Log in
The Umstead Coalition 
Celebrating Umstead State Park since 1934!

Umstead Inspirations Blog

With over 1.8 million visitors a year, Umstead State Park is certainly well-used and loved by the surrounding community. The 5,599 acre park is not only a safe haven for a variety of species of wildlife and plants, but it also supports the health of the surrounding community by providing a respite from the daily grind and an opportunity for communing with nature and exercising the body. Want to know more about what’s happening in the park?

Our blog, Umstead Inspirations, is designed to entertain, educate, enhance appreciation and encourage involvement in upcoming events and volunteer opportunities. We’ll tell you what to look for on a seasonal basis including blooming wildflowers, activities of animals, and weather effects. This is your park, and we welcome your ideas regarding the blog.  Please share the posts to encourage others to visit and enjoy. See you on the trails!

<< First  < Prev   1   2   3   4   5   Next >  Last >> 
  • 05/16/2023 10:02 AM | Anonymous

     So, I have a new obsession. It’s bad.  I’ve resorted to walking up to visitors at the park and sharing my obsession with them because all of my coworkers at the Visitors Center are pretty much tired of me talking about it all the time. I have no one else to tell, so I figured I’d share it with you. Oh yea, and because I’m a park ranger, the thing I’m obsessed with is a tree – or to be more precise, the fruit of this tree.


    Every March, in a sea of brown and gray bark in the forest, one of the first blooming trees stands out like a bright white lighthouse in a hazy, fog ridden ocean. Its vivacious and numerous white flowers illuminating the dreariness of late winter as if to say, “Don’t worry, spring is coming soon”.  Of course, I am talking about trees in the Amelanchier family or a tree/shrub more commonly known as serviceberry. The problem with common names, like with many other plants, is that different people in different places have different names for the same plant. This tree and its berries are a shining example of this problem. Juneberry, serviceberry, saskatoon berry, shadwood, sarvisberry, sugarplum, wild-plum, or even chukley pear…just to name a few. I have always known the tree to be called serviceberry, so for the remainder of the post, that is what I’ll refer to it too (sorry to all of you chuckley pear fans out there).

    By early May, those beautiful white flowers that are heavily visited by all kinds of pollen seeking insects have long wilted and fruits are abound. The tree becomes loaded with first green, then pink, then nearly purple berries that resemble blueberries in their size and shape. Not necessarily dripping from every branch, but loaded down enough that people who first learn about the tree are genuinely impressed with the volume of fruit on it. The best part about these berries are that they’re edible…and delicious. Tasting like a cross between a blueberry and a blackberry, the serviceberry turns your fingers somewhat purple but not as bad as other fruits like red mulberries. 

    Serviceberry tree berriesThere’s a few great things about serviceberries. The tree is native to our area, only one tree is needed for pollination, they are well behaved and function well as an ornamental tree for landscaping uses, and a single 10-foot tree can produce enough fruit to keep a family’s palate content for the month of May. Plant more than one and you might be looking at making jam or preserves from the berries or even freezing them for smoothies throughout the summer (my favorite option). The berries contain higher levels of iron, manganese, fiber, and calcium than blueberries and are high in polyphenol antioxidants. An all-around good choice.

    So, the next time you’re thinking about planting another red maple tree or some non-native crepe myrtle in your yard, consider the humble serviceberry to provide a splash of spring color that also benefits wildlife. It will not only provide a welcome sign of life after winter, but also liven up your tastebuds. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I see a family getting out of their minivan right in front of the serviceberry tree. I have four new people to share my obsession with. 

    - Ranger Nick Dioguardi

  • 05/07/2023 3:05 PM | Anonymous

    Don’t worry, I haven’t gone off the deep end wearing a tin foil hat. And I’m not talking about little green men from Mars in flying saucers. I am, however, using the word in its literal sense.  What I’m referring to is all of the non-native and invasive plant species we find in William B. Umstead State Park that I have a lot of experience with and, collectively, we spend a lot of work hours trying to get rid of. According to the dictionary, the word alien means “belonging to another country or nation”. There are a lot of problematic invasive plant species that plague our park, but I’ll just touch on three specifically that give us the most trouble.

    Autumn Olive

    Autumn oliveThe first plant that we do battle with on a weekly, if not daily basis, is Autumn Olive or Elaeagnus umbellata. First imported from Asia in the mid 1800’s for erosion control, Autumn Olive is a bush-like plant that can grow as tall as twenty feet and produce thousands (yes…I said thousands) of little berries that are adored by birds and wildlife. The troublesome weed does just fine in poor soils and does well in shade or sun, so pretty much everywhere in the park. We tend to find it forming dense thickets in valleys along Ebenezer Church Road on the eastern border of the park and along our powerlines where birds like to sit and deposit the seeds mixed with a little of their own … semi-liquid fertilizer.

