Inclined to Stay: Cliffs of the Neuse State Park

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.

CLOTN entrance sign close up_PNG_Edited

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.

CLTN_Cliffs Fall_PNG_edited

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.

CLTN Trail_PNG_Edited

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.

CLOTN on cliffs river view_PNG_Edited

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.

Cliffs Cabin

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 

New Sandhills Discovery Room Livens-Up Weymouth Woods

The Sandhills region, a narrow ribbon of rolling land stretching from North Carolina to Georgia, preserves some of the best remaining pockets of longleaf pine forests in the Southeast,” says the introductory panel in the Sandhills Discovery Room—the newest way for families to learn about Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve.Discovery Room Puppet Theater

The new room still tells some of the same stories about longleaf pine forests as the museum from which it was created, but now in a brighter, more family-friendly, interactive atmosphere that encourages both playful exploration and quiet reflection.

New playful elements in the room include a collection of activity boxes with loose parts, puzzles, and games. There are dress-up activities for role-playing and a puppet theater for child-centered storytelling or events staged by park staff. For those who remember the museum, one element will be familiar: the room retained the forest diorama and the tunnel through which children can climb and find vignettes of underground life.

Discovery Room Microeye

Adult visitors enjoy the more challenging puzzles on the magnet board and making art with magnetic poetry, Sandhills-style. Children and parents enjoy experimenting with natural objects from the park with the user-friendly microEYE microscope.

The most striking feature of the discovery room is the sprawling longleaf forest itself, presented by the new bank of windows that were added to connect the discovery room with the outdoors. Sitting in one of the new rocking chairs, visitors can reflect on the forest and maybe catch a glimpse of a red-cockaded woodpecker as they scan the woods.

WEWO_Sandhills Discovery Room_Rocking chairs

To encourage observation, many of the areas’ natural treasures are highlighted on panels that combine art from a North Carolina watercolorist with park staff photos.

Disco RoomNew educational Panels

The walls of the discovery room encourage visitors to “wander the trails at Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve to discover … this landscape shaped by thousands of years of frequent lightning-sparked wildfires.” That’s good advice—but be sure to also stop by the new Sandhills Discovery Room during your trip.

Discovery Room Full

WEWO PATH PINES

 

Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve is a unique peek into the longleaf pine forests that once covered millions of acres in the southeastern U.S. The towering pines – some of them hundreds of years old – canopy expanses of wiregrass and rare and intriguing species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker, pine barrens tree frog, bog spicebush, fox squirrel and myriad wildflowers. A network of short, easy trails provides an outdoor classroom for ranger-led hikes that teach about this ecology or for quiet contemplation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visit South Mountains State Park Anytime of the Year

IMG_1985

Most visitors come to South Mountains State Park during the summer months, when High Shoals Falls Trail becomes a kinetic wave of people. Its neighbor, the Jacob Fork River, becomes a haven for those looking to escape the heat. Northern water snakes bask on rocks and are mistaken for Copperheads. Mountain bikers brave the steep, strenuous slopes on the 16.5 mile loop. The backcountry hosts a fun mixture of expert backpackers and those struggling carrying 50-pound coolers. On special occasions, visitors get to see fleeting glimpses of black bears just before they run.

The picnic area bustles with people bringing many cultural traditions, the common denominator being the great fragrance of foods coming from the grills. Fisherman use corn and live bait to try and entice Rainbow, Brook, and Brown trout out of the Jacob Fork River and onto their grills to cook their gills.

The family campground allows novice campers as well as experienced park visitors the beloved novelty of escaping their houses and entering a realm of fresh air, star-filled skies, no ringtones—no service, and the calming sound of the Jacob Fork River. The family campground is accompanied by a nice bath house for those who appreciate the comforts of fresh water and flush toilets. Summer at night is also a spectacle. Natures’ flares, Big Dipper Fireflies, are seen right at dusk.

During days of intense heat, Copperheads become primarily nocturnal and can be viewed relaxing on South Mountains Park avenue (Please don’t kill them with your car!) Raccoons and opossums also take advantage of the increased visitation in summer due to the cheap and easy (human) food sources. They can be seen regularly at night.

IMG_1986While summertime is remarkable at South Mountains State Park, cooler months are just as just as fun—just in a much different way. You will notice once you arrive at the Jacob Fork Parking area—you’ll have no trouble finding a spot to park, you’ll enjoy a hike along the High Shoals Falls Trail without crowds, and you’ll be free from mosquitoes, horseflies, and wasps. Some years, High Shoals Falls is frozen in a crystalline state—beautiful, breathtaking, and ready for the some incredible photos.

The hike to the stunning Chestnut Knob overlook on a mild day makes it a warm day thanks to the effort. On a cold day, the hike makes winter temps more bearable– and it is worth it to see the view! Hikers with good endurance and horseback riders should not miss the wintertime views of the Horseridge Trail. After the Chestnut Knob fire of November 2016, some spectacular overlooks have formed, including vistas of Grandfather Mountain, Table Rock, Hawksbill, and other Blue Ridge icons.

South Mountains State Park is an equestrian playground. Early spring is a perfect time for equestrians to visit—just ask your horse what time of year he or she would prefer.  South Mountains State Park includes an equestrian camping area with a horse barn for the exclusive use of those camping with horses. The campsites come with a nice bathhouse, electricity, and running water. The horse stalls are cleaned after use and offer fresh hay.

Sometimes February brings a false spring to South Mountains State Park. For days or even a week, temperatures rise and visitors can experience spring-like weather with views that have not been taken over with blooming vegetation. Horseback riders can enjoy this on the Fox Trail where they can view White Tailed Deer, Turkeys, Raptors, squirrels, and other winter wildlife. The Fox Trail also has an old graveyard, a great viewing area of Table Rock, and great acoustics that echo the sounds of the nearby Murray Branch and Nettle Branch rivers.

IMG_1987

Late winter and early spring is a fantastic time to flyfish at South Mountains State Park. The cold but oxygen-rich waters in the Jacob Fork allow trout the comfort to move throughout the river. However, they are very perceptive. Many of them have been previously caught by other fisherman and are continuously hunted by Great Blue herons. Whether you are an avid fly fisherman or a beginner, this time of year is a great time to gear up and come out. You will need a NC fishing license with a trout stamp or something equivalent (i.e. an Inland Waters License).

On most Sunday afternoons, park volunteer Jeff Newton teaches various kinds of fly fishing or fly-tying classes. The regulations of delayed harvest trout fishing can be tricky, so if you have any questions, a ranger will be happy to answer them at the visitor center. There are also many ranger-led programs. Saturdays at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Rangers lead programs including “Wintergreen Hikes” and “Knot Tying.”

IMG_1984

The first few months of the year are typically the least-visited months at South Mountains State Park. There will be days when the air is so cold it will hurt your skin. But, it is still a time to bundle up and hike. It’s still a great month to view wildlife. There are large flocks of turkeys and six point bucks to be seen. So, if you can brave the cooler months, come see us at South Mountains State Park.

Written by Ranger James Rusher at South Mountains State Park

 

State Parks Superintendents Celebrate Heroism, Recovery, Ingenuity at Annual Conference

Leaders from across the Division of Parks and Recreation hosted a banquet at the annual State Parks Conference of Superintendents in January to recognize colleagues for their heroism, creative programs, outstanding projects, and exemplary service. While several inches of snow blanketed Haw River State Park, the Conference of Superintendents soldiered on to celebrate outstanding work of colleagues across the state. The awards described below include those awarded to volunteers and supporters of our state park system as well as staff.

SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS

  • Division of Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Don Reuter was presented with this award for his dedication and service in organizing and managing the 2017 Association of Southeastern State Parks Directors Conference in Winston-Salem, N.C.. Don’s leadership was instrumental last fall when the division welcomed over 110 state parks leaders from 12 southeastern states as well as vendors from all over the country. Don brought the right resources together with venues and partners in the face of several obstacles. He delivered an outstanding conference that set the bar for excellence for years to come.
  • Park Ranger Jeff Davis saw a need at Carolina Beach State Park and took interest in growing and improving the park’s trail system. Jeff is still leading Carolina Beach State Park in innovative trail development 25 years later. He pioneered the development of one of the first Fitness Trails in our park system. In the past two years, Jeff’s leadership led to the completion of two new trail projects including extending and refurbishing Snow’s Cut Trail and the development of Sand Live Oak Trail.
  • Fall of 2016 brought a fire season to western North Carolina unlike any other in recorded history. The season included the Chestnut Knob fire that burned at South Mountains State Park for a full month, damaging 6,435 acres.  Superintendent Jonathan Griffith managed the limited firefighting resources in the area by working every day for three weeks and over 300 hours through the course of the fire. Supported by tireless staff and volunteers from the park and surrounding areas,Jonathan managed an incredibly challenging fire from start to finish.
  • Rangers Jessica Phillips and Crystal Lloyd went above and beyond their normal duties to create the “Ask a Ranger” podcast that promotes the division’s work. The rangers reached out to staff across the park system for interviews, expertise, and anecdotes, creating the first few podcasts to engage people who either can’t visit the park or are interested in more information after a trip to one of our parks. The podcast digs in to ecology, history, folklore, art, and culture in the parks, providing listeners with a behind-the-scenes look at all our parks have to offer.
  • The total solar eclipse event at Gorges State Park would not have come to fruition without the creativity, hard work and dedication of Bob Andrews, Miki Andrews, Patricia Riddle, Cliff Arrington, and Sharon Becker. Patricia and Cliff planned logistics for the event on top of every day park operations. Bob and Miki Andrews volunteered 336 hours during August alone to prepare for the eclipse events at the park. Working together, Bob, Miki, Patricia and Cliff brought in exhibitors, programs, food trucks, and music while ensuring the space and facilities needed would be available to accommodate all parties and several thousand visitors. Regional Interpretation and Education Specialist Sharon Becker curated eclipse-themed educational activities for visitors which were a big hit with children and full-grown visitors alike.
  • Following his 30-year career as a district Interpretation and Education Specialist, Data Manager Tom Howard returned to manage data and develop databases, particularly the Natural Resources Inventory Database, which documents every living thing in every North Carolina State Park. Tom has created a logical, effective database that documents critical information that will help protect our parks’ natural resources.

 

NATURAL RESOURCE PARK OF THE YEAR

Natural resource work often takes years to plan and implement. Under the supervision of Bill Meyer, Stone Mountain State Park has introduced regular prescribed fire to the park and executed a 611-acre fire in some of the most popular areas of the park. The park’s fire program represents the biggest improvement in a fire program in the mountain region and possibly the entire system. The park’s natural resource management program has also taken on several major invasive species eradication projects with the focused work of Ranger Michael Wood. In the last year, the park also managed to successfully execute a daunting stream restoration project last year in a popular trout stream.

 

SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS

  • Hanging Rock State Park was selected for a Special Achievement Award honoring its Excellence in Interpretation this year. The park offered 457 programs reaching 8,660 people in 2017. The passion for Hanging Rock that Robin, Jason, and their team shared with over 100 guests during the Association of Southeastern State Parks Directors Conference in October was inspiring.  The park’s outstanding rangers offer natural resources presentations like What’s Buggin’ Our Hemlocks, they connect programs with an annual theme like Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave, and offer cultural history programs about the Saura Indians and the history of the Mineral Springs on the property. Through innovative art and nature partnerships with community groups, they routinely pursue new and innovative events. Last fall, a theater troop performed Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in the park, which was performed along a trail.
  • This year, Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve was selected for this award to honor its Excellence in Education. The staff of the nature preserve including maintenance mechanics, rangers, the superintendent, and seasonal staff brought their diverse skillset together to turn an old, dark room with outdated and minimally interactive displays into a bright, sprawling learning center where rangers and students can interact. Young visitors now leave the park with the greatest impression and education possible. A reading nook, state-of-the-art video microscope, puppet theater, interchangeable display cases, and an hand-made tables in a multi-use activity area revitalized this space at a huge cost savings–all thanks to the hard work, vision, and dedication of staff.

 

LOCKE CRAIG AWARDS

  • Mr. Everett Davis served as secretary of Lumber River State Park’s park advisory committee (PAC) for 26 years. During this time and even prior to the creation of the PAC, he was active in the protection of the Lumber River and served on the Lumber River Basin Committee. Mr. Davis was instrumental in the major events in the park’s formation and history since then, including the creation of its master plan, opening the facilities at Princess Ann and Chalk Banks accesses, and the creation of the Friends of Lumber River State Park. His wisdom was unmatched in moving the park forward through the years.
  • Colloquially known as the “Falls Lake Angels,” Sandie Rigsbee and Susan Dellinger have volunteered with the Division of Parks and Recreation for 10 years. Visiting the park three to five days per week for hours at a time, they collect trash as they walk through the park. They have assisted park staff with cleanup of swim beaches, hiking trails, picnic areas, parking lots, and roadways. They have also collected materials that floated away during flooding including landscape materials and signage. They have cultivated and maintained great relationships with park staff but seek no recognition for their hard work.
  • The Friends of Sauratown Mountains’s Volunteer Trail Crew constructed the Pilot Creek Trail at Pilot Mountain State Park with a group of rangers. Renting a mini-excavator with their friends’ funds, they constructed the 3.5-mile trail in 59 days through rain, sleet, snow and Christmas Day. This work saved the park over $73,000 in contracted work and fulfilled a dream for visitors and park staff alike with the new trail.

 

HEROISM AWARDS

  • On July 24, 2016, Richard Goad and his son William were fishing near the Alder Trail at Lake Norman State Park when they heard a commotion. Mr. Goad understood that there were people in distress in the water and sprinted over 100 yards to help. That day, Mr. Goad dialed 911 before entering the water to retrieve a 5-year-old boy. Mr. Goad performed CPR on him until he was breathing on his own. Returning to the water to retrieve another swimmer, Goad was able to bring her to shore and perform CPR until a trained bystander arrived.
  • On May 15, 2017 Ranger Patrick Amico risked his own safety to retrieve three people from rip currents off the beach at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. In two separate incidents. Ranger Amico entered the ocean in dangerous conditions and proceeded at least 50 yards off shore before reaching the people in distress. His incredible demonstration of selflessness and bravery was most deserving of this award.

 

PARK COMMENDATION AWARDS

  • On May 20, 2017, rangers Leigh Ann Angle and James Rusher responded to a call about a visitor with symptoms cardiac arrest at South Mountains State Park. They assisted the patient with supplemental oxygen and performed CPR on the patient according to protocol. Angle and Rusher prepared the AED. CPR was stopped as the patient began showing signs of life. The patient was transported to the hospital and was released later that day. These rangers displayed calm and professionalism while applying their training effectively in a stressful situation.
  • On March 24, 2017, Ranger Brandy Belville was the first responder to a call about an apparent heart attack at her neighbor’s house near Elk Knob State Park. A son was attempting CPR on his father. Belville took over until volunteer firefighters arrived, followed by EMS and sheriff’s deputies. The victim was a friend and neighbor to Ranger Belville and other park staff, making this rescue attempt particularly difficult.
  • On Feb. 7, 2017, Ranger Jason Anthony noticed one car was left in the Hanging Rock State Park lot near the visitor’s center. Against reason, he decided to check the Hanging Rock Trail for the operator. When he reached the top of the rock formation, he saw a backpack on the ledge. He could not see anyone in the vicinity and it was very dark and windy. He called other park staff including Sam Koch, Mary Griffin, Austin Paul and Superintendent Robin Riddlebarger to help search. Koch went to the base of the rock formation and found the victim badly injured, having fallen 115 feet. The patient was able to be flown by air transport to the hospital. Less than two weeks later, another person fell 40 feet from the rock formation. At that time, Ranger Austin Paul was on duty and responded to the 911 call. He and Ranger Anthony provided care until EMS arrived. That victim was also flown by air transport to the hospital. The Hanging Rock State Park staff went above and beyond to help visitors by carrying oxygen, narcan, and increasing training for rangers to provide the best possible care.

