Outdoor vacations are made for making memories. Jeffery Davidson agrees. His family spent the summer vacation at a cabin in Morrow Mountain State Park because it was affordable. But Davidson’s rich memories of the place include memorable “firsts” like his first sighting of a rattlesnake, his first time in a canoe, his first hike on a groomed trail and the thrill of a diving board.
Those mountain summers sparked in him a fascination with the natural world and eventually led him get a salary for living in the woods. He is the Superintendent of Morrow Mountain State Park, with responsibilities as diverse as the park’s resources.
Nearly a century ago, when generous, public-minded people in Stanly County envisioned a state park in the Uwharrie region of Piedmont, donations from landowners like James M. Morrow and the Aluminum Company of America have brought this dream to life. Stanly News & Press articles have chronicled interest in the park since its inception in the 1930s. When the road to the summit opened in July 1937, three years before the park was officially opened, a writer predicted that MMSP would become one of the most popular places in the state.
In the 1950s, out-of-state visitors claimed that even Colorado had no beauty to compare with “the intimate beauty seen everywhere – beauty that can be reached and touched. Earlier this spring, a group of friends stopped to take photos at the lookout atop Morrow Mountain.
“The views are beautiful – better than what we’ve seen in western Carolina,” said Brandon Shoffner.
Shoffner and his wife, Tobi, drove an hour east of Charlotte to join Chayla Handley and Zoë Davis as part of their goal of hitting every state park in North Carolina. A nine-mile hike, including a steep and enjoyable segment of Morrow Mountain Trail, had foursome devotees.
“We will definitely be back,” Handley said.
While some North Carolina residents are taken aback by this “hidden gem,” Matthew and Jordan Esposito have settled into the park through every stage of their relationship and “with hikes and picnics in between.”
Their first date—a hike on the Sugarloaf Trail. Their 2015 wedding took place at the Lodge, then a return to Sugarloaf for maternity photos and a return to the Lodge for a baby shower. Even their son’s first birthday celebration took place at the mountaintop picnic shelter.
“Morrow Mountain State Park is near and dear to the hearts of our family,” said Jordan. “Really, it’s such a rare and special place.”
For beginners or hikers new to the park, Cecil and Debie Talbot’s number one tip is, “Get a map!”
The Talbots left the plains and beaches of Florida to be closer to family, and they say they felt the call of the mountain at least once a week. They are proponents of hiking boots, trekking poles, and fabrics that wick sweat away from the body.
“Always rehydrate and check for snakes before walking on logs,” they said.
The Talbots enjoy the variety of terrain, the seasonal changes, the beauty of the mountain laurels in bloom, and meeting other park visitors.
After a recent hike on the Hattaway Mountain Trail, Debie Talbot said, “The trail was pretty much pristine!”
That’s good news as 14 miles of trails are slated for rerouting and repairs over the next 12 months.
“We will use sustainable trail design to eliminate erosion and make trail travel safer by reducing hazards and installing switchbacks,” Davidson said.
Construction will only affect one trail at a time and notice will be given on the MMSP website. The park’s 18 miles of equestrian trails are also in the works.
“We want to deliver a high quality driving experience,” he said. “We have long term plans to bring some of the horse trails closer to the lake for viewing pleasure.”
Closures beginning June 13 include all three camping loops and family cabins. The 1940s pool will undergo extensive repairs and renovations, as will the cabins. Davidson appreciates the architectural character and history of park features.
“We call it “parkitecture”. Our aim is to build modern but reflect history,” he said.
Another concern of Davidson is to make the park more accessible to citizens with reduced mobility. Two new RV cabins will have ADA features and shower stalls will accommodate wheelchairs, he said. The new pier on Lake Tillery includes a ramp, and if funds hold, current construction plans call for an ADA-approved accessible ramp to the top of Morrow Mountain.
Even with major construction projects about to begin, visitors can launch a boat or fish from the pier or the banks. The Boathouse will remain open for kayak, canoe or paddle board rentals daily from May 30 to September 5.
“Paddle to the dam of the falls to see beautiful rock formations, great blue herons, kingfishers and painted turtles sitting on logs – even the occasional bald eagle,” says the kayaker and fisherman Joe Mueller.
Seasonal employee Matthew Harris echoes Mueller’s experience.
“I saw eight to 10 ospreys in one day, but you have to come quite often to see the cool stuff,” Harris said.
A day trip to MMSP offers choices besides trails and water. The museum next to the park office illustrates the ancient history of the land and tells the stories of some of the inhabitants of these mountains and forests from 10,000 BC to the present day. The 19th-century home of Piedmont’s first physician Francis J. Kron is often open for Sunday tours.
Davidson says the park opened for most of 2020-21, despite COVID-19, for people who craved outdoor exercise and spiritual rejuvenation.
Stanly County folks like Josh and Whitney Brosius often “escaped” to the Quarry Trail with their young sons. In December, the couple wanted a place to reconnect with Josh’s parents after his father narrowly survived Covid.
“My parents spent Christmas in a cabin in the mountains to be near us. It was a joyful reunion and lots of fun for our boys. We hiked in unusually warm weather for the season, relaxed in the rocking chairs, and even made a bonfire to roast s’mores,” Brosius said. “We won’t forget what a gift it was.”
A gift indeed. MMSP staff faithfully carry out their conservation, recreation and educational responsibilities so that more than 500,000 visitors a year can hike, fish, paddle, bike, camp or simply relax. sit down for a while.
“All of our employees are passionate about what they do. They take care of the park because they care about the park,” Davidson said.
Park activities for children
1. Become a Junior Ranger. Pick up an activity booklet at the park office. Explore. Learn. Assistance.
2. Visit the museum and learn who lived here 10,000 years ago, as well as how to identify rocks, plants and animals in the park.
3. Walk 1 km. Quarry trail. A TRACK Trails brochure is available at the trailhead.
5. Visit the Kron House to learn about the 19th century life of an immigrant doctor and his family.
7. Take a canoe trip for 2 or 3 people with a parent or guardian.
8. Enjoy a picnic on top of the mountain, by the river or by the pool. Tables and barbecues are placed near the picnic shelters.
9. Bring a horse to ride 18 miles of bridleways.
10. Come to the Lodge for Summer in the Park on June 4 from 10 a.m. to noon for crafts and games led by a ranger.
Check firstname.lastname@example.org frequently for new listings of events and activities.
Stanly County Libraries will be hosting Read-with-a-Ranger activities all summer long.
Jo Gray is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News & Press.