    What’s so bad about this plant? Well like many invasive species, Autumn Olive can be so aggressive that it can outcompete other native species and create somewhat of a monoculture. That means that the hornbeams and oaks don’t get enough sunlight to grow on the forest floor because the sun is being blocked out by the dense foliage of all that Autumn Olive. This plant is pretty identifiable by the (what I call) “Tin-Man Silver” on the underside of the leaves. 

    And when the plant fruits around July, you can see it dripping with small red olive-like berries that are actually edible by humans. While the unripe berries are highly astringent, ripe berries can be rather sweet and palatable. So palatable, researchers at Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin looked into the possibility of growing autumn olive as a commercial crop due to its ability to thrive without the use of pesticides and herbicides and its high levels of lycopene. Luckily, they decided against it for fear of it escaping onto neighboring farms.


    Chinese Wisteria

    Chinese wisteria

    The next on our list of bothersome aliens is Chinese Wisteria. You probably just saw this plants flower blooming recently as it hangs off vines in many residential areas. The purple cluster of flowers smell especially good and can provide privacy between properties. Many people plant this in their yards and do a pretty decent job of keeping it at bay with proper trimming, cutting, and the possible use of herbicides. The problem occurs when someone plants Chinese Wisteria and, for one reason or another, the plant isn’t managed properly.

    That happened when folks moved out of the properties that now make up William B. Umstead State Park in the 1930’s and left their Chinese Wisteria plants to grow unchecked. The spreading vines crawled along underneath the accumulating leaf litter and sprung up twenty feet away in each direction.

    Then the vines crawled up tall trees, tightly winding around and choking the life out of their timber-based ladder as they grew, and then dropped their seeds to exacerbate the problem. Once Chinese Wisteria gets a foothold in an area, it can be a decades-long effort to try and eradicate the plant from that location.

    Chinese Privet

    Chinese privet

    The final plant I’ll bring up is one we find specifically in the floodplain areas of our park that possess sandy and wet soils. Chinese Privet, with its blue and black berries that are a favorite of many songbirds, infests many of our low-lying areas in the park. Most people won’t notice it because it thrives in hard to reach areas of the park, but where it is found it can be abundant. We tend to find it near the confluence of Sycamore and Crabtree Creek, along Richland Creek, and the headwaters of Sycamore Creek north of Big Lake.

    What is actually kind of refreshing about Chinese Privet is that when the plant is young, it can be removed without the use of herbicides. Its naturally shallow roots combined with the sandy soil it thrives in allow it to be pulled quite easily from the ground. 

    This makes the effort of removing the plants a lot more family friendly, and we’ve hosted a number of volunteer events where children have helped remove privet from the park. However, left to mature, Chinese Privet can grow to look like any other small tree in the understory and send up new growth from lateral roots that require the use of herbicides. 


    What You Can Do

    So, what can you do to help mitigate the problem of invasive “aliens”? Well to start, if you’re a homeowner, please don’t plant these plants on your property. If you have these or any other invasive species on your property, safely remove them and replace them with a native plant. Instead of Wisteria, plant Purple Passionflower. You’ll love its purple flowers that grow into a temperate climate passionfruit that is reminiscent of the tropical varieties or better yet, the native wisteria. Instead of autumn olive, pick something useful and edible like highbush blueberries.

    And the second thing you can do is volunteer to help remove the species we have at our park. Every year we hire seasonal park attendants who spend at least thirty hours a week doing nothing but mitigating invasive species, and that’s on top of the numerous hours a week that our ranger staff also commits to this endeavor.

    If you’re curious about whether or not you have invasive species on your property, and good native plants to replace them with, check out these resources from NC Agricultural Extension. With any luck, and a lot of hard work, we’ll be able to avoid a full scale invasion of these “aliens” in our beautiful park. 

    - Ranger Nick Dioguardi

  • 12/10/2022 11:39 AM | Anonymous

    A seed is a pretty magical thing, in my opinion. It represents potential, possibilities, and hope for the future. Every fall, I think about seeds a lot when I find myself in the garden scouring crispy brown flower blooms to grow next year’s plants. Nature does a wonderful job on its own of spreading plant seeds so the next generation can grow. Some plants, like native Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), wrap their seeds in a tasty little sugar filled fruit that gets eaten up by coyotes and other hungry critters and deposited sometimes miles away in a pile of scat. Coyotes are a sassy, unashamed bunch who like to leave their droppings right in the middle of the trail, as if to say “Yeah, that’s my poop. What are you gonna do about it? Huh!” You’ll see a thin little pile of scat this time of year, usually containing some kind of squirrel or rabbit fur and a smattering of oblong brown seeds about an inch long that contain a future persimmon tree.

