The Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge has announced activities for its annual celebration of the return of Tundra swans to the 40,000 surface acres of Lake Mattamuskeet.
Swan Days 2014 will be held December 6 and 7, with multiple birding tours Saturday, tours of Mattamuskeet Lodge, and more. Swan Days this year will also mark the 80th anniversary of the refuge.
The lake, which is the largest natural lake in North Carolina, is a wintering spot for hundreds of thousands of migratory waterfowl, including Tundra swans, Canada geese, snow geese, ducks and coots.
In January, the refuge said a count of some 200,000 ducks, geese and swans at the refuge represented a trend of increasing wintering waterfowl over the past few years.
Saturday's schedule of events includes:
- Tram tours at 7:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 3 p.m. Phone 252-926-4021 for reservations. The tours, one of which we joined a few years ago, go through wetland impoundments on the lake's eastern shore near the Lake Landing Canal for opportunities to see birds.
- Guided birding walks at 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
- Guided caravan driving tours at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Mattamuskeet Lodge tours at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, and 10 and 11 a.m. Sunday. The lodge (left) was originally built in 1914 as the largest pumping plant in the world and was later used as a hunting lodge until 1974. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 but efforts to restore it have faltered.
Additional activities on tap include an 80th Anniversary celebration at noon Saturday (with refreshments), wildlife and history presentations, a Wildlife Olympics and other kids' activities, and a winter hummingbird banding program on Sunday morning.
Get a full schedule here and phone 252-926-4021 if you need more information.
The Blue Ridge Parkway has announced that three Parkway campgrounds originally scheduled to be open through this weekend are now closed.
* Doughton Park Campground, Milepost 239.2
* Linville Falls Campground, Milepost 316.4
* Mt. Pisgah Campground, Milepost 408.8
The weather forecast for the North Carolina mountains calls for rain and snow this weekend, with snowfall ranging from less than half an inch in Sparta (near Doughton Park) to 1 to 3 inches at Altamont (near Linville Falls) and 1 to 2 inches at Mount Pisgah.
The Parkway also said Parkway rangers will be proactively closing gates in potentially affected areas along the main road this afternoon and evening. Should the storm not materialize as forecast, the road will be opened as soon as possible the following morning or when conditions allow.
The campground at Julian Price Park, Milepost 297, was not part of the announcement, though 1 to 2 inches of snow is forecast for the Blowing Rock area. It was to be open through Saturday. (We'd suggest calling; our call went to voicemail.)
Campers who were in affected campgrounds last night are in the process of checking out, and once all campsites are clear, these campgrounds will be closed for the season, the Parkway said on Facebook this afternoon.
Any advance reservations for the remainder of this weekend will be refunded if necessary.
DuPont State Recreational Forest will post operating hours for visitors, a first such restriction, beginning November 2, the N.C. Forest Service announced this week.
A news release says the forest will be open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, with hours posted at each access area: High Falls, Hooker Falls, Corn Mill Shoals, Fawn Lake, Lake Imaging and Guion Farm.
Permits for legitimate use of the forest after hours will be available by request through the forest's website or by email to [email protected]. Permits will be issued according to available staff resources and observed impacts to the forest, the news release says.
The new hours are a continuation of recent attention to the 10,400-acre forest. The state forest became a "state recreational forest" in 2011 and the state adopted a new plan to manage natural communities, wildlife habitat and recreation in the forest.
The forest's first visitor center opened at the High Falls Access Area in July 2013.
Through January 1, those in the forest without a permit after hours will receive a warning. Afterward, violations can result in expulsion from the forest and a citation for a Class III misdemeanor, the news release says.
Work to refurbish and expand the family campground at South Mountains State Park has been completed just in time for fall camping, the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation said today.
In addition to a new bathhouse with a family restroom and shower, all campsites were refurbished and the campground was expanded from 11 to 18 sites. Two sites are RV-compatible with electricity hookups.
"The family campground is within babbling distance of Jacob Fork River, revered not only for its stunning beauty but its congenial trout population," a state parks blog post says. "It’s one of the best spots in North Carolina for fishing, casual hiking and being lulled to sleep."
The park also offers camping at 15 campsites for equestrians, which surround a 33-stall barn, and at 20 backpacking sites.
Camping reservations through the state parks system are suggested, particularly this time of year, the state says.
South Mountains State Park, in southern Burke County, is North Carolina's largest state park at more than 18,000 acres. It has 40 miles of trails and elevations of 3,000 feet, and features the 80-foot High Shoals Falls, below.
