Friday, March 20, 2015

Paddling the Tar-Pamlico Water Trail

Recently, our staff was invited to paddle the Tar-Pamlico River Water Trail by Heather Deck, riverkeeper for the Pamilico-Tar River Foundation, and Daniel McClure, an intern with the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation.  What a cool experience that was.  I've paddled many places but I truly saw more wildlife on this ten-mile paddle than I have on most rivers in the area.  The day initially looked sketchy weather-wise with forecast highs in the upper 40's and rain, but the rain cleared out and though we didn't really see the sun, we were comfortable in our boats when the temperatures rose into the upper 50's.  
We put in in Rocky Mount in a nice, wide stretch of the river. The water level was up enough that the current kept us clipping along at a good pace without having to work too terribly hard, which made for decent photo opportunities.  Even in the overcast, chilly weather, the wildlife were hopping: wood ducks, mallards, a pileated woodpecker,kingfishers, barred owls, hawks, turtles and beavers all made appearances. Well, saw might be overstating the beaver sighting on my part, at least--one created a ruckus as we passed by, sliding down the bank and then briefly stalking us under water, which we could see from the air bubble trail it left behind.  I think Daniel and Ryan were quicker on the draw and saw the beaver clambering down the bank.

A beaver slide along the banks

Heather and Daniel were fantastic hosts, knowledgeable about the local wildlife and fauna and easy paddle partners. It takes a great deal of work and salesmanship to fund efforts like this one, and a good rapport with volunteers willing to give of their free time to help build structures. The platforms are pretty sweet camping locations--screened in sleeping areas with a nice deck and picnic table. Take-outs are easy, too.  Starting at the head of the Tar River and ending in Beaufort, the Tar-Pamlico Water Trail will eventually have platforms 8-15 miles apart once it's completed so that paddlers on this end of the state will have multiple routes and campsites to choose from.  Platforms must be reserved and there is a minimal fee; more information about that is here.  
All in all, a great day on the water--is there such a thing as a bad day on the water?  We're grateful to our hosts for sharing this with us, and DPR Outdoor Recreation is definitely planning a fall trip down the river, so keep an eye out for the fall programming schedule!

Giant fungi on a downed tree
Having a picnic at the Vollmer Farm platform with Daniel and Heather.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Season of Muddy Boots and Waterfalls

In my house, muddy boots are a way of life and this rainy, snowy, cold winter hasn't offered relief from the mud. As I write this, four pairs of dirty, well-used boots sit in the foyer, waiting for the next foray into the wet, muddy trails of Durham.  I have to admit, though, that I like the mud, the extra work it takes to get to remote locations and the way that being muddy after a day outdoors makes me feel like I've earned the experience.
Ryan and I took a little bushwhacking hike through the woods two days ago at the Spruce Pine Lodge in Bahama, adjacent to Lake Michie, and found that the melting snow had created a real, rushing, foaming waterfall in the normally placid creek that runs down to Lake Michie.  This place, with its rocky outcroppings, rhododendron and laurels reminds me of my favorite spots in western North Carolina where I would sit and read a book or just soak up the sound of water maneuvering its way through the maze of rocks. Well worth the trek through the muck in a pair of knee-high Bogs--my hiking boots would be no match for that sodden soil--to see the melting snow change this from a meandering flow to a raging river.

Waterfall on the Waterfall trail at the Spruce Pine Lodge

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Can't Believe We're Talking Durham City Lakes Opening, but Here We Go!

I woke up today with the realization that, holy cow, March is here! Well, in three days, but nevertheless, banging at the door. It's been a hard winter for the City lakes--first a total freeze of Lake Michie (pictured below) and then a collapsed ceiling at the Little River boathouse due to frozen pipes.  A cold, cold winter for southern lakes.
A good look at the ice thickness on Lake Michie

Buoy frozen in the ice on Lake Michie
With that said, the good new is that Spring has to come soon and when that happens, we'll be ready for you at the lakes.  In addition to kayak, canoe and jon boat rentals, we added some new toys to our arsenal, water bikes. They're similar to paddle boats but way more fun.   We open Friday, March 13 at 6:30am and are open Friday-Monday through mid-November.  Click here for more detailed information.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Winter Paddling--North Carolina Swamp Style

My family is from Florida originally, mom's side from Ft. Lauderdale and dad's from Avon Park.  One of  my favorite places to go when I was a child was Highland's Hammock State Park in Sebring, Florida. A catwalk wove its way through the triple-canopy jungle of the park, hovering over black water swamp filled with fish, frogs,exotic birds,thousand year-old trees, 'gators and the occasional cottonmouth in addition to singing insects.  My grandfather, tough German that he was, would occasionally reach into the water, grab a lily pad and swing it toward a cottonmouth curled on the knee of a cypress, hoping to make it strike. Come to think of it, perhaps that's the root of my since-conquered fear of snakes?

Anyway, that love of the swamp ecosystem is embedded in my DNA now, and it's carried into our programming and my pastimes.  Last week my staff and I explored a park new to us, Merchant's Millpond State Park in Gatesville, NC. Though it's a little chillier in late winter to spring and in the late fall, the paddling is much more enjoyable because there are far fewer bugs and snakes to deal with.  There are still plenty of things to look at, like the old-growth cypresses, the still-numerous birds that prowl for fish, and the crystal-clear skies at night.  If this interests you, we'll be headed to the Roanoke River Basin for three days, March. 27-29.  Join us for camping in beautiful black water swamp of North Carolina--it may be the most fascinating trip you take this year.
A few pictures from our adventure to Merchant's Millpond:
Sunrise from our campsite at Merchant's Millpond State Park

Thursday, January 8, 2015

It's that time again! Eno Discovery and Adventure Camp Registration

The brief, restful shoulder season for us is coming to a close and we're off and running toward summer camp.  Registration for both our Adventure Camp and Eno Discovery Camps begins Monday, March 16, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. You may register online at and follow the links to registration, go to one of our centers or the main office at 400 Cleveland Street.  NOTE: To register on line, you must have a PIN number prior to that day, so if you plan to register online go to the website sometime in the near future, set up your account and request a PIN.

