Sunday, April 13, 2014

From Harmony Hall to Roseboro at a walking pace

And a walking pace seems appropriate in this rural corner of NC, full of country churches and steeped in history.  This isn't a place that time has passed by and left unchanged, but it's a place where it's easy to be patient, where walking a country road doesn't feel old fashioned.  It feels like a land where past and present coexist in a comfortable relationship.

At the southeastern apex of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail's Cape Fear Arch route is Harmony Hall plantation--one of the oldest surviving residences in North Carolina, built before the Revolutionary War by Col. James Richardson, who distinguished himself in the French and Indian Wars, was shipwrecked and fell in love with this corner of Bladen County while he laid up for repairs.  He was granted a tract here by King George III, built his home, and settled in.  The home may have played a role in the Revolutionary war, and is now rumored to be haunted by the ghosts of soldiers from that conflict.  The house is only open to the public for a few hours on weekends, so I didn't have the chance to take the tour, but I did loiter for a bit.

The next venue that the MST took me through was the Suggs Mill Pond State Game Land, centered on Horseshoe Lake where the photo up top was taken.  This Game Land focuses especially on waterfowl, and has an significant network of trails.  It's one of the more intensively managed game lands that I've visited.

The MST continues its northward trek toward Raleigh, passing this unusual monument, packed on front and back with genealogy information preserved for the ages.

I passed a quirky little sight that caught my fancy--suspended from a wire over the road was a shoe and a fishing reel, tied together by the shoe lace.

Finally the MST gives the hiker a wonderful taste of small town America as it passes through the 'neat-as-a-pin' little railroad town of Roseboro.  I was there during the height of spring bloom--wisteria, dogwood, and azaleas in full force, and redbud not quite finished yet.

I have more of Roseboro to walk through, so stay tuned.


Here's the GPS track of the hike through this section with a link to the complete slide show and more GPS info:

MST Days 38-40 - Suggs Mill Pond Game Land at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in North Carolina

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Two Trail Scouting Expeditions and what I found

This post is a little different than most of my other recent trail reports because it covers some hiking I did that is beyond just thru-hiking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) across North Carolina.

Being somewhat of a pioneer for the new Cape Fear Arch-Onslow Bight route for the MST I sought to explore some alternate routes in the area around Jones Lake State Park and adjacent Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest.

In the former (Jones Lake area) I found a possible future route with some great potential but requiring a bit of trail building.  But on the latter expedition, I struck the jackpot--a real gem of a route right along Turnbull Creek on well maintained interpretive footpath that can be hiked as-is today, though only during the times when Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest is open.  I'm recommending this route as the preferred option for hikers.

Turnbull Creek:

Bold Turnbull Creek as viewed from the Long Trail in Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest
Turnbull Creek Educational State forest is an underfunded over-performing 890 acre patch of North Carolina woodland.  Within it is a 4.5 mile trail they simply call the Long Trail.  Almost half of it is a to-die-for walk beside Turnbull Creek itself, complete with a couple of elaborate foot bridges, rest-stop benches and many interpretive signs.

The problem: Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest is closed from Mid-November to Mid-March.  It's also closed on weekends and is only open weekdays between 8AM and 5PM.

When the Forest is open, I highly recommend the route through it.  The forest route is 1.88 miles and replaces the alternative road walk on Sweet Home Church Road, which is 1.38 miles of quiet paved road.

In order to access the more remote end of the Long Trail there's a crossing of Turnbull Creek (the blue 'pin' on the right side of the map above) that needs to be accomplished where an old road used to cross, but where the bridge is now missing.  Fortunately there's a living, sturdy fallen tree that provides an easy crossing, including living branches that provide stable hand-holds.  Alternatively it's only a short ford wading the creek.

Former bridge site crossing Turnbull Creek
Living fallen tree just downstream of former bridge.  Easy crossing with living branches for hand-holds.

Because the MST can bring visibility (and visitors) to Turnbull, designating this route as the official MST route (when it's open) would be a great asset to them.

