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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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  • 10/16/2020 10:59 AM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    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.


    Look for the fifth and final installment November 1st

    Born to be Wild (Part Five)  Park loses land.

  • 10/05/2020 4:42 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

    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.”

     Coming Soon:  Born to be wild (Part Four)  Community

  • 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.




    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.


    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.


    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.

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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.