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“Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me.” — Carl Sandburg Poet Carl Sandburg spent his later years in Flat Rock,

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“Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me.” — Carl Sandburg Poet Carl Sandburg spent his later years in Flat Rock,

100 Things You May Not Know About
North Carolina’s National Parks

national parks feature img

“Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me.”

— Carl Sandburg

Poet Carl Sandburg spent his later years in Flat Rock, where he brought a sense of wonder and the joy of discovery to even the most routine aspects of life: milk and moths, dense fog and fire logs, city streets and snow flurries. Sandburg saw beauty in the essence of it all.

It’s appropriate, then, that we invoke Sandburg as we celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service. Take this list of 100 facts with you to the 14 national parks in North Carolina, and open yourself to the unexpected and unplanned.

North Carolina’s National Parks

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park • Est. March 2, 1917

2332 New Garden Road, Greensboro, NC 27410
(336) 288-1776, nps.gov/guco

guilford courthouse1. A 1,900-man British force defeated Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene’s 4,500 Americans and Continentals at the Battle of Guilford Court House, but because the British suffered so many casualties, the U.S. eventually won the Revolutionary War.

2. Men from 17 counties joined the North Carolina militia, which totaled 800 soldiers.

3. Three current Army National Guard units are derived from American units that participated in the Battle of Guilford Court House.

4. Two of North Carolina’s three signers of the Declaration of Independence — William Hooper and John Penn — are buried at the park.

5. One of the 28 monuments in the park pays tribute to Kerenhappuch Norman Turner, who is said to have ridden on horseback from her home in Maryland to Guilford Court House to nurse her wounded son back to health.

Photo: Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene was nicknamed “The Fighting Quaker.” A monument to him stands at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. Photograph by Mark Caskie.

Moores Creek National Battlefield • Est. June 2, 1926

40 Patriots Hall Drive
, Currie, NC 28435

(910) 283-5591, nps.gov/mocr

6. Slippin’ and a-slidin’: Tallow was the key to this pivotal battle in American independence. Before the arrival of the 800 Loyalists, the 1,000-strong Patriot troops removed the planks from the bridge that crossed Moores Creek. They smeared the remaining crossing beams with tallow. As the Loyalists crossed single file, the Patriots shot at them, and the enemy fell into the creek.

7. They weren’t too slick, though: It has been said that the Loyalists greased themselves, cut their hair, and shaved their beards so that the enemy couldn’t hold onto them in battle.

8. Old Mother Covington wasn’t anyone’s mom. She was a 2½-pound cannon, and her “daughter” was a half-pound swivel gun.

9. The Loyalists were armed only with broadswords, so named because of their width. The weapons were sharpened on both edges of the blade. This allowed Loyalists who liked to fight close-up to use hand-to-hand combat.

10. The spoils from the battle included 15,000 pounds sterling in money and 13 wagons, with horses.

11. BYOM: Bring your own musket. To join the Patriot militia, you were required to provide your own gun, gunpowder, clothes, food, and canteen. You also had to be at least 16 years old.

Wright Brothers National Memorial • Est. March 2, 1927

1000 North Croatan Highway, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
(252) 473-2111, nps.gov/wrbr
wright brothers

12. In 1902, at their camp in Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers sketched the design for the 1903 Flyer on brown wrapping paper. The original sketch is in the collection at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

13. But did they earn frequent-flyer miles? In 1902, the Wright brothers made 250 glides in just two days, and 1,000 glides in one month at Kitty Hawk.

14. The wheels beneath their wings: The Wright brothers financed their five years of experiments with $1,000 — that’s $27,000 in today’s money. The funds came from their bicycle repair shop in Dayton, Ohio.

15. And the sand beneath their wheels: The Wright brothers originally designed their famous 1903 Flyer with skids instead of wheels because the plane would have become mired in the soft sand at Kitty Hawk otherwise. It wasn’t until 1910 that the Wrights installed wheels on a flyer.

16. He almost forgot to trigger the shutter, but John Daniels, who worked at the Kill Devil Hills Life Saving Station, took the famous photograph of the Wright brothers’ first flight.

17. Fly me to the moon: In 1969, when Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the lunar surface, he carried with him a piece of cloth and wood from the original 1903 Flyer.

18. The Wright Brothers National Memorial was built using 1,200 tons of North Carolina granite, 2,000 tons of gravel, 800 tons of sand, and 400 tons of cement.

