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Thanksgiving Hikes in the Sandhills

posted Nov 29, 2013, 12:24 PM by Justin P   [ updated Dec 3, 2013, 9:29 AM ]

For Thanksgiving, Sandy and I were heading down to the Fayetteville area for dinner with family.  Dinner wasn’t until 4, so we had some time to go hiking and work up an appetite beforehand.  In September, North Carolina’s newest state park opened to the public – Carvers Creek State Park.  Since I hadn’t visited this park yet, this would make a perfect opportunity.  We left around 9 or so and got to the park around 11.  Currently, only a small portion of the park is open to the public.  The Long Valley Farm property was given to the park by The Nature Conservancy and has a mile or so of trails for hiking.  From the parking lot at the visitor center, the James S. Rockefeller Trail goes through a fence and follows an old road towards the historic farmhouse of the trail’s namesake.  Along the way, it passes through an interesting landscape with a pine forest to the left and an open field to the right.  After about a half-mile, the trail ends at the Rockefeller House, a beautiful old farmhouse on a millpond.  The farm was the former winter estate of James Stillman Rockefeller.  The house was built in 1938, overlooking the 100-acre McDiarmid Millpond.  A sign on the fence indicated the park was working to restore the house and eventually open it to the public.

After a few pictures, we got on the Cypress Point Loop Trail that meanders along the southwest side of the millpond.  There were really nice views across the pond of the house and pavilion.  We also hiked down a peninsula in the millpond with many cypress trees growing in the shallow water.  There was also an interesting “bridge to nowhere” here, mostly hidden among the trees.  One would have to walk out several feet in the water to get to the bridge and the other end didn’t appear to go anywhere.  There may have been a small island over there, but I couldn't really tell through the trees.  We got some pictures and then hiked back from the peninsula and turned right to finish out the loop.  After finishing up the loop, I stopped to get a couple more pictures of the Rockefeller House before heading back to the parking lot.  Although we didn't see anyone in the park during our hike, there were a few people heading in as we were making our way back.  I guess we weren't the only ones who wanted to get out for a nice hike on a chilly Thanksgiving.

Our next stop was Weymouth Woods in Southern Pines.  It took a little over a half-hour to make the drive over and we got ready for our next hike.  Weymouth Woods is a small park, actually a nature preserve and there are fewer amenities than parks.  There are only about 4.5 miles of trails in the preserve, so this would take up the rest of our day until we had to go eat turkey with the family.  From the visitor center, we took the Pine Barrens Trail through a lovely forest of longleaf pines.  At the intersection, we turned left to get on Gum Swamp Trail.  At a couple of point along this trail, we saw some holly growing; it was just starting to produce red berries.  At the next intersection, we turned left again to cross a footbridge and turned left yet again to get on Holly Road Trail. 

Ultimately, this path would make a big loop around the preserve, hiking all or parts of the five trails in the preserve.  Holly Road is the longest trail in the preserve and intersects with several service roads and bridle trails.  I had picked up a map at the visitor center.  Although the preserve is not big, having a map was helpful with the many trail intersections.  We stayed on Holly Road Trail most of the way around the loop, turning left to get on Pine Island Trail, which leads through a very swampy area with several small streams and creeks together.  Three-quarters of the way through this loop, we turned left to get on Lighter Stump Trail heading back towards the visitor center.  This trail is the only one in the preserve that is not a loop.  I was surprised to see that there was actually a little bit of elevation gain on this trail.  All the trails had been so flat today, even the mild climb on this trail was unexpected.  Along the way, we saw some longleaf pine saplings in the "grass" stage.

At the end of this trail, we turned left one last time and took Bower’s Bog Trail back to the visitor center.  It was still a little too early to head over from dinner, so we did one last short hike, doing the entire Pine Barrens Trail.  About half-way through the loop, we stopped to see a woodpecker.  He was quite a ways away up in a tree and by the time I got the telephoto lens attached, he had flown off.  I couldn’t get a good enough look to tell what kind he was, but he was definitely a woodpecker, possibly the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.  After the last loop, we had worked up quite an appetite and it was about time to head over for Thanksgiving dinner and eat lots of turkey, stuffing, and pie.  We changed into more appropriate clothes in the bathrooms at the visitor center and then made our way to Vass to eat with the family.

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