those most at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Even more alarming for Drae, she found that she had about “80 percent of the known precursors and about 80 percent of the early symptoms of late onset Alzheimer’s.” She became determined to fight these symptoms to prevent a diagnosis.
She started by walking 15 minutes a day. She felt that changing her sedentary lifestyle was the first step in getting healthy. As she increased the duration of her walks, she found herself wanting to go back to a hobby from decades ago: hiking.
“[In] April 1998, at age 48, my first hiking goal was to hike at least some of the Appalachian Trail that year,” she said. “The AT had been my dream since 15, but I was sick a lot, my physical stamina was poor and I never learned to hike or backpack.”
She persevered, though, hiking at state parks within a short drive from her home, and using the section of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail at Falls Lake State Recreation Area as her practice run for short day hikes. She moved on to a first backpacking overnight trial at Raven Rock State Park. In August 1998, she completed a three-day hike on the Appalachian Trail.
But eventually, the hiking stopped.
Two decades later, she applied the same determination she had for her AT goal, and in three months, she is hiking 5 to 7 miles a day and working through her state parks Passport book. She even started wearing a purple cap in her hikes, from the organization Alzheimer’s North Carolina, to help spread awareness about the effects lifestyle changes like exercise can have on the disease.
“The purple cap is a conversation starter,” she said. “Some people get tears in their eyes and ask to hear more. They tell me who in their family has had the disease or who is struggling with symptoms and has no hope. My thought was to let people know that I believe Alzheimer’s is reversible and preventable.”
Many 100-Mile Challenge participants cite losing weight and developing a healthier lifestyle as their motivation for signing up. About 5 percent of our participants are over the age of 65, and according to the AARP, that is the time for increased risks for heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, several types of cancers and, as Drae noted, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The good news, Drae says, is that staying active — regardless of your age — could help prevent many of these health issues. And for those already diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or depression, exercise is a powerful tool in managing your symptoms.
“My outlook and cognitive training scores have improved greatly,” Drae said, adding that since she began her regular walks, she has lost weight, slept better and had more energy than most of her life. “I expect to fully recover from all symptoms and never go through the losses of dementia.”
One of the biggest hurdles in a healthy lifestyle is maintaining it. As Drae experienced earlier in her life, a sedentary lifestyle can creep up on anyone, even if you are fit enough to hike the Appalachian Trail.
So, joining programs like the 100-Mile Challenge can be a good motivator. Year after year, participants set a goal of at least 100 miles of outdoor activity, and they are rewarded with digital badges and prizes. Last year, more than 5,000 participants logged nearly 300,000 miles of hiking, biking, running, paddling, walking, horseback riding and geocaching. The miles do not have to be completed in state parks. Walking around your neighborhood, biking on the greenways or hiking on the AT count toward your challenge miles.
For Drae, she is on her 13thstate park in the Passport and has completed 30 miles of state parks trails. Within the 41 state parks, there are 618 miles of trail. When Drae reaches her goal, she will likely far exceed that, given that she repeats a few trails just to get some more exercise.
But your own health goals don’t have to be as big as Drae’s. If you haven’t signed up for 100-Mile Challenge account, do so now and set the goal of 100 miles by the end of the year. When you meet it, you can shoot for the next one at 250 miles. Or you can make that your goal for the following year.
That is one of the best parts about our 100-Mile Challenge: you can customize it so that it works for you. You can even add the Passport goal as part of your challenge by hiking one trail at each park and collecting the stamps along the way.
So sign up today, and as we say in state parks, take a hike! Who knows, you might even run into Drae in her purple cap.
Kris Anne Bonifacio manages the North Carolina State Parks 100-Mile Challenge and Passport programs. She has a journalism degree from Northwestern University. In 2016, she moved to North Carolina from New York City, trading in tall buildings for tall mountains, smoggy air for salty sea air and cramped subway trains for beautiful state parks.
By: Brian Bockhahn, Regional Education Specialist, N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation
It is the Year of the Fish in North Carolina State Parks! Programs, festivals, and events throughout the state this year will celebrate this theme. We invite you all to join us at some of these events and Get Hooked on NC State Parks!
Whether you like fishing or just fish-watching, North Carolina State Parks has a lot of waters to explore! From the mountains to the sea, our state parks showcase treasured habitats for fish including mountain streams, lakes, dense, moss-filled swamps, tea-colored meandering rivers, the largest estuary on the east coast and of course 12,331 miles of sound and oceanfront shoreline from which to catch or study fish.