    While some plants have evolved to create sweet and tasty fruit around their seeds as a means of spreading their DNA, others rely on more passive methods. Milkweed plants, for instance, devised an ingenious method of seed dispersal using something that is more or less always around in one way or another: the wind. If you’ve ever seen an open milkweed pod on a gusty fall day, you’re likely to see a whimsical show. The seeds are attached to something called “floss”, which acts as a kind of parachute/sail to carry the milkweed seed on the breeze to a destination ranging from mere inches to many miles away. This floss, other than being used for its intended purpose of seed distribution, is actually quite useful.

    Photo source: Wisconsin Department of Natural ResourcesBack in World War II, school children throughout the Midwest would see signs saying, “Two Bags Save One Life”, and “Don’t Let Our Sailors Sink”. The United States Government called upon the girls and boys of our nation’s heartland to harvest milkweed pods and fill old onion bags full of their floss in order to stuff life jackets for sailors and airmen in the war. These bags were dried and sent via rail and vessel to a former lumber mill in the town of Petosky, Michigan to be processed into fill for life jackets. Children were paid 15 to 20 cents a bag, which required a fair bit of work to fill completely. For many though, the nickels and dimes were not the objective, it was bringing their fellow countrymen home safe and doing their part in whatever way they could.

    Photo source: University of New Hampshire Library

    I thought about those honorable kids who are over eighty years old today as I was picking milkweed pods this past August and September. And although we picked the same pods of the same kinds of plants, I was after something other than the fluffy floss. Every year, volunteers painstakingly count out between twenty and thirty seeds of three different species of milkweed native to our area and fill handmade paper pouches. Some go to the Umstead Coalition to sell during their Native Plant sale, and the remainder are given away to the public outside of the Visitor Center of William B. Umstead State Park during the holiday season. Come December 15 th , in a small wooden box next to the front door of the building, you’ll notice small colorful paper containers of milkweed seeds. They contain Common Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed, and Butterfly Weed. All host plants for the Monarch Butterfly and all beautiful additions to gardens all over North Carolina.

    So if you’re in the market for a stocking stuffer for an avid gardener in the family, a first night of Hanukkah gift for a green thumb butterfly lover, or just a simple way to enter the world of flowering native plants for yourself, stop by William B. Umstead later this month to pick up your free milkweed seeds. Please only take one species per person and please please please, only take them if you are sure they’re going to be planted in the early spring. I’d hate to see all that hard work get left in a sock drawer or lost on a shelf in the garage instead of germinating into food for a migrating butterfly next May. If you have any questions on how to plant them, check out this blog from a great non-profit called MonarchWatch. It’ll tell you how to grow the seeds and make sure they all germinate.

    Hopefully we’ll see you outside the Visitor Center in the next few weeks. And make sure to pop in and ask for Ranger Nick if you have any questions on your new seeds.

    - Ranger Nick Dioguardi

  • 09/22/2022 5:02 PM | Anonymous

    Did you know that fall is the best time to plant? With cooling temperatures and increasing rain, plants have time to establish their roots before the spring growing season. The larger root systems will help the plants be stronger and more successful in the summer. Read more about why fall is the best time to plant from the NC Cooperative Extension

    Native Plants Explained

    "Nearly all of us get our plants from nurseries, but the plants in most nurseries fall into two very distinct categories: they are either native to your area — that is, they share an evolutionary history with the plant and animal communities in your ecoregion or biome — or they are plants that have developed the traits that make them unique species elsewhere", said Doug Tallamy in Nature's Best Hope.

    Many typical garden ornamentals come from East Asia, the Mediterranean and the tropics. Tallamy says, "...plants native to the region are almost always far better at performing local ecological roles than plants introduced from somewhere else."

    Native plants are crucial for biodiversity. Read more about the benefits of native plants from the North Carolina Native Plant Society

    50 Native Species & 1,400+ Plants!

    In just a few years, we've grown our plant sale from around 50 plants to over 1,400! We're thrilled with the community's interest in growing native plants to help build and restore healthy ecosystems. Here are some of the plants we're excited to offer:

    Garden Stunners

    You’ll be the envy of your neighbors with these!

    • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
    • Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
    • Dogwood (Cornus florida)
    • Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis)
    • Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus)
    • Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
    • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
    • Sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)
    • Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)
    • Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)
    • Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

    Fruit Trees & Shrubs

    • Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) are the largest edible fruit native to North America and look similar to a green mango. Their taste can be described as a mix of banana, pineapple and mango and they make excellent desserts like puddings, ice cream, pastries and more. We'll have 70+ pawpaw trees for sale. Read more about the ever-popular pawpaw here
    • Blueberry: Blueberries produce more and larger berries when they can cross pollinate with another variety. We're offering Rabbiteye (Vaccinium ashei) and Highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum). 
    • Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana): "An unripe persimmon will turn your face inside out. But when they’re ripe or even post-ripe, mercy, that’s a fairy tale about a magic forest where jam grows on trees." Persimmon pulps can be described as a blend of "apricot, dried peach, guava jam, roasted pumpkin and a speck of spice or nuts." Read more entertaining facts about the persimmon at Our State.

