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Umstead Inspirations Blog

New! Check out Ranger Billy's new Instagram IGTV series!

With over 1.6 million visitors last year, Umstead State Park is certainly well used and well loved by the surrounding community. This 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!

Blog Administrator: Umstead State Park Ranger Billy Drakeford

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  • 09/14/2020 5:09 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    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 awhile 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.”

    Born to be Wild (Part Three)  - Early life in the park

    Coming October 1st.


  • 08/27/2020 2:12 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    This will be 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 One- 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.

    Born to be Wild (Part Two) - Segregation      Coming in September

  • 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.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15ut0KUHO9E

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2n6jJBzT83E

     

    Know more to see more,

     

    Ranger Billy


  • 06/17/2020 1:35 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    Not so long ago, the tails of the dragonfly earned them the name of Horse stingers and Devils Darning Needle, where apparently dragonflies would sew up the eyes and ears of children as they slept.  A dragonfly cannot sting of course, but people saw them flying around horse herds where horses suffered noticeably bloody bites from horseflies, and wrongly accused the dragonfly.  I learned some time ago that some dragonflies can and will deliver an impressive pinch/puncture with its mandibles.

     I ran the Environmental Investigators Camp in Charleston, SC in the 90’s, and one of our parent pleasing take homes was pictures of kids with dragonflies on their noses.  I caught a rather large green darner and placed it on a boy’s nose, and he screamed bloody murder.  It had pierced and bloodied both sides of the bridge of his nose with its mandibles, which bled for an inordinate amount of time and swelled up quite impressively.  That was the sad end of dragonfly pictures and perhaps the beginning of one group of children’s lifelong fear of dragonflies.

    Now a short but necessary side trip into Greek mythology.  Nymphs (think beautiful, alluring, vengeful, spiteful, scantily clad, and easy to anger young maidens) were minor deities, associated with some aspect of nature. A naiad was considered to be a freshwater nymph.  In biology, a nymph is an immature stage of an insect which will metamorphose into a different adult form.  A naiad, in biology, is the same thing but has an immature stage that lives in the water.

    A dragonfly starts its life as a naiad, with an aquatic immature stage that can last a few months up to two years.  A dragonfly naiad is carnivorous and has a modified mouth part that is like a spring-loaded trap.  Their “lower lip” is elongated and jointed and folds nicely under the head.  When prey, up to minnow size, swims by, the “lip” flips out and hooks on the tip sink into the prey and bring it back to the mouth for eating.  My kids and I were doing some aquatic sampling together and they were quite impressed when I pulled the “lip” down with my fingernail to show them.  Both firmly declined to try to do it.

    After molting several times, a naiad climbs out of the water to shed its skin one final time and begin its life as the adult dragonfly we know and love.  Adult dragonflies live, on average, about a month and they spend this time voraciously consuming mosquitoes, midges and mites, thus it is sometimes rightly called the mosquito hawk.  Their adaptations include eyes with up to 30,000 lenses, compared to our one, which gives them almost a 360 degree field of vision.  Their legs come with spines and dangle down in a basket shape to trap insects in the air and the dragonfly dines while it flies.  They are also fast fliers with average speed being in the 20-mph range.

    Mating is an acrobatic, somewhat bizarre affair, that is best seen while described or it can be hard to visualize.   That they have been around for some 300 million years is proof of its effectiveness but still, it seems a tad rough.  Hit the video to see them in all their mating weirdness.  Parents beware, there is strong sexual content of the insect kind here.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZuggJQHmko

    Big kudos to the first person who sends me a picture with a dragonfly on their nose!

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 06/11/2020 3:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In a continuation of Ranger Billy’s #woodlandtales, we find ourselves at a historic homestead. This has both National Park and NC State Park significance. Watch Ranger Billy on Umstead State Park's Instagram's IGTV channel now.


  • 05/15/2020 3:14 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    Everybody likes a success story and the Red Fox certainly is, with the largest geographical range of any carnivore.  I see gray foxes much more here, so it is always special when I see a red fox.  The last one I saw at was near Oak Rock Trail and its reddish orange coat, black ears and its white tipped tail was beyond gorgeous.  I stood there for a good five minutes having a stare down with him like Clint Eastwood at the end of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, wondering how such a brightly garbed animal can be so successful.  It would be like a ninja wearing a pumpkin suit and remaining stealthy and unseen.

