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

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The hike thru Holly Shelter Game Land

MST route through Holly Shelter is shown in yellow

In my opinion this is the heart of the Cape Fear Arch route of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.  Holly Shelter Game Land is a massive 64,743 acres of largely unspoiled, ecologically diverse wild land. There are nineteen miles of wilderness hiking on little-used dirt roads between the two gates and campsites at either end, and another five miles along Shaw Highway before you leave Game Land property.

The hike is virtually flat, but the diversity is delightful.  You'll see beautiful examples of the fire-dependent Longleaf Pine Savanna ecosystem - my personal favorite.  The last shot was taken in an area that was just burned within the last few weeks.

You'll see Pond Pines, such as this mature specimen,

You'll walk the seldom traveled, park-like section along Military Road where the Red Maples provide both spring and fall color.  Here's the spring example.  Red Maples go to seed before they begin to produce leaves:

And Red Maples are prone to infestation by the semi-parasitic Mistletoe.  It's not entirely parasitic, such as dodder, because its green leaves sustain it - it primarily relies on its host only for water.  This is a ubiquitous plant in eastern NC, but this is a pretty example with the host Red Maple in flower and the cerulean blue sky providing wonderful color contrasts:

In the middle section of Holly Shelter there are vast tracts of peat bog and pocosin, much of which was devastated by a massive 2011 fire.  The spring and summer of 2011 were unusually dry, and when the fire started, it moved down into the peat and could not be extinguished.  The fire burned all summer until Hurricane Irene drenched it in late August.  Here are two scenes from the MST route that look like the aftermath of nuclear war:

There are prettier wetlands as well.  Here's a roadside ditch greening up in the bright spring sun:

And here are views of Ashes Creek and navigable Holly Shelter Creek:

This ecosystem special because it is host to a number of unusual, rare, threatened and endangered species of plants, including a number of carnivorous plants that supplement their intake of nutrients by trapping bugs.  The most famous of these is the too-often-poached Venus Fly Trap.

And of course there is abundant wildlife, including turkeys in great flocks, bear, deer, coyote, fox, water turtles, snakes, and plenty of waterfowl,  including the great blue heron.  Sadly I saw only glimpses, tracks and scat as I hiked through - got no useful photos.  Maybe next time.

Because of the nineteen miles of wilderness hiking where camping is not permitted, the hiker needs to be well prepared before plunging in to Holly Shelter Game Land.  It may be a long day, but the experience will be well worth the effort.


Below is the GPS track of the MST route through Holly Shelter, which matches the map provided up top. The map above provides more detail of the surroundings, the link below provides more data and a slide show:

MST Days 26 and 27 - Holly Shelter Game Land at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near Wilmington, North Carolina

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail through Topsail Island

One of the MST highlights on Topsail Island, fishing pier remnants, site of Tower Seven

Topsail Island (pronounced the 18th Century English way: "Tops'l") got its name when Seafarers during the era of the infamous pirate Edward Teach (Blackbeard) noted that the pirate ships lurking under cover in the sounds and inlets behind the island couldn't completely hide themselves - the topsails of their ships poked up above the dunes and gave them away.  So the island's name was short-hand for some good advice: If you spy a topsail behind this stretch of coast, either get away in a hurry or prepare for a confrontation.

In more recent days, Topsail Island became the base for a short-lived experimental rocket project called Operation Bumblebee.  For more information, see this NPS article.  Up and down the island the Navy constructed seven multi-story concrete observation towers, all of which survive in some form today, and two of which the Mountains-to-Sea trail passes.   Here are those two:

Tower Seven, site of the old fishing pier in the photo up top
Tower Six house, just north of the Surf City fishing pier

And for completeness I want to include the others - each quite distinctive:

Tower One, still a Johns Hopkins U. Applied Physics Lab research facility
Full view of the impressive Tower One building, designed to mimic the tower architecture
Tower two, downtown Topsail Beach
Tower Three is on the sound and has an extra floor compared to the others
The skeleton of Tower Four is incorporated into this luxurious beach house
Tower Five served as a residence, but is now vacant

Finally, concluding the Operation Bumblebee tour, here's the rocket assembly building (now a museum) in downtown Topsail Beach:

Topsail Island is also known for its sea turtle hospital.  The brand new expanded facility at 302 Tortuga Lane, Surf City, is just opening this spring.  It is 200 yards from the MST on Cedar Avenue, so I'm hoping that a footpath leading to it can be built.

Finally, another new facility of note to MST hikers has just opened just two miles from the Island and right on the MST route.  It's the Onslow County branch public library and Environmental Education Center.  It has a loop trail that I'm hoping can be extended to become part of the MST.  Meanwhile the facility, which just opened this week has two dozen or more new computers for public use with internet access, wi-fi, and a spacious facility (open during regular business hours).