    Milkweeds for Monarch Butterflies

    Did you know that monarch caterpillars will only eat the leaves of milkweeds? Or that milkweeds are quickly disappearing in the wild because of loss of habitat and pesticide use? The good news is that it's easy to grow milkweed in your garden. We'll be selling four types of milkweed: whorled (Asclepias verticillata), common (Asclepias syriaca), swamp (Asclepias incarnata) and butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).

    Find the Best Plants for Your Zip Code

    Visit the National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder to find plants that host the highest numbers of butterflies and moths to feed birds and other wildlife where you live (hint...we'll have a lot of these available!). 

    Volunteers Needed

    We're looking for 10 more volunteers. If you're interested in helping out, sign up here.

    RSVP for the Plant Sale

    We're expecting a large crowd. Please let us know you're coming. RSVP here


    We'll be set up in the grassy area on the right when you pull into parking lot at the Reedy Creek entrance to William B. Umstead State Park. 2100 N Harrison Ave, Cary, NC 27513.

    Thank you to Mellow Marsh Farm and Sorrell's Nursery for supporting William B. Umstead State Park by growing and providing the plants!

  • 09/21/2022 5:02 PM | Anonymous

    If you’ve been walking through the park in mid-September, you might have noticed that almost any un-mowed, grassy area is alive with a sea of tall, yellow flowers. Whether it’s the powerlines by Big Lake, the curve in the Multi-Use trail along Reedy Creek Lake Trail, or even at our park’s Visitor Center, one plant steals the show this time of year. Wingstem, or Verbesina alternifolia, is a mainstay of fall wildflowers at William B. Umstead State Park and plays a key role in the environment around here. 

    Named for the short flaps (or wings) of plant material extruding from the stem of the plant, Wingstem is native to much of the Ohio River Valley, southeast, and Midwest of the country. From Kansas to North Carolina, and from Michigan to Alabama, Wingstem blooms anywhere from July to October, depending on where in the country you may find it. Here in our part of North Carolina, you can just about check the calendar and circle September 15th for when you want to start looking. This date is pretty important because it falls just a few days after the peak Monarch butterfly migration comes through our area. Wingstem provides ample opportunities for the southbound lepidoptera to stop over and grab a snack on their annual journey down to the mountains of Mexico. 

    Wingstem is a host plant for Silvery Checkerspot butterfly, Summer Azure butterfly, and Gold Moth. This means that these insects will seek out this plant to lay their eggs on so the caterpillars can eat the leaves and complete their lifecycle. It’s also an important fall flower in our area for tons of wasps and bees when many other summer bloomers have gone to seed for the year.

    Wingstem grows well in medium wet soil and prefers a bit of shade, but you can grow this plant in your own backyard if you are looking for a little early fall color. It can get up to eight feet tall and can be a bit of an aggressive spreader by seed, but when much of the garden loses its hue, Wingstem will be there to make September pop with its golden yellow petals. 

    If you haven’t recently, come out to the park to check out this beautiful flower that blankets the powerlines like some kind of a natural yellow brick road. We’d love to see you out enjoying the park and soaking in the last bits of summer weather before we start shifting to the bearable days and cooler nights of fall. 

    - Ranger Nick Dioguardi

  • 03/24/2022 9:05 PM | Anonymous

    There’s a phrase that has always given me pause. If you were to say, “he can’t see the forest for the trees”, you’re commenting on someone’s inability to identify the bigger picture because they’re too focused on the individual, minute details of a problem. As a Park Ranger, and overall lover of dendrology, I take direct offense to this phrase because it makes me feel guilty for my love for trees and the methods of identifying these magnificent plants throughout the various seasons of the year.  But I wasn’t always so immersed in, and familiar with, the forest in my life. 

    When I first started working at William B. Umstead State Park as a Seasonal Park Attendant some 11 years ago, I didn’t know all that much about trees or how to tell them apart. Sure, I took a few classes in college that had to do with plant biology, but none of it really stuck. When I first started working here, I wanted to properly learn about tree identification but was intimidated by the sheer magnitude of species in the forest and was about to throw up my hands and surrender. However, a since retired Park Ranger used another idiom to help me in my studies. He asked me “How do you eat an elephant?” to which I answered, “One bite at a time.”

     From that point on, I picked one tree species a week and immersed myself in it as I drove around the park working. Stopping to run my fingers along the deep ridges of a Loblolly Pine or peel a flake of the light-gray fringe protruding from the trunk of a wise White Oak. I would pick a leaf off a Red Maple and hold it next to a specimen from a Southern Sugar Maple and use the skills I gathered from reading Highlights magazine as a kid to identify as many differences as I could find between the two similar yet different varieties.