Photo: In the 1930s, the 60-foot Wright Brothers National Memorial was the largest monument dedicated to a living person in the United States. Photograph by Emily Chaplin and Chris Council.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park • Est. June 15, 1934

(865) 436-1200, nps.gov/grsm

19. But they don’t look a day over 150 million: The Smokies are estimated to be 200 million to 300 million years old.

20. They’re watching you: There are about two black bears per square mile in the park.

great smokies21. More than 17,000 species of plants and animals have been identified in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but scientists believe an additional 30,000 to 80,000 species might live there.

22. The fog that hangs over the Smokies is the result of the 85 inches of rain — more than seven feet — that falls on the highest peaks each year.

23. Watch your step: The Smokies are home to lungless salamanders, which breathe through their skin and mouth tissue, and are also famous for their ability to regrow their limbs.

Photo: At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photograph by Scott Hotaling.

Blue Ridge Parkway • Est. June 30, 1936

Parkway headquarters is located at Milepost 384 in Asheville.
(828) 348-3400, nps.gov/blri

24. Some hikes along the parkway are consistently popular: You may have seen the albums on Facebook of stunning fall colors (and corny poses) at the top of the Rough Ridge trail near Grandfather Mountain. But try taking the trails less traveled for surprise adventures. The Heintooga Ridge Road at Milepost 458.2, just 11 miles from the south end of the parkway, leads to Balsam Mountain, perfect for high-elevation bird-watching.

blue ridge parkway25. Although you’d be hard-pressed to find a spot on the parkway that’s not picture-perfect, snapping a photo (or 20) along the magnificent Linn Cove Viaduct should be at the top of your to-do list.

26. Calm your road rage tendencies. For the entirety of the 469-mile parkway, the speed limit never exceeds 45 miles per hour, and is often much lower.

27. The shiny, heart-shaped leaves of the galax plant have been gathered in the southern Appalachian Mountains for floral arrangements and medicinal uses for generations. Now, it is illegal to do so within the park.

28. The Blue Ridge Parkway has more than twice the combined number of visitors as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon.

29. Beavers are among the most important creatures of the parkway. Thanks to their dam-building skills, which have led to an increase in bogs and wetlands, biodiversity has flourished.

30. Construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway began in 1935. People serving in the Civilian Conservation Corps worked on roadside plantings and improved nearby fields and forests. The entire project, including the last seven miles near Grandfather Mountain, took more than 52 years.

31. Superstitious about holding your breath in tunnels? You might want to start training. Twenty-five of the 26 tunnels on the parkway are in North Carolina, and they make up 36 percent of the total tunnels in the National Park Service.

Photo: Love curvy roads? Ride the Blue Ridge Parkway near Maggie Valley. Photograph by Emily Chaplin.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail • Completed 1937

(304) 535-6278, nps.gov/appa

32. There are more than 250 trail shelters on the AT, generally placed five to 15 miles apart — and occasionally 30 miles, when there’s a town or lodging along the way.

33. The length of the trail has often changed due to repairs, detours, and more. In 2001, it was 2,168.1 miles long. Ten years later? 2,181. Today, it’s 2,190 miles from beginning to end. Start hiking before it gets any longer.

appalachian scenic trail34. It takes about five million adult steps to hike the entire trail between Maine and Georgia. That’s about one-ninety-sixth of the distance to the moon, so hiking the AT practically makes you an astronaut. Right?

35. Trail magic: unexpected acts of kindness or generosity on the trail. It can be a fellow hiker giving you a candy bar or a local handing out homemade cookies in a town along the trail. Trail angels: the people who supply the magic.

36. In 2015, seasoned ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek thru-hiked the AT in a record 46 days, traveling an average of 50 miles per day, to become the fastest AT hiker ever. The trail usually takes around six months to complete. Um, yeah, you go on, we’ll catch up later.

37. It’s probably best just to stick to this useful hiking advice: The most dangerous part of the trail is the place where you are right now. The safest? Wherever you were a moment ago.

38. Signature white trail blazes have been used to mark the trail since its completion in 1937. There are an estimated 165,000 blazes marking trees and posts along the AT. A double blaze is placed before turns, junctions, or other areas that require hikers to be especially alert.

39. A common mistake hikers make is taking more gear than they need. Number one on the list of things you won’t need? Books. They’re heavy, take up room, and you’ll be so tired, you’ll fall asleep before page 2.

40. You can become a citizen scientist with the National Park Service by collecting data on flowering plants and migration patterns as they differ from place to place and year to year — a branch of science known as phenology. Through the AT Seasons program, you can help track 17 plant species, four birds, two frogs, and even a caterpillar. You can even use your smartphone: appalachiantrail.org.

