Nature Walk at Jordan Lake
“Mom, this has been one of the best days of my life.” Those words from the backseat made what had already been a marvelous visit to Jordan Lake even better.
Recently I took my two boys, ages 10 and 6, to Jordan Lake, a North Carolina State Park boasting nearly 14,000 acres of water and nine recreation areas.
I’m so glad I did; while the season for lake swimming may be almost over, the season for enjoying the lake is far from it. Before we loaded up the car, though, we did some research, which is what I believe made the visit so roundly successful.
First and foremost, some of the recreation areas are reserved for campers, while others are for day visitors. We looked over the day-use areas and selected Seaforth, 60 minutes from Greensboro and directly accessible off Highway 64, as our destination.
We also decided that our focus for the day would be a nature walk and planned accordingly for that. The Jordan Lake Web site offers a link to extensive plant and animal checklists for specific N.C. Parks (click Ecology), and those lists have links to photos taken in the parks themselves.
We concentrated on and printed the Jordan Lake lists for mammals and amphibians, but there are also specialized lists of birds, reptiles, insects and even fungi, among others, and I really wish I had brought them all. After packing a quick lunch, we were off to the park.
Ninety minutes later, we were sitting at a picnic table under knobby pines beside a beautiful blue lake, breathing deeply and eating slowly. When we had finished up and put the cooler back in the car, we made a quick pit stop in the lavatories, which also include changing rooms for those there to swim, then headed to the trail.
Let me be frank here: I did not have high hopes. I adore my boys. They are the sunshine that lights my world, but they are not quiet. They are, in fact, the exact opposite of quiet. And in my experience, spotting living things in the wild demands quiet. So I took a deep breath, decided I would make exactly one pre-trail recommendation for hushed voices, and then I let it go.
Seaforth’s hiking trail, called The Pond Trail, is an almost loop that starts in the parking lot facing away from the lake and features a long boardwalk over a wetland area. It is a fairly level trail all the way around, clearly marked and well-cleared.
While only 1.5 miles, it took us the better part of two hours, and here is why: frogs. Specifically, Acris crepitans crepitans, more commonly called Eastern Cricket Frogs. The 10-year-old spotted the first one, but once we knew what to look for, all three of us were spotting them — and stopping to chat with them — often. The smallest ones were as large as the top knuckle of my thumb, the largest only slightly bigger. Soon we were also seeing Northern Spring Peepers, too, then unusual mushrooms, then bald eagles, then new-to-us insects!
Each new find merited an excited stop, a photo or 12, a note in the oldest’s science journal. We also examined moss patches, looked up at branch formations in trees, noted where water would pool in case of a rise in the water table, and made a thousand other scientific observations.
The 6-year-old determined that his size gave him an edge for spotting things on the ground and reveled in his smaller-is-betterness. The path took us close to the lake, then away again, close to the lake, then away again. At about the 3/4 mark, we approached near enough to sit on a fallen branch and admire the water in what felt like our own private cove, hidden away. The children sat quietly — quietly! — for some time, lost in their own thoughts. Then they stood up, and we slowly made our way along the last quarter of the path and back to our car, stopping briefly at the lakeside playground first to get any remaining energy out.
It’s 10 days later now, and both boys are still talking about the lake and everything they saw. They are curious to see how the ecology changes with the seasons, so we’ll head back soon. We hope to see you there.
If You Go
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area
280 State Park Road
Apex, NC 27523
Admission $5/car daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day
$5/car on weekends only, April, May and September
$10/bus or van daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day
$10/bus or van on weekends only, April, May and September
Seaforth is open year-round. Other Jordan Lake recreation areas may close in the off-season. Please check the Web site before you visit for current status. Seaforth’s hours are as follows: September-October, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
November-February, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
March-April, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
May-August, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
• According to the park’s Web site, the park’s address does not appear on any GPS system, and you will be misdirected. Accordingly, map it before you leave.
• Because of the wetland, mosquito repellent is a must almost year-round on the hiking trail.
• If you think you may want to step off the marked trail, wear long sleeves and pants; poison ivy grows wild.
• Be sure to take a camera. That way if you cannot identify an animal or plant immediately, you most likely will be able to when you get home.
• Comfortable, well-fitting shoes are fine. Hiking boots are not necessary.
• Picnic tables with grills are plentiful and available on a first-come, first-served basis. There are no food or beverage options within the park.
Lucy Cash is a Winston-Salem-based freelance writer, mother of two and blogger. Visit her blog at http://lifeinforsyth.blogspot.com.