In the cold mountain streams shaded by Rhododendron, you can find our state freshwater fish and North Carolina’s only native trout species—the Brook Trout. Its olive green color and speckled back help camouflage it on river bottoms, but watch for its reddish-orange fin with a white line on the leading edge. Visit Stone Mountain State Park and other mountain parks to explore some of the best cold trout waters in the state.
Throughout the foothills and piedmont anglers try to catch Largemouth Bass, White Bass, Crappie and the abundant Sunfish. You know the fish are biting when you see lines of boats or shoreline fisherman during a “run.” Several free public tournaments are held at Mayo River and Pilot Mountain state parks as well as Falls Lake and Jordan Lake state recreation areas. Fishing programs are also held at many parks throughout the year.
The Carolina Bays have several sport fish to catch. Some smaller endemic fish live in these shallow waters—this means that these fish live nowhere else in the world! Three species occur only at Lake Waccamaw: the “Waccamaw” Silverside, Killifish and Darter. Pettigrew State Park is on Lake Phelps—also a Carolina Bay—and where the Lake Phelps Killifish lives.
Our state saltwater fish is the Red Drum or “Channel Bass” that lives in coastal ocean waters and sounds. The Pamlico Sound is the largest estuary on the east coast, and along with the Albemarle serves as a vital nursery for the Red Drum and other fish. When spawning, males vibrate a muscle in their swim bladder to make a “drumming” sound. Red Drum live long and get large—the world record is a 94 pounder caught right here in North Carolina. Next time you’re paddling at Goose Creek, Jockeys Ridge or Hammocks Beach state parks, think about these large old fish and listen for their “drum.”
We hope you enjoy the Year of The Fish in North Carolina’s state parks. Make sure you check our event calendar and join us for one of many fun fishing programs across the state this year—just search here for “fish”:
By: Katie Hall, Public Information Officer, North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation
You know those days that are sunny but not hot; breezy but not cold; everything feels just right? The kind of day that, with one deep breath, seems to wash away the troubles of the world and make you just happy to be alive? That was the kind of day I enjoyed for my first hike at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park. I hope you’re lucky enough to experience the park on a day like I did.
Besides its natural beauty and unique features, one of my favorite things about Cliffs of the Neuse is its location. It’s in a part of the state that is still in need of engaging, affordable outdoor recreational opportunities, and is convenient to places like Wilson, Greenville, Smithfield, Mt. Olive, Kinston, and Goldsboro. It’s also about halfway from Raleigh to the coast, offering a fun stop on a weekend trip to the beach or a great place to stay for a few nights with sun, water, and hiking without making a trip all the way down east.
This park is home to impressive cliffs overlooking the Neuse River–truly a sight that will surprise you when you visit for the first time. The cliffs reach 600 yards along the riverbank and rise 90 feet above the water. Layers of sand, clay, seashells, shale and gravel make up the cliff face, which began to form when a fault in the earth’s crust shifted millions of years ago. The Neuse River followed this fault line and slowly cut its course through sediment across the coastal plain. A portion of the river took a bend against its bank and the water carved the Cliffs of the Neuse.
Five trails ranging from 350 yards to two miles on land will lead you along riverside micro-habitats. You’ll see mature forests as well as a longleaf pine restoration area that is just beginning its journey back to its natural state. Many of the trails have lots more elevation changes than you would expect in the coastal plain. I found the terrain to be more reminiscent of the foothills, but with a mix of flora and fauna you would expect in central and eastern N.C. Bald cypress trees fight to hang on to their bit of habitat in bogs along the trail, Spanish moss makes its westernmost appearance here, and galax, red oak, and Virginia pines more commonly seen in the western part of the state make their home upslope in the park.
Hosting this kind of biodiversity is truly special. Cliffs of the Neuse State Park is a place to explore, swim, paddle, run, and play– the park is a jack-of-all-trades. If you haven’t been before, you’ll be truly impressed. If it’s been a while, you owe yourself a visit! I hope that vacationers, explorers, and residents from nearby will head to Cliffs of the Neuse and enjoy all the reasons to love this very special place that belongs to us all.
While you’re there, you’ll want to stay a few nights to try our new Camper Cabins– sturdy log cabins with the added comforts of A/C and electricity, especially nice during heat or cold. These two-bedroom Camper Cabins are only offered at Cliffs of the Neuse and Carolina Beach state parks, but we hope to have more in time as they have been a big hit with visitors.
See you in our parks!
Katie Hall is the Public Information Officer for the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation. A life-long North Carolinian, Katie is on a mission to explore all the state parks she has missed or hasn’t seen in a decade or more. Her background is in environmental science, management and policy, communications and outreach. Parks visited so far: 34