Mysterious Lakes in Bladen County

Not too many things are that mysterious in the natural world. Almost all the mysterious things have been figured out by science and reasoning. But here at Jones Lake State Park, we have a true mystery that has not yet been solved and most likely will never be solved: “How were the Bay Lakes formed?”

This question sparks many different feelings and answers from many people.  Some are adamant that these oval and uniform lakes were made by meteors. Others believe they were formed by the receding Atlantic Ocean and prevailing winds or prehistoric animal signs.  Scientists claim it is built up nitrogen beneath the Earth.Bay Lakes

Whatever the answer, people have been drawn to these bodies of water for centuries.  Native Americans have a word for them, Pocosin.  Pocosin roughly translated means, water on a hill.  Ancient dugout canoes have been found at the bottom of these lakes. There is one located in the visitor center of Jones Lake State Park. This canoe has been carbon dated to over 2,000 years ago.

Jones Lake State Park has a proud and long history dating back to 1939. It is one of the oldest parks in the North Carolina state park system. It was built and opened as the first state park for African-Americans in North Carolina. Since most businesses and attractions were segregated in the South until the 1960’s, Jones Lake State Park stood as an oasis to socialize and recreate for that community. Many of the same families and churches that came to the park when it first opened still hold family reunions and baptisms on a regular basis.JONE4

The water in Jones Lake has a distinct color. The dark color is created similarly to the way tea is made. The 224-acre lake is surrounded by hundreds of acres of thick bay forest (named after a type of bay tree that inhabits the forest). The bay forest has a peat bottom which seeps tannins into the water staining it dark. These tannins or tannic acid do more than stain the water; they cause the water to be very acidic. The lake does not have a creek or river running into it so it is rain-fed only. Because of the acidity, the lake does not hold regular freshwater fish species. There are only four different species of fish that call Jones Lake home: chain pickerel, yellow perch, flyer sunfish, and yellow bullhead catfish. Even though you cannot catch bass in the lake, it is still very relaxing to sit on the fishing pier and wet a hook.jone_shoreline_cp

Jones Lake has a total of 7 miles of hiking trails available for visitors. All trails are flat and easy to walk. Three trails give hikers the opportunity to see the distinct habitats that can be found in Carolina Bays. The Cedar Loop is a 1-mile long trail that offers great views of Jones Lake and loops through the thick Carolina Bay forest. While taking the 4-mile Bay Trail, hikers will travel through the thick bay forest aRCWnd the open sand rim. The Salters Lake Trail begins at the halfway point of the Bay Trail and is 1.5 miles long one way. This trail leads hikers to Salters Lake, one of a few remaining undisturbed Carolina Bay Lakes in the state. There is a good chance of seeing a red-cockaded woodpecker, a federally endangered species of bird that calls Jones Lake State Park home.

For folks who want to camp at Jones Lake, the park offers 20 different family campsites to choose from.  If you have a large group, Jones Lake does offer an organized group camp that holds up to 35 people. Soon, thanks to the Connect Bond package passed last spring, there will be campground improvements made, which will consist of more full hookup sites and a new modern bathhouse.camping1

Folks have been enjoying this unique, mysterious, nature gem for quite some time and just maybe you will do the same. We hope so!

~Written by Jones Lake State Park Rangers Lane Garner & John Privette.  Lane is a graduate of University of North Carolina at Pembroke in Recreation Manager and has been a ranger for 14 years.  John is a graduate of Appalachian State also with a degree in Recreational Management.  He has been at Jones Lake State Park 2 1/2 years.

StoryWalk combines reading and the outdoors for kids

StoryWalk is coming to a North Carolina State Parks.

storywalk 1StoryWalk is simply a book and a walking path combined. In 2007, Anne Fergusson with the Vermont Department of Health had the idea to combine literacy and exercise. Teaming up with the Kellog Hubbard Library in Montpelier, they attached laminated pages from a children’s book onto wooden posts. In the ten years since, StoryWalks have gone up in all 50 states and at least 11 countries.

Our state parks education team has been busy laminating their favorite nature-based children’s books. We just add a little Velcro tape to the back, affix them to metal sign stakes, and a trail instantly becomes even more fun for children and book-lovers of all ages.

storywalk 2“As a parent, I love that the signs inspire young ones to hurry along the trail to find the next one. But, they also help make sure the kids don’t get too far ahead since they stop to read the next page,” says Education Manager Sean Higgins.