In the meantime, until summer is here, let's enjoy some images from warmer times, shall we?

Intern Andre, aka  "the bendable brick", introduces a child to canoeing

The gauntlet at the Discovery Course

Hiking at Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee

Sliding at Upper Creek Falls

Ready to cave at Worley's Cave in Bluff City, TN

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mistletoe Facts and Solstice Stargazing Sunday Evening

Seems like we were just talking about Fall leaves and acorns, and here we are at the winter solstice.  Now that the leaves are off the trees we can see one of the romantic symbols of the season, mistletoe, high in the treetops.  Mistletoe has a long tradition, dating back to pagan times, of being associated with mystical romantic powers. Thus that kissing under the mistletoe routine at holiday gatherings.  Mistletoe is interesting in that it's a hemiparasitic plant, which means it attaches itself high up in trees, like oaks, pines, but it can also grow on its own.  I grew up in a rural area of North Carolina and the people who sold it at the holidays would shoot it out of trees.  Quite the talent, don't you think?

Mistletoe in the treetop
Sunday is the winter solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year--perfect skies for our Winter Solstice Stargazing event this Sunday evening at Sandy Creek Park in Durham.  Why do I like the Winter Solstice?  Because the days keep getting longer after that, which means Spring is on it's way! Stonehenge is a fantastic example of ancient societies observing the changes in seasons.  Archeologists believe that Stonehenge was built to observe the winter solstice sunrise.  Take a look at this photo and see how the sun rises through the prehistoric monument. So, if you're looking for things to do with the family in town for the holidays, come to Sandy Creek Park in Durham between 5:30pm and 7:30pm and look at the winter skies through our telescopes!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Sights and Sounds from DPR Fall Outdoor Programs

What a fall--super busy for us (which we love!) From paddles to camping, shelter-building and more, we had a wonderful time sharing the natural resources of Durham with our many participants.  Here are just a few of the boatloads of images we captured during the season.  Our spring season will be here before we know it, so it's nice to reflect on a fall season well-spent.

Giving navigation instruction to Geo-Paddle participants.

Lake Michie on a quiet Saturday morning.
Sharing a shelter with friends
Learning Leave No Trace Ethics and methods

Pancakes after  morning paddle


Friday, October 24, 2014

Why is My Car Getting Pelted With So Many Acorns This Fall?

Acorns. Piling up everywhere, and pinging my car this week like a mid-summer hailstorm.  When I was young, our neighbors told us that these hailstorms of acorns forewarned of a hard winter to come. 

How would the trees know, I wondered? 

Turns out the trees don't know, and that abundant acorn production is actually a natural cycle of 3-5 years. These years of banner production are called 'mast years'.   Mast is the fruit of nut-producing trees, specifically a kind of piling up on the ground for animals to eat.  A 'mast year' is a year like the one we're having in the southern US where we have an overabundance of nuts (a massive understatement at my house). The cycle goes like this: there will be a year or so of piles of acorns on the ground (mast comes from the Old English word maest, literally meaning piles of tree fruit and nuts on the ground), squirrels and other animals feed on the nuts. Then come the years with less production, and what's on the trees is what gets eaten--not a lot left over to fall to the ground, and the population of nut-eaters thins because of scarcity of food. Then we have a year with large production, there are more than can be eaten by the current population of nut-eaters and you have our  result.  Pileups of nuts like the ones in the pictures below.

So now when you hear parents on the sidelines of your child's soccer match complaining about the massive amount of acorns on their decks, you have one more little tidbit of useless, but interesting, knowledge to share over your morning coffee. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Orb Weavers add to the Spookiness of October

I walked out the house early this morning to this special guest, an orb weaver.  It's fall and the babies born in the spring are now out and about building their intricate webs, a compliment to the fall mums and pumpkins on the porch. Their web pattern is one many of us recognize--if you're ever read Charlotte's Web, you've seen the work of fictional orb weaver Charlotte. 

I'm always happy to see the orb weavers, if not overjoyed by walking through their webs in the morning when I'm not quite awake.  Watching them build their structures every evening is fascinating, especially when one decides to try to overtake the front yard by starting at the roofline and extending to the wild persimmon tree in the middle.  They're ambitious little buggers.

Their hunting style is pretty cool, too. Attaching themselves to building structures usually, they generally situate themselves in the middle of the web--an intimidating presence at about a half an inch to an inch in size--and face downward, waiting for their prey.  They hunt at night, eating a massive amount of mosquitos, yay for orb weavers!   If not in the center of the web, they're hanging out nearby off to the side with a thread of silk attached to them as a warning system, like a bell on the door of a store.  Also awesome. So, if you see one in your yard, take moment to watch them work.

Orb weaver doing what it does best.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Lunar Exploration Postponed to Saturday, Nov. 1, 7:30--9:30pm

Unfortunately, the weather is not going to cooperate this evening.  There's a front moving through that's going to bring winds and cloud cover that will make viewing the moon impossible.  The good new is that on November 1, the moon will once again be in the perfect place in the sky for viewing. We'll be at Old North Durham Park at 7:30pm with telescopes at the ready, so please come join us.
In the meantime, if you want to do a little moon gazing online, check out this article and the related images: