After 16 years as Superintendent of Eno River State Park, I can never really leave. After all when I came here in January of 1993 it was a return. It was a return from my first visits to the Eno camping as a Boy Scouts at Red Hill during the brief time it was part of the park, and in Fowler Field when it was still a cow pasture. I was at Eno a long time and got very comfortable, but when you get comfortable you stop growing. So I didn’t leave Eno. Rather, I went to Hanging Rock to leave my comfort zone and take on a challenge. But, Eno came with me.
The park grew in 16 years and we cultivated it together. I feel like my career grew up with the park. When I came the state park protected 2200 acres broken like a quilt with patches missing. Today the park lands are approaching 4400 acres almost unbroken. We added campsites, picnic areas, ranger housing, and my personal favorite – 8 ½ miles of trail. The staff grew from 4 ½ permanent and 3 seasonal to 10 permanent and 10 seasonal. More people came to the Eno. In 1993 about 150,000 people visited the park. Last year more than 400,000 came. It is a funny way to look at it, but you can see the growth of the park through the dumpsters. When I got to Eno we didn’t even have a dumpster, we took trash once a week to a county collection site. It wasn’t long before we got a 2 yard dumpster emptied every two weeks, then a four yard, a six yard, and now it is an 8 yard emptied every week and we divert a huge pile of trash to recycling. I am glad the people came. Park users are park supporters. If people don’t touch the water, hear the grasshoppers in the late summer, scramble over the rocks on the trail, or watch sunsets, they will never value the place.
There have been dramatic moments in 16 years. Weather came with force. The flooding and winds of Hurricane Fran, along with the 20 inch snow of 2000 and the ice storm of 2002 drastically changed life and work in the park. Very few people came to the park during the days after those storms, most people were trying to survive. The storms changed the landscape for weeks and it was awesome to see the park in a way that few ever get the chance. We also had our share of trouble from people who brought crime to the park and others who loved the park but didn’t accept how ignoring the regulations hurt the park . You get some great stories out of dealing with those people and as a ranger you get the satisfaction from protecting the park. We rescued stranded canoeists, once by helicopter when the river was raging. Every year someone would get lost, usually at night. We found them all, most of them alive. Two if they had not been found would have perished within hours. A few people died in the park. I always took comfort that they died in a place that was meaningful to them. One death in the Eno family affected me deeper than I would have expected, the passing of Margaret Nygard. Even today I find it hard not to get reflective when I remember Margaret.
Natural resource management became more than a phrase over the last 16 years. We went to war with exotic invasive plant species. We diligently watched the water flow and worked closely with our community to assure even during drought the life of the river was given its share. There were many volunteers and staff dedicated to inventorying and with each species added to the list the value of the park grew. It was a great day when the Pleasant Green Dam came down and the river flowed free. But where I take most pride in is how our staff and volunteers touched tens of thousands of lives with programs and hikes that brought people closer to nature by interpreting the Eno River Valley.
How cool is it to work and live in a place like the Eno. Sheila and I raised our boys within ear shot of the river. My sons and I fished and played in the water many times. As scoutmaster I brought our troop camping, hiking, and meeting here regularly. I ran the trails often, sometimes foolishly watching the scenery which led to a few embarrassing tumbles.
Never doubt your value as an association. It is directly because of you that many special places have been preserved forever, Bobbitt Hole, Fews Ford, Occoneechee Mountain, the Eno Quarry, the mills and home sites of our ancestors. You saved the forest. I never tire of walking through the forest and some of my best times were the hours spent off trail in the backcountry among the oaks. You saved the river. It is hard to describe the magic that draws us to it or why we are mesmerized by the clear water. Don’t stop fighting for the river. There are still special places to save, like the captivating scenery of the Bacon Quarry, the history of Cabe Ford, the refuge of more than a thousand acres of Eno Wilderness with inviting trails and vernal pools. Remember there is a lot of forest protecting the Eno, but not all that forest is protected. Every time that forest shrinks, the river takes a hit.
God created the river and put his children in place to care for it. I have been blessed with walking the trails with legends of the Eno. There are many of you I could single out, and I truly feel bad I cannot tell everyone what they have meant. I will say thank-you for the inspiration of Margaret and Holger Nygard, Don Cox, and Duncan Heron. I am also grateful to all the members of the Eno River Association Board of Directors and their staff over the last 16 years, all who genuinely care about the mission and whom I count as friends. We have also been blessed with terrific park staff, who contribute more to the park than the community ever knows, because this is more than a job. I take great pride in watching them grow in their careers as they move on from Eno.
Thank you Eno River Association.
January 20, 2009