Friday, November 21, 2008

Merchants Millpond State Park

Last Friday, we awoke to a blast of something memories suggested could be winter. When I peeked outside to see what we'd be facing on this day of exploration, rain and a few snowflakes fell past the window.

We'd planned to check out Williamsburg, VA. A calendar featuring that town recently arrived in our mailbox, and after perusing the pictures, we had to check it out. Unfortunately, inclement weather precluded us from taking the long trip. As we drove down the street, we discussed several options not in the path of the storm and finally decided on Merchants Millpond.

A member of my hiking group recommended this 1,100 acre destination earlier this year. A web search revealed a State Park located in the NE portion of NC's coastal plains, near the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Water so black it reflected the tangle of silvery Spanish moss gently swinging above it caught my attention.

We arrived at Merchants Millpond without any trouble thanks to our GPS and the numerous signs we spotted along the road. However, we did have a little trouble figuring out which entrance to use. Garmin sent us down Millpond Road to the picnic area, so we doubled back and then found the main entrance. I usually take a travel guide book on these outings, which helps us find our bearings. On this occasion, I grabbed Coastal North Carolina which does not include Merchants Mill, so instead of driving directly to a parking area near the pond, we took the main entrance. And after driving in a circle, we backtracked to the picnic area.

We made the right decision. As it turns out, the picnic area has access to the pond. With glee and slightly chilly feet, we drove down a two-lane road to the horseshoe shaped parking lot, stopped across from the picnic pavilion, and immediately admired the fall portrait surrounding us. A quilt of autumn leaves blanketed the forest floor. Trees not shorn stretched their delicate branches, creating a peaceful portrait reminiscent of a Japanese painting.


Finally, A Map

We stopped at the trailhead and studied the map the park service so mercifully provides and discovered we had access to three trails from this point: the 6.7 Lassiter Trail, which we weren't about to attempt in the frigid air. The 2.0 mile Coleman trail, which, in our opinion, didn't take us close enough to the pond, and the .33 mile Cypress Point Trail which looped in a small peninsula.

We walked along a leaf covered path occasionally glancing at the pond, whose presence taunted us through the trees. Finally, we cut down a hill. (Note: it's unusual for us to leave the trail, but the distance was short and since half the trees were bare, we could easily see around us.) And oh what we saw.

Lanky cypress trees, their clawed feet jammed into the still black pond covered with a thin layer of bright green duckweed, watched us in a silence broken only by the call of an unseen bird. Long strands of silver-gray Spanish Moss hung everywhere, giving the area an eerie look reminiscent of the Black Lagoon, though the only creatures we expected to see were alligators. It amazed us, and we walked around for ten or fifteen minutes (the time necessary to freeze hands and contact lenses) photographing the gentle giants and wondering why we didn't see any migratory birds.

I reckon they were just too cold.

We were. We were also under-dressed for the frigid weather, so after doing our best to fill our camera's memory card, we walked up a set of steps nearly hidden beneath the leaves and headed back to the parking lot, taking only the memory of what I thought was an ancient North Carolina swamp.

Wait wait wait, what was that? That's right. That gorgeous cypress swamp you see in the photo isn't part of what used to be the Great Dismal Swamp. According to A Guide to Nature Conservancy Projects in North Carolina and exploring north carolina's natural areas, aka the books we should have brought along, settlers created the pond with a dam over a hundred and seventy five years ago.

What else would we have known if we'd brought those books? That Merchants Millpond is home to an "800 year-old cypress tree and the state's largest tupelo". That canoe rentals are available (and canoeing and kayaking is said to be the best way to explore pond) and that resident wildlife includes gray foxes, river otters, bobcats and bears.

In retrospect, perhaps it's a good thing we didn't know about the bears.

We'll definitely return for a closer look. In addition to canoeing, camping is also available. Access the NC's Park site for a fee schedule and for information on group and family canoe camping.

For more information, check out my favorite guides: A Guide to Nature Conservancy Projects in North Carolina, exploring north carolina's natural areas, or go to the park's website at http://ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/memi/main.php

Being us, we couldn't go home after a short visit to a Carolinas destination, so we decided to visit Currituck Lighthouse by way of Suffolk, Virginia. The light faded before we reached our destination, but we'll try again later. We're Buffaloes. It's our nature to roam.


4 comments:

Julie said...

I'm so glad you ended up going here. Your descriptions are breathtaking, and I always love how you take me with you when I read your writing. Have you ever considered writing a travel book? If so, please let me know. I want to be the first in line to purchase a copy!

Kimberli said...

Thank you! The place was a treat in the few minutes we could stand the cold. We're going back though. Will take photos!

I'm playing around with the idea of travel writing. I started this for the sheer pleasure of it, but I think I could do it for money, too, lol.

If you didn't see my belated comment...I saw your note about the move. Another Buffaloe may be roaming home. Too cool! The gray moss languishing over the cypress swamp will weep no more.

Julie said...

Oh, yes! I meant to say thank you. Please excuse me for that. I'm sorta scattered lately:)

I'll be about 3-4 hours of the cypress, but it will still make for sweet weekend trips! We'll be in the Durham area (hopefully in the countryside). I've been snooping around to see if you have any posts about that area. I know a bit about Raleigh, but not Durham County. What I've seen is very pretty.

Thanks again, Kimberli!

Kimberli said...

You're welcome! Durham Co? Egads, we haven't spent any time in that area (more places to explore!) The closest we've come is Falls Lake. Kell and I will have to check it out.

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