Quest for 41: ‘It is the journey that matters’

Hamlet man completes trek to all NC state parks
“A fun yet challenging adventure”

ATLANTIC BEACH, N.C., Nov. 13, 2016 — Hammocks Beach and Fort Mason state parks comprised the final trip encompassing the entirety of the North Carolina State Parks system for Mark Long.

Mark is not one to speed by a beautiful vista, a natural wonder or any critter that’s staring back at him. Simply put, he takes time to smell the roses (and tolerates the mosquitoes). Who knows how many people he has inspired to get outdoors and appreciate nature and our connection to it.

But rather than someone try to recap Mark’s words, let’s instead let his own retelling of the journey stand by itself. Enjoy his musings and a fraction of his photos of his recent visitors to state parks. In the meantime, we’ll wait for the book to come out before sharing more.

* * *

I start with a quote from Ernest Hemingway: “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

Photo courtesy Mark Long Park Ranger Paul Terry signed my passport booklet to validate 41 stamps for 41 state parks at Fort Macon State Park.

Photo courtesy Mark Long
Park Ranger Paul Terry signed my passport booklet to validate 41 stamps for 41 state parks at Fort Macon State Park.

I awoke Friday morning without much of a plan. Hammock’s Beach and Fort Macon state parks were the final two in the quest for all forty one. I decided that I would take the kayak and paddle out to Bear Island which is part of Hammock’s Beach State Park, camp in the tent overnight and paddle back the next morning. Bear Island is what I think a beach should look like, pristine and unspoiled by commercialization.

Upon arriving, I check in with the park staff. The very nice lady at the front desk recites the rules and such to me. I was not expecting her to tell me, there have been coyote sightings on the island. She said, “You might see tracks along the beach, but coyotes usually stay away from humans.”

It turned out that coyotes were the least of my worries. After a couple of hours of paddling and then dragging the kayak and equipment to the camp sight, I take a short nap on the picnic table, only to be awaken by droves of biting flies, no-see-ums followed by mosquitoes. I retreat to the tent until nightfall.

The cloak of darkness rids me of the blood suckers but brought in strong winds and much colder temperatures. I am thankful for a very warm sleeping bag. Those northerly winds would prove challenging for the paddle back to the mainland Saturday morning. The paddle trail is 2.6 miles one way and in strong winds, choppy waters and crossing the Intracoastal Waterway between fishing boats, it seemed more like 10 miles. In my lack of planning, I forget to bring the splash skirt and ended the return paddling trip soaked to the core.

Mark Long photo

Mark Long photo

The second part of the trip to Fort Macon will have to be accomplished in wet clothes. I remind myself, it’s about the journey and stop for some hot coffee before heading over to Fort Macon.

In the truck, I am slowly warming up and thinking about the final park, receiving the final passport stamp and all that I’ve seen and experienced during the journey throughout North Carolina. It all makes me smile.

Fort Macon is located at the end of highway 58, passing through Emerald Isle, Indian Beach, Pine Knoll Shores and Atlantic Beach. I was immediately impressed with the beautiful restoration of the old fort and surrounding property and making the most of Fort Macon, I hike the 3.3 mile Elliott Coues’ nature trail. Hopefully, the pictures will do it all justice.

The wheels were put into motion when I learned that 2016 was the centennial year of the NC state parks and that we have 41 state parks. The pictures and memories made all along the way will always be cherished. I have a much deeper appreciation for our park rangers, park staff and the parks themselves as a result of this journey. Park Ranger Paul Terry at Fort Macon honored me by signing my passport book to validate my stamps and journey.

Mark Long photo

Mark Long photo

Through all this, I discovered that there really are compassionate and virtuous people out there. Though this small quest comes to an end, for me it marks the beginning of a new quest, whatever that becomes.

Altogether, it is part of a journey called “life.” We only have one. I end with this quote from Lao Tzu: “A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”

August 20, 2016

I’ll start with a quote from the author Paulo Coelho: “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it is lethal.”

I decided early on in this state park quest that I was not going to just drive up to a visitor center, collect a passport stamp and leave. It was mandatory that I run, hike, camp, kayak or all of the above, to partake of the parks many amenities; really see and experience all that they all have to offer.

I can honestly say that our North Carolina State Parks have made me feel very proud to call this state home. We are fortunate to have them all.

Today I journeyed to Carolina Beach State Park and Fort Fisher State Park. I was grateful to get to Carolina Beach in time for a guided tour of the trail with a ranger that introduced me to the carnivorous plants in the area; the Venus Fly Trap and Pitcher Plants. Also during our hike through the area we encountered a Mud Snake and Banana Spider.

From there, I headed down to the end Highway 421 at Fort Fisher. It is rich with history and a pleasure to see. My favorite part of that history is about Robert E. Harrill, better known as the Fort Fisher Hermit. I borrow these lines from the NC Parks website:

Mark Long photo

Mark Long photo

“From 1955 to 1972, Robert E. Harrill, who became known as the Fort Fisher Hermit lived in the World War II bunker. He became a celebrity and philosopher of sorts, becoming known to the thousands of visitors who came to Fort Fisher during those years. Harrill relied on nature for much of his food, eating oysters, clams and fish as well as what he would grow. Over time, as his popularity and reputation grew, he also benefited from donations left by his many visitors.”