    In late March I would wait for the magenta-pink flowers of a Redbud tree to bloom before standing on the toolbox of my truck and nibbling a small handful to taste the organic sweetness they provide. I’d look both ways to see if a diligently patrolling Ranger would notice me grabbing a few extra Redbud flowers, then bring them home to add some color and phytonutrients to my salad at dinner. In the dry heat of the summer, I would nibble the leaves of the Sourwood trees and let its oxalic acid stimulate my salivary glands while hiking on a dusty trail. My perpetually parched mouth grateful for any drop of liquids I could come by while I was out digging ditches on the multi-use trail in the heat of the day.

    Then as fall began, I would watch the way the Painted Buckeye lost its leaves long before any of the other trees along South Turkey Creek Multi-use Trail. And when the buttery tasting Mockernut Hickory nuts would fall and litter the forest floor beneath the mighty giants, I knew winter was well on its way. 

    After my nearly two years of seasonal work at the park, I had studied dozens of tree species and worked my way up from novice to (self-proclaimed) intermediate just in time to be offered a job as a Ranger. I’m not quite sure when I’ll qualify as an expert, but I hope it happens before I hang up my badge and my Ranger hat in the Visitor Center in some 20-odd years. In the meantime, I’ll continue to get out in the forest as much as possible to study the unique shade of persimmon bark, the fine serrations of dark green cherry leaves, and the floral scent of the tulip-tree flowers and hone my skills out here in the forest of William B. Umstead State Park.

    Hopefully I’ll see you out there doing the same.

    - Ranger Nick Dioguardi

    Photographer: Ernie Sears Photographer: Ernie Sears

  • 02/20/2022 1:40 PM | Anonymous

    If you’ve visited the reedy creek side of the park in the last few days, you may have noticed a change in the forest near Picnic Shelter #2. No, the trees haven’t started leafing out just yet. Nor have the maples started blooming their tiny red flowers either. The change you’ll see is on the forest floor where the charred remains of old sweetgum saplings lay peacefully on the blackened earth next to burn marks at the base of Shortleaf and Loblolly Pines. On Valentine’s Day, Monday, February 14th , there was more than just love in the air in Cary, North Carolina.

    There was a column of white smoke from a prescribed burn performed by the Rangers of William B. Umstead State Park, the State Park’s Burn Crew, and the State Parks Natural Resources Team. Although the prescribed burn was only 7 acres of the nearly 5,600 acres comprising William B. Umstead State Park, it represented a positive step in the right direction for conservation and resource management in the park for many reasons. 

    Source: Daniel Dey, Richard Guyette, and Michael Stambaugh

    What does this brightly colored map above indicate? Does the deep orange and red show the places where people are retiring to, seeking warmer weather and lower taxes? (No, but interestingly enough there does seem to be somewhat of a correlation.) Well, according to research conducted out of the University of Missouri in 2011, this map shows the Mean Fire Interval for different geographic locations in our country. That’s a fancy way of saying how often natural wildfires took place between the years 1650 and 1850. Natural wildfires are largely defined as fires started by lightning strikes but can also, in much rarer occasions, occur from a concentration of the sun’s heat and even sometimes by meteor strikes. 

    If you look at the blue star I added to the map, our area of North Carolina lies somewhere on the line showing that a wildfire naturally took place about every 4 years or so. This make sense seeing that in my 11 years at this park, I have responded to two different wildfires started by lightning strikes. What is different from the late 1600’s was that we extinguished our two lightning strike fires before they got to be more than an acre or two using modern tools and technology. The fires that were naturally started before large scale European settlement of the continent could burn for tens of thousands of acres before being naturally extinguished by rainfall or by reaching a river or other natural barrier. Gradually creeping along the forest floor for days or weeks before ceasing their slow-motion cleansing of pine needles and other debris dropped at the base of the continuous and uninterrupted forest east of the Mississippi River. 

    Does this mean that the land comprising Wake County was just some sort of constant flame-ridden hellscape where nothing could survive? Actually, quite the opposite. The lower intensity fires that did burn in the southeast had less fuel to consume because of the more frequent natural burns that did take place. Additionally, the flora and fauna that once called (and still calls) this place home are largely fire adapted if not fire dependent. Animals naturally seek shelter either above or below the flames, and the trees that are supposed to be inhabiting this ecosystem have adapted natural defenses to the short but intense bursts of heat. 

    Species like the Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata) are one of these fire adapted plant species that used to comprise a larger swath of this forest hundreds of years ago. Along with its cousin, the Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris), Shortleaf Pine saplings survive slow moving, low intensity fires on the forest floor while other trees may not. However, a much more abundant species in our park today, the Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) was normally found in wetter areas or along streambanks where fires wouldn’t naturally reach. These Loblolly Pines were planted by the thousands when the park was first constructed back in the 1930s and 1940s to reforest the largely barren farm fields left behind by the farming families of the Ebenezer Community. Younger Loblolly saplings cannot regenerate when top-killed by fire while similarly aged Shortleaf and Longleaf roots survive under the soil and can regenerate their stems and needles not long after fire moves through. 