There's plenty of precedent for an official trail route that is only open certain hours.  The only white-blazed Appalachian Trail route passes through Bear Mountain Trailside Zoo, New York, which is only open between 10AM and 4:30PM.  All other times the hiker must follow a blue-blazed bypass.  Being a hard-core purist, when I hiked this area, I had to rearrange my plans to be able to pass through when it was open.

 Hopefully in the future, the park management can find ways to keep the trail open for longer periods.  Perhaps they will even be able to build a footbridge over Turnbull Creek where the old road bridge footings are still in place.  It would be no more elaborate of a project than two foot bridges that they have already built for the Long Trail itself.  Take a look at the annotated photos in the slide show for more info.

Here's the full EveryTrail trip report, including GPS info and a comprehensive slide show:

MST Day 36 supplement - Turnbull Ck Edu State Forest at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Fayetteville, North Carolina

Jones Lake State Park:

Remote and unspoiled Salters Lake seen from the only access point at the end of the 1.5 mile Salters Lake Trail, part of the proposed future MST route.

Here I hiked both the current MST route and a promising possible future route through Jones Lake State Park and adjacent Bladen Lakes State Forest Game Land past Jones Lake and Salters Lake.

Long ago there was a road, still identified on many maps including that stored in my GPS and that given by my North Carolina map book published by DeLorme, called Jones Lake Road, which extended roughly northeast to southwest from Ruskin Road, passing the east end of Salters Lake, and coming out at the Bladen Lakes National Forest woods road called Salters Lake Trail.  Every bit of this road is still maintained with the exception of about 1000 feet crossing the wetland along the Salters Lake outlet stream, and even that crossing is kept open and maintained by Jones Lake State Park as a border monitoring trail.

Now ... if future trail enthusiasts could convince the authorities to allow them to build a bit of boardwalk across the wettest part (a hundred yards or so) and then clear some trail to the end of the forest road in Bladen Lakes State Forest Game Land (see the details of the GPS tracks provided here), it would open up a route in which the MST could make use of half of the four mile Bay Trail circuit around Jones Lake and all of the 1.5 mile Salters Lake trail, including a nice piece of boardwalk.

Presently the MST route can use only a mile of the Bay trail before being required to 'bail out' and head into Bladen Lakes Forest on woods roads.  It's not an unpleasant route, but the hike past totally unspoiled Salters Lake, including access to it via dedicated foot trail and a rest stop beside the lake at a picnic table, would be a significant future enhancement.

Check out the slide show for a more visual look at the experience.

MST Day 37 - Jones Lake State Park at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Fayetteville, North Carolina

Saturday, April 5, 2014

North Carolina's mysterious, seductive 'Bays'

Pond Cypress on Jones Lake, surely one of the most photographed trees in eastern NC
'Bays' were once all lakes or ponds (such as Jones Lake shown in the photo above).  But most of them have filled, drained, or silted over since the last ice age.  They're abundant on the coastal plain of North Carolina, where the Tar Heel state got its name (rendering Longleaf Pine heartwood into tar for the shipping industry).  There are thousands of Bays.  The Mountains-to-Sea Trail takes the hiker through many smaller ones and past some notable large examples that are still lakes.

And nobody knows why they exist, why they are so abundant, even overlapping one another, what caused their unique elliptical shape, or why every one of the ellipses is oriented in the same direction--northwest to southeast.  Here's a Google Map photo of the area:

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail route passes four of the major lakes in this shot: Singletary Lake, White Lake, Jones Lake and Salters Lake.  Click on the photo to get a closer look.  Note the elliptical shape and orientation of these lakes, then look for green patches, large and small, with the same shape and orientation.  There are hundreds in this photo.  There's even one that has been cleared and turned entirely into farm land (lighter in color).

Theories of what caused the 'Carolina Bays' range from a meteor shower, perhaps a soft meteor that broke up into many fragments before impact, Artesian springs boiling up from an underground aquifer, Sinkholes, Ancient sea-bed spawning nests for schools of gigantic fish, and wind-driven ocean eddies scouring these shapes before the land rose above sea level.  All of these ideas have some attractive features, but all have been rejected because of various flaws.  The meteor impact theory is the only one that proposes an explanation for the common orientation.  If so, the pock-marks would all have to be caused by a single event--a single parent meteor.  But carbon dating shows that these features are not all the same age, and furthermore, meteor impacts do not produce elliptical craters, even when they impact the surface at a very steep angle.

