05/01/09 — Tar Heel state park offers more than picturesque views

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Tar Heel state park offers more than picturesque views

By Mike Marsh
Published in Sports on May 1, 2009 1:46 PM

Last weekend my wife Carol and I visited our son at UNC-Charlotte. Since I once lived and worked nearby, I knew the area. We decided to stop at Morrow Mountain State Park before riding back home.

Morrow Mountain State Park is my favorite state park. I once hunted deer and squirrels in the Uwharrie National Forest. The Uwharrie Mountains are the oldest mountain range in the United States, eroded from volcanic origins to what today are hills when compared to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

While they are not as steep, they are still extremely difficult to climb in some places. There are few peaks that cannot be surmounted on foot.

When looking across the Uwharries from a peak, a hiker would swear he was in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The hilltops undulate and float among clouds like a hurricane-tossed ocean.

Morrow Mountain's deer are nearly tame through decades of non-hunting. In an age when other land users are clamoring for access to state game lands, purchased through state funding, the state parks have stonewalled all efforts for the reverse, a trade-off to allow hunting.

It's a shame because a browse line is starkly evident in the state park. Deer have eaten every twig as high as they can reach, leaving excellent viewing and good hiking. But without the green grass along the road shoulders to carry them through the year, a questioning individual with an eye that spots severe habitat degradation has to wonder why state parks do not allow controlled hunting to reduce deer densities here as is done in other states.

We visited several attractions, including the boat ramp on Lake Tillery and the historic Dr. Francis J. Kron House. In the early 1800s, Kron owned 7,000 acres, some of which became the park's core. The park now covers 4,742 acres. There are also cabins, camping facilities, picnic areas and a swimming pool.

After visiting some points of interest, we headed for what is probably the most interesting point -- the summit of Morrow Mountain. The mountain is the highest peak in the park at 936 feet. The drive was easy compared to what the walking must have been like when settlers climbed the hill or even farther back in history when Native Americans used the peak as a base for making stone tools, which included projectile points for warfare and hunting.

Artifacts found at the site confirm hunters used the site as a quarry at least 10,000 years before the arrival of European settlers. The top of Morrow Mountain is paved with stone chips knapped from the stone cores that formed the basis of the tool-making process. Stone cores were everywhere, with open wounds indicating where slivers had been struck from rhyloite, a volcanic rock, to be formed in moments into any tool.

A hunter in this region certainly would never have run out of ammunition or means to propel it. Atl-atl darts, bows, lances and arrows could easily be fashioned from hickory, dogwood and other native woods.

I looked down and immediately spotted a hide scraper or skinner. It fit my fingers perfectly. But at some point in its use, the cutting surface had been chipped beyond repair, rendering the scraper a cast-off for the junk pile.

Nothing may be removed from the park. So we held the scraper, as many other modern visitors must have done, awed by holding what essentially was a pocketknife made and used by a human hand as long as 100 centuries ago.

With all the similar stone available for making tools in the surrounding mountains, it made me pause a moment to wonder why hunters would have made this trek. There was no water for hundreds of feet in elevation during the climb and the stone here could not have been of higher quality.

A cool breeze rustled the leaves overhead and stirred the aroma of charcoal from a picnic grill, adding support to my theory that it was the view that brought ancient hunters here.

Anyone seeing the surrounding countryside from the eagle's-eye angle would have to agree, it was a great place to bring the family for a cookout.