Photo: To save your feet, replace your shoes every 500 miles. That means you’ll need four pairs to hike the entire trail. Photograph by Emily Chaplin.

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site • Est. April 5, 1941

1500 Fort Raleigh Road, Manteo, NC 27954
(252) 473-2111, nps.gov/fora

41. Preservation efforts began at the site in 1896, but locals were calling it Fort Raleigh and marking it on maps long before any archaeological evidence confirmed it was the settlement site of the first English colony.

42. The Waterside Theatre on the property is home to the outdoor drama The Lost Colony, which re-creates interactions between the English and Native Americans in the 1580s. The play was first performed in 1937, when it hosted a kind-of-a-big-deal guest: President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

43. A few hundred years after the first English colony disappeared into thin air, the site was home to another group. In 1863, free African-Americans created the Freedman’s Colony. It operated only for a few years, but it was a tremendous success and home to 3,900 residents from across the South.

fort raleigh historic site44. Spoiler alert for visitors expecting to see a walled village: The site consists of an “earthwork.” It most closely resembles a large ditch, with high earthen walls surrounding it, which likely served as the foundation for a wooden building.

45. The earthwork on the site is now commonly thought by experts to be part of a defensive outpost, which would have guarded the fort itself. Remains of the settlement have never been found.

46. Elizabethan Gardens on the property were created to look like the kind of gardens a wealthy English colonist might have had in the 1500s. Among the many flowers in the garden is a rosebush sent by Queen Elizabeth II, from the royal rose garden at Windsor Castle.

47. It’s estimated that one live oak tree in the gardens was here even in 1585, when the colonists first arrived. Unfortunately, it probably won’t talk to you like the willow in Pocahontas did, but it’s still pretty impressive.

Photo: The 10-acre Elizabethan Gardens are managed by The Garden Club of North Carolina. Photograph by Emily Chaplin and Chris Council.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore • Est. January 12, 1953

(252) 473-2111, nps.gov/caha

48. One theory says that the “Banker” ponies of Ocracoke descended from those left by shipwrecked explorers, who, in the 16th or 17th century, tossed the horses overboard to lighten the ship’s load. In the 1950s, the Ocracoke Boy Scouts took care of the ponies, and had the only mounted troop in the nation. The Ocracoke ponies are now permanently contained and cared for on the island.

49. Landlubbers are sometimes unprepared for swimming in the ocean. Our best advice? Despite a perfect blue-skied day, you could get caught in a rip current — the opposite of a good time on vacation. Heed the weather service’s daily warnings and condition reports.

50. Still a fairly rare sight, many species of seals use North Carolina beaches as a pit stop in their travels during the fall, winter, and spring.

cape hatteras seashore51. Keep an eye out for gators. But what’s higher in number and more likely to bite you? Mosquitoes. Seriously. Bring bug spray.

52. If you’re looking for more reassurance than the old “more likely to be struck by lightning” adage, let us be the first to tell you that you’re far more likely to get a blistering sunburn than to be attacked by a shark.

53. Bird-watchers, unite! More than 360 bird species call the seashore home. It’s a part of the Atlantic Flyway, a globally important bird area that stretches from the Caribbean to Canada.

54. Don’t mind the large, bearded guy. The infamous pirate Blackbeard, a k a Edward Teach, finally met his end in an area of Ocracoke Inlet now called Teach’s Hole. Some claim to have seen a strange light glowing just beneath the water in the cove at night.

55. No, you can’t go dune sledding. Federal law protects sea oats, one of the primary dune- building grasses. They can’t be broken, pulled up, dug up, or damaged.

56. Sometimes the beaches glow and sparkle at night. When you kick the sand, you disturb tiny bioluminescent plankton. This creates a chemical reaction that causes the sand to glow with a blue-green light.

57. Starting Friday, April 15, through Columbus Day, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the Bodie Island Lighthouse are open for self-guided climbs. Pro tip: Cape Hatteras’s lighthouse is 257 steps from ground to balcony — equivalent to a 12-story building — and Bodie Island’s is 200. Don’t wear high heels.

Photo: Cape Hatteras stretches over 70 miles, from Bodie Island to Ocracoke Island. Photograph by Emily Chaplin and Chris Council.