Another highlight of hiking Topsail Island's beaches are the abundant sharks teeth that the sharp-eyed hiker will find.  These are actually fossil teeth (the fossilization process turns them black, whereas modern sharks teeth are white).  If you're lucky you'll find one of the huge ones--from an extinct giant shark called the megalodon that reached as much as sixty feet in length and had individual teeth as large as 7 inches.

Some of my Topsail Island beach finds

Lastly, if you're out early, you might be witness to one of Topsail Island's spectacular sunrises:

The hike itself covers just over eight miles of beach, including passing three public beach access facilities with rest rooms (and one with outdoor showers). I'm also including the approach hikes from each end in this report.  On the southern (trail west) end, the hiker reaches/leaves the beach just north of the Surf City fishing pier:

After leaving the beach there's a boardwalk stretch through Surf City's Soundside Park;

And then a crossing of the historic Swingbridge, slated to be replaced within this decade.

My hike concluded with a walk along US 17, passing this old fire tower and new water tower:

And reaching the entrance to the massive Holly Shelter Game Land.  Look for the report of my Holly Shelter hike next.

Finally I have to mention the tragedy I encountered as I hiked the beach.  It happened right beside the Tower Seven fishing pier pilings shown in the photo up top.  Here's the narrative as I wrote it in my personal journal:

"The sky was clearing and the wind, as said, had gone nearly calm.  It was one of the rare days in spring when the weather inland, away from the influence of the cold water, was not significantly warmer than on the beach (because of the cloud cover to that point and because of the NW breeze).  So I was thoroughly enjoying this walk.  The day seemed perfect.  Then, very suddenly, everything turned upside down.  I was nearing the Project Bumblebee tower intending to take some art shots of the birds that always sit out on the remnants of the old fishing pier there, but I was noticing someone in a white shirt who seemed to be sitting in the shallow surf just in front of the pier pilings as I viewed them.  That seemed really peculiar since the water was very chilly—low 50’s—and the air temperature wasn’t much warmer.  As I approached a woman in a black coat had gone out and seemed to be talking to the person in the white shirt.  Then two young guys came running up the beach past me and came up to the other two.  The woman seemed to be shouting.  I was getting pretty close when a vehicle pulled up beside them on the beach, having come from the other way.  Out jumped three men all in black, and the next thing I noticed was that all these people were dragging an unconscious person up out of the surf.

"It was then that I actually arrived on the scene.  The people in the vehicle were first responders and the person being dragged was a surfer—not young, with gray streaks in his hair and a bit overweight.  And he seemed lifeless—I couldn’t see any breathing.  The first responders cut open his wet suit and began administering CPR while the woman in the black coat was consoling the man in the white shirt.  Here’s the photo of that moment:

"It turns out that the man in the white shirt, whose name is Wes, had known the accident victim for years.  Both are surfers.  Wes had talked with the man while he was surfing about an hour before, and then left.  When he returned, about twenty minutes before the photo, he found the victim floating in the surf, called 911, and began to administer CPR right there in the shallow surf—that’s what I was seeing from a distance.  Anyhow, three more emergency vehicles soon arrived and a team of about a dozen paramedics started the victim on IV’s, constantly kept pumping his heart by hand, and pumping oxygen into his mouth using a big bulb apparatus.  But the victim wasn’t responding, and eventually they gave him up for dead.  Wes had left by then, apparently to try to make contact with the victim’s family—had said his name was Michael Moore of Snead’s Ferry, and one of the responders knew him and told me later that he died doing what he loved most, which consoled me a bit because I was really shaken up by this—don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a person dying/newly dead before.  Here's a link to the news release.

"The four vehicles drove off with the body and suddenly there wasn’t even a trace of the event.  It seemed so surreal.  Suddenly my hike just didn’t seem to matter—in fact it almost felt blasphemous to be just strolling up the beach picking up sharks teeth and taking pictures of birds on old pier pilings.  “Everybody dies” were the words that came to my mind at that point.  But that didn’t seem comforting—it seemed morbid, depressing.  Well, I gradually got my balance back—life indeed goes on, as does my hike.  Yet I can’t help making a comparison to the tragedies on the AT, particularly the one that also involved water—Paul ‘Parkside’ Bernhardt.  I’ve walked Topsail Island’s beaches hundreds of times and yet it was when I was ‘officially’ hiking the MST that this tragedy happened before my eyes."

That's the end of the emotional quote from my personal journal.  Life indeed does go on, and I'm sure that Michael, whom all his friends knew as 'Fish', would say - "Go for it - keep following your passion, and hope when your end comes, you're in the moment and loving it."  And so I hike on, and I'm indeed loving it.


Here are the GPS tracks for the two days of hiking to, on, and from Topsail Island, with many more photos available in the slide show.

MST Days 24 and 25 - Topsail Island at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in North Carolina