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!

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  • 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

    Location

    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

    Resources


  • 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

  • 06/23/2021 2:04 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    Red Bugs are actually arachnids (not “bugs”) and are called chiggers, harvest mites, spawns of Satan, as well as many other profanities.  Their closest relatives are ticks, so you know they come from a bad family.  Red bugs are the microscopic immature stages of some mite species that can leap onto any passing animal to dine.  They do not discriminate, feeding on humans, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and a host of other animals.  Pity the snakes who get them under the scales with no fingers to scratch with.

    In my experience, they seem to like dampish areas with overgrown grass.  A long day exploring some of the grassy bluffs of the Congaree River in South Carolina resulted in what I thought was on a biblical plague level showing.  The only comfort I found was Romans 5: 3-4 that loosely says, “rejoice in your suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” 

    Personally, I think everyone should have the “red bug experience” at least once in their life for their own edification and reflection.  My nephew Kyle was with me when he had his first crop.  He manfully embraced the itch and suffered whine-free.  However, he was scratching so much that I contemplated duct taping oven mitts on his hands.  

    Once on the host, chiggers do not burrow under the skin as is commonly believed.  They simply inject digestive enzymes through a feeding tube that dissolves skin cells that they can slurp up.  These enzymes are what causes the itch, and this can last for days.  

    Removing or dispatching the red bugs is as simple as rubbing your hand briskly over your body every 15 minutes or so.  Unfortunately, red bugs are inclined to feed in warm moist areas that would be socially unacceptable to rub briskly at almost any time. 

    The itch can be ferocious, and I remember many nights having a 2:00 am scratch session that went on and on.  The raised welts look bad enough on white legs but combined with the self-inflicted panther- like scratches, it can be enough to cause a public spectacle. 

    My grandmother Jennie had a preventative for red bugs which was to tie a turpentine-soaked piece of cotton around both ankles.   My cousin Mary and I became believers after a wood filled afternoon with no red bugs, but we found that the turpentine rag chafed our skin and burned after hours with it on.  So, you had to pick your poison. 

    The army had an effective sulfur-based preventative called Chiggaway that worked perfectly.  That this was never seriously marketed for the public made it highly suspect to me.  Nowadays people just douse themselves in bug spray and for the most part, this works very well.  Staying on a trail works amazingly well also. 

    A good thing to do when you get back from the woods is take a shower and wash with soap.  This will take care of the mites that are on you, but the damage will most likely have been done.  Your skin will harden where the feeding tube was inserted and will begin to itch.  Some people like Calamine lotion but I found it laughably ineffective.   Some people swear by oatmeal baths. 

    I apply Icy Hot muscle rub  because it seems to counteract the itch somewhat.  The best thing, however, is to realize that this too shall pass, hopefully in a few days but up to a week, and at the blessed end, you will have gained a modicum of character and hope.   

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 04/29/2021 11:09 AM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    My bobcat sightings are similar to me having a girlfriend in high school; a surprising and rare event for which I was grateful.  I canoed a lot when I was younger, and I saw a handful of them on logs over the rivers.  I mostly saw their tracks. 

    The closest I ever came to one was on a canoe trip in the Okefenokee Swamp when some friends and I were camping on Jacksons Island where bobcats would come right up to you expecting a handout.  They were impressive, beautiful animals and looked like scrappers. 

    My grandfather trapped during the Depression and he had a large cage to live catch some larger animals.  My Uncle Joe told me he caught bobcats(as well as one overly curious neighbor kid) in that cage and took some to Charles Town Landing State Park in South Carolina to reside as the first bobcats in their Animal Forest.  From all the stories I have heard about my Grandfather, he could, as the saying goes, whip his weight in wildcats. 

    There is still a legal trade in bobcat skins, but even the trapping, studies seem to agree that the bobcat populations are remaining steady or increasing since the 90’s. 

    The Umstead bobcats are proving troublesome to find.  So much in fact that I started the Umstead Trail Cam project in hopes of finding one.  I am a fair tracker and I have yet to see a bobcat track, scat or kill in the park.   I suspect our bobcat population has declined but to what extent I don’t know.  There is a great story from one of the Ranger’s kids in the 60’s about him walking outside to see his sister pinning a bobcat to the ground with a branch.   

