Park’s off-season offers plenty to do

Published 7:28 am Thursday, November 25, 2010

Contributing Writer

GOOSE CREEK STATE PARK — You won’t find many sun worshipers on the swim beach at Goose Creek State Park these days, but the chillier temperatures of late fall and winter shouldn’t keep local residents and visitors from enjoying this Beaufort County gem.
“It’s too cold to swim now, but there are still great opportunities to hike; there are a lot of people coming out here to hike,” said Kevin Bischof, ranger and acting park superintendent. “The beach is still a great place to walk along the water, even if you can’t swim.”
What some may call the off-season is still a busy time in the park, according to Bischof.
“It’s one of the better times to hike in the park,” he said. “We have a little over 8 miles of hiking trails, and you can still see reptiles and amphibians on warmer days. And mammals are easily seen since the vegetation is thinning.”
Nature enthusiasts also take advantage of the park’s free programs, held each Sunday afternoon. Topics, in addition to hikes along one of the park’s trails, include studies of the park’s flora and fauna.
This weekend marks the park’s traditional holiday open house, which is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Hosted by the Friends of Goose Creek, the event is slated to include a birdwatching hike and workshops during which the young and the young-at-heart may make crafts and holiday ornaments, Bischof said. Refreshments will be served, and everything is free.
Even on the coldest of winter days, die-hard fans of Goose Creek State Park are in evidence.
“The campground is open year-round, and even when it’s down to 15 degrees there’s someone out there,” Bischof said.
The park’s maintenance staff steps up its efforts during the winter months, completing repair work and launching new projects, Bischof added.
“We do a lot of the projects this time of year because visitation is usually down,” he said. “Also, the maintenance guys aren’t spending a whole day every week mowing the park because the grass isn’t growing like it does in spring and summer,”
Controlled burns also are planned during the slower months.
“We’re hoping later this winter to do a couple more burns,” he said. “Historically, there were burns in this area every three to five years … historically meaning before there was development here over 200 years ago. It would just naturally burn then.”
Since that no longer happens without a little help from man, the park staff steps in to give nature a hand.
“It burns off a lot of the brush, it burns off a lot of the fuel layers and helps prevent forest fires,” Bischof noted. “And it helps us reintroduce the long-leaf pine, which is native to this area. Burning kills off a lot of the loblolly pines and gives the long-leaf pines a better opportunity to grow.”
The loblolly pines grow faster and thicker and will overshadow the more desired long-leaf pines, Bischof explained.
Another project looming on the Goose Creek State Park horizon is a redesign of the Discovery Room, Bischof revealed.
“We’re working with design students from East Carolina University on that,” he said. “We want to make it more kid-friendly, and we’re hoping to get that done in the next couple years. That’s something that I’m really looking forward to.”
Winter hours for the park are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week, with the Visitors Center/Environmental Education Center open until 5 p.m. The only time the park closes to the public is Christmas Day, according to Bischof.