State park StoryWalks will usually remain up for one-to-two weeks along easy trails about one mile or less.   Upcoming walks include:

Dismal Swamp State Park, April 13-24, “Be A Friend to Trees”

Raven Rock State Park, April 20-May 1, “Diary of a Spider”

Carvers Creek State Park, May 2 – 16, “Diary of a Spider”

Lake James State Park, May 1 – 15, “Diary of a Spider”

Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve, May 17-31.

 

Look for more at www.ncparks.gov throughout 2017.

Families and fish share a fiesta

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Fishing Fiesta at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area Saturday was designed to introduce families to the fish.

The fish were a bit reluctant in the cool April air but help for new anglers was abundant as state and local agencies and fishing clubs shared knowledge on regulations, tying knots, stringing fishing gear and wrangling earthworms.

It was a great opportunity to groom young anglers and to get outdoors on one of the first truly warm spring days. Here’s a photo tour of the event.

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Norman launches a new life at state park (naturally)

eagle 1 copy.jpgAn adult bald eagle, informally called Norman, launched a new chapter of his life today at the swim beach of Lake Norman State Park.

Staff of the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville sent the rehabilitated Norman on his way as part of an announcement in its fundraising campaign to build a showplace education center. The eagle was found March 21 in a backyard of a Mooresville neighborhood seemingly unable to fly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANorman appeared unruffled by the ceremony or the several dozen people who attended and kept smartphones clicking as he huffed aloft and soared over the lake.

The Carolina Raptor Center is in the midst of a campaign to raise $10.6 million for the education center and to renovate its medical facilities at the Latta Plantation Nature Preserve in Huntersville. The center announced a $250,000 challenge grant from the Leon Levine Foundation.

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Four new state park units considered

A bill under consideration by the N.C. General Assembly would authorize a new state park in southeastern North Carolina and three new state natural areas.

Black River State Park is proposed in House Bill 353 within Sampson, Bladen and Pender Counties along the slow-moving river channel that presents some of the oldest trees in the eastern U.S. within its cypress groves. The Nature Conservancy now owns much of the 2,600 acres that could be acquired for a state park, having purchased the property in the 1990s to protect the cypress.

black river billAuthorization by the legislature is the first step in creating a new state park or state natural area. It allows the Division of Parks and Recreation to purchase or accept donation of property for that purpose. The General Assembly is not being asked for funding through the legislation. Funding would be sought through the state Parks and Recreation and Clean Water Management trust funds and perhaps the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The three proposed state natural areas would also be created with help from conservation organizations. State natural areas differ from state parks in that they’re more directly focused on protecting areas of scientific and ecological value. They sometimes offer more limited recreation such as trails, educational activities and low-impact recreation.

The three proposed state natural areas are:

  • Bob’s Pocket State Natural Area, McDowell County. About 2,900 acres could be acquired with the help of The Foothills Conservancy. The site has forested connections into the South Mountains and could offer trail connections to nearby areas.
  • Warwick Mill Bay State Natural Area, Robeson County. About 1,000 acres could be acquired with the help of Audubon North Carolina and The Conservation Fund. The Carolina bay offers high-quality breeding habitat for many species of waterbirds.
  • Salmon Creek State Natural Area, Bertie County. About 1,000 acres could be acquired with the help of the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust. The property covers an American Indian occupation site that has yielded artifacts that may be linked to the “Lost Colony,” as well as 18 identified archaeological sites, including remains of the plantation house of colonial governor Thomas Pollock.

The Bob’s Pocket and Salmon Creek units would be managed by staff from nearby state parks, and Audubon North Carolina has offered to help manage Warwick Mill Bay. The funding needed for initial land acquisitions is estimated at between $3.88 million and $5.78 million.

Dismal or Not?

