Posts filed under ‘Merchant’s Millpond State Park’

Tree on Tree Fail – R.I.P. Baby Pine

Trees choosing to grow on other trees don’t always have happy endings! Last year, Ryan and I ran into a baby pine growing on a dead tree hiking on Merchant Millpond’s Lassiter Trail:

Merchant's Millpond State Park - Baby Pine Grows Out of Hole
Baby Pine Growing – March 2009

We revisited it during my 35th Birthday Hike, roughly a year later. Alas, the baby pine had perished.

35th Birthday Hike - Vicky Laments Baby Pine  (by Ryan Somma)
Vicky Laments Baby Pine – March 2010

Farewell, Baby Pine. It was a good try! 🙂

May 14, 2010 at 5:00 am 3 comments

Adventure Day with the Neighborhood Kids – Canoeing!

With Khalif’s 16th Birthday approaching, it was time for another adventure day! Ryan and I have discussed for some time taking the kids canoeing. We now had an occasion, an excited audience, the funding AND the perfect spot. You can’t ask for a more inspiring locale than the amazing Merchant’s Millpond State Park. With canoe rentals only $8 for two hours, it turned out to be a cheaper outing than the skating rink— with so very much more to see!

As we unloaded eight kids and snacks out of the cars at the park, I couldn’t help but smile and tell Birthday Boy Khalif, “We’re going to have an adventure today!”

To which Khalif had the most flattering reply, “Oh I know it. When we’re with you, it’s always an adventure!”

Disposable Cameras
You can’t have an adventure of this caliber without pictures! So Ryan and I invested in four disposable cameras, one camera for each boat. With two exceptions, the pictures in this post were taken by the kids! The cameras may have been as fun as the canoeing. Portraits were popular:

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Vicky and Tyrek's Boat - Tyrek Self Portrait (with Jacal)
Tyrek Self Portrait (Photo by Tyrek)

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Khalif, Terrance and Dada's Boat - Khalif on Dock, Vicky Goes Back
Khalif at the End of the Day (Photo by ????)

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Khalif, Terrance and Dada's Boat - Khalif's Eyes and Trees
Omnimous Khalif (Photo by Khalif?)

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Vicky and Tyrek's Boat - Tyrek

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Khalif, Terrance and Dada's Boat - Terrance Self Portait 2
Terrance Self Portrait (Photo by Terrance)

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Khalif, Terrance and Dada's Boat - Dada Smiling and Rowing
Dada Paddles (Photo by Terrance?)

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Vicky and Tyrek's Boat - DJ, Davonte, Armani
DJ, Davonte (Taking a Picture of His Own), Armani

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Vicky and Tyrek's Boat - Vicky with the All Important Sunscreen
SUNSCREEN! (Photo by Tyrek)

Trail Overview
Merchant’s Millpond has three water trails on the pond (Park Trail Map). They are marked by floating colored buoys. We took the white trail to the yellow trail to the orange trail and then circled back off the trail. We were out about 2-3 hours.

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Ryan and Jacal's Boat - Buoy
Buoy (Photo by Jacal)

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Ryan and Jacal's Boat - Vicky, Tyrek, Ryan in Action
Canoes in Action (Photo by Jacal)

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Ryan and Jacal's Boat - Ryan Scouts
My Handsome Husband Scouting the Sights! (Photo by Jacal)

We didn’t get to see the alligator (which may have been VERY, VERY, VERY good), but the kids got to see plenty despite a lot of loud talking. We saw painted turtles, snapping turtles, a black vulture and a family of geese. “That’s the daddy protecting them,” one kid pointed out as a single goose circled the nest and stared at us ominously. The disposable cameras weren’t equipped with zoom lenses, so you’ll have to have attention to detail:

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Khalif, Terrance and Dada's Boat - Goose
Canadian Goose (Photo by Khalif, Terrance or Dada)

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Vicky and Tyrek's Boat - Turtles Sunning
Two Sunning Turtles (Photo by Tyrek)

For this day’s adventure we were armed with the following snacks:

  • Seedless Grapes (I’ve discovered during previous adventures– they have to be seedless)
  • Spicy Hot Doritos
  • Hot Fries
  • Bag of Pistachio Nuts
  • 12 Plastic Bottles of Sprite

This seemed to work quite well for the eight young rowers and we all got quite adept at pulling next to each other to swap off supplies.

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Khalif, Terrance and Dada's Boat - The Passing of the Spicy Doritos
Jacal and Tyrek Pass Off the Spicy Hot Doritos (Photo by Khalif, Terrance or Dada)

The kids got to see plenty of resilient and creative plants– Bald cypress trees, lilypads and spanish moss were the most common cameos.

