Take a hike to Merchants Millpond

Published 9:37 am Monday, April 25, 2016

GATESVILLE – It’s a time to celebrate the natural beauty of the local environment and there’s no place better than Merchants Millpond.

The State Park will host its annual Millpond Day at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 30. It’s free fun for everyone, to include craft vendors, food, live music, arts and crafts for the kids plus a chalk art contest, wagon rides, kayak scavenger hunt, live animals, plaster cast track making, face painting and much more!

Start the day off at 8:30 a.m. with a free 5K Family Fun Run/Walk. This event is open to all ages, so bring your dogs, strollers and whole family. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, church groups, athletic teams, are all welcome.

Pre-registration for the Fun Run/Walk is strongly recommended as there will be free t-shirts to the first 100 participants.

The Fun Run/Walk begins at the picnic area.

Vendors (food or otherwise) selling items at Millpond Day must register with the Department of Revenue and obtain a Certificate of Registration. In order to obtain it, a person must complete form NC-BR Business Registration Application, available through online registration from the DOR website at: http://www.dornc.com/electronic/registration/index.html. If you have questions, contact Jonetta Appling of DOR at (336) 487-0203. Each vendor will be required to exhibit a valid certificate of registration at the event. Millpond officials will also need a copy at least one week prior to the event.

If anyone is interested in being a vendor or registering for the 5K you can call 252-357-1191.

This year’s Millpond Day is also featuring a Food Drive to help the residents of Gates County. Those planning to attend the event are encouraged to bring a nonperishable food with them.

From the hands of Kenchen Norfleet to the State of North Carolina, Merchants Millpond has transformed itself from a staple of life back in the early 1800’s to what is today an area of abundant natural beauty and recreational activities.

The first mill and dam was constructed around 1811. The Millpond’s first owner was Norfleet and it was known as Norfleet’s Millpond.

In 1812 the first corn was ground at the gristmill. That same year a wheat mill and a sawmill were built as well. About 1856, Norfleet sold the mill to two partners by the last name of Williams, so the name became Williams Millpond.

It was next owned by Leroy Smith. About 1910 Charles M. Lawrence acquired the mill and millpond.

A 19th century house and farmstead known as Merchants Mill was the most active site. The dam was very important in that waterpower was required to run the sawmill and millstones in the gristmill.

The millhouse, which was approximately 25 to 30 feet, was built over the water and supported on pilings. Planks nailed to the millhouse formed the base of a covered bridge to handle the traffic in front of the millhouse.

There have also been several owners as well but now the State Park is the home to one of the most beautiful ecological treasures in the state and one of Gates County’s finest treasures.

In 2010, Merchants Millpond was named by the Land for Tomorrow, a coalition dedicated to supporting the preservation of North Carolina’s land and water resources, as one of “North Carolina’s Ten Natural Wonders.”

Hailed as an “enchanted forest” – Merchants Millpond State Park is where coastal pond and southern swamp forest mingle, creating one of North Carolina’s rarest ecological communities. Together with upland forests, these environments create a haven for wildlife and humanity alike.

Canoeing is popular at the millpond. Individuals and groups can drift along the smooth, dark surface of the millpond and savor the many sights and sounds that come alive in the stillness of the forest.

Fishing is another key drawing card at the park, as well as an assortment of camping opportunities. There are picnic areas as well.

The park features a new 6500-square-foot Visitor Center, one that boasts of exhibit space, an auditorium, classrooms, workspace and administrative offices, plus a 600-square-foot outdoor classroom. A trail leads from to the outdoor classroom at the edge of the pond.

Park officials have moved the canoe rental area to the Visitor Center. The old canoe rental space now serves as a boating access area for the millpond.

The Center also features a working classroom used for environmental education. Teachers and students from throughout North Carolina and Virginia are invited to use the classroom. There is no fee for this service (call 252-357-1191 or toll-free, 1-877-722-6762 or visit www.ncparks.gov to make reservations).

A short walk from the Center is an outdoor classroom/picnic shelter, which is open to the public. There are other short trails leading from the Center to the millpond, including one that is handicap-accessible.

Merchants Millpond, which attracts over 220,000 visitors a year, is open daily (except Christmas Day). Park hours are 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. (Fall and Spring); 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Winter) and 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. (Summer).

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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