    The red fox, though clearly belonging in the canine(dog) family, has many feline(cat) characteristics.  Red foxes have long cat like vibrissae(whiskers), similar long thin knife-like canine(the longer front pair)teeth, and do not shake prey to death like other members of the dog family.  Like the cats, they exert continuous pressure with their canine teeth until the prey’s central nervous system is overwhelmed.  They also have feline like claws which can partially retract and similar cat like balance.  The eye of the fox has a catlike vertical slit as well.

    Red foxes look heavier than they are, weighing between 6 and 12 pounds in the south and about 40 inches long.  They have 42 teeth, keen vision, exquisite hearing and sense of smell.  One legend about its hearing is that they can hear a wristwatch tick from 100 yards.  They are first class sprinters and have been recorded at 45 miles per hour, which is fast enough for adult foxes to outrun or out maneuver coyotes, dogs, or wolves.   

    Umstead red foxes here breed in late fall and early winter, with their gestation/term of pregnancy being 52 to 53 days.  Between the bathroom and the Big Lake parking lot, red foxes have used a den hole there for years but skipping the last two years.  Ranger Nick had a great picture of some pups here gnawing on a deer leg outside the den hole, not 5 feet off a social trail.  The fact that he did not share this information with me until months later is still a bone of contention between us.  I attributed this grotesque selfishness to his youth and hope he will gain more of the sharing spirit later in life. 

    Many authorities have noticed red foxes are denning closer and closer to humans when coyotes are present.  Coyotes, of course, will kill any fox they can catch being about 1/3 bigger and viewing foxes as competition.  Coyotes, however, are on the losing end of the stick with wolves in the same way.  The smaller canine must adapt, move or die.  It is the canine way. 

    One historical story is that early highbrow colonists imported red foxes to hunt in the colonies due to hunts of grey foxes that ended rather quickly with the grey foxes climbing trees.  This led to the myth that there were no red foxes in America, which was not true.  Red foxes that were up north, started to move south with the forest opening, which matches their preference of woods and open areas.  Recent tests of red foxes show no European genetic markers.   

    If you are interested in learning more about foxes, J. David Henry has an excellent book called How to Spot a Fox.  Enjoy the next video of a red fox scream and pay attention to how fast it turns at about second nine.  I have heard this sound at night here at Umstead.  The fox here looks like it just wanted to play.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBpZTo1dlPM

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy


  • 05/11/2020 3:35 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Today Ranger Billy shifts gears and delves into some of our park’s history with unfinished millstones that can still be seen if you know where to look. Watch Ranger Billy on Umstead State Park's Instagram's IGTV channel now.


  • 05/06/2020 5:05 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Ranger Billy explores boughs of holly, gets a visit from a hoppy friend, and shares some tidbits on a flower not frequently seen by visitors in the park. Watch Ranger Billy on the Umstead State Park Instagram IGTV channel now.


  • 04/15/2020 11:43 AM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    I am not saying I should have been referred to a child psychologist for troubled children, but looking back, my propensity to massacre scores of innocent creatures could have been worthy of a visit.  I truly liked eastern tent caterpillars and shivered in delight at how they felt walking up my arms. This, however, did not stop me and my friends from climbing trees with our bb guns, setting up sniper positions and trying to blow away every caterpillar that came out of the nest. 

    I stopped sharing these childhood stories with my wife, as they seemed to trouble her.  Her stories of her European childhood seem to be straight out of the Sound of Music, which frankly troubles me.

    The good news is that during my insect safaris, I did learn quite a bit about these tent caterpillars as a boy.  I learned that they hatched from a waterproof, hard-black case that encircled the twigs.      

    Once they hatch, the caterpillars immediately set out to build the familiar web that you see every spring.  This web continually expands to house the growing caterpillars and away from the feces dump in the middle.  There is some evidence that inside the nest can be 2 to 3 degrees higher than outside temperatures, which is important in early spring.

