Volunteers help shape new Carvers Creek State Park

Rob Wells, who help build fencing at Long Valley Farm as a teen, helps other volunteers remove it for park.
Rob Wells, who helped build fencing at Long Valley Farm as a teen, helps other volunteers remove it for park.

As a teenager more than 20 years ago, Rob Wells helped put up some of the barbed wire fencing that rambles across property now within Carvers Creek State Park. On a recent Saturday he showed up again to help take it down.

Wells is among a group of volunteers who’ve been working for months to help the state park staff get Carvers Creek ready for its first visitors. For two days each month, they’ve cleared brush, groomed land, collected refuse and removed fencing on property being gradually transformed from a working farm. Meanwhile, finishing touches are being put on interim visitor facilities at the new 4,076-acre state park in Cumberland County, and the gates will be opened sometime this summer.

Wells’ father worked as a mechanic on Long Valley Farm, and the younger Wells considered it the perfect place for a teen to come of age with its scenic lake, wetlands and expansive longleaf pine forest. This 1,450-acre portion of the state park near the gates of Fort Bragg was once the country estate of James Stillman Rockefeller, carved from the huge Overhills property that the Rockefeller family nurtured. Upon his death at age 102, Rockefeller bequeathed the property to The Nature Conservancy, which in turn, presented it to the state parks system for its newest state park. Rockefeller’s house is on the National Register of Historic Places as are a number of curious outbuildings nearby – including a mill, a power plant and a grand party pavilion. These present both an opportunity for interpretation, and a challenge since some areas are hazardous and portions must be kept off-limits to visitors for now.

A pavilion and a mill are among the park's historic outbuildings.
A pavilion and a mill are among the park’s historic outbuildings.

Long Valley Farm is one of three components of the new state park arcing north of the town of Spring Lake and Fort Bragg. Further northeast is another former farm that will ultimately be the site of a visitor center, according to the park’s master plan. Yet further east (near US 401) is a tract chosen for its prime wildlife and plant habitats. The master plan calls for a spare footprint in this fragile area with hiking trails to be the main attraction. At the outset, Long Valley Farm will offer picnicking, fishing, hiking trails and interpretive programs on both the natural and cultural treasures of the property. In addition to longleaf pine, the farm is home to federally endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, fox squirrels and carnivorous pitcher plants.

Park Superintendent Jane Conolly and Ranger Colleen Bowers will soon move into a new ranger contact station near the entrance, and said that volunteer workdays staged for more than two years have yielded great results, and perhaps more importantly, have given the community more of a stake in the success of the state park.

Scenery at Long Valley Farm recalls its agricultural history.
Scenery at Long Valley Farm recalls its agricultural history.
The former home of James Stillman Rockefeller.
The former home of James Stillman Rockefeller.

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