Medoc a Mountain of Tranquility

I arrived before the heat of the day Saturday at Medoc Mountain State Park to celebrate the grand opening of the Park’s new bike trails—the first bike trails in the region and a new opportunity for mountain bike enthusiasts to get to know Medoc. The Park is located closest to the community of Hollister, north of Rocky Mount and east of Henderson– this is not an area of North Carolina that you tend to “happen upon.” You’ve got to set off to this Park with intention, and you’ll be glad you did. You’ll lose cell signal once you’re within ten miles of the park, but you won’t mind.

Enthusiastic cyclists arrived early and ready to hit the trails. Saponi Loop is a 3.3 mile “moderate” trail that partially follows existing hiking trails. Pyrite Loop is an entirely new 5.3 mile trail with natural rock and tree obstacles and is rated “difficult” for those of you who enjoy a rocky, rooty challenge. Not yet a confident cyclist, I set off on foot to get to know Medoc.

Before you’ve gotten far enough in to Bear Swamp Trail to get your heart rate up, you’ll find you’re immersed in the forest and incredible tranquility. As our daily lives become more and more jam packed, the places like Medoc Mountain State Park really rise to the top as a treasured refuge from the daily grind. The fresh, sweet smell of the air, the intense green of the plants, trees, and moss, the rocky earth under your feet– all of these things are abundant and free.

The trails at Medoc will remind you of mountain trails, only with more forgiving hills and less wildlife that is higher on the food chain than you are. Pack a snack and plenty of water and take your time on these trails– there is a lot more to see if you slow down and look closely.

Along the trail, I saw incredible displays of bright green moss, fields of native ferns, and trees that have twisted into funky shapes to reach the sun. With over nine miles of trails, you’re likely to find yourself alone for most of your hike—allowing you to feel truly immersed in this unique and inviting ecosystem.

In addition to the new trails, Medoc offers a pristine fishing stream reminiscent of another day and age that beckons in the heat, and a sprawling meadow big enough for flying kites or a game of football. Camping facilities are available near the meadow and covered picnic area.

Medoc Mountain State Park is a hidden gem that warrants a visit. Bring your bike or your best pair of hiking boots to traverse the rocky trails. See you there!



Fort Fisher has it covered

Summer is just around the corner, and Fort Fisher State Recreation Area has launched into the season with a splash.  Just five miles south of Carolina Beach, Fort Fisher was already an accessible treasure with its undeveloped beaches, four-wheel drive access, and one-mile Basin Trail– a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in a healthy salt marsh and maritime forest (from a lovely and sturdy boardwalk, and without being neck-deep in pluff mud). Last week, this State Recreation Area celebrated new additions to its ample charm that will offer visitors an even better experience.
As the first NC State Parks property to complete a Connect NC Bond project, Fort Fisher spruced up two of its most utilized resources: the picnic area and the restrooms. Newly installed sunshades stretch across an expanded, sandy-bottomed picnic area, offering a break from summer sun and a fun place to enjoy lunch. The restroom facility (originally constructed when Ronald Reagan was POTUS and “Top Gun” was in theaters) was remodeled and renovated from the bones to the stones- a much-needed upgrade from the original facility.
Remodeled and renovated bathroom facility at Fort Fisher
When you head down to the coast this summer, make sure you visit your friendly Park Rangers at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area to enjoy the new amenities and all it has to offer.  You’ll be glad you did!
Beach entrance adjacent to new shaded picnic facility

Mysterious Lakes in Bladen County

Not too many things are that mysterious in the natural world. Almost all the mysterious things have been figured out by science and reasoning. But here at Jones Lake State Park, we have a true mystery that has not yet been solved and most likely will never be solved: “How were the Bay Lakes formed?”

This question sparks many different feelings and answers from many people.  Some are adamant that these oval and uniform lakes were made by meteors. Others believe they were formed by the receding Atlantic Ocean and prevailing winds or prehistoric animal signs.  Scientists claim it is built up nitrogen beneath the Earth.Bay Lakes

Whatever the answer, people have been drawn to these bodies of water for centuries.  Native Americans have a word for them, Pocosin.  Pocosin roughly translated means, water on a hill.  Ancient dugout canoes have been found at the bottom of these lakes. There is one located in the visitor center of Jones Lake State Park. This canoe has been carbon dated to over 2,000 years ago.

Jones Lake State Park has a proud and long history dating back to 1939. It is one of the oldest parks in the North Carolina state park system. It was built and opened as the first state park for African-Americans in North Carolina. Since most businesses and attractions were segregated in the South until the 1960’s, Jones Lake State Park stood as an oasis to socialize and recreate for that community. Many of the same families and churches that came to the park when it first opened still hold family reunions and baptisms on a regular basis.JONE4

The water in Jones Lake has a distinct color. The dark color is created similarly to the way tea is made. The 224-acre lake is surrounded by hundreds of acres of thick bay forest (named after a type of bay tree that inhabits the forest). The bay forest has a peat bottom which seeps tannins into the water staining it dark. These tannins or tannic acid do more than stain the water; they cause the water to be very acidic. The lake does not have a creek or river running into it so it is rain-fed only. Because of the acidity, the lake does not hold regular freshwater fish species. There are only four different species of fish that call Jones Lake home: chain pickerel, yellow perch, flyer sunfish, and yellow bullhead catfish. Even though you cannot catch bass in the lake, it is still very relaxing to sit on the fishing pier and wet a hook.jone_shoreline_cp

Jones Lake has a total of 7 miles of hiking trails available for visitors. All trails are flat and easy to walk. Three trails give hikers the opportunity to see the distinct habitats that can be found in Carolina Bays. The Cedar Loop is a 1-mile long trail that offers great views of Jones Lake and loops through the thick Carolina Bay forest. While taking the 4-mile Bay Trail, hikers will travel through the thick bay forest aRCWnd the open sand rim. The Salters Lake Trail begins at the halfway point of the Bay Trail and is 1.5 miles long one way. This trail leads hikers to Salters Lake, one of a few remaining undisturbed Carolina Bay Lakes in the state. There is a good chance of seeing a red-cockaded woodpecker, a federally endangered species of bird that calls Jones Lake State Park home.

