The Umstead Coalition 
Celebrating Umstead State Park since 1934!

Umstead Inspirations Blog

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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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  • 01/03/2019 1:28 PM | Arianne Hemlein (Administrator)

    -by Arianne Hemlein

    It's the beginning of a new year in Umstead State Park, and except for a few stubborn beeches, the trees are bare.  Since January is a time for reflection on the past and resolutions for the future, let’s take a quick look back at the history of our park.

    You’ve probably seen some of the most obvious reminders of the past - the family graveyards and the millstone, but did you know that there is also an outhouse, a rusting shell of an automobile, and crumbling brick home foundations within the park?

    The next time you walk along the Company Mill trail, envision fields of struggling cotton plants, modest homes, and a busy grist mill along the riverbank.  As you cross the green bridge spanning Crabtree Creek, imagine the sound of boys laughing and splashing in the water at the nearby site of the Camp Craggy Boy Scout camp, demolished in 1938. The stone steps still remain.At one time, these woodlands were home to three grist mills, struggling farms, and a number of families. In 1934, federal and state agencies bought this submarginal land to create the park.  

    With the labor provided by The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration, the park opened to the public in 1937. From 1950-1966, segregation extended to Umstead with two separate areas for whites and African-Americans.

    Want to know more about the past? You can read Joe Grissom’s account of growing up on the land hereWhile Stories in Stone is currently out of print, you can learn a lot by listen to WUNC’s discussion of the book featuring Joe Grissom and the Umstead Coalition’s Jean Spooner.  Then head out to the park to see what you can find. Winter just happens to be the perfect time to explore without the nuisance of insects and humidity.

    As for a resolution for 2019, consider spending more time out-of-doors in nature and helping the Umstead Coalition to protect our park for future generations to enjoy.  Did you know that Amazon will donate .5% of eligible items purchased by you to the Umstead Coalition? All you have to do is click on the link on the Umstead Coalition homepage. It’s really simple and costs you nothing.  

  • 11/07/2018 4:46 PM | Arianne Hemlein (Administrator)

    - by Arianne Hemlein

    It's early November and the flora and fauna of Umstead State Park are preparing for winter.  The rays of the rising sun warm the crisp autumn air, lifting tendrils of fog from the pond on Loblolly Trail.  Acorns and leaves rain to the ground along the shore.  As you enjoy the park this fall, look for signs of seasonal change.  It's a treasure hunt of sorts.

    Of course, changes in leaf color are the most obvious and anticipated indication of the seasonal shift.  Take time to notice which tree types are first to color and and drop their foliage, and be aware of those that retain theirs well into winter. Beech and oak leaves are those you see still hanging on when the snow falls.  You might even have a contest to see who can find the most beautifully colored leaf or try to catch one as it falls - it's harder than it sounds.

    Breath in the earthy scent of fallen leaves.

    Notice all the tree nuts falling to the ground, thereby providing sustenance for deer, squirrels, and other woodland animals.  Watch the squirrels scrambling around to add to their winter stores and build nests.

    If you hear honking, look up to see geese migrating south in wobbling "v"-shapes like arrow tips pointing in the direction of their winter homes.  While you are looking, observe the deeper blue of the autumn sky.

    Suggestions for fall treasure hike activities for all ages:Fall walks are filled with treasure.  I make goal of discovering at least two interesting finds on each walk.  While searching like a nature detective, I tend to see and appreciate things I might otherwise overlook.  Interested in adding excitement to your next fall hike?  Try one of my suggestions below.  Click on these links to learn more about the seasonal leaf cycle and why the sky appears more blue in autumn.  Whatever you do, take time out to enjoy the seasonal beauty of your park before the real chill of winter sets in!

