CRYSTAL COCKMAN COLUMN: A lesser-known area of Morrow Mountain State Park

Published 1:40 pm Friday, January 22, 2021

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Earlier in January, Three Rivers Land Trust led a hike at Morrow Mountain State Park.

Crystal Cockman writes a column for The SNAP through the Three Rivers Land Trust.

The weather was not great, it was misty and raining part of the time we were there, but we still had about 15 folks show up for this adventure.

We met at the Bridle Trail Parking lot and visited a part of the park that most people never visit.

We hiked a short trail from the Bridle Trail parking lot to the entrance of the park, and then once across the main roads we ventured off trail, and made our way up Biles Mountain.

Hiking off trail is a good strategy when the weather is bad, as you don’t add to the foot traffic on conventional trails and contribute to the muddy mess often found on these well-used footpaths. Also the tree canopy above you often lessens the raindrops falling on you.

Be sure when you hike off trail that you are familiar with the area and the terrain and are prepared to navigate your way to and from your destination.

As there are no established trails on this section of the park, few people ever visit this area.

Biles Mountain is a Piedmont Monadnock. Over geological time, erosional processes shaped the Uwharrie Mountains and the remaining erosion-resistant rocks are now known as “monadnocks.”

These monadnock habitats have large exposed rocks, and are found on higher elevations and often dominated by Chestnut Oak. These are a characteristic formation found on volcanic mountains, and geologists believe the Uwharrie Mountains were once a chain of volcanic islands.

Before reaching the ridgeline, we stopped off at another neat natural feature — an upland pool.

These are also called ephemeral pools or vernal pools, as they are only found in winter and spring, when the weather is wet enough for them to hold water. They are important for amphibians in this way, that they don’t hold water year-round and therefore have no fish in them so the eggs and larvae of the amphibians are free from a major predator in their early life stages. Then once they grow into adults and their gills disappear and they develop lungs, the pools dry up and they don’t need them anymore.

There are not many of these ephemeral pools found on mountaintops in the Uwharries. I’m only aware of a handful of places with them, so it’s a truly unique ecosystem.

We left the upland pool and ventured on up the mountain. At the top were even larger rock outcrops and views of the surrounding area, available to us only this time of year as a result of the leaves being off the trees.

We stopped for a while and allowed the group to explore. This is
something we might not be as apt to do in summer months, as these rock formations are also likely habitat for timber rattlesnakes, who use them for maternity den sites in late summer

After a few minutes exploring, we made our way back down the mountain. Altogether our hike was about 3 miles in length round trip.

Next time you visit Morrow Mountain State Park, consider visiting a part of the park off the beaten path. Be sure to take along a good map and a compass, or you can also download an app on your phone like Avenza which can be used to help you navigate so you don’t lose your way.

There are lots of hidden treasures to find when you venture out in new directions.

Crystal Cockman is director of conservation at Three Rivers Land Trust. Stanly County is in its coverage area.