Click on the photo for more information about South Mountains State park.
WUNC has posted a map (below) created by two Appalachian State University professors meant to depict when leaf colors will peak at various places in the North Carolina mountains this fall.
We reviewed more than a dozen of the best places to see fall color among the national forests in the mountains with their Carolina Outdoors Guide links earlier this month.
There are also countless places to view fall color along the Blue Ridge Parkway; at dozens of other day use areas in the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests; at Clingmans Dome and other sites in Great Smoky Mountains National Park; several North Carolina state parks in the mountains, including Mount Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain; TVA reservoirs like at Fontana Dam; and dozens more sites specifically set aside so people can enjoy the outdoors.
Carolina Outdoors Guide provides use and amenities information, and maps for hundreds of parks, wilderness areas, campgrounds, trails and other sites across the state that are sponsored by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tennessee Valley Authority, N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, N.C. Division of Forest Resources and several other agencies.
Check out Carolina Outdoors Guide to plan your fall mountains excursion today.
A news release says the $700,000 project is to include:
+ Replacing an aging and failing sewer system.
+ Relocating the sewer dump station for RVs.
+ Upgrading the electrical system at campsites from a 30-amp to a 50-amp system.
+ Renovating campsites.
+ Renovating the toilet and shower building, including water-saving fixtures.
Money for the project comes from general Forest Service appropriations.
Work is to begin September 30, and the campground will likely remain closed for five months, the release says. Normally the campground is open year-round.
Cedar Point Campground, in the larger Cedar Point Recreation Area, has 40 handicapped-accessible sites with electricity, flush toilets and showers, and picnic grounds.
Cedar Point is near Cape Carteret on the White Oak River, which is accessible via a boat ramp and fishing pier, and is home to the Tideland National Recreation Trail.
(Note - the news release received by email was not immediately available online.)
Cedar Point Campground in the Croatan National Forest, below, is to be closed from the end of September through February for $700,000 worth of renovations. Click on the photo for more information about the campground and the Cedar Point Recreation Area.
Incorrect and prohibited use of the Croatan National Forest's Island Creek Trail has caused "significant damage" to the picturesque hiking trail, the National Forest Service said today.
"The wonderful walk in the woods named the Island Creek Forest Walk has experienced illegal use recently from mountain bikers and horseback riders using this trail," District Ranger Jim Gumm says in a news release issued today.
"The trail was not designed or approved for such uses, which have unfortunately caused significant damage to the fragile ecosystem."
The Forest Service recently replaced all trail markers and reinstalled approved-use signs at Island Creek, according to the release. "The Forest Service asks visitors to help protect Island Creek Forest Walk from further damage by using it for its designed purpose," it says.
When Carolina Outdoors Guide was at Island Creek a year ago, we noted the sign below taped to a tree indicating additional loops and use of the area for single-track biking.
Croatan recreation staff officer Dennis Foster told us last year the sign was put up by mountain bikers who live nearby, and that a study of the feasibility for biking in the area was underway. He was not immediately available this afternoon.
The news release says mountain biking is permitted in the Croatan's Neuse River Recreation Area (Flanners Beach) and on Forest Service roads, and horseback riding is permitted on the Pine Cliff area equestrian trails.
The Island Creek Trail is a half-mile loop interpretive trail in the Polloksville area with signs identifying many common and more obscure trees, including the yellow poplar at left below and the umbrella magnolia. Click on either photo below for more about the Island Creek Trail.
The Forest Service will begin planning for "management of non-motorized and motorized recreation trails" in the Uwharrie National Forest with a workshop open to the public on September 18 in Troy, which is in Montgomery County.
Today's news release announcing the meeting says developing recommendations for a comprehensive trail management plan for the Uwharrie could take a year.
It calls upon members of trail-user groups, local community and ecotourism representatives, and unaffiliated individuals to join the planning process.
The meeting is to be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Garner Center, 210 Burnette St., Troy.
Improving trials is one focus of the Uwharrie's Land and Resource Management Plan, which is a 15-year guide to use of the forest's 50,814 acres that was adopted in 2012.
There are more than 120 miles of trails in the Uwharrie. The Badin Lake Recreation Area has some 17 miles of OHV trails in four systems, about 20 miles of Wood Run Mountain Bike Trails, about 32 miles of bridle trails (and the Canebrake Horse Camp), the 5.6-mile Badin Lake Trail loop and other trails.