For folks who want to camp at Jones Lake, the park offers 20 different family campsites to choose from.  If you have a large group, Jones Lake does offer an organized group camp that holds up to 35 people. Soon, thanks to the Connect Bond package passed last spring, there will be campground improvements made, which will consist of more full hookup sites and a new modern bathhouse.camping1

Folks have been enjoying this unique, mysterious, nature gem for quite some time and just maybe you will do the same. We hope so!

~Written by Jones Lake State Park Rangers Lane Garner & John Privette.  Lane is a graduate of University of North Carolina at Pembroke in Recreation Manager and has been a ranger for 14 years.  John is a graduate of Appalachian State also with a degree in Recreational Management.  He has been at Jones Lake State Park 2 1/2 years.

StoryWalk combines reading and the outdoors for kids

StoryWalk is coming to a North Carolina State Parks.

storywalk 1StoryWalk is simply a book and a walking path combined. In 2007, Anne Fergusson with the Vermont Department of Health had the idea to combine literacy and exercise. Teaming up with the Kellog Hubbard Library in Montpelier, they attached laminated pages from a children’s book onto wooden posts. In the ten years since, StoryWalks have gone up in all 50 states and at least 11 countries.

Our state parks education team has been busy laminating their favorite nature-based children’s books. We just add a little Velcro tape to the back, affix them to metal sign stakes, and a trail instantly becomes even more fun for children and book-lovers of all ages.

storywalk 2“As a parent, I love that the signs inspire young ones to hurry along the trail to find the next one. But, they also help make sure the kids don’t get too far ahead since they stop to read the next page,” says Education Manager Sean Higgins.

State park StoryWalks will usually remain up for one-to-two weeks along easy trails about one mile or less.   Upcoming walks include:

Dismal Swamp State Park, April 13-24, “Be A Friend to Trees”

Raven Rock State Park, April 20-May 1, “Diary of a Spider”

Carvers Creek State Park, May 2 – 16, “Diary of a Spider”

Lake James State Park, May 1 – 15, “Diary of a Spider”

Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve, May 17-31.


Look for more at throughout 2017.

Families and fish share a fiesta

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Fishing Fiesta at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area Saturday was designed to introduce families to the fish.

The fish were a bit reluctant in the cool April air but help for new anglers was abundant as state and local agencies and fishing clubs shared knowledge on regulations, tying knots, stringing fishing gear and wrangling earthworms.

It was a great opportunity to groom young anglers and to get outdoors on one of the first truly warm spring days. Here’s a photo tour of the event.



Norman launches a new life at state park (naturally)

eagle 1 copy.jpgAn adult bald eagle, informally called Norman, launched a new chapter of his life today at the swim beach of Lake Norman State Park.

Staff of the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville sent the rehabilitated Norman on his way as part of an announcement in its fundraising campaign to build a showplace education center. The eagle was found March 21 in a backyard of a Mooresville neighborhood seemingly unable to fly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANorman appeared unruffled by the ceremony or the several dozen people who attended and kept smartphones clicking as he huffed aloft and soared over the lake.

The Carolina Raptor Center is in the midst of a campaign to raise $10.6 million for the education center and to renovate its medical facilities at the Latta Plantation Nature Preserve in Huntersville. The center announced a $250,000 challenge grant from the Leon Levine Foundation.


Four new state park units considered

A bill under consideration by the N.C. General Assembly would authorize a new state park in southeastern North Carolina and three new state natural areas.

Black River State Park is proposed in House Bill 353 within Sampson, Bladen and Pender Counties along the slow-moving river channel that presents some of the oldest trees in the eastern U.S. within its cypress groves. The Nature Conservancy now owns much of the 2,600 acres that could be acquired for a state park, having purchased the property in the 1990s to protect the cypress.

black river billAuthorization by the legislature is the first step in creating a new state park or state natural area. It allows the Division of Parks and Recreation to purchase or accept donation of property for that purpose. The General Assembly is not being asked for funding through the legislation. Funding would be sought through the state Parks and Recreation and Clean Water Management trust funds and perhaps the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The three proposed state natural areas would also be created with help from conservation organizations. State natural areas differ from state parks in that they’re more directly focused on protecting areas of scientific and ecological value. They sometimes offer more limited recreation such as trails, educational activities and low-impact recreation.

The three proposed state natural areas are:

  • Bob’s Pocket State Natural Area, McDowell County. About 2,900 acres could be acquired with the help of The Foothills Conservancy. The site has forested connections into the South Mountains and could offer trail connections to nearby areas.
  • Warwick Mill Bay State Natural Area, Robeson County. About 1,000 acres could be acquired with the help of Audubon North Carolina and The Conservation Fund. The Carolina bay offers high-quality breeding habitat for many species of waterbirds.
  • Salmon Creek State Natural Area, Bertie County. About 1,000 acres could be acquired with the help of the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust. The property covers an American Indian occupation site that has yielded artifacts that may be linked to the “Lost Colony,” as well as 18 identified archaeological sites, including remains of the plantation house of colonial governor Thomas Pollock.

The Bob’s Pocket and Salmon Creek units would be managed by staff from nearby state parks, and Audubon North Carolina has offered to help manage Warwick Mill Bay. The funding needed for initial land acquisitions is estimated at between $3.88 million and $5.78 million.