Taking notice: State parks projects and the staff who bring them to life

What do you remember after you visit a state park? Most people say they recall the peace of nature, seeing a cool plant or animal, or interacting with a park ranger. We ALL know park rangers immediately, with their big hats and all the cool things they know about the park. You often hear kids say they want to be a park ranger when they grow up, and I can definitely see why. But, we’re all missing something. We’re missing a group of people—nearly as many serving our state parks as we have rangers– who do a tremendous amount every day to care for our state parks behind the scenes–and right in front of your nose. I’m talking about our maintenance staff!

Our maintenance staff’s work is SO much more nuanced what their name implies, and it’s time we acknowledge their valuable role in our parks.

Recently, I asked our maintenance staff to start sending me photos and info about their daily work. After some groans (they are quite busy enough, thank you very much), I started receiving messages from several staff members across the state.

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area

Craig Autry, a maintenance and construction supervisor at Jordan Lake, shared with me some major Fourth of July challenges for our maintenance staff.  Check out the trash they collected after the holiday weekend last year!



Lake Norman State Park

This Little Free Library built and installed by Maintenance and Construction Technician Greg Johnson at Lake Norman State Park was built from repurposed wood from a 100-year-old-barn that once stood on park property.


This conference table, built by Maintenance and Construction Technician Greg Johnson at Lake Norman State Park, was repurposed from the park’s original entrance sign. The sign was originally carved at Mount Mitchell and installed at Lake Norman in 1963.



Fort Macon State Park

Larry, a maintenance and construction technician down east at Fort Macon, ends up fixing a lot of automatic sinks. Below, you can see the inner workings of the sink’s automatic function, which requires fresh batteries regularly.  This time, Larry found that the small electric solenoid that turns the water on and off needed to be cleaned before it would function again.



Stone Mountain State Park

In the mountain region, Trails Maintenance Manager Jody Reavis has been hard at work leading the construction on new sections of  Stone Mountain trails. Here, a new section of horse trail was carved out near Widows Creek Falls and the main entrance. This section will be part of the Mountains to Sea State Trail. First the dynamite, and then the cleanup:




When many people think of North Carolina’s “Naturally Wonderful” state parks, they think of massive forests, expansive lakes, primitive camping, or pristine beach walking. Our natural resources are certainly part of what makes our parks special. But it’s also the things that differentiate state parks from unmanaged wilderness– bathrooms, trash cans, shower houses, docks, piers, trails, campsites, swim areas– that bring you to your state parks for a safe, comfortable adventure with modern conveniences and easy access to beautiful places. The fact is, all of these things are maintained, improved, repaired, restored and often constructed by our parks’ maintenance staff.

From fixing mowers and sinks to landscaping, trail construction and maintenance, and waste management, our maintenance staff members are truly jack and jills-of-all-trades. Visitors to the parks often mistake them for park rangers because of their similar uniforms, but many leave without ever knowing how important these crews really are to the parks. We want to do a better job conveying the hard work that our maintenance staff do so that we all can give them more credit for their extensive skills, pride in their work, and the critical role the have in our parks. Please keep an eye on our blog and social media accounts for more updates about the work of our maintenance staff.

Spring Hikes in State Parks

by: Katie Hall, Public Information Officer, N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation

Spring brings the hustle-bustle back to our state parks. The best way to enjoy spring blossoming across our state is to check out the parks that are less likely to be crowded.  Fortunately, some of our most beautiful state parks are also some of the least crowded in the early spring.

Spring is a great time at our parks for all kinds of activities! The thaw settles on our mountain region parks, allowing leaves to bud on branches and the earliest flowers to bloom.  Insects emerge, prompting birds to return to the park for food and suitable temperatures. Icy winds turn to cool breezes, making it a great time for hiking and exploring overlooks and mountaintops.

Elk Knob, Gorges, South Mountains, New River, and Lake James state parks along with Mount Jefferson State Natural Area are great western parks to get your outdoor fix without facing clogged parking lots and crowded trails.

Elk Knob State Park, summit

Enjoy a challenging hike to the top of Elk Knob for some of the best views in the state. Stretch out at the summit for north or south-facing views with plenty of space to enjoy your time or have a picnic. Paddle down the New River for a different perspective on spring flora and fauna from this National and Scenic River and one of the oldest rivers in North America.

Lake James State Park

Get your mountain bikes ready and head to Lake James, which offers trails and terrain suitable for all levels of riders. Paddle, camp, bike and hike surrounded by rare and diverse ecosystems, beautiful mountains and a sparkling lake. Visit in March while the trails are still quiet!

From Luther Rock at Mount Jefferson State Natural Area

Mount Jefferson State Natural Area has stunning overlooks and views right from the trail, plus cliffside picnic areas and a large picnic shelter that can accommodate a springtime event or simple family picnic. Gorges and South Mountains both offer rugged, sprawling mountain wilderness with waterfalls and biodiversity that make every hike a new experience throughout the year.

Down east, the spring brings ideal conditions for a state park visit. At Lake Waccamaw State Park, enjoy the sunshine on the beautiful new boardwalk by the dam, which for the first time allows a hike all the way around the lake. Boating, fishing and paddling await this spring before the sun gets too hot and the bugs get too plenty.

Lake Waccamaw Scenic 2_0
Lake Waccamaw State Park
Lumber River State Park

Lumber River State Park offers a long, scenic paddle that you can enjoy when the water level isn’t too high. The black waters of the river are cool and meandering, and bald cypress trees line the banks and creep into river. Keep an eye out for the beautiful belted kingfisher flying low over the waters as you paddle.

belted kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher at Lumber River State Park                                                                                  Photo by Mountain Region Superintendent Sean McElhone

Singletary Lake State Park

Previously a group camp with limited public access, Singletary Lake State Park is now open to drop-in visitors and offers new space for family camping. Explore this rare Carolina bay ecosystem from the park’s 500-foot pier where you can fish and swim. Or, take your kayak or canoe out on the lake to paddle among the cypress trees draped in Spanish moss.