Elk Knob State Park: My Last Stamp

By:  Catherine Locke, Marketing Director, N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation

This summer my co-worker and North Carolina State Parks Public Information Officer, Katie Hall, wrote about her trip to Elk Knob State Park. It was one of her first official trips after assuming the role in May. She experienced the park during the spring when the air was warm, the trees were green, and she had plenty of company on the trial.

My experience over the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend in mid-January was just as spectacular but totally different. For me, my visit to Elk Knob State Park was the final stamp in my North Carolina State Parks Passport not to mention more miles to log into the NC 100 Mile Challenge for 2018.

Elk Knob State Park had been on my “must see” list for several years. In fact, it was supposed to be my first trip after starting with Parks. Sadly, it remained elusive for nearly three years. However, this weekend would be different. Despite the snowstorm in the forecast, my instinct said the weather would move through quickly. I called the park office when I left Raleigh and the park was indeed open. However, I was advised by the ranger to delay my visit due to icy roads. Taking her advice, my son and I took a side trip to South Mountains State Park to see the waterfall, which had been frozen only a few days earlier. I did not want to acknowledge the thought I may not make it to the park again!

 

South Mountains High Shoals Falls
High Shoals Falls at South Mountains State Park

 

The next day the snowstorm had moved through, the sun was bright and the temperatures were warmer (if you call low 20’s warm). I called the park. It was open and the roads from Boone were clear. For months leading up to the visit, I had promised the superintendent I would make the journey only to be side-tracked by weather, work or other commitments.

After a quick stop for gas, coffee, and snacks, we headed out. When we arrived, I could hardly contain my excitement. I had finally made it to Elk Knob State Park, my forty-first state park! I got out of the car and took several snapshots to celebrate in front of the park sign. Many state park employees have intentions of visiting every park, for some, it never happens. I felt grateful that my position allows me the flexibility to visit all the state parks, to see the variety and get to know them and their staff on an individual park basis.

 

Elk Knob State Park January 2017
That’s 41 parks!

 

We drove up to the park office, got our passport stamped and hit the road into the park. Knowing that daylight was fleeting and my opportunity in the park was limited due to the snow and ice, we decided the Summitt Trail would be our destination for the day. The 1.9-mile trail took over 6,000 hours and five years to construct. We were optimistic we could do the hike in less than 4 hours.

When we arrived at the parking lot there were only a handful of cars. Like most ten-year-old boys, my son enjoys exploring and basically being a goof-ball. We are normally passed on trails as people hike up. As we worked our way up the trail we were passed by more people coming down on the switchbacks than going up. I did the math on my fingers.  Less than five cars left in the parking lot. I questioned my decision and the advice I routinely give others: hike early.

Hike

The trail was blanketed with snow. The trees seemed to be nestled in for a long winter’s nap. It was extremely quiet. The only noise was my son and I giggling and sharing stories or the crunch of our boots on the snow. The air was crisp and cold but not unbearable. We had dressed like onions with thermal underwear, long-sleeved shirts, fleece and our ski jackets. At one point on the way up, my son wanted to remove his coat. The inclines can be tough if you don’t take them slowly.