Cape Lookout National Seashore • Est. March 10, 1966

Harkers Island Visitor Center
1800 Island Road Harkers Island, NC 28531

Beaufort Visitor Center
701 Front Street Beaufort, NC 28516

(252) 728-2250, nps.gov/calo

58. Every seven to 10 years, the Cape Lookout Lighthouse has to be repainted because it gets “sandblasted” during heavy winds and storms, which strips the paint. That’s one way to exfoliate.

59. The National Park Service most frequently receives “rescue” calls from visitors who have walked down the beach without realizing how far they’ve gone and are then too tired to make the return trip. Folks often try to walk around the cape, not realizing how big the area is. Unless you’re Scott Jurek (see Appalachian Trail), we don’t recommend attempting this.

cape lookout seashore60. The maritime forest on South Core Banks isn’t a natural occurrence like the ones on Harkers Island. Boy Scouts planted the trees in the 1950s and ’60s.

61. More than 100 wild horses live on Shackleford Banks. They used to be rounded up once a year to help control the population on the island, but since the late 1990s, that practice has stopped, thanks to pony birth control, administered by park rangers.

62. Line your pockets with the right kind of dollars — sand dollars. Brown and fuzzy means the creature is still alive — hands off — while white and smooth means the shell is yours to take.

63. There may not be lifeguards on these remote islands, but there are rules. Visitors are limited to taking home a maximum of two gallons of shells per day.

Photo: Take a three-mile boat ride to the remote Cape Lookout National Seashore. Photograph by Jared Lloyd.

Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site • Est. October 17, 1968

1800 Little River Road, Flat Rock, NC 28731
(828) 693-4178, nps.gov/carl

64. You think your hobby is cool? Sandburg’s wife, Lillian “Paula” Sandburg, raised champion dairy goats. Today, descendants of three of her prize-winning breeds are still raised on-site by Connemara Farms. The Nubian goats are the most popular with visitors, because of their floppy ears and outsize personalities.

carl sandburg home65. To name the goats, volunteers often turn to a baby-naming book for ideas. They’ve also been known to draw inspiration from pop culture: see goats Tina and Turner.

66. The 40 invasive exotic plant species at the Carl Sandburg Home are there due in part to birds, and, ahem, their healthy digestive systems.

67. The Museum Preservation Center in the park is home to 325,298 of Sandburg’s personal letters, telegrams, maps, photos, and movies, and a staggering 12,000 books. As if you didn’t feel guilty enough about your neglected “To Read” pile.

68. If you know Sandburg’s poem “Zinnia Sonata,” it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the family grew this annual flower. For more evidence, look to the flower beds of zinnias that line the front yard.

69. A landscaping focal point of the Sandburg Home, the boxwood shrubs that line the driveway were planted in 1850. Old age has taken its toll, but they’re still standing thanks to a little extra TLC.

70. There are several rock formations in the park, including the globally rare southern Appalachian low-elevation granite domes. These outcroppings are how the town of Flat Rock got its name.

71. Each year, the site holds a poetry contest for students in kindergarten through the 12th grade. A special reception is scheduled for April 8, when the winners will present their poems.

Photo: “… Eyes half-dreaming in the walls. / Feet half-dancing in a kitchen …” — “Village in Late Summer” by Carl Sandburg. Photograph by Charles Harris.

Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail • Est. 1980

(864) 936-3477, nps.gov/ovvi

72. Three weeks on foot, or, today, five hours by car: The 330-mile trail stretches over four states — North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia — and retraces the journey of American Revolutionary War militiamen to the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina.

73. It rained almost the entire time, from September 24, when the first troops left Abingdon, Virginia, until they reached South Carolina.

74. With about the same number of people who attend today’s Elkin High School, the 350-member Surry County Militia departed Elkin on September 27, 1780. Troops passed through Wilkesboro, Morganton, and Rutherfordton before joining other forces at Kings Mountain.

overmountain victory trail75. But it felt much longer: It took up to 15 seconds to load a flintlock musket, a common weapon in the Revolutionary War.

76. Try climbing it while carrying muskets: The trail’s highest point is Roan Mountain, at 6,285 feet.

77. Grab a fife and a mountain bike: There are 60 miles of public trails along the route, including those near Lake James and Kerr Scott Reservoir.

78. Audie Rogers of Candler donated a 200-year-old South Appalachian hunting horn for use in a 1975 march that commemorated the Patriots’ journey. President Gerald Ford was scheduled to attend the celebration, but because of recent assassination attempts, sent his vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, instead.

