Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gates County, North Carolina: Merchants Millpond State Park

The purpose of my trip on July 1, 2008, was to make it to Merchants Millpond State Park in Gates County, North Carolina, and everything else I saw along the way (or on the way back) would be icing on the cake. As you can see from my posts about Hertford, Northampton, and Nash Counties, I covered some interesting ground in the northeastern corner of the state, and thoroughly enjoyed the day.

I was delighted to finally find Merchants Millpond State Park, after years of wanting to see it in person. I remember first seeing a picture of the pond on the pamphlet of a Greensboro bank (since gobbled up by First Union, which then got gobbled up by Wachovia). It offered a Visa credit card with one of several pictures of North Carolina scenes, and Merchants Millpond was the only scene I remember.

I pulled into the parking lot of the park later than I'd expected, since I'd done some exploring in Nash and Northampton counties along the way. (The pictures from Murfreesboro were taken on the way home.) I saw signs pointing toward canoeing, and wondered if I need to rent a canoe to actually see the pond. When I parked the car, I didn't see a pond, so I was beginning to wonder if I was going to miss it totally. (At this point in the afternoon, renting and paddling a canoe seemed like a lot--and something I didn't plan ahead for.)

I decided to follow the first path I saw, just so I could say I'd hiked on a trail at Merchants Millpond State Park. I was a little deflated at first, thinking that I could've hiked on a trail closer to home! (I was surprised at myself for feeling this way temporarily, as the day had already been an interesting adventure!)

Needless to say, I was thrilled when the Lassiter Trail took a turn and I could see water through the trees! It was quite stunning to see so many different views of the pond (which turned to be the swamp--keep reading), with different vegetation (sometimes growing IN the water).

It didn't seem as "buggy" as I expected, considering all the water. The path was well marked, so I was able to saunter along and take LOTS of pictures.

I felt like this big tree X was my version of finding The Big W in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World!," since I was so excited to finally be in the park. Oddly enough, this shot also reminded me of the arranging of stuff (sticks and/or stones, I seem to remember) in the woods of "The Blair Witch Project." I've decided I like "The Big X" reference better, since this was such a fun experience.

After looking at the map of the park AFTER I got home (I know, I know!), the pictures posted so far are actually part of Lassiter Swamp, which connects to Merchants Millpond. The various shades of green were breathtaking.

Eventually I turned around and hiked back to the parking lot. There were nice restroom facilities there, as well as a big map of the park. (I didn't have my glasses on, so I didn't take the time to study it. Note to self: maps are good!)

Next to the map was this sign about ticks, which apparently are bad in the park. It suggested wearing long pants and socks over the leg bottoms, in addition to insect repellent. I was wearing shorts and Tiva sandals--lovely! I was phantom itching for the rest of the afternoon, but didn't find any county-border-crossing ticks when I got home.

On my way out of the park, I decide to follow some more signs and drive around the park a bit, and was able to take numerous pictures of the actual millpond! It was exciting to find this area for many photo opps! Too bad I didn't spot any alligators--talk about a cool shot! (As it happens, Merchant's Millpond is the northernmost point of the American Alligator's habitat--who knew!)

I'd highly recommend visiting Merchant's Millpond State Park, and wish George had been with me to see it too. If I'm able to return, I think I'll make time for the canoeing offered there, which sounds like a fun way to explore this state park.

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