Visiting all 41 North Carolina state parks

Published 12:10 am Saturday, July 9, 2022

Ken Beaver worked for the North Carolina Department of Corrections for 32 years, both starting as an officer and finishing as the warden at the Piedmont Correctional Institution in Rowan County. Along the way, he served in various other prison locations. The high stress work and a less than active lifestyle contributed to health issues.

Beaver chose retirement early this year with two major goals in mind. He wanted to get moving again, both by resuming favorite physical activities and by visiting all 41 state parks in North Carolina.

Beaver said, “The last few years of work, I just was not active the way I had been earlier. I had regularly played softball and racquetball, along with quite a bit of running. I went to and decided to spend the next four months visiting those state parks and hiking in every one. I wanted to see the state and hoped to catch 3-4 parks on each trip out.”

Using the North Carolina State Parks Passport, Beaver began to map out how to meet his goal. He bought a Springer Spaniel puppy and named him “Miles.” All the parks are pet friendly and Miles became Beaver’s hiking partner. They began the journey on March 18 at Lake Norman and finished on Father’s Day weekend at Grandfather Mountain, a month ahead of his four-month goal.

Reminiscing about his favorite stops on the journey, Beaver said, “All the parks have hiking trails. Some are steep and strenuous. My son Nick joined me on some of the more challenging hikes, just for the sake of safety. Grandfather Mountain near Banner Elk and Gorges near Sapphire are two of those. Pettigrew State Park near Creswell has a nice boardwalk and great views of the second largest lake in N.C.. I always preferred to do the hikes when the parks were less crowded and wanted to get at least three hiking miles in each park.”

Wildlife was abundant with deer, turkey and a few snakes the most common. Beaver was warned of bobcats, water moccasins and gators, although none were seen. Some parks were in bear habitats, but he didn’t see them either.

Other favorites included Hammocks Beach State Park, a beautiful public beach with lots of activities including the chance to kayak to Bear Island. The long boardwalk at Goose Creek was special, along with Jones and Salters lakes at Jones Lake. At Fort Macon, the trails were sand, not Beaver’s favorite, preferring a more packed surface. While returning from a six-mile trail, the park staff fired one of the big cannons. Beaver said, “We were close, and that big boom got my attention and spooked Miles. At Carvers Creek, which is next to the Fort Bragg complex, we got another dose of artillery practice and Miles didn’t care for that either.”

The total miles Beaver hiked in the parks was 103.15. He said, “On days where I went to multiple parks, I did not get the full three miles in. The average was 2.51 per park. Currituck BBQ Company in Corolla was my favorite restaurant, worth mentioning.”

Beaver encourages others to visit N.C. parks. He said, “The parks are family friendly; the trails are well-kept and marked. The camping is excellent, and all the rangers are very friendly. They are very proud of their parks. I made most of the visits by visiting for day trips. The passport program is motivating and well done. Staff members were happy to talk with me and stamp my passport. One of the best things about the parks are the amazing visitor centers. Nearly all of them look new even though I know they aren’t. People respect the N.C. parks because the state does such a great job with them.”

Most of the parks have swimming, kayaking, camping, fishing and boating. Many have mountain biking and horseback riding. Wind surfing and hang gliding are available at Jockey’s Ridge, four-wheel driving on the beach at Fort Fisher and rock climbing at some of the mountain parks. All are free except for Chimney Rock. Nearly 600 miles of hiking trails are available to explore among the 237,000 acres of iconic landscape in the state’s parks, recreation and natural areas. The N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation manages four state rivers, seven state lakes and nine state trails.

Up next are several new challenges for Beaver and Miles. They plan to bike the Greenbrier River Trail in West Virginia with Miles riding in a pull-behind trailer. With or without Miles, Beaver plans to hike the N.C. portion of the Appalachian Trail. He’s considering hiking the Mountains to the Sea Trail, likely with 2-3 companions.

Since his retirement, Beaver is meeting his goals. He said, “I’ve lost 18 pounds and no longer pre-diabetic. I have seen much of the state and I’m staying active. I’m playing racquetball several times a week. It’s exciting to think about what’s ahead.”