Program highlights park rich in history — and tar

Published 8:58 pm Thursday, March 1, 2018

North Carolina is known as the Tar Heel state, and many of its residents are certainly fans of University of North Carolina Tar Heels teams. Just as many, however, are not clear about the origin of the name. It goes back — way back, into the forests that populated North Carolina centuries ago.

Saturday, visitors to Goose Creek State Park can learn all about the origin of Tar Heels, about explorers from Europe scouting out America and how North Carolina became known for wood, tar and turpentine, all of which were invaluable to naval fleets across the Atlantic.

“This is a big part of our local cultural history, let alone, it was what put North Carolina and the U.S. on the map in the naval stores industry,” said Goose Creek State Park Ranger Nicole Crider. “Europe and England had depleted their wood to build naval ships. They depleted their stuff and sent explorers out. They got to North Carolina and these longleaf pines were like gold.”

Crider will be leading Saturday’s program at 2 p.m. at the park’s Visitor Center. The program is free and includes demonstrations and an up-close look at one of the region’s main contributions to naval history: tar kilns, used to make tar, that in turn was used to preserve ships’ wood and rigging for centuries. The park is populated with 60 rudimentary tar kilns used between centuries ago to the early 1900s.

“It’s amazing that they’ve survived and that we have as many we do, because a lot of the land has been farmed, and we’ve only been a state park since 1974,” Crider said. “I can only imagine how many were here. I don’t know any place, honestly, in the state of North Carolina that has the amount of tar kilns still standing in the amount of acreage we’re in.”

Unless a person is familiar with them, tar kilns can be easy to miss.

“From the outside, it almost looks like a pile of dirt with a big ditch around it if you don’t know what you’re looking for,” Crider said.

Crider will introduce program participants the kilns, as well as how tar was made and tools in the making. She said the program is most appropriate for fifth-graders to adults.

Goose Creek State Park is located at 2190 Camp Leach Road, east of Washington. The Naval Store History program is free. For more information, call 252-923-2191.