Three Stories About North Carolina's State Parks
On expanding during a pandemic, making a podcast, and taking my son on his first real camping trip. Plus, an update on the state of this newsletter.
First! The State of the Newsletter
First off, thank you for your support of the North Carolina Rabbit Hole. I know I say that a lot (or, at least I hope I do), but it’s true. I’ve written a lot of stuff over rthe course of my career, but I’ve never felt as direct of a connection as I do with you through this newsletter. It really is quite something.
A few weeks ago, I polled the paid subscribers of this newsletter to ask them if they felt like they were getting their money’s worth. When I first asked for support to keep this newsletter going, I’d set out some things that I wanted to give people in return. Initially, that meant a Monday newsletter only for paid subscribers and a few other goodies. But honestly, two newsletters a week was starting to become unsustainable for me personally, and it also meant that I couldn’t devote the time I felt like I needed to make things good enough to meet my exacting standards. (Yes, I have standards!) Again, I’m just one guy with a full-time job and a family, and my goal was always to make something strange and fun and oddly informative without it being a drag on the people who love and depend on me.
Anyhow, the people who have financially contributed to this newsletter have been supportive, and so I’m going to make a shift. I’m no longer writing a newsletter every Monday for paid subscribers only. Instead, I’m going to send out my regular Thursday newsletter to paid subscribers as soon as it’s finished. Sometimes that will be a day or two in advance. Or, it might just come out at the same time for everyone (every once in a while, I’m up early on Thursday morning frantically making tweaks before hitting send). But that’s one small thing I feel like I can provide. A few of you have said that you anxiously await the Thursday morning Rabbit Hole, and I thought it might be nice to give it to you early when I can.
Occasionally, I’ll write a few things for paid subscribers only. For instance, I’m finishing up on an update about what was happening behind the scenes of one of the more popular stories from this site, and that will go out to paid supporters only at some point next week. And, from time to time, when there’s something that absolutely cannot wait until Thursday, I’ll get it out before then. But I wanted to make sure you all knew about the changes that I’m making before you wondered if you were missing something. Don’t worry! You’re not!
One last thing: I’m trying to free up a little more space to be able to experiment with a few new things. Last week I kicked the tires on a one-off podcast to go with the regular newsletter. It was fun and it seemed to do fairly well, so I’d like to keep that going when it makes sense. Also, I’m still out there on Twitter (maybe too much) and I’m trying to do things with video as well. Last week, I made a nearly 3-minute long TikTok based on the newsletter about gas station that switched from South to North Carolina. It got, uh, nearly 500,000 plays, 55,000 likes, and more than 600 comments:
You’ll always hear the latest story in the Rabbit Hole first. But I also think it’s fun and healthy to experiment, and if you have some stuff you’d like to see me try out, let me know.
Again, thank you for your support. I’m thankful for those of you who have subscribed to get this in your inbox every week, and for those of you who have become paid supporters. If you’re not a free or paid subscriber, you can become one by tapping on the button below. No pressure!
I’m also thankful for those of you who take the time to share this newsletter and these posts on social media or with friends. This has grown mostly through word-of-mouth (and the occasional viral story or two or three). I really had no idea that you all would care about unique and bizarre North Carolina stories as much as I do, but I’m glad that you’re here with me.
One more note: I still need a about 33 more counties to finish up my Weird Ish From All 100 Counties List. By my tally, I still need stuff from:
Again, I’d love to tally these up and make a Useless Knowledge Travel Guide to North Carolina, so if you can help, make sure you tap on the button below and leave a comment.
And Now, Three Stories About Parks
I left Our State magazine almost exactly one year ago, and I haven’t appeared in the magazine since then. But my very kind and talented former co-workers recently asked me if I’d jump in and write a few stories for their state parks issue, and I was happy to do so! It’s on newsstands now, but here are the three pieces I put together, along with a little context.
The Parks Guy
Back in 2018, I went on a short hike with Dwayne Patterson, who had been the director of the state Division of Parks and Recreation for all of two weeks. We had a good walk and an informative talk, and I came back and wrote up a story that, for whatever reason, never ended up in the magazine. Recently, the editors wanted to write about Patterson, so I called him back up and asked him what had changed in the nearly four years since we’d last talked. The answer: Quite a bit!
The Money Guy is now The Parks Guy, and since that first trip to Umstead [State Park], [Dwayne] Patterson and his staff have been busy making things happen. “Of all the land we now own,” he says, “we got 80 percent over the first 100 years. We got the other 20 percent over the last three.” In December 2021, state lawmakers set aside $29 million for trails. There are now 50 more employees in the field. “The main thing that I’ve done is gotten out of the way of a lot of people who were trying to do good things,” Patterson says. In other words, he’s tried to get his people the money to do what they know how to do, without as many strings attached.
The pandemic, though, pushed people outside like never before. With so many places shut down, parks became a refuge. That also meant that rangers and other Parks staff had to work through a trying time. “They were scared,” Patterson says. “But they went to work every day, and they gave an outlet to the citizens of this state. I’m so proud of them.” Now, he says, the increased attention on state parks “has only sped up what we were always planning to do.”
The Rangers with a Podcast
As you may know, I like podcasts. My favorites are both informative and entertaining, but the Ask A Ranger podcast manages to hit a third gear: Useful. The format’s pretty simple: Two park rangers get together to talk about… ranger stuff. But the outcome helps to unlock a lot of things about state parks that make them more approachable:
Sometimes, in the middle of the night, Crystal Lloyd will get called out to a campsite because of a very particular noise. “Someone thinks there’s an assault or something occurring,” she says. Quickly, though, she realizes that the noise that’s alarmed the campers is not what it seems to be. “If you’ve never heard a fox at night, it is terrifying. It definitely sounds like a small child or a young woman is screaming.”
Her explanation calms nerves, but screaming foxes still freak people out. Luckily, Lloyd has a solution: Listen to an episode of her podcast, in which she demystifies sounds of the night and other topics related to being out in the woods. “I can play [a recording] for folks and be like, ‘Hey, did it sound like this?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly what it sounded like,’” she says. Listening means there’s one less bump in the night to worry about. “It’s not scary out here,” she tells her listeners. “It’s OK. They’re not going to bother you.”
Camping With Charlie
Last fall, my son and I went on our first real camping trip down in Stanly County. We were both excited to go, but once we got there, we discovered that we were excited about very different things. At the beginning, I was a little miffed that he didn’t want to hike with me. At the end, I came away from that trip with a new appreciation for how quickly children grow up, and the person that my son is becoming right before my eyes.
But before all of that, I had to deal with contraband:
I loaded up my car with a cooler, a camp stove, sleeping bags, a tent, a hammock, some granola bars, and our 7-year-old son. My wife and daughter were out of town, and I’d suggested that Charlie and I go on our first camping trip that wasn’t in the backyard. I started the car and pointed it toward the one place that made the most sense: Morrow Mountain.
I had everything worked out. We’d get there and set up camp. We’d rent a canoe. Ride bikes. We’d cook burgers over the fire. Play card games. And then, at the end, we’d hike. I wanted to take a trail to the summit. That’d be memorable, I thought.
Ten minutes into the drive, Charlie spoke up. “Dad,” he said sheepishly, “I brought the iPad.”
This would not do.
Thanks for reading! If you made it this far, please enjoy this TikTok of a road rage incident that happened just down the road from me in Oak Ridge. Unlike so many of them, it ended in a very satisfying way.