Thursday, February 15, 2018
Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Stones Creek Game Land - the Six-Lake tour
Five years ago this week I first scouted this little gem of public land near where I lived. My purpose was to try to get it approved as part of a planned major 500+ mile reroute of the Mountains-to-Sea-Trail.
I fell in love with it. It just *had* to be part of the trail.
I returned for a more comprehensive scouting trip that fall and documented a route much like the one that is now officially open. On November 14, 2013 I met Executive Director Kate Dixon and then Board President Jerry Barker of Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail and showed them Stones Creek.
I guess they liked it too. The board approved it as part of the provisional new route, which was then called the Coastal Crescent Route, within a month or two.
Four years ago today, on February 15, 2014, I started at the eastern Terminus of the trail, at Jockey's Ridge State Park on North Carolina's Outer Banks, and embarked on an end-to-end hike of this brand new trail. I was the first to hike this 500+ mile route, finishing it on April 24th at Falls Lake Dam north of Raleigh where the new route rejoins the old established trail.
Firsts are rare. In keeping with my new "Life and Legacy" theme, I think this is one of my more memorable accomplishments.
Last year the NC State Legislature finally put its stamp of approval on the Coastal Crescent Route; and now it is an official part of what is far-and-away the most ecologically diverse State Trail in the United States.
Besides the hundred-foot high shifting sand dunes of Jockey's Ridge, the trail features high elevation sub-alpine forests with nearly arctic climate where the trail starts at Clingman's Dome in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
It passes through one of the most peculiar geological oddities in the world, the so-called Carolina Bays--elliptical lakes and basins of many sizes, all oriented in precisely the same direction. It passes habitat of rare carnivorous plants including Venus Fly Trap, which can be found in this tract of Stones Creek Game Land along with loads of other rare species (see The Wayfarer's comment below and check his amazing blog). Here are some mini-venus fly traps with more abundant carnivorous sundews.
And by the time the trail reaches the Atlantic coast at Surf City, NC, the climate is sub-tropical and the trail is lined with Palm Trees.
I can't stress enough what a bold, visionary move it was for Kate and the Friends-of-the-Mountains-to-Sea Trail to undertake this complete reroute of nearly half their trail! It's unprecedented. I can hardly imagine the hours of work it has taken. But Kate has been tireless, enthusiastic, always up to the task, even relishing it. The part I played pales by comparison; but I sure was glad to have Stones Creek included in the final product.
So, back to today's hike. Though it's only Mid-February, that's typically the time for signs of spring to begin appearing here in coastal sub-tropical North Carolina. The red maple trees are in full bloom.
The first of the Carolina Jessamine, this a ground hugging sprig of the normally climbing vine, was ready to burst into bloom.
It was a cool, comfortable day--start of hiking season here. So glad I got out to enjoy the views.
Here's a GPS Track map of the area. My route is marked by the red line. The yellow dots mark the route of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
I did about six miles of the official trail, passing six of the seven lakes in this tract of public land and hiking along fire breaks and through long leaf pine restoration areas, not to mention beaver-pond wetlands.
The Diversity, even in this one little tract of just over 2000 acres, is amazing. Get out there and check it out!