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Smaller state parks worth look

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Fifty-five parks, 52 weekends. You do the math. That is one of the phrases on a billboard promoting North Carolina’s state parks.

While I have used North Carolina’s gamelands and national forests more than I have state parks, I have become much more interested in the state parks over the last six months.

For one, in an effort to keep this column evolving and bringing in more readers, I have added outdoors activities other than just hunting or fishing. Hiking, camping and paddling sports are all just as big as hunting and fishing. Of course, I will always be a hunter and angler, and always have been.

As for the state parks, even further interest has been added with the inclusion of a photo competition with the North Carolina State Parks and the North Carolina Museum of Art. The competition came about to work in conjunction with the Ansel Adams exhibit at the Museum of Art. Adams was a pioneer in a certain style of photography, and gains his fame from many of his western national park landscapes in black and white.

What people that are familiar with Adams’ work may not have realized is he was as much a master of finding the minute details for a close-up shot as he was with his dramatic and moody panoramas of towering mountains and contrasting clouds.

In my own efforts in searching for a composition from each state park as part of a personal photo project, I realized two things. One, while North Carolina has some absolutely fascinating state parks with those same types of landscapes that you would expect form Ansel Adams, we also have some rather drab state parks as well.

Maybe drab isn’t the correct word, but some do not measure up to Pilot Mountain, Linville Falls or Grandfather Mountain. For instance, Medoc Mountain is more of a large hill. William B. Umstead State Park is a great natural area for those who live in the Triangle to escape the concrete, but it is mostly meandering trails through foothills.

Yet that isn’t entirely fair, either. You see, the second thing I realized is that rather than looking for the wide-reaching visual, that in order to truly appreciate these other locations, maybe I am missing the trees for the forest, as a way to turn that phrase around.

While Adams can mesmerize us with his images of the Half Dome at Yosemite, he can equally impress us with his simple compositions such as his image of grass in a pool. It is easy enough for someone here to see that Hanging Rock has an impressive view and composition, but can one find that simplicity of a catalpa worm eating a leaf?

We easily become so concentrated on the great and bold that we forget the simple and small.

Both when I was young and later as a new parent when my kids were toddlers, exploring these small things did wonders for mine and their appreciation for what the land and water provides for us. Studying the veins in a maple leaf, actually noticing the patterns of black and brown on a pecan shell, and gazing at a water strider’s indentions into the surface of a pond would keep us busy for hours.

Perhaps these lesser state parks hold the greatest treasures, we just need to actually look. We have 52 weekends in a year to do so.

Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.

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