    After a burn, younger deciduous tree species like maples and sweetgums tend to die after their thin bark is damaged by the fire. The hardier pines, older Chestnut Oaks and White Oaks, grasses, and perennial wildflowers survive and/or return unaffected and the more natural order of the forest is renewed. This being the second time we’ve burned this 7-acre unit in the past 5 years, we are starting to see these changes take place and it brings us hope that we can start to see more prescribed burns occurring on bigger acreages in the park in the coming months and years. So, don’t forget to check the William B. Umstead State Park homepage before you decide to go for your next hike in the future. The trail you are hoping to wander may be closed due to a 70 or 100-acre prescribed burn being intentionally set by qualified and trained naturalists and State Park staff members. And be sure to check in on our Reedy Creek parking lot burn the next time you get a chance. You might just see a Shortleaf Pine sapling emerging from the ashes as it reaches towards the sky in its (now more) natural habitat. 

    To read more about the benefits of prescribed fire and some of the native plant and animal species that prescribed fire can help, take a look at the websites I included below. And if you can’t make it out to the park, check out a picture I took.

    Thanks for reading,

    Ranger Nick Dioguardi

    Picture taken February 19, 2022 at William B. Umstead State Park – Near Reedy Creek Parking Lot


  • 12/12/2021 4:58 PM | Anonymous

    Are you aware that the Longleaf Pine and the Loblolly Pine may be the first of North Carolina's indigenous trees to be adversely affected by climate change? 

    These trees are monecious, meaning that individual trees have male catkins and female cones. Male catkins produce large amounts of pollen that is carried by wind to fertilize the immature female cones or conelets. Fertilized conelets eventually produce seeds. 

    Various changes in air quality such as temperature, particulate matter (PM), and volatile organic compounds (VOC) for extended periods can disrupt the ratio of catkins and cones, which can potentially reduce the ability of these pine trees to reproduce. 

    It's definitely something to think about next time you're in Umstead State Park.

  • 07/28/2021 3:28 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    I was on the dock at Camp Crabtree a few summers ago with my daughter and we watched a swarm of water striders, also known as Jesus Bugs or Pond Skaters, zig-zagging about for a long while. 

    Her delight in their water skating ability took me back to days where I sat by the edge of a creek and watched their shadows, which looked like a small slender body surrounded by black circles.  When I tired of watching, I would try to scoop one up in my hand, which is a task on the level of catching a fly out of the air with chopsticks.

    I briefly thought about telling my daughter how they stay on top of the water, but I believe it is better for her to just to first enjoy nature magic and draw her own conclusions.  The “magic” that allows them to stay afloat is the non-wettable hairs on their tarsi (feet), the lower half of their legs and the surface tension of the water. 

    Basically, the spread weight of the water striders on the hairs of the feet and legs is not enough to overcome the attraction of the water molecules to each other.  This is also why you can oh so carefully place a needle on the surface of a glass of water and it will float.   If you allow either end to go under the surface, the needle will sink.  This is why the claws of water striders are not on the tarsi but located further up the leg, to ensure the surface tension is not broken by them.

    National Geographic recently reported that each microscopic hair has a groove on them.  They wrote, “These grooves trap air, increasing water resistance of the water strider’s legs and overall buoyancy of the insect.”  How cool.  Childhood tests of sizable rocks thrown in the water beside them showed that they could easily remain buoyant even in explosive waves. 

    The striders move by rowing the middle and back legs.  For slow movements, they use just the middle legs, but if they really need to move, as for catching a prey item, they use both the middle and hind legs together.  These middle and hind legs have vibration sensors that help the water striders effectively “read” the ripples in the water.  The ripples could mean predators or prey.  The front legs are greatly shortened and are used mainly for grasping and handling prey items.  

    Prey items are aquatic and terrestrial.  The water strider eats terrestrial insects that get caught on the surface of the water and catch aquatic insects that come to the surface to breathe.  They also eat mosquito larva that have breathing tubes on the surface.  

    Water striders are in the order Hemiptera or the “True Bugs” and they have piercing mouth parts that puncture through prey and then suck it in.  When not in use, the mouthparts are tucked between their “chin” and “chest”. 

    Toward the end of fall, water striders fly to nearby wooded areas and spend the winter under the litter of the forest.  In spring, they return to the water with females laying eggs on floating objects.  The nymphs start their lives on the surface, eating whatever comes by until they molt five times and become adults. 

    So, the next time you find your doctor telling you that you need to relax, not be so tense, just remember to tell him/her that you, like the water strider, thrive on tension. 

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 06/29/2021 3:18 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    This is a five part series on the old days of the park, following a superintendent's son who was born in the park in 1960.  A big thank you to Mr. Johnson, who spent time talking with us and being recorded.  

