SNOW CAMP — The road into the Cane Creek Mountains Natural Area is too rough for a reporter to take notes while riding in the passenger seat of a well-used county Ford Explorer. It’s not a short ride, either.
“The park is a challenge for us,” said Brian Baker, Alamance County Recreation and Parks director. “It’s a beautiful once you get a mile up the road.”
The plan is to get about 1,000 acres of park with 10 to 15 miles of trails and an observation tower on the highest peak east of Greensboro, from which you will be able to see Greensboro on a clear day, surrounded by old-growth forest on a truly ancient mountain.
“This mountain range is one of the oldest in the world,” Baker said.
Cane Creek Mountain is 991 feet above sea level at its peak, but geologists say it could have been 20 times that high a few hundred million years ago, and part of the range, including the Uwharrie Mountains west of Asheboro and Occoneechee Mountain in Hillsborough, was created by the slow-motion collision of what is now North America and Africa in the creation of the super-continent Pangea. It’s part of the Carolina Slate Belt that stretches from Virginia to Georgia, once considered a rich gold strip with productive mines in the Uwharries and the Haile and Dorn mines in South Carolina. Before the California Gold Rush, this was where the prospectors were hunting.
Being a little higher up, a little isolated and largely undeveloped over the years, the mountain is home to species of plants and animals rarely found in the Piedmont, Baker said, like wild blueberries, not so exotic, but not found much elsewhere in Alamance County.
Chestnut oaks line rocky slopes where other oaks don’t do well and are not common in this part of the state, Baker said. They help make a habitat for running cedar and wild pea plants — generally only found on the floor of old-growth forest.
“They thrive up here,” Baker said.
The public can’t enjoy this beauty yet. The county owns a lot of land, more than 450 acres already, and trails are being dug, but there aren’t a lot of good ways to get at them until the logging road is tamed and there is parking at the end of it. The opening date for Phase One is next summer, but that depends on finding the money to get it all done.
“We’re using very little (county) funds to acquire and develop it, so everything is dependent on grant funds or raising money or finding funding somehow, which makes it difficult to plan with certainty,” Baker said. “The funding that we’ve been able to get for this property has been a combination of private donors, nonprofits and the state through the Clean Water Management Trust Fund.”
The county got its first piece of the mountain with a grant from the Piedmont Land Conservancy when a subdivision failed in the Great Recession, Baker said. It was near the Three College Observatory, which came to southern Alamance for dark skies and is glad to have a neighbor without porch lights. It and YMCA Camp Frontier are on board with keeping the forest and adding trails.
Some of that funding has conditions geared toward preserving forest more than recreation, so there is funding to get land, but it can’t be used to pave a parking lot.
“This is not going to be Cedarock Park. There’s not going to be ballfields and shelters. It’s going to be more like Shallow Ford Natural Area,” Baker said. “... It’s trails that you can really get away on.”