Crystal Cockman Column: Touring N.C.’s scenic byways
North Carolina is fortunate to have some exceptional rural landscapes visible from many of our back roads.
To recognize the scenic beauty of our region that can be seen from these roadways, the N.C. Department of Transportation website states that they have “designated 60 scenic byways to give visitors and residents a chance to experience a bit of North Carolina history, geography and breathtaking scenery while raising awareness for the protection and preservation of these treasures.”
Of these 60 byways, 19 of them are found in the Piedmont. Of those 19, eight of those are found in and around Stanly County.
“Uwharrie Scenic Road” is located on N.C. Highway 49 between Asheboro and Charlotte. This byway is found in Randolph, Davidson, Rowan and Stanly Counties. You can expect to see rolling farmland and the Uwharrie Mountains on this scenic byway. You’ll also go over Tuckertown Lake.
When I travel to work in Salisbury, I frequently choose this route over the interstate because of its beauty and charm.
The “Rolling Kansas Byway” is found entirely in Stanly County. The hilly terrain and turn of the century farms and windmills give this route its moniker.
One of the oldest graveyards in Stanly County is found along this byway, the Bethel Bear Creek United Church of Christ graveyard. Some graves date back to the 1820s. This is a short byway, only nine miles in length.
“Pee Dee Valley Drive” begins in Badin and ends in Norwood. It is also entirely contained within Stanly County. This route will take you by Morrow Mountain State Park. A short portion of this byway is also part of the “Sandhills Scenic Byway,” the portion on N.C. Highway 24-27. Three Rivers Land Trust has conserved two properties with viewsheds that can be seen from Valley Drive.
“Grassy Island Crossing” goes from the community of Cedar Hill in Anson County to just east of Ellerbe in Richmond County. This route takes you on Pinkston River Road, and by some additional private lands conserved by Three Rivers Land Trust that adjoin the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge, which is also accessed along the byway.
This is one of the longer byways in our region encompassing 26 miles. This is an interesting route because you can see the shift between the higher elevation Uwharrie Mountain terrain and the lowland Piedmont that transitions into the Sandhills.
The Pee Dee River and Blewett Falls Lake are both accessible off this byway, with a put-in located on N.C. Highway 109, known as the Red Hill Access owned and operated by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and the Grassy Island Boat Ramp, also owned and operated by NCWRC, which is actually located near the mouth of Mountain Creek.
This is one of my favorite paddles — going upstream as far as you can go, and then downstream to the Grassy Islands. If you paddle this section, you’ll likely get to see cliff swallows, wild rice and pickerel weed. I’ve even seen feral hogs cross the creek on this section.
“Sandhills Scenic Drive” starts just east of Albemarle and goes all the way to Carthage along Highway 24-27. You’ll go through Biscoe and Troy on this route, and pass close by pottery country.
West of Troy on this byway you’ll find the trailhead for the Uwharrie Trail, which thanks to recent conservation efforts spearheaded by Three Rivers Land Trust and the Uwharrie Trailblazers trail club, has been expanded from 20 miles to 40 miles, making it one of the longest trails in the Piedmont.
The “Birkhead Wilderness Route” is located all along High Pine Church Road in Randolph County. A portion of the land along this route is owned by the United States Forest Service.
Three Rivers Land Trust recently transferred a tract on this road to NCWRC opening up a new trailhead and the only eastern access to the Birkhead Wilderness, and also recently protected a 72-acre farm on this road with frontage on the Uwharrie River.
“Flint Hill Ramble” is along Flint Hill Road in Montgomery County. The Jumping Off Rock, a scenic overlook over Barnes Creek, is accessible on this route, as well as the Jumping Off Rock Trailhead for the Uwharrie Trail — where the 20-mile trail used to terminate. Now the trail continues north into Randolph County.
Just this year, Three Rivers Land Trust transferred a 17-acre tract on this stretch of road to the Uwharrie National Forest. This route is the shortest one in our region at only five miles in length.
The last nearby scenic byway in our area is the “Indian Heritage Trail.” It goes from just east of Mount Gilead to just west of Ellerbe. Town Creek Indian Mound is found along this route.
This mound was an important ceremonial center for the Creek Indians in the Pee Dee culture approximately 400 years ago. You’ll go by even more conserved land on this stretch, as a private conservation property known locally as “Burnt Pines” is found here.
We are fortunate indeed to have beautiful viewsheds to observe as we travel in our region.
It makes sense to focus conservation efforts on these areas to protect the rural character of this area for future generations.
Crystal Cockman is land protection director for Three Rivers Land Trust, of which Stanly is part.