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
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