This adventure concludes with a trip on the Fort Fisher/Southport Ferry across the Cape Fear River to Highway 211 into Southport and back home.

August 13, 2016

Wandering from the Mountains to the Sea…

I can definitely tell you that the quest to visit all 41 states parks has been a magnificent adventure so far. With Friday off work, I journeyed up to Mount Mitchell State Park. Standing at 6684 feet above sea level, it is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. A decade has passed since my last visit there. So it was my first time seeing the new observation deck or rotunda there. Job well done! The morning fog obscured the views but still a wonderful place to be. The cool 65 degree air had me wanting to spend the entire day there.

Upon leaving the parkway I see a sign indicating, Crabtree Falls 4 miles. How can I pass that up? The 1.5 mile hike to the falls and of course back out was well worth the sweat. Big Crabtree Creek provides the water for the 70 foot falls. The pictures can’t do it justice.

Mark Long photo Crabtree Falls

Mark Long photo
Crabtree Falls

From there I drove to Lake James and South Mountains State Parks. I had never been to South Mountains, so some trail time would have to take place. I decided to hike the High Shoals Falls Trail and some of the Shinny Creek area.

Once home after my wandering, I return to a book I’m reading called Down the River by Edward Abbey. On the ninth day of a trip down the Tatshenshini River in Alaska, he writes; “a countryman has a place on earth that is his own, and much as he may love to wander, as I myself do, he loved the wandering more because he has a place to return to, a place where he belongs. A place to live and when his time comes, a place to die. The earth has fed me for half a century; I owe the earth a body. The debt shall be paid.”

July 30, 2016

Sharing the Obsession!

I have to first apologize for not having my camera on Friday. I ventured west to Crowder’s Mountain State Park and Gorges State Park. I had been to both before now but I needed those coveted passport stamps for my quest of 41. Crowder’s is just south of Charlotte off of I85. Gorges is the western most state park we have.

Mark Long photo

Mark Long photo

During my drive to the western part of the state, I have to say, we will have plenty of mountain apples to buy this year. Those serpentine mountain roads possess a bounty of apple orchards.

Today, I was joined by Richard and Lisa Lassiter for a trip to Lumber River State Park and Lake Waccamaw State Park for two more passport stamps. They too have accepted the challenge of visiting all 41 state parks. In the process, we learned that Lumber River State Park has obtained another 1100 acres of land which means more trails.

I don’t have many pictures here but it was indeed a wonderful day with some wonderful friends.

July 23, 2016

This state park expedition is proving to be a fun yet challenging adventure. Friday, I made my way to the Dismal Swamp State Park near Elizabeth City. The visit there was short but with a few wildlife sightings. The Swamp Boardwalk offered a deer, Spotted Turtle and a Zebra Swallowtail butterfly. I also encountered the park ranger…who is not part of the wildlife but he had captured a picture of a Timber Rattle Snake just minutes earlier.

From there I drove over to Merchant’s Millpond State Park near Gatesville, NC. The adventure has taken me over many North Carolina backroads. After today, I can honestly say that farming in North Carolina is alive and well. I have never seen so many corn, cotton, peanuts and tobacco fields in my life.

Mark Long photo Facebook post: I find it fascinating how this Cypress tree base has grown around the pine and maple tree.

Mark Long photo
Facebook post: I find it fascinating how this Cypress tree base has grown around the pine and maple tree.

I decided to camp one night at Merchant’s Millpond in order to take in some of the trails there. There is a 6-mile trail there called Lassiter Trail. How could I not hike that entire trail on behalf of Richard (Snake) Lassiter? Most of these pictures are from that hike.

I would say the mushroom population is abundant there. Merchant’s Millpond is more popular and busy in the spring and fall when the Yellow Flies are not there. They were wicked!

July 4, 2016

This weekend I was able to add four more state parks in the quest for Forty One. I started out early Saturday morning for Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the outer banks. On a side note and in regard to Independence Day. I deeply appreciate the men and women that have served in the past and those actively serving in our military now. Because of them, I am able to freely tour this state and state parks.  Thank you!

The pictures reflect the four state parks in order of visit. Jockey’s Ridge SP, Pettigrew SP, Goose Creek SP and Cliffs of the Neuse SP.

Mark Long photo A Zebra Swallowtail at Pettigrew State Park.

Mark Long photo
A Zebra Swallowtail at Pettigrew State Park.

A huge thank you to Tony Parker for conducting an impromptu run at Goose Creek today. It allowed me to see that great state park and run all the trails in there. I can’t say enough about our state park system. In my opinion the rangers go to great lengths to make them not only safe but thoroughly pleasing to visit.

I am always trying to capture as many images I can and these are only a few. However, some of the creatures I saw don’t like being photographed. Such as the male and female Indigo Bunting and the Ribbon Snake at Goose Creek, the Black Racer Snake at Cliffs of the Neuse.

I hope that you all enjoy the pictures.


Filed in: Latest Headlines, Outdoors

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  • Frutke

    Beautiful pics!

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