Elk in the winter
The climb can be steeper than it looks

 

We planned on the hike taking four hours total and we had just passed the two-hour mark. The group that started at the same time we did was now coming down. We asked them if we should continue or if the trail ahead had more ice than we can handle. They assured us it was safe and well worth the time. We pressed on. We only encountered a few slippery spots and I reminded my son to “be careful.” Of course, wouldn’t you know, I’m the one who slipped. He asked “How much longer?” and I responded, “We are almost there,” even though I had no clue.

 

Left behind
Don’t get left behind

 

If you ever question whether the teachers in North Carolina are doing their jobs, let me give you an example they are (or at least my son’s current fifth-grade teacher is). As we came around a bend after the 30th time of him asking, “Are we there yet?” he proclaimed, “Mom, we are almost there.”  Tired, I asked, “How can you tell?” He said proudly, “The trees are shorter. I learned that at school.”

 

Short trees
“The trees are shorter.”

 

We were alone at the summit for what seemed like a lifetime as we took in the views of The Peak, Three Top and Bluff Mountain, Mount Jefferson, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell and the Iron Mountains in Virginia and Tennessee. Then, out of nowhere, a trail runner came up behind us and asked if we wanted our picture taken.  We did.

 

Made it
We made it to the summit of 5,520 feet

 

In one afternoon I had completed my journey of visiting all North Carolina State Parks. We hiked the tallest peak in North Carolina’s High Country at 5,520 feet in the winter and reached the Top of the Knob.

 

Top of the Knob
The view from the top of the Knob

 

My passport may be complete but my journey has only begun. The year 2018 has a lot in store for me and other park visitors: the new Passport Program, more 100 Mile Challenge badges and the Amazing Adventure.

“Never give up, stay focused, stay positive and stay strong.”

 


Written by Catherine Locke, Marketing Director of the North Carolina State Parks. Catherine is close to her third year with Parks, hired in the newly created marketing position in March 2015 to execute the 100th Anniversary of the North Carolina State Park’s centennial marketing campaign in 2016.  Now she works to promote the parks, programs, and staff as well as create awareness and support for the North Carolina State Park System. On weekends, you can find her on the trails. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Day Hikes Kick-Off New Year Despite Freezing Temps

In partnership with the National Association of State Parks Directors (NASPD), State Parks across America offered First Day Hikes on Jan. 1. Here in North Carolina, we continued a tradition started 40 years ago at Eno River State Park. New Year’s Day ushered in the coldest temperatures seen in decades in most areas of the state. Rangers and visitors alike bundled up and met in our parks for hikes to kick off the new year.

Over 1,350 participants joined us to collectively hike 2,953 miles. While a couple of hikes were cancelled due to road closures, most bundled up and marched forth into temperatures as low as 9 degrees. Here are some fun facts from this year’s First Day hikes:

  • For the first time ever, Hanging Rock had to break ice on the lake for the annual Polar Plunge
  • At Goose Creek, hikers ranged in age from 4 to 82 years old
  • Many parks reported an abundance of canine visitors on their first day hikes
  • A llama (!!!!) joined the hike at Pilot Mountain, where the 11 degrees and 10-mile per hour winds were likely reminiscent of its native lands at high elevations
  • 111 participated in the 3rd Annual First Day 5K at Haw River State Park
  • Eno River hosted the most hikers with 354 hikers along for two hikes
  • Crowders Mountain led the longest hike at 5 miles

Thanks to all who joined us for our First Day Hikes, and to all of our Rangers and Staff who supported these events across the state.

Enjoy these photos from First Day Hikes 2018!

