The next morning I put on my bravery cap and kissed Pedro goodbye in the hotel room, and left before he did. I had a big day ahead. I had hired a car through Turo (like Airbnb, but with vehicles), and was going to drive myself around North Carolina. The idea of driving someone else’s car on totally unfamiliar highways made me very nervous. I picked up the car, a transaction which went remarkably smoothly, and was soon flying down Interstate 40, on my way to William B. Umstead State Park.
My camera lens decided to go wonky and overexposed the whole time I was in the park that morning. I am frustrated with the drastically overexposed images. I will still include them, because it still helps you see how nice the park is, but I am unhappy with most of them. And…randomly…some of them turned out ok.
Exit off I-40 and one is almost immediately in the large parking lot next to the Visitor’s Center. I ignored the center and went directly to the trail. The parking lot and the trails that surrounded it were packed with people. I was concerned that I would have to elbow middle-schoolers out of the way to complete my trail, but in the end no children were harmed in the making of this blog post. There was a large group of what seemed like boys from a high school track team – all of them stripping off their shirts and putting each other in headlocks and bragging about who would finish their run first. There was a large, noisy group of short people that I guess were 4th & 5th graders, with tiny backpacks and water bottles, surrounded by chaperones and several big red+white first aid kits the size and appearance of beer coolers. (It suddenly occurs to me that if I was the chaperone of thirty 4th graders on a hot August morning I would want to disguise my cooler of beer as well…) Once I got on the trail, the crowds were gone and I guessed that many of them were probably leaving when I arrived. It was 8:45 am and already hot as hades.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (an organization I recently lauded), as well as the Works Progress Administration, helped construct the site while providing much needed jobs. Camping areas, day use areas, and picnic areas were constructed by the CCC in time for the park opening in 1937. I came across some of their work.
But after exploring the stonework I picked up my pace and began the Company Mill Trail. It’s a five-mile loop and I wanted to make sure I completed the whole thing as early in the day as possible. It wasn’t exactly “cool” that morning, but more accurately “not yet miserable.” I crossed a little creek which made my brain think cool thoughts, though I’m pretty sure the water only made the air stickier, but no less warm.
I hiked down a gradual decline toward Crabtree Creek and heard the unmistakable shrieks of kids playing in water as I got closer.
The kids looked like they were having so much fun I envied them. I walked down to the water’s edge and put my hands in to share some of their refreshment. Expecting the mild and pleasant shock of cold to help bring my core temperature down, I was startled to feel the river almost warm as bathwater. I honestly don’t think it was a single degree cooler than the air temperature. That amazed me! I splashed it all over my legs and arms anyway, in hopes of cooling as I walked. It actually did help, though the day was so muggy I never did dry off again. Ha!
This particular area was occupied by white settlers who took ownership from the original Native people, some of whom doubtless included my Cherokee ancestors, since this is near the Cherokee homeland before they were sent to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. The first settlers had poor practices of agriculture that robbed the soil of its nutrients. The mill came in after that and though I can’t find any information about it other than this plaque, the mill put in a dam and likely dumped their trash and waste into the river as usually happened in the 1800s and early 1900s. The plaque says the dam is a “lovely reminder” of the park’s history, but I doubt it. I think becoming a park is the best thing to happen to this piece of land since humans showed up.
Oh I know, I sound so bitter. I’m not really. I love history. Humans are dumb, and destructive, but I love them. Honestly, I do.
The forest is truly lovely and the trail is in great shape. I met a few people on the way, and everyone was kind and friendly. There were lots of dogs on the trail. Though I don’t like dogs, it was fun to see stranger dogs meet each other and get very, very excited that there was another dog. It’s also fun to see how much the humans like talking about their dogs. I hiked mostly along the portion of the trail that wound through the forest and was only open to hikers and runners. Yes, there were people JOGGING that trail in the 89 degrees and 75% humidity. bluh. I guess, compared to afternoon heat, morning was better. But still.
There is a section of the Reedy Creek Multi Use Trail that I used to make my loop smaller. This MUT accepts cyclists and equestrians, but the other trails do not.
I’m attuned to looking for erasure in the Native community when I read information about places, and that is probably why it caught my attention when reading about this park that a section was purchased in 1950 and called Reedy Creek SP, and Black Americans were allowed to go there. 1950?! What the– …and that’s all there is about it. No explanation of why this was needed, or how the change happened. In 1966, it says, the two parks were united and renamed, and allowed everyone in.
I was in shade almost the entire time, and so grateful. I got some great exercise, talked with some lovely people, got to know some of the flora of North Carolina. I am very glad I was able to hike this trail and sad that Pedro couldn’t join me.
Back in the parking lot, I gulped large quantities of water and waited patiently while the AC of my Turo car brought the temperature down. Then I braved the Interstate once more on my way to my next adventure, at North Carolina Museum of Art.