Some people indulge in a nice dinner after finals, others may party, I personally enjoy a good hike. Though the close-by Eno River State Park is very enjoyable, for an end of semester release I was looking for something a bit more grand.
Raven Rock State Park is located in Harnett County, North Carolina, about an hour south of Duke’s Durham campus. Regularly scheduled ranger programs, canoeing, camping and backpacking facilities are available to all. There are picnic sites with grills available, as well as a variety of trails which crisscross the park and can be traversed either on foot or on horseback. Another big draw to this state park are the Lanier Falls and Fish Trap rapids. This portion of the Cape Fear River runs through Raven Rock State Park and draws participants from all over. With a name like Fish Traps, it’s easy to guess that another available activity is fishing. More popular however, is white water paddling. Lanier Falls is a Class II rapid and Fish Traps is a Class I. The whitewater classification system tops out at six, making the ones here attractive for those still learning the basics.
Visiting in the winter afforded us greater visibility as the trees had lost all their leaves, but we did miss some of the ecology other seasons supply. Early spring magnificent wildflowers blossom and the tree foliage begins to burst into greens and yellows. Common species include Dutchman’s breeches, bellwort, river birch and sourwood. In warmer weather, you might catch a glimpse of a salamander along the river bluffs or a spotted turtle in a stream. Reptiles like the Carolina anole and multiple harmless snake species—including the eastern hognose—inhabit the forest. Come spring, when migratory bird season begins, you may see 20 different species of warblers in a single day along with owls, hawks, woodpeckers and river species such as wood ducks. Commonplace mammals of North Carolina populate the park like white-tailed deer and eastern cottontails. The high bluffs offer several species of bats refuge as they hunt for insects in the evening.
Years and years of rushing water and whipping winds eventually eroded the land into what we see today at Raven Rock. The looming cliffs rise to 150 feet and continue over a mile along the Cape Fear River. The park got its name in 1854 from the sight of ravens that used to roost on rocky ledges. The area was first inhabited by Siouan and Tuscarora Indians followed by European trappers and, eventually, became subject to timber harvesting. In 1969, after enough interest grew in preserving the area, a bill establishing the now 4,684-acre state park was passed.
I highly recommend finding the time to visit this amazing place. Reaching out to my Nicholas School community was easy, and I found friends willing to carpool almost immediately. Exploring Raven Rock State Park was an excellent way to celebrate the end of my first semester at Duke!