Where to go for the best view
Looking over the wildness of the natural and seemingly undisturbed scene, it is easy to see that nature truly has a balance and connection that man can never equal. Feeling like a visitor more than a member of nature’s collection, it is easy to lose track of the manmade problems and stresses of life. With a little luck and a lot of patience, one can on occasion view a special or seldom seen animal in their natural habitat. Seeing plants and other small creatures that one often only reads about is always a bonus when visiting the last of the states truly wild places. While some of the viewing opportunities require different levels of walking, some of the best may require a paddle trip by canoe or kayak. These can vary for the basic novice to the true endurance level outdoors person.
The best of the state’s wild areas continue to grow smaller and more infringed upon by developing neighbors. Yet, it is a true delight for the vast majority of the population to know that there are still many of those special areas left that can provide opportunities to visit nature with the least amount of restriction. To help assist the many thousands of nature lovers that want to explore the nooks and crannies of a patch of wildness, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation has just released their list of nine top places to enjoy the states great outdoors.
Visiting these precious areas from west to east first takes us to NCWF Journal editor T.Edward Nickens pick, the Little Tennessee River. According to Nickens, the Little T as it is called, tumbles clear and cool from the Nantahala Mountains for 25 unchanged miles between Franklin and Fontana Lake. The special river offers visitors in the warmer months an excellent opportunity to go “fish-watching”. This is the equivalent of bird watching in the water. With a swimming mask and snorkel, able bodied visitors can view a host of native but seldom seen schools and spawning mounds of fish. Moving east, the nearly 19,000 acres that make up the Green River Game Lands is NCWF board member Scott Fletchers pick. According to Fletcher, this several thousand acres near the town of Saluda is a rugged combination of hardwood covers, old growth forest, early successional bottoms and some of the most challenging whitewater rapids in eastern United States. With managed habitat to boot, the area is a mountain deer and turkey hunters delight. For birders, the month of June can offer views of the rare Cerulean warbler and the Swainson’s warbler. Moving northeast from there we head to the top of Grandfather Mountain and the birth place of NCWF board member Erin Singer McCombs pick, Wilson Creek. According to McCombs, the mile high start of the stream creates ideal habitat for wild, native brook trout. During it’s nearly 4,000 foot wilderness tumble, the river creates a bounty of wild, scenic and recreational sections to fit the wants of fly fishers from seasoned casters to green beginners. In addition, hiking, backpacking, camping and birding opportunities abound. From Wilson Creek near Lenoir, we move northeast towards the state line to NCWF board member Scott Fletcher’s pick, the Stone Mountain State Park/Thurmond Chatham Game Land Complex. According to Fletcher, this 21,000 plus acres of high country wildness offers a host of activities for those willing and able to put both feet on the ground. With elevations ranging from 1,500 to 3,500 above sea level, is especially coveted by birders. The Wolf Rock Trail in June can pay off with a host of species. Then around the middle of September the view from Wolf Rock can result in seeing several hundred migrating hawks. With more than 25 miles of trout streams the area is certainly a bucket list item for many anglers as well. Turning back south, we head to Stokes County and another favorite spot of T. Edward Nickens, Hanging Rock State Park. According to Nickens, Hanging Rock is the mountain that spawns a love of mountains. From the top of the mountain, the panorama of the North Carolina before you takes your breath away and allows you to see a North Carolina that can take a lifetime to explore.
Moving now towards the southwest, we stop short of the Charlotte metropolis to visit NCWF board member Patti Wheeler’s pick, Cowan’s Ford Wildlife Refuge. Besides being one of the most historic rural areas of Mecklenburg County, Cowan’s Ford is part of an Audubon-designated Important Bird Areas. The unique area along the Catawba River is habitat for 206 species of birds, 20 species of mammals, 22 species of reptiles, 12 species of amphibians and 36 species of butterflies. An observation deck and access for canoes and kayaks is available. Heading to the far northeast, we arrive at NCWF Camo Coalition coordinator Dick Hamilton’s pick, the Roanoke River. While books can be written about the infamous Roanoke River, it is best to say that it should be high on the list of every fisherman and wildlife viewers list of trips to make. Small aluminum bottom boats make the best means. We round out the list with NCWF’s 2nd Vice Chair Kelly Darden and another Dick Hamilton pick with the Pocosin Lakes and the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuges. With a combined acreage of over 260,000 acres, these two protected tracts of lush vegetation, salt and fresh water habitats, offer the meek and the strong a lifetime of wildlife viewing and outdoor exploration. From the winters tens of thousands of swans and snow geese of the Pocosin Lakes to the howl of a red wolf at a star filled sky at Alligator River, these areas are a wildlife Eden. With deer, wild turkey and the largest black bear on the North American continent, the area some of the richest and diverse collections of wildlife of anywhere in the state. With such a broad assortment of species, visitors will need to keep an eye on the ground for reptiles and insects, an eye on the road ahead for a bear with cubs and even an eye towards the heavens for majestic birds like the bald eagle.