Make it your goal this spring to get out to some state parks that you haven’t visited before! If you have visited them all, challenge yourself to have a new experience at a state park. Please share photos of your spring adventures with us on our Facebook page at facebook.com/northcarolinastateparks. We hope you have a safe, fun, and Naturally Wonderful trip!

First Day Hikes: A day in photos

First Day Hikes 2019 brought 3,859 people to North Carolina’s state parks. Hundreds of dogs, at least two llamas and a goat joined their human companions on various hikes across the state. Here are a few photos of us having fun!

First day hikers at the base of Stone Mountain.
First day hikers follow the ranger’s lead at Stone Mountain State Park.
fdh clne 2019 intro
Cliffs of the Neuse has a record crowd for first day hike.
fdh disw 2019 goat
Dismal Swamp welcomes its first goat hiker.
fdh grmo 2019
Grandfather Mountain State Park’s first day hikers head out on the Profile Trail.
Haw River crowd together before first day hike.
fdh lano 2019
Lake Norman’s first day hike crew!
fdh moje 2019
Mount Jefferson first day hikers on Luther Rock.
fdh momi 2019 group
Mount Mitchell offers the highest first day hike east of the Mississippi.
fdh momi 2019 ranger teaching
Mount Mitchell first day hikers learn from rangers.
fdh pimo 2019 little pinnacle
Pilot Mountain’s first day hikers on the Little Pinnacle

Ranger David Brown Wins Top Science Education Award

David Brown Photo
Ranger David Brown at Raven Rock State Park


Raven Rock State Park staff are beaming with pride for their colleague, Ranger David Brown. Ranger Brown was awarded the North Carolina Science Teacher Association’s prestigious Distinguished Service in Science Education Award for a non-school setting. This award, presented on Nov. 30, is in honor of his years of service in environmental science education in our state parks system.

A North Carolina native, David served in the Coast Guard before starting out as a seasonal employee at Carolina Beach and Fort Fisher. He graduated from UNC-Wilmington with a bachelor of science degree in marine biology and has served as a park ranger as well as lead interpretation and education ranger and acting superintendent at Raven Rock State Park.

Referred to by school children as the “Rock Man,” David is passionate about helping others understand science in proactive, experiential ways. He focuses on accommodating various dispositions, abilities, and needs of educators and students. In his daily work, he builds curiosity, promotes discovery, and encourages engagement using inquiry-based teaching strategies. This helps accomplish his ultimate goal in environmental education, which is to foster an appreciation of science and the natural world in his participants.

David develops and teaches innovative programs including Project Wild, Rock Raps, and Geo Jeopardy, creating enthusiasm and willing participation in science learning. His extensive work in Harnett County with nearby Campbell University includes 800 pre-service teachers and science majors in the last 15 years. He has worked with educators to develop and adapt activities and instructional materials for the natural world. Notably, he has incorporated creative inclusion practices to address the needs of visually, mobility, and hearing-impaired learners to allow better engagement in both field and in-class science activities.

David is a role model for his co-workers, future teachers, fellow educators, park visitors, and school children. Raven Rock Superintendent John Privette, his colleagues at the park and across the division are so proud of his work. Please join us in congratulating Ranger Brown for this well-deserved recognition!

Carvers Creek Burns Bright

CACR Fire info panel and trailRanger 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.

CACR burn photo
A prescribed burn underway at Carvers Creek State Park

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.

Bowers Prescribed Fire Photo
Ranger Colleen Bowers during a burn at Carvers Creek State Park

New Mountains-to-Sea Trail segment completes path from Clingmans Dome to Stone Mountain


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).

Division of Parks and Recreation Director Dwayne Patterson addresses guests at Great Smoky Mountains National Park to celebrate the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail.

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.

Mountains-to-Sea State Trail Map - Mounatin Segment Complete copy
The mountain section of the  Mountains-to-Sea State Trail is now continuous from Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Stone Mountain State Park. Connections through and beyond Stone Mountain are in progress.

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.

MST Event GSM 2
Division of Parks and Recreation Director Dwayne Patterson joins Carolina Mountain Club volunteers, Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent J.D. Lee, Dr. Doris Hammett, and the former Vice Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee to open this important connection on the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail.



Where the River Meets the Rock

The Raven Rock

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.

Beautiful trails through dense, shady forest

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.

Overlook with views of the Piedmont and Cape Fear River

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!

Butterfly Garden at Raven Rock Visitor Center

Colossal Canoes for Little Learners…and YOU!

Big Canoes 3_PNG
The “Hellbender” (L) and Loggerhead (R) are “Big Canoes” recently donated by the Friends of State Parks for educational programming across the state park system.

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 Loggerhead
Interpretation and Education Manager Sean Higgins prepares to take The Loggerhead on a safety test voyage
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!








Hiking for the Health of It

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 Wright

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.

Morrow Mountain, Mountain Loop Trail
Photo by Drae Wright- Mountain Loop Trail at Morrow Mountain State Park

“[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.

Photo by Drae Wright- Robin’s Nest at Haw River State Park

“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.

Winter Sky at Raven Rock State Park

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.

Learn more about the Passport program hereand about the 100-Mile Challenge here.

Do you have your own healthy lifestyle goals as part of the 100-Mile Challenge? Email us at nc100miles@ncparks.govand you may be featured in our next blog!



Year of the Fish: Get Hooked on NC 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.

Ranger and child fishing game

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.

Red Drum
Photo by S. Bland

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”:


Pup and fish