    Part 1: Reedy Creek State Park

    Ranger Jess and I recently had the privilege to speak with James Johnson Jr, who was in fact, born in the superintendent’s residence in the park in 1960 and lived there until 1985.  Mr. Johnson’s father and namesake was hired to be the superintendent of Reedy Creek State Park even though he did not have any park experience, but he did have the required Bachelor’s Degree and had worked with the state previously. Since the park had been segregated since 1950, Reedy Creek State Park was the park for Blacks and Crabtree Creek State Park was for Whites.  All of the Rangers were also Black at Reedy Creek State Park. 

    Reedy Creek State Park was not easily accessed during Mr. Johnson’s (Jr.) childhood because I–40 would not be completed until around 1971 and there was no Harrison Avenue entrance.  To get to the park, you had to go down Blue Ridge Road to Old Reedy Creek Road and keep going down Reedy Creek Road till you came to the turn going over Reedy Creek Lake and then up the hill.  You could also enter off Trenton Road.  Both ways were a combination of dirt roads and gravel roads that were open 24/7 In Mr. Johnson’s words, “You had to really want to be there.”

    To put how secluded it was in perspective, Mr. Johnson said,  "You could go a week to a week and a half without seeing anyone on the Reedy Creek side."  I did a little digging and found a superintendent’s report from 1958 that gave the numbers entering the park from January 1st to August 31st and it was just over 14,000 people with 44 people listed as hiking and 6 as fishing.  The remainder used the picnic area, and the biggest crowds, by far, were on Sunday.   

    I asked the obvious Ranger question; how did they track the fisherman and hikers so well?  Mr. Johnson said that you had to drive up to the park office, which was at our maintenance compound now, get a fishing permit, and then walk down to the lake to fish.  Just like now, most fishermen/women did not want to carry their gear that far.  The reason there were not many hikers then was they only had one small loop trail at that time. The Company Mill Trail, Loblolly Trail, and Inspiration Trail were not here yet.

    The isolation suited the Reedy Creek Rangers just fine, and as Mr. Johnson put it, “The Crabtree side had more resources, equipment, and easy access, but the Reedy Creek side had the time.”  The Reedy Creek Rangers made signs and picnic tables for a lot of parks and made sure to keep the picnic area immaculate, because they felt they had to be better because they were looked at differently.

    Part 2: Segregation

    Being vastly ignorant about the realities of segregation, Jess and I asked what it was like for the Reedy Creek Rangers to be working then.  Mr. Johnson said, “That’s just the way it was, they didn’t worry about it, they just did their job.”  I then asked him for the real deal, but he didn’t add anything; only that his mom might remember differently.  Jess and I shared a look, both thinking we would have to talk to her in the near future. 

    As a follow-up question, we asked what would happen if someone went to the wrong park, and he surprised us by saying many whites came regularly from Cary and no one cared.  I asked if anything would happen on the Crabtree side and Mr. Johnson said, “Myers Braxton (Crabtree State Park Superintendent) was a progressive person and didn’t believe in those laws.”  Mr. Johnson seemed to know that it was not an issue on the Crabtree side because he said, “Black people policed themselves.  They knew where to go and not go.”  At that time, he said, “There were three state parks that blacks could go to, Reedy Creek State Park, Hammock’s Beach, and Cliffs of the Neuse.”  After doing a little research, I think he meant Jones Lake State Park rather than Cliffs of the Neuse.

    Ranger Jess asked about desegregation and what that looked like, and Mr. Johnson said, “It took some years to tell any difference because all of the groups that came to the camps during segregation were the same afterwards.  It took a while for it to look different.”  Mr. Johnson continued, “After segregation, they (the state government) had to get Reedy Creek up to speed, paving the roads and adding Ranger residences.”  When he went over to check out the Crabtree side, he immediately saw where segregation showed because he thought, “Good Lord, they have everything here. Over at Reedy Creek we had about one-fifth of the equipment.” 

    Part 3: Early life in the park

    Switching gears, we started asking about his life as a boy growing up in Reedy Creek State Park.  I started off by asking, “Why didn’t your mother go to the hospital to have you, as she was a nurse?” He replied, “There was 6 to 8 inches of snow on the ground and they didn’t want to risk getting stuck on the park roads.  Another factor was that the nearest segregated hospital was on New Bern Avenue.”  Again, I was surprised, perhaps naively thinking that hospitals would not have been segregated. 

    When we asked him to tell us more, he said, “You couldn’t ask for a better place to grow up.  I could swim and fish anywhere.  Crabtree Creek had no pollution and had a bigger, deeper flow.  At that time there was no Lake Crabtree and no treatment plant off Crabtree Creek, and one of my favorite places was the Oddfellows tract because it felt wild.”  Whispering Pines Camp was also one of his favorite places because the fishing was so good in the one-acre pond there (No longer there.)  This pond was shallow and served as the swimming area for smaller kids at camp.  You can still see the old stone structure on Reedy Creek, which was used for raising and lowering the water in the small pond. 