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Ryan and Jacal's Boat - Scenery by Jacal
Bald Cypress Trees and Lilypads (Photo by Jacal)

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Khalif, Terrance and Dada's Boat - Lily Pads and Trees
Lily Pads (Photo by Khalif, Terrance or Dada)

Canoeing Merchant's Millpond - Ryan and Jacal's Boat - Spanish Moss
Spanish Moss (Photo by Jacal)

A Mishap
We did have an mishap near the very end of our trip. A frantic maneuver inspired by an oncoming thorny bush flipped one boat completely over. Ryan got all three drenched rowers back into boats. We had some scared individuals, we had some wet individuals shivering in the wind, but everyone got back to land safely and at the end of the day, the kids were all smiles with a new experience (canoeing!) under their belt.

On Mishaps and Adventure
When I was a young girl and played tournament bridge with my father, there would be occasions where I would be down about a mistake I made.

“If we always played perfect,” my father told me, “it would be boring!”

As much as I love Khalif’s compliment early in the day, I think I have to admit that the key component for an adventure day may not actually be me. : ) It’s more likely the unexpected, the unknown. It’s the not knowing what a new experience will be like, it’s the not knowing what animals you’ll encounter or what sights you will see. And although far from ideal, another source of unexpectancies are the little mishaps along the way.

Certainly, you want to do everything in your power to avoid mishaps, but at the same time you want to be prepared for them. That’s exactly why everyone (including Ryan and myself) was wearing life jackets and we were armed with very cheap, disposable cameras. Although you aim to prevent them, it may be the fact that mishaps and unplanned bobbles can happen, that truly separate an “average day” from an “adventure day”.

But if you insist, I’ll certainly take sole credit for what constitutes an adventure. : )

More canoeing pictures by the neighborhood kids are available on my Flickr site.

May 10, 2010 at 12:26 pm 4 comments

35th Birthday Hike – Lassiter Trail

I was actually on the verge of punking out on my birthday hike this year. With a busy work schedule and a wedding in just two days, I felt a little pressed for time. If I was left to my own devices, I likely would not have gone out. Luckily, I wasn’t left to my own devices! Ryan surprised me by taking off work (That’s two years in a row he’s taking off work to go hiking on my birthday). He got coffee started, woke me up and explained the planned route. “You can work in the car,” he volunteered (which I did!).

And so, on my 35th birthday, we went hiking at Merchant’s Millpond State Park on the Lassiter Trail.

Footwear – Vibram Five Fingers
This was the inaugural hike for some new footwear! We both hiked in our relatively new Vibram Five Fingers!

Once on a day hike, I spent about 7 miles exclusively on rocks. Suddenly I came across soft, dark soil. It felt so nice– it was like walking on clouds. Because of that experience I definitely thought I was in tune with the terrain. But really, I wasn’t at all. I was downright oblivious.

In the Vibram Five Fingers, you are much more aware of what you are walking on. You can feel the tree roots underneath you or perhaps the sand or mud. Nothing hurts– even walking on gravel or the spikey black gum balls is pain-free. Still, I found myself much more connected with the earth beneath me and I had one more sensation to add to my hike experience. I will definitely be hiking in them again!

35th Birthday Hike - Vibram Five Fingers (by Ryan Somma)
Vibram Five Fingers (Photo by Ryan Somma)

Feeling Young
Early on in the trail, some trail maintainers gave me a way to still feel young. I may be 35, but at least I’m not as old as this tree! (I’m not dead either).

35th Birthday Hike - Vicky Counts Rings (Close) (by Ryan Somma)
Comparing Myself to the Tree (Photo by Ryan Somma)

Since it was one of the first warm days, we got to see a lot of sunning turtles. Those little guys are pretty skittish. To steal a phrase from my brother– “An ant taking a dump on a piece of cotton” would make them plop back into the swamp. Ryan had to be super stealth and use a mega zoom lenses to snag these.

35th Birthday Hike - Two Sunning Turtles (by Ryan Somma)
Two Turtles (Photo by Ryan Somma)

35th Birthday Hike - Turtles and Red Maple Flowers
Three Turtles (Photo by Ryan Somma)

35th Birthday Hike - Five Sunning Turtles (by Ryan Somma)
Five Turtles (Photo by Ryan Somma)

35th Birthday Hike - Lots of Sunning Turtles  (by Ryan Somma)
#($*&$#(* Lots of Turtles!!!! (Photo by Ryan Somma)

As far as birthday hikes go, it was a shorter hike– we only did 6.7 miles. But it was absolutely lovely out and a fabulous way to get grounded for the rest of the week’s excitement!

More pictures from my 35th Birthday Hike can be found on my Flickr site.

