Merchant’s Millpond State Park: Lassiter Trail

May 6, 2009 at 11:21 pm 5 comments

In my recent letters, I confess to the likes of my grandmother or my cousin serving in Iraq, that I find the swamplands in eastern North Carolina to be surprisingly scenic. When I moved in November, I left the Appalachian Mountains. The most diverse mountain range in North America. And yet, I still find myself dumbfounded by all of the variety here. My outings may be flat and my legs may be far from weary afterwards, but with every outing I see more, I learn more and I fall deeper in love with the area.

Overview of Lassiter Trail
If you are looking to have your own love affair with a swamp, I suggest Merchant’s Millpond State Park. The Lassiter Trail is a great place to start. It’s a 6.7 mile loop. It takes you by the the namesake of the park, the millpond. Manmade in the 1700’s, the pond is now a thriving wildlife habitat. Traveling clockwise, the trail will take you through a hardwood forest past American Beech and American Holly trees. Next you’ll pass though a Longleaf Pine Forest and learn about fire and restoration. Before returning you back to the Millpond, the trail next runs by Lassiter Swamp and its mutated bald cypress trees, draped in lacy Spanish Moss.

Merchant's Millpond State Park - Baldcypress Trees and Knees in Algae (Close)
Merchant Millpond
Merchant's Millpond State Park - Colors Off Lassister Trail
Hardwood Forest
Merchant's Millpond State Park - Lassiter Swamp - Mutilations
Lassiter Swamp
Merchant's Millpond State Park - Longleaf Pine Needles in Sun
Long-Leaf Pine Forest

Fauna
During our hike, we ran across a pair of Black Vultures. They were a little pissy at first, but eventually dropped their intimidating postures and settled for staring…intimidatingly. And even though we were hiking in early March, we got to see a frog (or toad)!


Black Vulture
(Photo by Ryan Somma)

Frog/Toad
(Photo by Ryan Somma)

Flora – Plantae
Baldcypress, Pines and American Beeches were popular along the trail. At one point, I saw those three species sharing the same spot, trumping Seinfeld’s Black and White Cookie by one.

Merchant's Millpond State Park - Three Species, One Location
Three Different Species, One Spot

A section of the trail was dedicated to a Long-Leaf Pine reforestation project. Pines of various ages and sizes lined the trail and their subtle scent carried by the spring breeze was especially pleasant.

Merchant's Millpond State Park - Longleaf Pine Branches
Wonderfully Textured, Long-leaf Pine Bark
Merchant's Millpond State Park - Longleaf Pine Flower
Long-leaf Pine Flower

American Holly and Mistletoe were both prevalent and scenic.

Merchant's Millpond State Park - Holly with Berries
Holly with Berries
Merchant's Millpond State Park - Mistletoe Emerging Out of Tree Bark
Mistletoe at Work

Finally, the Spanish Moss in Lassiter Swamp was just lovely. We passed through as the sun set. If you looked at the swamp just right, the backlighting transformed it into a Winter Wonderland. Swamp Style, that is. When lit, the dangling Spanish Moss resembled the icicles after a harsh winter storm.

Merchant's Millpond State Park - Winter Wonderland, Swamp Style
Backlit Spanish Moss at Lassiter Swamp

Flora – Fungi
There were so many different types of fungus over the 6.7 miles, I had to give it a dedicated section. One black and grainy fungus was particular deceiving. At first glance, it appeared to be debris from a fire.

Merchant's Millpond State Park - Fungus Peeling Off Bark Merchant's Millpond State Park - Mushrooms Scale Up Tree Root
Merchant's Millpond State Park - Mushrooms From Below Merchant's Millpond State Park - Black Fungus

Sampling of Lassiter Trail Fungus

Oddities
Thin barked trees are more susceptible at inosculation– when branches, sometimes from two different trees, merge together. That tendency is why Axel Erlandson used sycamores in his Tree Circus. The American Beech common to the Lassiter Trail also has a thin bark. It’s not a full circus, but the harsh swamp environment did produce its very own Freak Show.

Merchant's Millpond State Park - Salvadore Dali Beech Merchant's Millpond State Park - Jimmie and Beech Tree Cannibal
Merchant's Millpond State Park - Mossy Crevice Merchant's Millpond State Park - Waterslide Tree from Back
Merchant's Millpond State Park - Beech Tree Merges Into Itself Merchant's Millpond State Park - Intertwined Tree - Eating Beech Branch

The American Beech Freak Show

From baldcypress trees to hardwoods to long-leaf pines to delicate fungi, the Lassiter Trail has a lot to offer. Amazingly enough, this is just one trail, one small piece of the Merchant’s Millpond State Park. There is much more to explore in the park, particularly if you travel by canoe.

More pictures of the Lassiter Trail can be found on my Flickr site.

Merchant’s Millpond State Park – Lassiter Trail

Trail Map

Length: 6.7 mile loop

Elevation Gain: Negligible

Directions from Elizabeth City, NC

Take US-17 North

Turn left on US-158 (there will be a brown sign for Merchant’s Millpond State Park)

Travel roughly 25 miles, passing an entrance to the park

Turn left on Honey Pot Road

Turn left into the next park entrance

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Entry filed under: Elizabeth City, Hiking, Merchant's Millpond State Park. Tags: .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kristina Rosenbaum  |  May 9, 2009 at 3:02 am

    I’ve been really enjoying reading about your hikes! I’ve been on a few hikes here in Nevada, but since so many in the Vegas valley are on bare rock, I’ve had to choose mostly the easy ones through canyons since I am neither equipped nor trained well enough to brave them. I just wanted to mention while I’m thinking about it that I think you would love hiking in Florida now that you’re getting over your flatland prejudices (:D) and I’d like to invite you and Ryan down to Sarasota sometime in 2011 (that’s when we’ll be moved back and settled in) to enjoy the natural gorgeousness that is backwoods Florida (the Stars and Bars flying prominently notwithstanding). This blog post made me really miss the otter-spotting hikes my husband and I would often take and the mind-blowing variety of birds and insects. I miss my wood storks and spiny orb weaver spiders especially.

    Reply
  • 2. geekhiker  |  May 10, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Nice post and beautiful pictures. :)

    Hmmm… what makes the Appalachians the “most diverse” in North America? Do I need to defend the diversity of my beloved Sierras?!?

    Reply
  • 3. tgaw  |  May 13, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    @Kristina – Glad you are enjoying those posts. I would love to hike with you no matter the locale!

    @geekhiker – I got my statement from PBS. You can certainly defend the Sierras… or perhaps we should do something like a dance off, but on iNaturalist.org. I’m not sure what that would be called– “iNaturalist Off” doesn’t quite have the snappy ring I would hope for. :)

    Reply
  • 4. Robert Lee  |  May 20, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Very nice write-up – I enjoyed it!

    Reply
  • 5. 35th Birthday Hike – Lassiter Trail « TGAW  |  April 1, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    [...] Additional Blog Post on Lassiter Trail [...]

    Reply

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