Photo: The Wilkes Heritage Museum in Wilkesboro includes exhibits on military history. Photograph by National Park Planner, npplan.com.

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail • Est. December 1987

(505) 988-6098, nps.gov/trte

79. Between 1838 and 1839, nearly 4,000 of 15,000 Cherokees died on the journey to present-day Oklahoma, but some escaped the forced relocation. The Cherokees had treaty rights, and along with escaped fugitives, they formed what is now the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina.

80. The Cherokees’ tribal lands encompass more than 56,000 acres in five North Carolina counties.

trail of tears81. In 1830, gold was found on Cherokee land. Lotteries were held to give land to the Cherokees and gold to white settlers.

82. Fort Butler, located in the town of Murphy, was one of the last internment camps for Cherokees before they were forced to travel to “Indian Territory” in present-day Oklahoma.

83. One of the stops along the historic trail is the Junaluska Memorial and Museum in Robbinsville. The museum is located at the burial site of Cherokee warrior Junaluska, who was forcibly moved from his home to Indian Territory in 1838.

84. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a letter in 1838 to President Martin Van Buren in defense of the Cherokee Indians.

Photo: Cherokee tribal lands lie within an area known as the Qualla Boundary. Photograph by J. Carlee Adams / Alamy.

Blue Ridge National Heritage Area • Est. November 2003

(828) 298-5330, nps.gov/blrn

85. Thomas Edison once sent mineralogist William Hidden to find platinum in the Linville Caverns. Hidden didn’t find any, but he and his guides carved their names into a limestone wall in the caves. Don’t do this.

86. Before computer-generated imagery was in vogue, the train wreck scene from the movie The Fugitive was staged and filmed on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad near Dillsboro. The wreckage can be found there today, Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones not included.

87. You won’t find vampires in Transylvania County, but you might get wet looking for them. Known as “The Land of Waterfalls” — it has at least 250 —it’s also the wettest county in the state, receiving 90 inches of rain annually.

88. Feeling fishy? The Blue Ridge Heritage Area is famous for its trout production.

blue ridge national heritage89. The mountains of North Carolina are home to more species of salamanders than any other place in the world.

90. The rugged and beautiful terrain of Linville Gorge, the “Grand Canyon of North Carolina,” has been known to cost more than a few hikers a ride out of the gorge in a helicopter.

91. The Fraser firs grown on Christmas tree farms in western North Carolina are called the “Cadillacs” of Christmas trees. The firs produced here account for more than 20 percent of all Christmas trees grown in the United States.

92. The Pisgah National Forest, near Brevard, is considered the “Cradle of Forestry.” Dr. Carl Schenck, George Vanderbilt’s chief forester for Biltmore Estate, founded the Biltmore Forest School, the first school of forestry in the nation, in 1898.

93. Two-thirds of North Carolina’s apples are grown in Hendersonville in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Forget your local supermarket in favor of that roadside stand — your pies will thank you.

94. Companion plants — corn, beans, and squash — make up “the three sisters,” the mainstays of the Cherokee Indians’ diet for thousands of years in this area. These agricultural staples are still cultivated today. Pass some this way, please.

Photo: Eastatoe Falls is on private property near Rosman, but the public can visit. Photograph by Tommy White.

Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor • Est. 2006

(843) 818-4587, nps.gov/guge

95. Longer than North Carolina, the 546-mile corridor is one of the newest national heritage sites, running from Pender County through South Carolina, Georgia, and to Duval County, Florida.

96. Gullah/Geechee communities were formed by West African slaves who wanted to create their own traditions in the Low Country of South Carolina. Their folk tales, music, art, and cuisine have become integral to their native — and American — heritage.

97. North and South Carolina are home to the Gullah culture, while Georgia and Florida are home to the Geechee culture. The Gullah and Geechee communities share similar linguistic and cultural traits, which have remained intact through several centuries because of the relative isolation of the region.

98. Language bound the communities together: The Gullah/Geechee people developed a separate Creole language — the only African-American Creole language in the United States. With elements of English and more than 31 African languages, it contains more than 3,800 words.

99. Weight lifters and brothers CJ and Omar Cummings from the Gullah/Geechee Nation set new records and won gold medals at the 2013 Youth Pan American Games.

100. American Idol winner Candice Glover is a Geechee descendant.


This story was published on Apr 18, 2016

Katie Schanze

Katie Schanze is an associate editor and digital content editor at Our State.

Ellis Dyson

Ellis Dyson is a senior Southern Studies major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and an Editorial Intern at Our State.