Merchant’s Millpond State Park – Lassiter Trail

Trail Map

Additional Blog Post on Lassiter Trail

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

April 1, 2010 at 1:04 pm 9 comments

Henry the Beagle’s First Boat Ride

At ten years of age, Henry the Beagle is having a landmark year. In June, he went on his first camping trip at Mount Rogers, Virginia. Today, he went on his first boat ride. A canoe trip at Merchant’s Millpond State Park in North Carolina.

Henry was joined by Jimmie, who is an old pro when it comes to dog boating. Jimmie’s been on speed boats and row boats and paddle boats. A canoe would not be a tough transition for him.

It was a great day to paddle Merchant’s Millpond. With the crisp fall weather, the changing leaves, and the haunting backdrop of deformed baldcypress trees, it definitely felt like Halloween is approaching!

Merchant's Millpond - Fall Leaves on Algae
Fall Approaching in the Swamp

And what’s Halloween without a little orange? Both dogs wore their Outward Hound Life Jackets. One of the features of the jackets is the “rescue handle”. I have yet to have to use the rescue handle for an actual rescue, but as is wise with most outdoor equipment, we did test the feature out ahead of time:

Merchant's Millpond - Ryan Demonstrates Jimmie and Henry's Rescue Handles
Rescue Handles Working – Check

I am happy to say that Henry did an excellent job on the trip. In fact, he seemed more relaxed in the canoe than he is in the car.

Merchant's Millpond - Ryan and Henry
Ryan with Henry

Merchant's Millpond - Jimmie, Vicky, Henry in Canoe
Jimmie and Vicky with Henry

I suppose it didn’t hurt that he had a lot of neat things to look at and smell.

Merchant's Millpond - Baby Beavers (Close)
Baby Beavers! Nutrias!

Merchant's Millpond - Changing Leaves and Algae
Changing Leaves and Stinky Algae

Just like camping, Henry surprised me with his calm and quiet. All these years, he had been limited to day hikes. I’m looking forward to taking him canoing again!

Till then, more pictures of Canoing Merchant Millpond State Park can be found on my Flickr site.

P.S. Mom– Don’t worry. No sign of the alligator today. 🙂

October 12, 2009 at 9:53 pm 8 comments

Merchant’s Millpond State Park: Lassiter Trail

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

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)

(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

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

May 6, 2009 at 11:21 pm 5 comments

Merchant’s Millpond State Park

On Saturday, the dogs and I got to spend a precious hour at the Merchant’s Millpond State Park. The park was a little further away than I expected and I was attending a free Planetarium/Laser show at Elizabeth City State University (highly recommend– it was awesome!) at five PM, so I didn’t have much time to explore.

But this park doesn’t need long to make a good impression. It is GORGEOUS. And get this– I had it all to myself! Just like my December rollerblade last year in Evansville, Indiana, I was surprised to be the only one out and about. Yes, it is December. But it was still sunny… and the park was still stunning. And actually, I highly suspect this particular park is going to be beautiful year round (The future season compares can put that to the test).

Like Blacksburg’s Falls Ridge, the Merchant’s Millpond State park was made possible by a private donation and the help of the Nature Conservancy. The park is a mixture of coastal pond and southern swamp ecosystems and features plenty of bald cypress trees, mistletoe and dangling Spanish moss.

Fall Leaves and Bald Cypress Trees

Log Reflections at Merchant’s Millpond State Park

Bald Cypress Knees and Trees

More Bald Cypress Trees

Bald Cypress Trees with Spanish Moss

The dogs and I started our journey on a white-blazed trail. On the Appalachian Trail, we have hiked hundreds of miles guided by white blazes. It was interesting to be following the familiar color…with very different views than the mountains of Southwest Virginia.

Familiar white switchback blazes…with very different views

There is one property of the terrain, I’ll need to adjust to. Those darn Bald Cypress knees!!! Henry walks so low to the ground, his leash keeps getting tangled.

Gah! Leashed beagles and bald cypress knees are highly frustrating!

The park currently has over 3,250 acres, 9 miles of hiking trails and canoe rentals to further explore Lassiter Swamp. I barely scratched the surface! I will definitely have to make a return trip and I definitely don’t have to wait for winter to pass.

When you hike in the “off-season”, there are some advantages. You don’t have to worry about crowds. You don’t have to worry about ticks or snakes. And in this particular park, you don’t have to worry about alligators.

That’s right. One last thing! Merchant’s Millpond State Park has alligators.

Yikes! Yet another reason I need to keep Henry from getting tangled on Bald Cypress Knees! (Photo by VA-Tree Hugger)

More pictures of my December trip to Merchant’s Millpond State Park are available on my Flickr site.

December 9, 2008 at 8:00 am 1 comment

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