The News & Observer gets us ready for a fall in the mountains today with a look at how the Blue Ridge Parkway is working its way back from harmful budget cuts over the past few years.
Federal budget cuts in 2013 led to park staff layoffs, deferred maintenance and, in North Carolina's portion of the scenic byway, closing the Crabtree Falls campground, picnic area and visitor center; part of Doughton Park's campground and picnic area; and the E.B. Jeffress Park picnic area, The N&O explains.
The Parkway and nearby businesses have also been hit hard by the closing of Bluffs Lodge and its adjoining coffee shop at Doughton Park. The operating concessioner declined to renew its lease in 2010, and no one else has bid on the contract because of repairs the 1940s-era facility would require.
However, groups like the N.C. Youth Conservation Corps, the Conservation Trust for North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, as well as communities near the parkway have pitched in in various ways, and most of the parkway has been maintained and remains open.
President Obama's 2016 budget proposal includes increased spending on national parks, and would establish a Centennial Fund to mark the Park Service’s 100th anniversary next year by addressing some of its maintenance backlog, the report says. But Congress has yet to approve next year's budget.
All this is set against the backdrop of fall leaf season, which is the high point of the year for businesses that depend on parkway tourism revenue.
The Romantic Asheville tourism guide quotes Western Carolina University Biology Professor Kathy Mathews, who says this fall's leaf color should be more spectacular than it has been in the last few years due to 2015's drier-than-usual spring and summer.Budget cuts in recent years have delayed openings on the Blue Ridge Parkway and have forced closing campgrounds and other attractions, including the picnic area near the popular Cascades waterfall of E.B. Jeffress Park. Click on the photo for more about Jeffress Park.
Lake James State Park has opened a canoe-in campground with 30 sites on a peninsula in the park's Paddy's Creek section.
The paddle to the site is less than a mile starting from near the park swim area's bathhouse parking lot, according to a news release. It can also be accessed from the Canal Bridge Access or Linville Access boat ramps, the state parks blog says.
There's no dock on the peninsula, but the "gentle beach areas" allow easy beaching of canoes, kayaks, etc.
Campsites at three separate areas have tent pads, fire pits, picnic tables, "access to environmentally-friendly vault toilets" and "stunning views of the 6,812-acre lake."
An unpaved access road along the length of the peninsula "aids in security for the campground and will allow further park development in other areas of the peninsula," the news release says.
The campground was constructed by staff over the last year with $173,000 from the Friends of Lake James State Park and the Rostan Family Foundation. It is part of continued work to expand the park on a 2,915-acre tract of land acquired in 2004, which has inlcuded a swimming beach and a 15-mile network of mountain biking trails.
The next project is a traditional family campground with drive-to campsites at Paddy’s Creek. Lake James State Park also has 20 walk-in campsites.
Forest Service officials temporarily banned target shooting in the Croatan National Forest earlier this month but want to meet with the public to discuss the problem they say has prompted hundreds of complaints.
The meeting is set for 6 to 7:30 p.m. next Wednesday, July 29, at the ranger station off of U.S. 70 southeast of New Bern.
In a news release today, the Forest Service said it has responded to hundreds of complaints from citizens and to dozens of incidents involving target shooting in the Croatan over the past year. "Additionally, natural resource damage from the targeting of trees and other vegetation has increased significantly across the forest," it says.
The Forest Service instituted a 120-day emergency closure order July 13, which bans discharging a firearm in the forest "unless it occurs in the lawful taking of wildlife."
The prohibition will be in effect through November 10.
In the prior announcement, the Forest Service said officials were working to identify potential locations for a shooting range in the Croatan, which would be the first in the forest.
Officials were also "meeting with local military installation leaders and other community organizations and leaders to raise awareness about the issue." The Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point is adjacent to the forest in Havelock.
If you can't make the public meeting about target shooting, you can send comments to: [email protected] or contact the Croatan Ranger District office at (252) 638-5628.
Gov. Pat McCrory's CONNECT NC bond proposal is seeking $1.48 billion for 101 infrastructure projects in 64 of North Carolina's 100 counties and $1.37 billion for 27 highway projects and 176 paving projects in 57 counties.