    • Pinecone Bird Feeders
    Collect pinecones to make into bird feeders.  Simply attach a string to the pinecone, spread peanut butter or lard over the surface, roll in birdseed, and hang from a tree in your yard.
    • Leaf Print Cards
    Gather fallen leaves to create leaf print cards.  Just paint a leaf while holding it by the stem, press it to cardstock, cover with newspaper and gently rub.  Remove paper to see your print.
    • Magic Wands
    Search for smooth, bark-free sticks to use as "magic wands". Add glitter paint or wrap and tie bright ribbons to the end.
    • Nature Detective Scavenger Hunt
    Make a list of things to look for on your walk such as hickory nuts (which can be floated like boats), squirrels, mushrooms, and star moss.

  • 10/17/2018 12:10 PM | Arianne Hemlein (Administrator)

    -by Arianne Hemlein

    When Umstead Park Ranger Billy Drakeford was a child, he loved being in the woods.  He couldn’t have imagined a better job than one in park service, and that hasn’t changed one bit.  

    The fact is, there is no “typical” day. While each ranger is responsible for different facilities and focuses on different areas of park service, some general responsibilities include education and outreach to schools through program offerings, trail maintenance, light law enforcement, medical response, and keeping abreast of the plants and animals (including non-native invasive species). The lack of a steady routine is one of the positive aspects of the job in Billy’s opinion.

    Getting kids and adults excited about nature is another perk.  Billy feels strongly about the importance of allowing kids to play in the great outdoors, getting muddy in the streams, identifying plants, and searching for animal tracks.  He says, “You can’t expect kids to care about the environment unless they get that connection as a kid.”  Not only will they learn to care about and protect wilderness areas, but nature will give back to them as well.  If you are interested in the benefits of exposure to nature, he suggests reading, Last Child in the Woods.

    Maybe your child is interested in becoming a park ranger. The Junior Ranger program may be for them. Billy urges kids to attend one of the educational programs offered by the park staff. They can even earn a badge by participating.

    If you have always harbored a secret dream of being a ranger, as I did, Billy says a degree in the biological sciences is preferred, but not required.  A familiarity with tractors, chainsaws, and basic tool use is important, along with excellent interpersonal skills for positive interactions with park visitors and program facilitation.

    If you just love spending time in the park, you can get a taste of ranger work by participating in ongoing volunteer opportunities with the park staff or with the Umstead Coalition. You can help to build a trail, for example, and feel a pride of ownership next time you take a hike.

    “This park is your big, beautiful backyard,” Billy says.  Bring your kids out to play and encourage their love and appreciation of nature. After all, they will be the future stewards of this park.

    Park Ranger Billy’s Interesting Facts and Suggestions for Visitors

    Did you know?

    • All rangers and the superintendent live within the park.  Billy’s house was built in the 30’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and used to be the visitor’s center.
    • Much of the park used to be bare, cleared farmland.  Billy suggests reading Stories in Stone, a history of Umstead and the Cedar Fork Township community.  Knowing the history will give you a deeper experience of the park.
    • Yes, coyotes live in the park, but most people will never see them.  They tend to steer clear of humans.

    Suggestions for being a good park owner…

    • Keep your dog on a leash.  Many people are frightened of dogs.  Being approached by dogs off leash is the number one complaint the staff hears.  Rangers can and do give citations for dogs off leash.  The fines and court costs can be upwards of $300.
    • If a trail has been closed and rerouted, there is a good reason. Usually slopes have become too steep and unstable due to erosion.  Please follow trail reroutes, and allow the old trail to recover.
    • Respect park hours, and make sure you have enough time to complete your hike and return to your car before closing.  The rangers have to deal with visitors in the park after hours as much as twice a week.
    • Join the Umstead Coalition and support various initiatives.
    • Volunteer to help maintain park trails and structures.
    • Explore the park fully, appreciating all of the plant and wildlife it offers.
  • 09/19/2018 1:00 PM | Arianne Hemlein (Administrator)

    -by Arianne Hemlein

    You may have seen us in the median of Reedy Creek parking area at Umstead State Park in all kinds of weather, wearing sun hats and sturdy work gloves, scrambling up and down the steep slopes, carting buckets of river rocks, planting, and weeding.  You may have wondered who we are, why we are out there, and what we are trying to accomplish. Let’s see if I can answer these questions for you…

    Who are we?

