Morrow Mountain continues to offer many summer activities

Published 2:23 pm Friday, May 27, 2022

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Outdoor vacations are for making memories. Jeffery Davidson agrees. His family spent summer vacations in a Morrow Mountain State Park cabin because it was affordable. But Davidson’s rich memories of the place include memorable “firsts” like his first rattlesnake sighting, his first time paddling a canoe, his first hike on a built trail and the thrill of a diving board.

Those mountain summers stirred in him a fascination with the natural world and eventually led to getting a paycheck for living in the woods. He’s the superintendent of Morrow Mountain State Park, with responsibilities as diverse as the park’s resources.

Nearly a century ago, when generous, public-minded Stanly County people envisioned a state park in the Uwharrie region of the Piedmont, donations from landowners like James M. Morrow and the Aluminum Company of America brought the dream to life. Stanly News & Press articles chronicled interest in the park from its creation in the 1930s. When the road to the top opened in July 1937, three years before the park’s formal dedication, one writer predicted MMSP would become one of the most popular spots in the state.

By the ‘50s, out-of-state visitors claimed even Colorado had no beauty to compare with “the intimate beauty seen everywhere — beauty one can reach out and touch.” Earlier this spring, a group of friends paused for pictures at the scenic overlook 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 from Charlotte to join Chayla Handley and Zoë Davis as part of their goal to hike all of North Carolina’s state parks. A nine-mile trek, including a steep, feel-good segment of Morrow Mountain Trail, made believers of the foursome.

We’ll definitely be back,” said Handley.

Tobi and Brandon Shoffner, Chaya Handley and Zoe Davis enjoy the scenic view atop Morrow Mountain. (Photo by Jo Grey)

While some North Carolinians are surprised by this “hidden gem,” Matthew and Jordan Esposito have cozied up to the park at every milestone of their relationship and “with hikes and picnics in between.”

Their first date — a hike on the Sugarloaf Trail. Their 2015 wedding was in the Lodge, then a return to Sugarloaf for maternity pictures and back to the Lodge for a baby shower. Even their son’s first-birthday celebration happened at the mountaintop picnic shelter.

Matthew and Jordan Esposito tie the knot in in the park in May 2015. (Photo by Grain and Compass)

Morrow Mountain State Park is near and dear to our family’s heart,” said Jordan. “Truly, it is such a rare and special place.”

For beginners, or hikers new to the park, the number one tip from Cecil and Debie Talbot is, Get a map!”

The Talbots left Florida lowlands and beaches to move near family, and they report feeling the call of the mountain at least once a week. They’re proponents of hiking boots, trekking poles and fabric that wicks sweat away from the body.

Always re-hydrate and check for snakes before stepping across logs,” they said.

The Talbots appreciate the variety of terrain, the seasonal changes, the beauty of blooming mountain laurel, and meeting other park visitors.

After a recent trek on Hattaway Mountain Trail, Debie Talbot said, “The trail was almost pristine!”

That’s good news since 14 miles of trails are scheduled for reroutes and repairs over the next 12 months.

We’ll utilize sustainable trail design to eliminate erosion and to make trail travel safer by reducing hazards and installing some switchbacks,” said Davidson.

Construction will affect only one trail at a time and notice will be given on the MMSP website. The park’s 18 miles of equestrian trails are also a work in progress.

We want to provide a high-quality riding experience,” he said. “We have long-range plans for bringing some of the equestrian trails closer to the lake for visual enjoyment.”

Closures beginning June 13 include all three campground loops and family cabins. The 1940’s-era pool will undergo extensive repairs and renovations, as will the cabins. Davidson values the architectural character and history of the park features.

We call it ‘parkitecture.’ It’s our goal to build modern but reflect history,” he said.

Another concern of Davidson’s is to make the park more accessible to citizens with mobility issues. Two new camper cabins will have some ADA features and shower houses will accommodate wheelchairs, he said. The new pier on Lake Tillery includes a ramp, and if funds hold out, current construction plans call for an ADA-approved accessible ramp at Morrow Mountain’s summit.

Even with major construction projects set to begin, visitors can launch a boat or fish from the pier or the riverbanks. The Boathouse will remain open for kayak, canoe or paddle board rental every day from May 30 to Sept. 5.

Paddle toward the Falls Dam to see beautiful rock formations, great blue herons, kingfishers and painted turtles sitting on logs — even the occasional bald eagle,” says kayaker and fisherman Joe Mueller.

Seasonal employee Matthew Harris echoes Mueller’s experience.

I’ve seen eight to 10 ospreys in one day, but you’ve got to come often enough to see the cool stuff,” said Harris.

A day trip to MMSP affords choices besides trails and water. The Museum next to the park office illustrates the ancient history of the land and tells stories of some of the inhabitants of these mountains and forests from 10,000 B.C. to the present. The 19th-century homesite of early Piedmont doctor Francis J. Kron is often open for Sunday tours.

People visit the Kron House at Morrow Mountain State Park. (Photo by Jo Grey)

Davidson says the park opened during most of 2020-21, despite COVID-19, for people who craved outdoor exercise and spiritual rejuvenation.

Stanly County folks like Josh and Whitney Brosius “escaped” to the Quarry trail with their young sons often. In December, the couple wanted a place to reconnect with Josh’s parents after his dad narrowly survived Covid.

Noah Brosius, Chad Brosius, Lynette Brosius, Whitney Brosius, Josh Brosius and Isaac Brosius gathered for a family reunion at Morrow Mountain State Park. (Contributed)

My parents spent Christmas in a cabin at the mountain to be near us. It was a joyful reunion and a lot of fun for our boys. We hiked in unseasonably warm weather, relaxed in the rocking chairs and even had a bonfire for roasting s’mores,” said Brosius. “We won’t forget what a gift that was.”

A gift indeed. MMSP staff faithfully fulfill their responsibilities for conservation, recreation and education so that more than 500,000 visitors a year can hike, fish, paddle, ride, camp or just sit a spell.

All our staff have a passion for what they do. They take care of the park because they care about the park,” said Davidson.

Park Activities For Kids

1. Become a Junior Ranger. Pick up an activity booklet in the park office. Explore. Learn. Help Out.

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. Hike 0.6 mi. Quarry Trail. A TRACK Trails brochure is available at the trail head.

5. Visit the Kron House to learn about life in the 19th century for an immigrant medical doctor and his family.

6. Fish from the pier near the Boathouse. Bring your own fishing rod or register online for the Tackle-Loaner Program. No fishing license required for kids under 16.

7. Take a ride in a 2- or 3-person canoe with a parent or guardian.

8. Enjoy a picnic atop the mountain, near the river or the pool. Tables and grills are provided near picnic shelters.

9. Bring a horse to ride on 18 miles of bridle trails.

10. Come to the Lodge for Summer in the Park on June 4 from 10 a.m.-noon for crafts and games led by a ranger.

Check frequently for new listings of events and activities.

Stanly County libraries will host Read-with-a-Ranger activities all summer.

Jo Grey is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News & Press.