Dismal Swamp State Park: Featured Park of the Month

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Just the name—Dismal—seems to make many people shy away. Those of us who take care of this hidden gem hear it all the time: “Must be pretty dreary out here!” Or especially on rainy days, “Well, the name is fitting.” But come and wander around, spend time out here and really get to know the place, and you’ll find that it is actually the precise opposite of the dictionary definition of “dismal”: “causing gloom or dejection; gloomy; dreary; cheerless; melancholy.” The Dismal Swamp is vibrant and very much alive. Once you discover the facts behind the myths, the names of the vines that shroud much of the forest, which small and usually innocuous animals make the strange sounds emanating from the heart of the Swamp…not only is it not a scary place but an inviting one.

Let’s start with the name itself. Early European settlers referred to low-lying, wet areas as “dismals.” Because of its vast original size of nearly 1.3 million acres, this “dismal” became known as the Great Dismal. Adding “Swamp” to the name is really a tad redundant, but nonetheless, that is what we call it today. Even its soil and water are unique. The Swamp is covered in a layer of peat soil, like what you might buy at a home improvement store for your vegetable garden. The peat can be anywhere from 3 to 15 deep and is rich in organic matter. In that soil today grow mainly pines; oaks and other hardwoods; and an assortment of small trees, shrubs, and colorful wildflowers.

Another aspect of the Swamp you will notice as soon as you arrive is the dark color of the water. All the water in the Swamp appears black at first glance but brown upon closer examination. It has been compared to coffee, Coca-Cola, sweet tea, and root beer, among other things. Many assume that it must be dirty and are surprised to learn that it is actually some of the cleanest water there is. The color comes not from dirt but tannins, compounds found in trees that leach into the water. As a result, the water has a very low pH—around 4-5—that helps to inhibit bacterial growth (and the growth of just about anything else, including fish. Only the hardiest species can be found here). Swamp water stays fresh for a very long time, which made it valuable to the early settlers, who used it for drinking on transatlantic crossings.

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Many of those same settlers certainly did fear the place, though—they also saw no value in swampland and set about trying to drain it so that it could be farmed instead. Consequently, over 100 miles of ditches crisscross the area today, and parts of it are so dry it doesn’t even look like a swamp. Farming efforts, however, failed, as the land did not get dry enough, so the focus shifted to timber. The Swamp’s stands of bald cypress and Atlantic White-Cedar—a tree that is now endangered—came down and out in the form of shingles and other valuable products. Tour the trails today and the woods will give you the impression of longevity and a pristine wilderness, when in reality signs of human influence are rampant. Today’s trees are relatively young, as every portion of the Swamp has been logged at least once.

Beyond timber, people have found myriad uses for the Swamp over the years. The park’s eastern border is the historic Dismal Swamp Canal, opened in 1805 and the longest, continuously operating manmade waterway in the country. In its heyday, lighter boats hauled shingles and other goods up and down the 22-mile long Canal. Just as fascinating as the Canal itself is the story of the people who built it. Enslaved people labored for 12 years to construct the arrow-straight canal linking the Albemarle Sound and the Chesapeake Bay. They progressed perhaps 10 feet a day under conditions that no one would want to bear: waist-deep muck, swarms of biting insects, and of course the risk of encountering a venomous snake. Some were able to earn the freedom through the wages they were credited for their work; others could not and bravely set out seek freedom for themselves. The Dismal Swamp became an integral part of the Underground Railroad and even a permanent home to previously enslaved people who became known as “maroons.” The myths and tall tales about swamp creatures and ghosts provided excellent protection, as few were willing to venture in to pursue the fugitives, and the Swamp produced many food sources, including small game and a variety of edible fruits and berries.

Later on, moonshiners found the Swamp to be the perfect place to hide illegal stills. You can see a replica just a quarter mile hike from the visitor center, and the remains of real stills along the Supplejack Trail. Moonshining here began during the Prohibition era and continued possibly into the 1960s. It’s easy to see what made the Swamp so appealing to these lawbreakers and how challenging it must have been for the federal agents tasked with finding and destroying those stills!

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Today, we have come full circle and realize that Dismal has much to offer and great value in its natural state. It catches and holds water like a sponge and also helps filter pollutants out of that water before it reaches the river and ultimately the ocean. It offers the largest undeveloped tract of habitat in the eastern US to animals like black bear, fox, bobcat, raccoon, and more. Park staff have documented more than 160 species of birds and 69 species of butterfly. Snakes, turtles, frogs, and salamanders abound if one knows where and how to look. Where early Europeans cut down timber, we now hold annual tree planting events in an attempt to reestablish the cypress and Atlantic White-Cedars. Where the settlers tried to drain the Swamp, we now build water control structures to keep more water in it. University researchers check monitoring wells and vegetation plots to track the progress of these efforts. So much more happens in this place than first meets the eye.