Stone Mountain State Park
Stone Mountain State Park
Stone Mountain State Park
Stone Mountain State Park
Mount Jefferson State Natural Area
Mount Jefferson State Natural Area- small but mighty group!
Mount Jefferson State Natural Area Bear Tracks
Mount Jefferson State Natural Area– It’s a BEAR!
Goose Creek State Park
Goose Creek State Park
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area
Kerr Lake State Recreation Area
Kerr Lake State Recreation Area
Lake Norman State Park
Lake Norman State Park
Goose Creek State Park
Goose Creek State Park
Stone Mountain State Park
Stone Mountain State Park

Easing in to Winter Hiking at Haw River State Park

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

Haw River GBH Trail 2

I chose Haw River State Park to launch a season of winter hikes. Though I enjoy cold weather and especially snow, I haven’t done much winter hiking in the past. This year, my first winter with NC State Parks, I am determined to make the most of the quiet trails as I continue to explore our parks. I’m sure that some of my upcoming winter hikes will be just lovely while others will be brutal and test my resolve. I’ll need new gear, a strong dose of willpower, and a lot of hot chocolate.

So far, I’ve got two pieces of gear to recommend (other than the obvious hat, gloves, scarf): a smartphone-friendly pair of gloves and good base layer. I’ve gotten two different thicknesses of base layers to meet my needs depending on what pants I hike in that day and how cold and windy the hike could be. Always check the weather in your hike area regularly as you’re planning and be ready to adjust your plans to make the best of your time.

One of the best things about Haw River State Park is its accessibility to the massive population of the Triangle, Charlotte, and Triad areas. It’s not so close to urban centers that it often gets overcrowded, but it is accessible, wonderfully wild, and one-of-a-kind.

Haw River Map

Haw River State Park was authorized by the N.C. General Assembly in 2003, solidifying the protection of the Haw River headwaters– an area in Guilford and Rockingham counties that was among 12 sites in North Carolina identified as a potential state park in the New Parks for a New Century initiative. The park has grown to 1,425 acres over the past 15 years with the help of partners and private donors. As part of interim development, it offers the traditional amenities of hiking and picnicking at our Iron Ore Belt Access day-use area. Additional facilities are planned, with this location noted as a key destination on the state’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

Iron Ore Belt Access
Haw River State Park Iron Ore Belt Access

Great Blue Heron Loop is accessed at the new Iron Ore Belt entrance and ushers you on for 3.2 miles through hardwood forests and Haw River wetlands. It rolls through changes in elevation along a dry path with few rocks and roots, allowing for a peaceful, meditative hike. The loop is the perfect length for a solid hike even if you have an otherwise busy day.

Great Blue Heron Loop Trail

Part of the joy of winter hikes is the quiet of the trail this time of year. It’s a time to discover the landscape in a different state. While much of the ecosystem lays dormant, new dynamics are at play: different fauna have moved down from the north for warmer weather or are stopping over on their way further south; trees offer less shelter for woodland critters that typically live in their branches; and the dormancy of insects affects the availability of food for the usual warm season food chain. Due to these changes, winter hikes bring you to the threshold of a different place—even in your favorite, most familiar park—and allow you to experience it anew.

I’ve always loved cedar trees. To be honest and a bit morbid, I also love things made OUT of cedar trees, but I’ll focus on the trees here. Something about their shape and vibrant color seems almost surreal in a winter landscape. One of my favorite things about Haw River State Park was seeing so many beautiful cedars.

Check out this beefcake of a Cedar!
Make sure you make your way out to Haw River State Park this winter to make the most of this beautiful ecosystem. Opportunities for birding, hiking, and photography abound on the quiet trails this season.
Li’l baby cedars along the Great Blue Heron Loop Trail.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Katie Hall is the new-ish Public Information Officer for 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.

Personal park count (as of 12/20/17): 30

Still on tap: Carvers Creek, Crowders Mountain, Goose Creek, Lake Norman, Mayo River, Merchants Millpond, Mount Mitchell, New River, Pettigrew, South Mountains, Weymouth Woods.