The infrastructure bond would fund projects in 28 state parks for $62.3 million. These include visitor centers, camping amenities, access and day use area improvements and land acquisitions.
The proposal will be presented as two separate measures on the November ballot. No tax increases are necessary to finance the bonds over 20 years, the governor's office says.
Highlights of projects planned for North Carolina's state parks include:
* Chimney Rock - $2M to expand and renovate a number of trails.
* Dismal Swamp - $1.3M for work to stabilize roads for use as trails.
* Lumber River - $3.5 for a community building, paved entry and parking area, restrooms, and picnic grounds with a shelter to “contribute to a new state park presence.”
* Merchants Millpond - $1.16M for a new campground loop with 20 tent-only sites, and new electrical/water service for RV sites. Merchants Millpond camping includes a family campground, backpacking and canoe camping
We spent some of Memorial Day at Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area in Hillsborough.
The small park offers more than three miles of trail with changing elevation and three distinct rewards: the Eno River, an overlook and an abandoned quarry. There are also two fishing ponds on the 190-acre property and a few picnic tables next to the parking lot.
A 2001 rockslide in the quarry displaced about 2,500 cubic yards of rock weighing nearly 5,100 tons, according to geologists.
Click on the photo below of the rockslide area in the quarry for our new Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area page.
The Forest Service announced completion of access to an 80-foot waterfall in the Pisgah National Forest near Marion last week.
The Falls Branch Trail is now a paved half-mile walk to a wheelchair accessible observation deck at the foot of Toms Creek Falls (below). The Forest Service news release calls it "a breathtaking 80-foot cascade."
The small recreation area also provides parking off of Huskins Branch Road in McDowell County.
Huskins Branch is 12 miles from I-40 exit 85 on U.S. 221 North. The recreation area is 1.2 miles farther to the left.
Two coastal campgrounds are providing upgraded options for camping near the beach in North Carolina.
The U.S. Forest Service said today renovations at Cedar Point Campground in the Croatan National Forest will be finished in time to open the campground for Memorial Day weekend.
A news release says the project included replacing the campground's electrical, septic and water systems, rebuilding 13 campsites and relocating the camp host sites and the dump station "to more efficient and camper-accessible locations."
The $700,000 project began last September 30. At the time, the Forest Service expected it to require closing the campground for five months.
Cedar Point Campground (below) and the Tideland Trail, which has also been closed, will reopen Thursday, May 21, according to Recreation.gov, the camping reservation site. Reservations may be made now.
Cedar Point, near Swansboro, is the most popular campground in the Croatan National Forest. It has 40 campsites, flush toilets and showers, electrical hookups, potable water and a picnic area. The Cedar Point Recreation Area provides opportunity for fishing, wading, boating, hiking trails and other family-friendly activities.
Near Wilmington, Carolina Beach State Park's campground will upgrade eight of its 83 existing "primitive" campsites to include water, sewer and electricity hookups, and will install small camper cabins at four other sites, according to the Star News.
The proposed cabins, "similar to those seen at KOA Campgrounds," will have small heating/air conditioner units and electricity but no indoor plumbing, the newspaper says.
The park was still seeking contractors for the project when the Star News report was published earlier this month, and no start or completion dates were set.
Campsites at Carolina Beach State Park currently have picnic tables and grills, and flush toilets, hot showers and potable water are at centrally located bath houses. Two campsites are wheelchair accessible.
Carolina Beach State Park also has a marina on the Cape Fear River at Snow's Cut, a visitors center and opportunities for fishing, hiking, kayak and paddleboard rentals, and picnicking. It is also well-known as one of few homes to the Venus' flytrap, butterwort and bladderwort carnivorous plants.
Cedar Point Campground in the Croatan National Forest, below, is to reopen in time for Memorial Day Weekend after a seven-month renovation project. Click on the photo for more information about the Cedar Point Recreation Area.
Hammocks Beach State Park will increase its footprint on the mainland by about 300 acres thanks to a purchase by the state and The Conservation Fund's North Carolina chapter.
