Piedmont Land Conservancy secures critical property for Mayo River State Park

Mayo River State Park will be expanded by 354 acres – including 3.6 miles of river frontage – thanks to a land acquisition arranged by Piedmont Land Conservancy and Duke Energy that was announced Thursday. The property is critical for development of the state park and offers much-needed river access for paddling and fishing.

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The property acquisition will allow more opportunities for paddling and fishing.

Piedmont Land Conservancy has pledged to make the property near the Town of Mayodan part of the 2,187-acre park in Rockingham County. Duke Energy provided $1.1 million to help the non-profit conservancy acquire the land as part of Duke Energy’s efforts to mitigate recreational losses in the Dan River basin following a coal ash spill near Eden two years ago. Locally known as the Trust Property, the land is in two parcels.

Created in 2003, Mayo River State Park was envisioned as a riverine park in the style of New River, Eno River and Lumber River state parks. The ultimate goal is to allow visitors to experience the entire length of the river from the Virginia state line to its confluence with the Dan River. The park is headquartered at the site of the former Mayo Park near Mayodan, built as a recreation site by Washington Mills in the 1940s. The park also has a presence on the river at the Virginia state line.

 

This new acquisition will allow for river access and recreation facilities between those two anchor points within a 12-mile river corridor. At Highway NC 770’s bridge across the Mayo River, the property offers frontage on both riverbanks.

The acquisition was announced at a small ceremony at the NC 770 bridge by officials from North Carolina State Parks, the conservancy and Duke Energy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“In 2015, Piedmont Land Conservancy celebrated our 25th anniversary, and this property is one that we’ve hoped to acquire from the very beginning,” said Kevin Redding, the conservancy’s executive director. “Given the property’s fascinating history and the miles of river frontage along the Mayo, this acquisition will provide a major boost to the growing recreational opportunities at Mayo River State Park.”

The conservancy has been active in the development of both Mayo River and Haw River state parks, identifying potential acquisitions and negotiating with landowners. It provided the first property acquired for Haw River State Park soon after that park was authorized in 2001.

Mike Murphy, state parks director, said. “To develop any great state park, we need partners and friends connected by a common vision and a commitment to protect a region’s special places. Piedmont Land Conservancy has stepped up as a critical partner in this region, and its dedication and tenacity are to be applauded.”

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Hanging Rock opens new accessible picnic shelter

Hanging Rock State Park has opened a new 1,440-square-foot picnic shelter near its swimming lake and bathhouse that’s accessible to visitors with disabilities.

The shelter complex is a result of a partnership with ACCESS North Carolina, a state program established to provide funding for accessibility projects at tourism-related venues. The $290,000 project also includes an accessible, paved walkway from the parking area and shelter to the lake and bathhouse and eventually will include four outdoor, accessible picnic sites.

haro_shelterThe shelter offers 10 picnic tables, four of which are specially built to allow accessibility to persons with disabilities. Its design by architect Edwin Bouldin of Winston-Salem, using massive timbers and stonework, complements the park’s older shelters and other structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

“This shelter complex is a tremendous addition to one of our oldest and most popular state parks,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “We are grateful to ACCESS North Carolina and the state’s accessibility community, not only for helping with projects such as this in our state parks system, but also for keeping us informed of accessibility issues.”

“Picnicking is a popular activity at Hanging Rock State Park, and this will give visitors with mobility disabilities, their family members and travel companions accessible picnic opportunities and a chance to experience a beautiful lake view surrounded by nature,” said Philip Woodward, former ACCESS specialist currently with the N.C. Council on Developmental Disabilities.

Hanging Rock State Park was created in 1935 and now encompasses 7,869 acres. It recorded visitation of 596,819 in 2015.

Hanging Rock State Park welcomes 136 new Junior Rangers to celebrate 100 years

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHanging Rock State Park’s goal was to train 100 new Junior Rangers to commemorate the 100th birthday of North Carolina State Parks.

The park easily surpassed that mark, welcoming 136 new Junior Rangers to the ranks, teaching them about stewardship of the natural resources, how to find nature’s secrets in the forest, state parks history and the finer points of a ranger’s duties.

Superintendent Robin Riddlebarger and the park’s staff cycled the candidates through learning stations. For a stewardship project, the youngsters helped fill landscaping steps with soil, forming a bucket brigade. Then, Mike Murphy, state parks director, swore them in with the oath and presented each with a Hanging Rock State Park Junior Ranger patch and certificate.

Learn more about the Junior Ranger program here. And, enjoy this photo gallery of the Centennial event. Click any photo to enlarge and navigate through the gallery.

Exhibit showcases rangers’ photos

There’s an old saying in the state parks that rangers are paid partially in sunsets. There’s enough truth in it that many rangers are inspired to keep cameras handy for those quiet moments before the gates open, after visitors leave or on patrols in the backcountry.

photo exhibit 1A new photographic exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History “See the Parks from Our Eyes” showcases some of the landscapes, plants and critters that rangers encounter in their work. A digital display allows visitors to explore each state park through the eyes of rangers and other employees of North Carolina State Parks. It follows a popular exhibit staged last year at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences called “I Spy with my Park Ranger Eye.”