    We are volunteers for and members of the Umstead Coalition, a group dedicated to protecting and preserving Umstead State Park for future generations. If this sounds like a worthwhile cause, you too can get involved.  Volunteer for work days, become a member of the group, or donate to the cause.

    Why are we out there?

    With the help of volunteers and the financial support of donors and partner organizations, we created “Forested Rain Gardens” in the medians where once only patches of grass and weeds grew.  According to the Coalition, “This project provides several environmental and user benefits, including:  reduced runoff volume and intensity of storm water runoff due to the infiltration into special soil media we will install in the medians.  The trees and shrubs will provide much needed shade in the hot, steamy parking lot.  The shade will reduce the thermal impact to the downgradiant streams.”

    You can find more information about this project and several other initiatives on the Umstead Coalition website. When you visit in years to come, you may park under the shade of trees rather than in the bright glare of the sun, and you will delight in observing Monarch butterflies flitting among the native NC plants in our raised butterfly gardens.  If you lend a few hours of your time - or bring a group of coworkers to assist during regular business hours as a community volunteer project - you will feel pride in your achievement every time you visit and have the satisfaction of knowing you gave back to the park you love.  

    What we are doing?

    Currently, we are maintaining and modifying the Forested Rain Gardens in the medians of the parking area.  Some of the rocks that were delivered to us for use on the slopes of our gardens are round like potatoes, which tend to roll downhill instead of staying put on our slopes. So they must go.  We spent the last several workdays replacing round river rock on the landscaped slopes with more stable, larger flat rocks.

    What to do with these lovely rocks that are not suitable for our landscaping purposes?  It just so happens that these rocks are perfect for painting.  We are offering an opportunity for you to create a work of art with family and friends at Umstead Visitor Center on Saturday, October 13 and November 10, from 2-4pm.  Supplies and instruction will be provided by Sociable Art. All ages and artistic abilities are welcome and encouraged.  Sample designs will be available. Get more information here.

  • 09/18/2018 5:07 PM | Arianne Hemlein (Administrator)

    -by Arianne Hemlein

    It’s September 12 and in Umstead  the yellow crownbeard are flowering, ripe muscadine grapes are dropping to the ground, and the bright orange heads of American Caesar’s mushrooms are poking up from the leaf litter.  The park is temporarily closed, the parking lot is empty, and an unusually strong breeze is tossing the treetops and scattering pine needles and leaves down the trails.  A hurricane is coming.

    We are all aware of the potentially destructive effects of strong storms on our parks.  We are saddened to see mature trees toppled across trails and may be denied entrance to the park for days, weeks, or months as cleanup ensues.  As you prepare for upcoming storms, you can set aside your worry for Umstead.  Rest in the knowledge that there are beneficial effects of hurricanes on our woodlands.

    For instance, the strong winds that wreak havoc on man-made structures also scatter seeds far and wide, thus assuring diversity of species.  If a strong gust sends a mature tree toppling to the ground, it leaves a large gap in the tree canopy allowing the sun to reach the understory.  This way, there is an opportunity for new growth and the promotion of sun-loving species in a formerly shady environment. According to an article on the website,,Such cycling of vegetation communities is called succession, and it promotes biodiversity by giving more species the chance to occupy a given ecosystem and maintaining landscape mosaics of greater complexity”.

    As for the abundant rains that can cause disastrous flooding, they provide much needed moisture to vegetation during the typically dry late summer months when our area usually experiences drought.

    So, while we may not throw out a welcome mat for the next hurricane, at least we can take solace in the knowledge that our much-loved park will reap some benefits.

    See you on the trails!

    For more information on the positive effects of hurricanes on ecosystems, please consult the following articles, which I used for reference:

    Positive Effects of Hurricanes

    Great Storm:The Healing Power of Nature


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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.


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