"(U)se of forest trails in North Carolina is increasing every year. Resources used to maintain trails have been static or decreasing," the release says.
As we round the corner from Labor Day into autumn, those looking forward to cooler weather outdoors have begun posting fall leaf color guides and forecasts.
The National Forest Service released its annual fall color guide to the places to find the best fall color in the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests in western North Carolina. There, leaves begin to turn at the highest elevation in late September and early October. Colors peak in mid-October and move to the lowest elevations by late October and early November.
There's color everywhere in the mountains once the show gets underway, but the National Forest's recommendations for leaf viewing are:
High elevation (above 4,500 feet)
* Cherohala Skyway in Graham County
* Wayah Bald and Wine Spring Creek area in Macon County
* Big Butt Trail in the Mount Mitchell area of Yancey County
* Roan Mountain in Mitchell County. The road to Roan Gardens (from Carvers Gap) will close in early October, the Forest Service advises. Take in fall color by hiking the Appalachian Trail either direction or walking on the road.
Middle elevation (2,500 to 4,500 feet)
* Chunky Gal Mountains from Standing Indian to Shooting Creek along US 64 in Macon and Clay Counties
* Along NC 28 and 143 within Graham County from Fontana Village (see also Fontana Dam) to Stecoah Gap, within the Moses Creek drainage along Forest Service Road 4651 in the Roy A. Taylor forest in Jackson County (see also Wayehutta ATV System)
* Along US 19E in the Poplar area of Yancey County from the Cane River to Spivey Gap
* Along Curtis Creek Road (FSR 482) and US 70 in McDowell County, and the Harper Creek area in Avery County
Low elevation (Below 2,500 feet)
* Joe Brown Highway in Cherokee County
* US 64 in eastern Clay County
* US 441 in southern Macon County
* NC 28 in Swain County near Fontana Lake (see also Fontana Dam)
* US 25-70 in the Hot Springs area
* Along NC 181 and the other forest roads in the Steeles Creek area in Burke and Caldwell counties.
In May, the Forest Service's Southern Research Station and National Forests in North Carolina introduced the Forest Trail Explorer site, which allows users to browse maps of trails in the Tsali and the Jackrabbit Mountain recreation areas in the Nantahala, as well as portions of the Appalachian Trail in the forest.
Information on the site includes trail type, length, difficulty, elevation, and images from fly-overs of some trails. In addition, users can download files of the trails and view them on their computers or tablets using Google Earth. The site is designed to work on smartphones and other mobile devices.
Elsewhere, Romantic Asheville says some glimpses of fall color are showing already but little color change should be expected this week.
Fall Color Guy Howie Neufeld, an Appalachian State University biology professor, told The Charlotte Observer that sunny and relatively cool conditions in late summer bring vivid colors during early October in the highest elevations and early November in the Piedmont.
But, according to Neufield, late-summer's warm and wet weather this year could push leaf color changes to later in October and make them more muted.
Kathy Mathews, an associate professor of biology at Western Carolina University, says in her annual prediction that we should expect a long-lasting leaf display in the mountains, but with spotty color development.
“The rainy spring months this year portend somewhat muted pigments on the leaves in the fall,” she says in a WCU news release. “Trees that produce red leaves, including sourwood, red maple and dogwood, perform best in dry conditions. Therefore, we may see fewer brilliant reds during the peak of fall color change.”
A look at Raven Rock State Park in The Fayetteville Observer says the state is considering whether to build bike trails in the Harnett County park.
The 4,694-acre park, which is known for its massive cliffs on the Cape Fear River, has 20 miles of trails, including 12 for hiking and another eight across the river from the main portion of the park for horseback riding.
"Bicycles are prohibited on all the trails, but the state Division of Parks and Recreation is looking into the possibility of creating 15 to 20 miles of bike trails in undeveloped parts of the park over the next two to three years," The Observer says.
The park also offers opportunities for camping, canoeing, fishing and picnicking. The visitor center at Raven Rock is relatively new, and park staff present various educational and interpretive programs, particularly for visiting school groups.
The Observer, pointing out the park's significance to Fayetteville residents, says Raven Rock gets about 200,000 visitors a year, up from 100,000 to 110,000 annual visitors about 15 years ago.
Raven Rock, which opened in 1970, was the second park protected with state government money after Mount Mitchell State Park in the Black Mountains, The Observer says.