Stone Mountain State Park has long been a popular destination for area residents and tourists nearly 50 years, its massive granite dome watching over those who enter the park.
The park offers a quick trip for Mount Airy and Surry residents to take an outdoor adventure.
“I come out here once a year from Blowing Rock,” said hiker Bob Heath. “I love the beauty out here. It’s incredible. I think it’s a true testament to the awesomeness of our country and how we get to preserve its natural beauty.”
“We’re just up here spending a day in the mountains,” said hikers Dawn and Ken Church. “It’s our first time in fact. We’re going to explore the hiking trails and have a picnic. One of our friends posted pictures on Facebook and we decided to explore the park ourselves.”
“I came down from Massachusetts,” said hiker Carlie Wagoner. “I haven’t been up here in a long time. It’s very pretty out here.
Stone Mountain was established as part of the North Carolina park system in 1969 as a gift from a private land owner John Frank. Since that time, it slowly developed into what it is today and it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the first State park bonds act was passed providing funds for campground expansion, the expansion of upper and lower parking areas, trail systems, and horse trails.
“The park was created because of the geological importance,” said Park Superintendent Bill Meyer. “Because we’re here, we do encourage, talk about, and celebrate the historical importance…that moonshine stills were very common part of this area’s history both legally and mostly illegally. There are over 170 still sites that have been discovered here in the park. The park itself is home to a lot of different home sites and most of those are gone now. A lot of them are still visible in the sense that you can still see some foundation and chimney stones. The Hutchinson Homestead is one that we’ve tried to preserve to show what they use to look like.”
The park attracts an annual visitation of 450,000 people.
“The size of the park I think has a lot to do with that,” said Meyer. “Stone Mountain itself is one of those iconic pictures in North Carolina that people can relate to and we’ve been around since 1975. The granite dome itself is of geological importance and people can connect with that. It’s just a mere fact that you’ve got this large granite dome that people find interesting.”
The dome itself was park of a larger granite pluton that encompasses 25 square miles in this area and is a remnant of when the mountains were a lot larger than they are now. The dome has persisted because of the hardness of the granite.
The park offers a wide range of activities including camping, hiking, rock-climbing, fly-fishing, picnicking, and horseback riding. Eighteen miles of trails take hikers all around the mountains and 20 miles of trout waters in the park invite guests to bring their reels and rods. The campground holds 90 sites, 45 of which come coming with utility and water hookups. The camps come with drinking water and two wash houses with hot showers nearby. The campground is open year round.
“The most popular trial is the Stone Mountain Loop trail which takes hikers across the summit of Stone Mountain as well as along the base of it and through the Hutchinson Homestead which is a recreation of a farm of the 1850s,” said Meyer. “The house itself is original and the buildings around it are also original or reconstructed.”
The Hutchinson Homestead, an old log cabin, barn, blacksmith shop, corncrib, and meat house, is preserved with the original furnishings, giving hikers a glimpse into America’s past. The Garden Creek Baptist Church, located on the bank of the East Prong of Roaring River. Established in 1897, the structure is one of the few original churches in Wilkes County and has not undergone any major repairs or remodeling. The church still holds services every Sunday, May through October, and on the first Sunday of each month November through April.
Most of the sites and findings at Stone Mountain date from the 1800s to early 1900s when there were a lot of families scattered throughout the park.
Rangers hold regularly scheduled educational and interpretive programs about Stone Mountain State Park about wildlife, nature, stories of settlers and living conditions, and geological lessons. The Mountain Culture Exhibit in the park office holds a variety of insect specimens as well as tools and antiques from older American homesteads found in the park.
“We do several programs, trying to schedule at least a couple each weekend,” said Park Ranger Lynette Hicks “We also have a lot of school groups come up for those programs. We’ve had stream safaris where kids get to learn about micro invertebrates, owl prowls, different hikes to different areas within the park to look for moonshine stills and things like that. We also do a lot of in-school programs such as career days and environmental competitions which we participate in as best we can.”
Superintendent Meyer hopes to continue expanding the park and continue to preserve the natural heritage of the area.
“I like promoting the park,” said Meyer. “I enjoy working with the public and the other various agencies around promoting what Stone Mountain has to offer and I also enjoy overseeing the management of resources. We have areas designated as important and vital to protect such as the watershed. Mostly, ecologically, (if) we can purchase property that will have a direct positive impact on the environment of the park, we will work towards doing that. There was a bond issue passed earlier this year and Stone Mountain is slated to get $1.4 million. The goal for that money is to build an annex onto the visitor building and that annex will be more visitor friendly…This building was built like it is so you can have a view of Stone Mountains.”
Meyer also hopes to add another campground loop and with the growth of mountain biking in recent years, he wouldn’t be surprised if the park had a couple of bike trails soon.
The National Park System is celebrating its 100th year anniversary on Sept. 10 and Stone Mountain is holding its 47th annual old fashion day to commemorate it. The celebration will feature music, crafts and artwork, antique firearms, an old model T and Indian Motorcycle, food, activities and early American games for kids, and a cake to celebrate the national park system.
“The goal of all parks, including Stone Mountain, is the geological preservation of the mountains,” said Bill Meyer. ”What we want to do is preserve this area as best we can in its natural state for future generations. The park system itself and the population of North Carolina, parks are important to people. Granted they’re not money makers but they serve a purpose in allowing people to go somewhere where they an commune with nature and that’s becoming rarer and rarer as people commute to the cities. The park refreshes the spirit.”
Troy Brooks may be reached at 336-258-4058.