Merchants Millpond State Park to celebrate 50 years
Published 6:08 pm Thursday, November 2, 2023
GATESVILLE – Kenchen Norfleet would be pleased if he was alive and kicking today.
The scenic millpond in the heart of Gates County that once bore Norfleet’s name has transformed itself from a staple of life back in the early 1800 to what is today an area of abundant natural beauty and recreational activities. It is now a part of the North Carolina system of State Parks, joining that list of recreational outlets in 1973.
This Saturday (Nov. 4), Merchants Millpond State Park will host a public event to celebrate its 50th year as one of North Carolina’s pristine parks.
The celebration will be held from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and include live music, scavenger hunts, games, hayrides, and face painting. S’mores and hotdogs will be served.
Additionally, there will be educational programs run by the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, the NC Wildlife Resource Commission, and the NC Wildlife Federation.
In the 1960s, A.B. Coleman of Moyock purchased the property and later donated 919 acres, including the millpond, to the state. His generous donation led to the establishment of Merchants Millpond State Park in 1973. In the same year, the Nature Conservancy contributed an additional 925 acres of woodlands to the park.
The expansive property, now totaling 3,500 acres, is a mixture of a southern coastal swamp and hardwood forest. The landscape is home to massive bald cypress trees, beech groves, Spanish moss and exotic wildlife.
Of course the best way to absorb nature’s beauty is on the waters of the millpond. Canoes can be rented or visitors can bring their own for a unique paddling experience.
Several types of camping are available at family and group campgrounds, primitive backpacking sites and three remote canoe-in campgrounds reached by paddling trails.
The scenic pond is surrounded by picnic grounds, nine miles of hiking trails, and a visitor center offering museum-quality exhibits. Some trail segments are open to biking.
Fishing is available from the bank, or small boats (trolling motors only) may be launched at the boat ramp.
The Millpond’s 6,500-square-foot Visitors Center opened in 2009 as the state’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rated facility. The North Carolina Department of Parks and Recreation invested $3.6 million into that facility.
The Center features exhibit space, an auditorium, classrooms, workspace and administrative offices, plus a 600-square-foot outdoor classroom located at the edge of the pond.
The main exhibit hall brings the public up close to the local environment as every display is indigenous to northeastern North Carolina. Those displays highlight the four types of local habitat: Pine Woodland, Hardwood Forest, Swamp Forest and Coastal Pond. Each features the species of animals, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds that live within those four habitats.