So what's the solution?  Earth Scientists haven't yet settled on a full explanation, but the strongest one is that the shapes have been produced by the action of wind--both through 'lacustrine' processes: the waves the wind produces, which erode and sculpt the shoreline of the lakes and ponds, and by 'aeolian' processes--piling the sand into dunes along the shorelines in a similar way to the way a high dune develops along the ocean beach.

It has been shown (see this informative Wikipedia article), that the orientation of the lakes (the long axis of the ellipses) is precisely perpendicular to the prevailing wind.  To add my own bit of confirming evidence to that observation, take a look at the abundant lakes in the flat sandy and boggy tundra around Barrow, Alaska:

The prevailing wind is extremely constant on Alaska's north shore.  It's from the East to slightly ENE year-around.  And the lakes are all elongated precisely at right angles to that direction.  What happens is that the waves on the lake scour away the sides of the lake (by a process called along-shore drift) and deposit the sediments on the downwind shore, so that an initially random-shaped lake gradually smooths out and widens out on each side and flattens out along the shorelines that are perpendicular to the wind.  Voila!

In the flat, sandy, boggy lowlands of the Arctic these lakes have had only 10,000 years or so to take this shape since the ice retreated.  In North Carolina the prevailing wind in these flat sandy boggy lowlands is out of the southwest and a bit more variable; and the dating of sediments and the sand dune borders of the Bays shows that they have taken as much as 100,000 years to gradually evolve their shapes--all through the last ice age when harsh weather was more frequent.

So maybe the Carolina Bays are not quite so mysterious after all.  But they certainly are seductive.  Here's another glamor shot, also taken right from the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.  This time the lake in question is Singletary Lake.

The sandy ridges that surround every bay are seductive in their own way, offering a desert-like environment where only scrub oak manages to eek out an existence.

These are some of the unique ecosystems that this new Cape Fear Arch route of the MST offers the hiker.  It was a great pleasure to traipse through this area, to take it all in, and to learn a little.  This report combines four days of hiking, from Moore's Creek Battlefield to Jones Lake State Park.  When I was not hiking the 'Bays', there were some other seductive sights.  The trail crosses the Black River, one of the major Cape Fear River tributaries:

 Spanish moss is abundant in the area.  Here's a nice morning shot:

And Longleaf Pine plantations are springing up all through this area.  They are an interesting sustainable agricultural crop - 'farmers' harvest and sell the pine straw as mulch.

And then there are the much more eco-disruptive agri-business-sized blueberry farms - this one seen from the MST along Barnes Blueberry Road:

Meanwhile in Whitehall Plantation Game Land they were doing a massive clear-cut of hundreds of acres.  Not my idea of managing a game habitat responsibly.  But there may be a long-term goal:  To get rid of the artificial plantations of fire-intolerant Loblolly Pine and replace it with the more natural Longleaf and Bay species.  I'll reluctantly give them the benefit of the doubt.

The ubiquitous Carolina Jessamine, an evergreen vine, was in full bloom:

And I managed to snap photos of a few cooperative wild trail companions:

Yes, I was thoroughly seduced.  I'm falling in love with the serenity of Bladen County, North Carolina, and can't wait to see what's around the next bend.


Below is a map of the route of my four days of hiking through this wonderful corner of North Carolina.  Included are a couple of exploratory side trips and a slide show with 89 photos documenting the route:

MST Days 33-36 The Carolina Bays at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Wilmington, North Carolina

Friday, March 28, 2014

Looping through Moores Creek Nat'l Battlefield

Following along NC highway 210, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail passes the little known unit of the National Park System known as Moores Creek National Battlefield.  The park commemorates a Revolutionary War battle that took place on Feb. 27, 1776, but there's much more to this little 87 acre gem of a park.  And there is a one mile loop through it, partly on their self-guided trails, that is not to be missed.  Because there is a way to return to NC 210 about 1/7 mile down from the main entrance, I've chosen to include this wonderfully varied loop as part of 'my' Mountains-to-Sea Trail route.