    Bobcats are not big animals in the South, with an average weight for males being around 10 lbs and around 7 lbs for females.   A big northern male may top 50 lbs.  When you take a look at the beautiful video of a northern bobcat jumping a stream, look for the striped tail with the black tip as well as the tufted ears.  Check out this video of  a bobcat jumping over a river with a single leap. It is all power and grace. 

    Bobcats are known to be generalists when it comes to diet.  Their preference would be rabbits, mice, squirrels and birds, but they will eat snakes, amphibians, crustaceans, insects and rarely skunks.  Bobcats kill fawns and young deer as well.  Cats are not the long-distance runners like the dog family, so the bobcat hunts with slow careful stalking culminating in a short all-out sprint or lie in wait at a likely spot. 

    February and March are the peak breeding season with a 60 day gestation so little blue-eyed (when they are born) bobcats have just arrived or will be with us soon.  They will be weaned in two months and then the mother will teach them to kill by bringing young birds and mammals to them.  By the fall, they will be self-sufficient. 

    To end, if you see a bobcat, please report your sighting to me, along with the general area you saw it at.  Also, please feel free to send a picture of any tracks that look like the picture.     

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

    Front Track  1 5/8" - 2 3/8" long   1 3/8" - 2 1/2" wide

    Rear Track  1 9/16" - 2 3/8"long   1 3/16" - 2 1/2"wide

                            

  • 07/15/2020 3:15 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    I was walking with my family in the late winter off trail near Paradise Pond, the only pond you go by on the Loblolly trail, and my wife spotted a newly dropped antler.  I say it was new because it did not have any gnaw marks on it yet and it is a calcium rich delicacy of the forest for many animals.  My son and daughter carried it around like a war trophy the rest of the afternoon, each making sure of getting equal time and trying to gore each other at unsuspecting times.

    Antlers are regrown and shed each year and are in fact, the fastest growing bone in the animal kingdom.  Whitetails can grow up to a ¼ inch a day.  Unlike other deer bones, antlers have no marrow.  Research has shown that deer’s ribs become brittle and can break easily during antler growth, such is the draw of minerals from the body at this time. 

    In North Carolina, most antlers are fully developed by the end of August, after which the bucks, with some aggression, rub the velvet (thick velvety skin with many blood vessels that cover and nourished the antlers) off.  By late January here, when the mating frenzy has subsided, antlers loosen and fall to the ground.

    Generally, only males have antlers, the caribou being the exception in the deer family where all females have antlers, but there are anomaly’s for whitetails as well.  One study in the late 1950’s from Kenneth Doutt and John C. Donaldson showed that about 1 doe in 4024 has antlers.  This can be caused by hormone imbalances, hermaphroditism, and rare abnormal tumor growth secreting male hormones.  We can only hope that these rare cases are treated better than Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was during the Reindeer games.

    You can’t really tell how old a deer is by the size of its antlers but deer reach their full physical growth in about 4 years, and then they may have more nourishment to grow the mega rack of antlers that adorn many living room walls.  It is the combination of food, age and heredity that makes or breaks rack size.  With the right diet and right heredity, bucks will have a bigger rack each year.   When a buck gets old, rack size may dwindle.

    Long drawn out fights between bucks are rare, and they are made up mainly of bluffs and posturing (much like a lot of human fights) though charges happen, followed by a lot of antler pushing till one buck tires and retires from the fight. Injuries do happen, but are rare, since most of the animals fighting are somewhat evenly matched.  The old saying that it is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog, does not generally apply to deer. 

    Antlers are not for protection from predators, if they were, they would be retained well into the winter period of deep snow in the north where deer are at their most defenseless.  Deer protect themselves by rearing up and slashing with the front feet and this is how bucks and does fight each other as well. 

    Check out these videos to see that this defense is no joke. The first one gives you a feel for their power against a man and the second against a mountain lion.  The mountain lion might have won in the end, but the deer gave him all he wanted.

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

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The Umstead Coalition

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

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