Most of the current parkland consists of about 1,100 acres on three barrier islands, of which one is open to the public and accessible only by boat. The new acquisition adds to about 30 existing acres on the mainland that now includes a visitors center and ferry dock.
The newly acquired land was once used as a retreat for black teachers and their families, according to The News & Observer, and may eventually be developed to include a campground and trails.
The N&O report details the "8-1/2-year-long legal battle that was as tangled as the maritime forest growing on the 290 acres along Queen’s Creek just outside Swansboro," which preceded the sale of the land to the state.
Harriett Turner and her brother, John Hurst, ultimately sold their family's land to the state and the Conservation Fund for $10.1 million, and the Conservation Fund its leasing its share to the state. But before her family land is handed over, Turner says she wants to restore one of two former 4-H camps on the property and operate a youth camp there.
The tract, depicted in a state parks map below, is considered one of the last large undeveloped pieces of coastal waterfront land in the state.
David Pearson, president of the Friends of Hammocks and Bear Island and executive director of Friends of State Parks, said on the state parks blog that the acquisition is the realization of a 20-year dream.
Hammocks Beach State Park will expand by about 300 acres northwest of the park’s current 30-acre mainland section. Click on the map for more information about Hammocks Beach State Park.
The Fish and Wildlife Service this week announced the official designation of the Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge in western North Carolina, the 12th refuge in North Carolina and the first one west of Charlotte.
The site of the refuge at this point is a 39-acre parcel in Ashe County, but it could eventually grow to 23,000 acres scattered across Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Clay, Graham, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Transylvania, Wilkes and Watauga counties in North Carolina, and Carter and Johnson counties in Tennessee, a news release says.
Expansion will depend on landowners' willingness to sell and the availability of money to buy land.
The current site is an easement donated by the Nature Conservancy.
According to the news release:
"Mountain bogs are typically small and widely scattered across the landscape, often isolated from other wetlands. Important to wildlife and plants, mountain bogs are home to five endangered species – bog turtles, green pitcher plant, mountain sweet pitcher plant, swamp pink (a lily), and bunched arrowhead. They also provide habitat for migratory birds and game animals, including mink, woodcock, ruffed grouse, turkey, and wood duck. Bogs are breeding habitat for many species of amphibians, especially salamanders, of which the Southern Appalachians have the greatest diversity in the nation.
"Bogs also provide key benefits to humans. They have a natural capacity for regulating water flow, holding floodwaters like giant sponges and slowly releasing water to nearby streams decreasing the impacts of floods and droughts."
The Fish and Wildlife Service says some parts of the refuge would likely be too fragile for recreation, but other parts could open for hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, education and interpretation (i.e., nature trails).
A trout lily blooms at the Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge. (FWS photo)
Most Blue Ridge Parkway facilities will be open for the 2015 season by May 1 or 2, with picnic areas opening mid-April and one campground partially opening April 1.
The National Park Service posted 2015 spring / summer hours for Parkway facilities today.
Most Parkway campgrounds open May 1 on a first come, first served basis but will take reservations through recreation.gov from May 15 on. Most campgrounds reserve campsites but have a few that remain available without reservations.
* Linville Falls Campground will have one tent camping loop open as of April 3 and allow campers to register themselves.
* Crabtree Falls Campground, which has been closed for two seasons, will open one tent camping loop and one RV loop on May 1.
* Price Park (below) and Mt. Pisgah campgrounds will open May 1 with full services.
* Doughton Park Campground will have two tent loops and an RV loop open May 1.
Picnic areas throughout the Parkway open April 17, except at Price Park, where they remain open year-round.
Most visitor centers and other facilities, like the Blue Ridge Music Center and the Moses Cone Manor House, open May 1 or 2. The Parkway Craft Center at the Moses Cone Manor opened March 15.
The Parkway also runs into Virginia, and some northern sites open later in May.
Parkway sites that close for the winter do so around the end of October.
Camping at Julian Price Park (below) and most other Parkway campgrounds begins for the season May 1. Click on either photo for more about Price Park, which is popular for picnicking year-round and boat rentals, which resume for weekends April 3.