Perhaps most importantly, however, the Swamp offers us people an escape…hike into the heart of the park and close your eyes. The silence is so overpowering you can hear it, loud and clear. Despite the centuries of human influence, it is and always will be a wild, special place. 

Dismal Swamp State Park is located off U.S. Route 17 south of South Mills in the northeastern part of North Carolina.

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~Written by Ranger Katie Sanford, Dismal Swamp State Park.  Katie has been a ranger since 2013 and is graduate of Virginia Tech where she studied Wildlife Sciences.  She lives in Newland, NC (Pasquotank County) where she has what she calls a “Homestead Zoo “consisting of poultry, waterfowl, goats, dogs and cats as well as her garden where she grows ornamental and edible plants and flowers. When she is not tending to the land, either at home or the state park, she loves riding her Tennessee Walking Horse.

 

Photograph in the spirit of Ansel Adams in NC State Parks

To gaze at a gallery image by Ansel Adams, the acknowledged master of landscape photography, is to be inspired. The average viewer cannot help but look and be inspired by nature. For photographers, the inspiration is to attempt to express his/her own vision of nature and the outdoors.

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Half Dome, Merced River by Ansel Adams, Winter, Yosemite National Park, circa 1938.

North Carolina State Parks offer the opportunities to act on that inspiration. The state parks system is partnering with the NC Museum of Art to co-mingle art and nature in the spirit of Adams and its current Ansel Adams: Masterworks exhibition. (Details here) Four state parks are offering guided photo hikes in February and March to introduce more people to a rewarding outdoor activity that celebrates North Carolina’s landscape. They’ll be held at William B. Umstead State Park Feb. 12, at Morrow Mountain State Park Feb. 18, at Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve March 11 and at Raven Rock State Park March 25. Visitors of all skill levels are welcome to share advice and inspiration with rangers and seasoned outdoor photographers. To get you thinking, here are a few basic tips about photographing in state parks.

State parks are perfect photography destinations, offering easy and safe access to the region’s most alluring landscapes with trail systems that present nature in every season and every mood. The best outdoor photography starts with the best information. Our website is where to get started with trail maps and insight into what a photographer will find in each park. Begin a visit to a park by exploring the visitor center with its detailed information about scenery, habitats and wildlife species you’ll encounter. If the opportunity presents itself, talk to a park ranger. They see the park in all its phases, and many of them are photographers as well.

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Access is easy in parks. View of Mt. Craig from a parking area at Mount Mitchell State Park.

The impulse is to plan visits to faraway, exotic state parks perhaps in the mountains or at the coast. But don’t overlook parks close by that you can visit repeatedly. Most landscape photographers will tell you that’s how to get beyond the obvious cliché photos in favor of a stunning interpretation that’s all your own. Some of Adams’ most famous images were captured in Yosemite – an awe-inspiring place to be sure, but it helped that Adams lived there for a time and knew it intimately.

Travel light; remember you’ll be hiking, and equipment quickly gets heavy on the trail. Experienced photographers often carry only a small camera, a couple of small prime lenses (wide angle and medium telephoto are good), and maybe a tripod if shooting in low light or if slow shutter speeds are desired for water features. Too much equipment makes it too much like work. Initially if possible, keep your photo hikes shorter. It’s not mileage you’re after, but rather deliberate study of the scenery.

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Winter scene of the pond at Carvers Creek State Park.

Landscape photography is usually best early or late in the day when light is usually more interesting, and happily that’s when crowds at scenic spots are smaller. Just allow time to get off the trails before dark and out of the park before the gates close. Be patient with other visitors who may photobomb your shot occasionally; you can often make new friends by offering to help with those selfies. Permits aren’t needed for photography in North Carolina State Parks except in the case of commercial photography, where models, lights and other equipment and special access may be involved.

One last, important bit of advice for landscape photography. Take a few moments to put the camera down, relax and take in the experience. It’s all about inspiration, right?