Features that the loop pass include a 1/7 mile boardwalk through cypress wetlands across the creek,

a handful of old granite monuments,

a reconstructed replica of the original bridge over Moore's Creek that was the focal point of the battle

and reconstructed defensive earthworks.  Long sections of this route are on 'Rubber Trail' where a pavement made of shredded automobile tires offers surprisingly soft and spongy yet solid footing.

Other parts of the trail are asphalt, and the part that takes the MST back out to the highway is ordinary grass/dirt trail through the woods, coming back to the highway along the park boundary trail.

But for me the intriguing part of the route follows the 'Negro Head Point Road'.

The restored section of this road, which dates from at least 1743, begins right beside the park entrance and plunges into the woods, leaving the maintained trail, just beyond the reconstructed bridge.

While in the park I tried to learn how the Negro Head Point Road got its name, and to learn more about it beyond its role in the 1776 battle, but could find nothing until I got home and checked the internet.  There the Park Service provides this informative document.  The road got its name from the point of land at the confluence of the Cape Fear River with the NE Cape Fear River down near Wilmington, NC where there were 'holding pens' for newly imported slaves.

Also included in this hike report is the road walk from Burgaw, first along quiet Piney Woods Road, where I got this 'sky shot',

and then along 'Bell and Williams Road', a fairly lightly traveled road named for the proprietors of an old Fertilizer outlet:

I took two days to hike and bike this piece of trail.  But, given that it's just a bit over seventeen miles, the seasoned trekker could easily reach the park from downtown Burgaw in a single hike.


 Below is the map of the MST route from Burgaw to and through Moores Creek National Battlefield.  Included is a link to a complete slide show and more GPS info.

MST Days 31 and 32 - Moores Creek Nat'l Battlefield at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Wilmington, North Carolina

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hiking Burgaw's Osgood Canal Greenway

Burgaw, NC is the county seat for the wonderfully rural Pender County, home of Holly Shelter Game Land in the eastern part of the county and Moores Creek National Battlefield Park to the west.  This is to name just two highlights of Pender County that the Mountains-to-Sea Trail route visits.  My last report covered Holly Shelter, and the next will feature Moores Creek.

Appropriate for a county seat, Burgaw is centrally located between these two, and it's 2.6 mile circuit, which follows the ditch-stream called the Osgood Canal along the east side of downtown, shown above. Here are a few more views of the often wooded walk along the Canal:

The return to Mile Zero along the west side of downtown follows historic Dickerson Street along the old, now-abandoned railway.  Here's the beautifully restored ca. 1850 Burgaw train depot:

Getting to Burgaw from Holly Shelter involves road walking, but much of this is on a route that is so lightly traveled that it's a wonder that these roads are paved and graded.  It's so peaceful here, that you can almost still hear the "putta-putta-putta" of a Model A as it pulls up here for a fill-up.

Croomsbridge Road, the site of the 'filling station' above, (which changes name to Camp Kirkwood Road) also takes the hiker past another vast tract of game land, called Angola Bay,

past two rural church camps,

Unitarian Universalist retreat on 40 acres, established 1902 as a rural school
Camp Kirkwood Presbyterian camp and conference center

and across the meandering, lazily flowing NE Cape Fear River.

Westbound, the MST turns south at the tiny hamlet of Watha, famous for being a filming location for the 2008 movie 'The Secret Life of Bees', based on the novel of the same name by Sue Monk Kidd.  As best as I can figure, 'downtown' Watha consists of three churches and not many more houses.

There's an arrow-straight stretch of lightly traveled road that passes beside some of the flattest farmland this side of Kansas.  Here one finds several giant poultry/hog-raising farms.

And then you come quietly into Burgaw, reaching the Elementary School and the Osgood Canal Trail before you even realize you're in a town.  All in all, it's about as serene a rural venue as I've found so far in nearly 300 miles of trail.


Here is the GPS track-route for three days of hiking in and around Burgaw.  The link provides access to an extended slide show:

MST Days 28 - 30 Burgaw's Osgood Canal Greenway at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Wilmington, North Carolina