    Their hatching always coincided with the leaves coming out, which makes sense because it is then when the leaves are the most nutritious.  This is important because caterpillars must grow as fast as possible to avoid bird predation, parasitoid wasps, and other bug predators. 

    After dissecting one nest, I noticed the tree branches had lines of silk that caterpillars left on the way out and back.  Later, I read that caterpillars returning from more nutritious feeding areas somehow broadcast this fact in their returning silk lines, as more caterpillars would follow these lines over the others.  That is nature cool.

    After molting five times, the caterpillars disperse in solitary journeys to find a safe place under boards, beneath bark, or some other protected nook to start the next step in their journey, the pupa stage.  This is the stage where they are in a cocoon and one of nature’s most magical transformation occurs; that of a caterpillar becoming a moth or butterfly.    

    These little moths are not long for the world; their only task is to mate and lay eggs for the next season.  Perhaps having such a short adult life is for the best, as Aldo Leopold once said “Adult hood is merely a dilution of the essentials, worn down by the trivialities of living. (Paraphrased)

    On a side note, my son seems to have the same proclivity to go on insect safaris as well.  Once he burns it out of his system as I did, the boy might become the nature nerd his father became.  I can only hope.  Enjoy this video of a shedding tent caterpillar https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_A83dRYqbw 

    Know more to see more,

    Ranger Billy

  • 03/16/2020 2:34 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    Flowering dogwoods have always been an integral part of my life, and their beauty in the spring and throughout the year is unsurpassed.  North Carolinians, Virginians and Missourians proudly call it their state tree.  I can’t imagine a spring without them, and I watch for their beautiful white bracts with eager anticipation.  It would not be out of bounds to clap when you see them.  It is that good.  George Washington himself, planted a circle of dogwoods with a redbud in the middle at Mount Vernon.  This act was visionary and proof of his worthiness to be our first president in my opinion.

    While climbing dogwoods as a boy, I learned that they were tough and hard to break.  They were some in the woods I climbed and bent over till they dropped me on the ground.  One, me and my friend Rudy  would climb together and make it bend with our combined weight till one of us dropped off near the ground, thereby sending the other back up with the tree.  I later found that dogwood was used in the textile industry due to this strength and high resistance to splitting. 

    Dogwood has had some obsolete uses in the past.  When the southern ports were blockaded during the Civil War, medicine was hard to come by, so the southern soldiers used a lot of natural remedies.  Dogwood bark was the south’s answer to malaria when they couldn’t get quinine.  Before this, some native American tribes used the roots to make a scarlet dye.

    Dogwood is also known to be an important wildlife food plants, feeding many birds, and mammals like rabbits, gray squirrels, chipmunks and deer.  I have watched groups of birds gorging on dogwood fruit in the fall and it always seems a raucous affair.  The bitter fruit is considered unpalatable for humans. 

    Here is a story from Ernest Thompson Seton in his classic book, Woodland Tales called “The Devil and the Dogwood.”  It was Adam’s favorite tree they say, in the Garden of Eden.  It grew so high and gave so much pleasure that the Devil wanted to kill it.  He made up his mind that he would blight and scatter every shining leaf of its snowy bloom. 

    So, one dark night he climbed a Honey Locust tree near the gate, and swung by his tail over the wall, intending to tear off its lovely blossoms.  But he got a shock when he found that every blossom was in the shape of a cross, which put them beyond his power to blight.  He was furious at not being able to destroy its beauty, so he did the worst he could.  Keeping away from the cross, he bit a piece out of the edge of every snowy flower leaf, and then jumped back to the Honey Locust tree. 

    The Locust was so ashamed when she found that she had helped the Devil to do such a mean bit of mischief, so she grew a bristling necklace of strong thorns to wear;  they were so long and sharp that no one since, not even the Devil himself has ever been able to climb that Honey Locust tree.

    But it was too late to save the Dogwood bloom.  The bites were out, and they never healed up again, as you can see to this day. 

    On a natural history note on this story; the notch that devil bit out in the story is a remnant of the bracts former function as bud scales that protected the flower in the winter.

    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.