On June 14, about the time campers were washing supper dishes, a powerful storm descended on Morrow Mountain State Park with a suspected microburst that downed hundreds of trees, crushing camper shells, damaging park buildings and stranding dozens of visitors. After gallons of chainsaw fuel, most park facilities will reopen Monday, including the elegant 1930s-era swimming pool, boathouse, boat ramp, fishing pier, museum, restored Kron House and campsites.
Nearly 100 state park rangers and maintenance mechanics from other (seasonally busy) parks across the state have spent days at Morrow Mountain helping with the cleanup. Tremendous support has also come from volunteers and area businesses, and the state park will thank the community with a “free re-opening” event Monday suspending fees for swimming and one-hour boat rentals.
Park Superintendent Greg Schneider himself dodged falling trees during the storm event. He said the first volunteers were campers J.R. Drake and his wife. Their car was immediately blocked in the campground. “Mr. Drake joined a park employee, who was also stranded in the campground, in surveying on foot each of the 106 campsites to ascertain if campers were okay or in need of additional assistance. This survey was completed in blustery winds and driving rain, tromping through a tangle of twisted and fallen timber.” Mrs. Drake meanwhile took charge of two young boys separated from their parents.
Overnight, the priority was accounting for all park visitors in the campground, near the lake and at the mountain summit. Miraculously, there were no injuries. Daylight the next morning revealed seven park buildings hit by trees including a severely damaged vacation cabin, nearly all roads blocked and underground utilities damaged by tumbled tree roots.
Many people and organizations pitched in for the cleanup, Schneider said, beginning with the East Side Volunteer Fire Department, the Stanly Rescue Squad, the N.C. Forest Service and staff from Boy Scouts of America Camp Barnhardt. Neighbors began calling to offer help and a volunteer cleanup day was held June 29 to take advantage of those offers. Lowe’s Home Improvement, under manager Hal Knight, donated cases of drinking water and Gatorade to the sawyers, chipper operators and laborers.
Some areas of the park remain closed to visitors as the staff continues repairs. Those are: the summit overlooks and picnic area; picnic shelter A; bridle trails and the bridle trail parking area; vacation cabin 4; and, the Backpack, Fall Mountain, Hattaway Mountain, Morrow Mountain, Mountain Loop, Rocks and Sugarloaf Mountain Trails. Visitors are asked to please avoid these areas: damaged trees and hanging limbs pose a very real danger, and staff working with heavy equipment may be unable to see or hear persons around them.
Details of the “free re-opening”: use of the swimming pool is free of charge and it’s open from 10 a.m. until 5:45 p.m. The first hour of rental for rowboats, canoes and paddleboats is free of charge. Each additional hour is $3. Boat rentals are available 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.