    The way he described it, he seemed to be the young prince of the park, having his way wherever he was.  When he was 13, his father would send him in the dump truck sometimes to empty trash or put out the fires in the grills in the picnic area.  Sometimes the Rangers would pay him five dollars to cut the grass on hot and humid days, so he had money to spend as well. 

    I asked him what trouble he got into at the park, and he said, “We could talk about that a long time.”  He then said, “I cut down a large oak with a park chainsaw to have a good crappie bed to fish, got the dump truck stuck on the roads, and took the power boat out on Big Lake.”  He also had an L key which opened everything in the park, a fact that drove the Rangers crazy but made him very popular with the fishermen because of his access in the park. 

    Knowing the answer already, I asked him if his sixteen-year-old self turned that key in when he moved out, he laughed and said, “No, but I don’t think it works anymore.”  My sixteen-year-old self would not have turned it in either.

    “Perhaps the best thing Mr. Johnson said ‘was being with my father, who would say to me, ‘Come on boy, let’s go ride the roads (of the park)” or walk with him on his traditional Sunday walks from the Mill site to the spillway at Reedy Creek Lake.  Mr. Johnson always loved riding with his dad or other Rangers when they delivered signs because it gave him a chance to see other parks. 

    One time when he was 8, his father had a superintendent meeting at Hammock’s Beach, he went out on the ferry to Bear Island and stayed there unsupervised until his father was done (That is blue ribbon non-helicopter parenting).  Mr. Johnson also got to hang out with Governor Holshouser (in office from 1973 to 1977). The Governor and Mr. Johnson senior had met at the Governor’s inauguration, and Governor Holshouser “often came to the Reedy Creek State Park to hide out from Raleigh at the Park Office.”

    Part 4: "Community"

    All of the Reedy Creek Rangers had close ties to the community. It was a relatively small community then, with only one house between the park and the current Veterans Memorial on Harrison Ave.  Mr. Johnson estimated about 10 houses existed between the park and Cary. Not hearing I-40 would certainly give the park a much wilder feel.  

    Everyone knew each other in the community and looked after each other. The Rangers were often called upon by neighbors to help with trees across the roads and such like.  It was a reciprocal relationship and the neighbors who farmed “bombarded the Rangers with vegetables.”  Mr. Johnson told us of a hippie commune that was just outside the park, whom the Rangers really liked and would give rides to the store or downtown if they were going that way. 

    At that time, there was a concession stand down at the large picnic shelter and at the Whispering Pines Camp, and a big part of the Ranger’s job every week was going to the store and stocking the canteen with snacks and ice. Generally, his father loved to do things for people, and if he could make a special request happen at Reedy Creek State Park, he did.  Mr. Johnson told us that the only problem the Rangers had was with poachers.

    His younger sister Marquesa was the Ellie Mae of the park.  For you that have never watched “The Beverly Hillbillies,” Ellie Mae was the girl who always had some “critter around her neck.”  Marquesa could be seen many a day with her hands cupped together carrying some little squirrel, baby bat, or some other small animal.  He remembers one time walking outside and his sister had a bobcat pinned against a tree with a stick saying, “Look at the big cat.”  Luckily, Marquesa did not get mauled and the bobcat retreated as soon as it was allowed to.

    Part 5: Goodbye to Park Land South of I-40

     Another thing we found interesting was when he mentioned park land on the other side of I-40 saying, “They used to store the mattresses from Whispering Pines in a white barn by a pond over where SAS is now.  We had like 140 acres over on that side.”  “What happened to it?” Jess asked and he jokingly said, “You might want to cut off the microphone for this one.”  He said, “There was an attempt before I-40 opened to take large sections of the park, which was shot down (one of many attempts).  After I-40 separated the park land, it was easier to “chip off/sell those pieces that people probably didn’t realize were park land.  If you turn down Old Reedy Creek Road off Weston Parkway, the little blue house on the right used to be a Ranger residence.”  Who knew?  After doing a little research, it seemed that the park swapped that land for some that widened a section on the southeastern side of the park. 

    Mr. Johnson is going to come over and visit again, and we are going to drive around and let him tell us what changes have happened.  We look forward to that.  Mr. Johnson said that memories of the times at Reedy Creek come up a lot in their family and one of their favorite sayings when someone is acting out is, “It must be the Reedy Creek in you.” 

    Thanks again to Mr. Johnson for his time and stories!

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

<< First  < Prev   1   2   3   4   5   Next >  Last >> 

The Umstead Coalition

We are a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the natural integrity of William B. Umstead State Park and the Richland Creek Corridor.


The Umstead Coalition is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.