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The lesser-known state park in northeastern NC that’s idyllic in spring

The lesser-known state park in northeastern NC that’s idyllic in spring

Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation

By Vanessa Infanzon

February 27, 2024

Don’t sleep on this northeastern NC park. It’s thousands of acres of unspoiled nature, with gators, bald eagles, and perfect waters for kayaking.

In March 2005, Vermont native Chuck Richardson packed up his camping gear, piled a canoe and kayak on top of his truck, and with encouragement from his wife, left for a few weeks to find sunshine.

Richardson meandered down the East Coast, stopping in Delaware overnight and arriving the next afternoon in Gates County, North Carolina, just 9 miles south of the Virginia border. With no motels in sight, he turned to his paper map (Google Maps was brand new in 2005) to locate a place to stay. He found camping grounds at Merchants Millpond State Park in Gatesville. “I was just going to stay there one night,” he explains. “I ended up there for three weeks.”

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For the past 19 years, minus a couple of pandemic years, Richardson has been traveling from Vermont to Gates County every spring — his wife still supports his need to escape Vermont’s harsh winters.

Richardson paddles at Merchants Millpond State Park and camps nearby from mid-March through April. “It’s easy to get there,” he says. “It’s unspoiled and preserved. The park staff are friendly and extremely educated. They know a lot about what lives there in terms of plants, animals, insects, and birds.”

Richardson photographs the wildlife, some of which may be seen in the park’s new Visitor Center. He knows which pine tree holds the Bald Eagle’s nest and where the American alligators hide. “Over the years, I’ve met a lot of local people and retired rangers,” he says. “I’ve learned how to find them and where they hang out.”

Size of the park:

Merchants Millpond State Park is more than 3,300 acres and the millpond, including lower and upper ponds and a swamp, is more than 700 acres.

The lesser-known state park in northeastern NC that’s idyllic in spring
Photo courtesy of Chuck Richardson.

Admission:

Free

What to expect:

The park has a great diversity of species,” says North Carolina State Parks Superintendent Steve Rogers. “The pond itself is full of towering bald cypress trees and the unique water tupelo. Merchants Millpond State Park is also the northernmost point of the range of the American alligator. Around every bend is another surprise. It is a great place to explore and get lost in the beauty.”

The lesser-known state park in northeastern NC that’s idyllic in spring
Photo courtesy of Chuck Richardson.

Best time to visit:

Spring and fall

Upcoming special event:

Merchants Millpond State Park is hosting Paddlefest on April 10-12. The event will include staff-led paddles, including paddles on the NC State Parks Big Canoes, 29-foot canoes that seat 14 people. Check the website for more information, as the event date gets closer.

Canoe rentals:

Visitors can make reservations for a canoe rental beginning at 8 a.m. at the park’s Visitor Center.

Canoes rent for $10 per hour, $25 for a half-day (4 hours), and $45 for all day (8 hours). Personal flotation devices are provided with canoe rentals. Cash is accepted, along with Visa and MasterCard.

The lesser-known state park in northeastern NC that’s idyllic in spring
Photo courtesy of Chuck Richardson.

Boat ramps and canoe access:

Launch your canoe, kayak, or rowboat from the boat ramp, near the Visitor Center. Stand-up paddleboarding isn’t recommended due to safety hazards such as alligators and cottonmouth snakes in the water. (Read that last part again.)

Guided programs:

The staff at the state park offers guided canoe programs that provide beginners’ instruction in canoeing.

The lesser-known state park in northeastern NC that’s idyllic in spring
Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.

Self-guided paddle trail:

Start at the millpond and paddle 5 miles into downtown Gatesville to the town’s boat ramp. (Be sure to line up a ride back to your car.)

The lesser-known state park in northeastern NC that’s idyllic in spring
Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.

Trails:

Trailheads to four hiking trails, varying in length from .3 miles to a 6-mile loop, offer views of the millpond, cypress trees, swamp and wildlife. Check the website to see if biking and hiking trails are open before venturing to the park.

The lesser-known state park in northeastern NC that’s idyllic in spring
Photo courtesy of Chuck Richardson.

Camping:

Tent and trailer camping, paddle-in campsites, backpack campsites, and group campsites are available at the park.

Safety:

Swimming and wading in the millpond are prohibited. U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFDs are required for each person on a boat. “And they work best when they are worn,” Rogers says.  

Contact

Merchants Millpond State Park
176 Millpond Road, Gatesville, NC 27938
(252) 357-1191
Map

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.The lesser-known state park in northeastern NC that’s idyllic in springThe lesser-known state park in northeastern NC that’s idyllic in spring

Author

  • Vanessa Infanzon

    Vanessa Infanzon moved from New York to NC for college and never left. When she’s not writing, she’s paddle boarding at the Whitewater Center.

CATEGORIES: COMMUNITY | NATURE
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