The Umstead Coalition 
Celebrating Umstead State Park since 1934!

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

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

The Umstead Coalition

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


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