In a nod to the North Carolina State Parks Centennial in 2016, there’s also a large display of historic photos of some of the parks. The exhibit is on the museum’s third floor and will be displayed until January.

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Exploring the mystique of Grandfather Mountain

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Grandfather Mountain is not so much a landform as it is a massive eminence in the central Blue Ridge, with its sprawling flanks rising from deep within the culture, history and mystique of western North Carolina.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASuch a definitive landmark in the state and the state parks system deserves a definitive tome, and a just-released book, Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon, by Randy Johnson is just that. The author has prowled Grandfather’s slopes since the 1970s, working for a time as its backcountry manager. He’s currently a member of the Grandfather Mountain State Park Advisory Committee.

No detail is too insignificant or overlooked for this sprawling natural and cultural history – from Grandfather’s geological birth millennia ago to its elevation as a state park in 2009, when the 2,600-acre backcountry was separated in deed from the famed tourist attraction built by Hugh Morton and purchased by the state. Along this journey, Johnson stops at such cultural cairns as Tweetsie Railroad, the Scotland-inspired Invershiel resort and the den of Mildred the Bear.

Included are the stories of early exploration, Grandfather’s rough-hewn trail system and Morton’s dogged battle with the National Park Service over the route of the Blue Ridge Parkway as well as practical guides on how to hike the mountain and how to photograph it. For fans of Grandfather – and they are legion – more than 200 historical photos and stunning landscapes dress the book like rime ice on the summit.

In the 100-year history of North Carolina State Parks, few accomplishments have drawn as much applause as the acquisition of Grandfather Mountain. Johnson’s book goes a long way toward explaining why.

20-mile segment of Mountains-to-Sea State Trail opens

North Carolina State Parks officials joined Carolina Mountain Club volunteers on National Trails Day Saturday to formally open a new 20-mile segment of the Mountains-to-Sea (MST) State Trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway and extending into the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Cherokee Reservation.

After much planning, work on the segment began in 2006, and more than 250 club members in multiple crews contributed almost 25,000 volunteer hours during some 250 workdays. The new trail section begins on the Blue Ridge Parkway, travels down BIA 407 for four miles and then back along the parkway for 16 miles to Balsam Gap.

mst dedicationThe opening of the MST segment brings closer the completion of a 30-mile gap. Once this gap is filled, there will be a 300-mile continuous section of the trail from Clingmans Dome to Stone Mountain State Park. The National Park Service is working on completing the final seven-mile section.

Touching upon North Carolina’s highest elevation at Mount Mitchell State Park and sea level at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, more than 600 miles of the MST are open as off-road trail. Along its planned path, the MST passes through more than 30 counties, numerous small towns, three national parks, several national forests and national wildlife refuges, state parks and larger towns and cities.

Land trusts name Chimney Rock State Government Conservation Partner of the Year

The state parks system, and specifically Chimney Rock State Park, were recognized and played a role in the 2016 Land Trust Assembly and its attendant Legislative Lobby Day in Raleigh this week.

Chimney Rock State Park’s close work with local land trusts to grow and improve that park in the Hickory Nut Gorge resulted in its being named the State Government Conservation Partner of the Year.

And in the Legislative Building, state park rangers and education specialists staged an exhibit and talked about parks and the 2016 Centennial with legislators, staff, lobbyists and visitors.

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From left, State Parks Director Mike Murphy, Chimney Rock State Park Superintendent James Ledgerwood, and Governor Pat McCrory at land trust awards ceremony.

The N.C. Land Trust Awards, sponsored by the state’s 24 local land trusts, are given annually to businesses, nonprofits, governments and individuals who lead efforts to protect natural resources. The park was nominated by Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina.

“Chimney Rock State Park contains habitat of national significance,” said Kieran Roe, executive director of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. “We are so grateful to have a partner in the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation that understands the importance of active land management, particularly the control of invasive species for long-term habitat protection.”

The state park joined the conservancies on the inaugural steering committee of the Weed Action Coalition of the Hickory Nut Gorge in 2012. Since then, the partners have used the program to leverage state park funds for the treatment of non-native invasive species on nearly 300 acres in the park. One of the principal projects was using goats to control kudzu.

Park Superintendent James Ledgerwood said, “Our partnerships with the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund have been so instrumental not only in purchasing and protecting land but assisting in active management of that land.”

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Rangers Michael Walker and Jessica Phillips staff an exhibit at the Legislative Building.

The state parks exhibit near legislative offices was designed to be playful and featured an oversized s’more, kayaks, wildlife puppets, taxidermy and duck decoys floating in an indoor fountain. It was staffed by education manager Sean Higgins, education specialists Brittany Hurtado and Brian Bockhahn and Rangers Jessica Phillips and Michael Walker.

Along with legislators and staff, the exhibit was visited by Susan Kluttz, Secretary of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Deputy Secretary Dr. Kevin Cherry and state parks Deputy Director Carol Tingley.