Turning Paradise into a Parking Lot: a Reflection on Eno River State Park

by Mark Miles

It’s entirely possible that the National Park Service will be eliminated in the foreseeable future. Of course it’s the last thing I would ever want, and it’s one of the worst things that could happen to many wildlands in the United States. There are nonetheless a whole myriad of issues which are threatening the survival of our national parks: 1) increasing corporate interference in the political process is transforming the ethic of government from public service to private profit; 2) declining revenues from decreasing rates of taxation on the wealthy are systematically impoverishing governmental coffers; 3) a ballooning national debt is providing lucrative opportunities for multinational creditors to effectively subordinate national sovereignty; and 4) continued disaffection from a populace alienated and preoccupied by digital technologies is allowing all of this to occur unabated. In short, the days of the National Park Service are numbered.

This has prompted me to start thinking about what my life would be like without those little pieces of paradise called parks. While the ones I regularly visit are managed by the state of North Carolina, they will also be affected by the dissolution of the NPS if and when it occurs. If nothing else, loss of our national parks would set a precedent for the expendability of parks in general and would increase the likelihood that state governments would consider liquidation of their own parks as a short-sighted solution to the increasing issue of budgetary shortfalls at every level of government. This could spell the demise of many state parks, including Eno River State Park in Durham, North Carolina. Without a park designation to protect this land, it’s entirely likely that it would be decimated in the name of profit, reduced to a hollow shell of its former beauty and vibrance.

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With that in mind, I arrived at Eno River State Park a few weeks ago to explore Cox Mountain Trail for the first time. (I only discovered Eno River State Park last summer, so I’m still becoming acquainted with it.) After parking and joining the trailhead, I found myself confronted by the sight of several trees which had been chopped down alongside the trail. There was no apparent reason for it, but it gave the tiniest of impressions of what might occur if Eno River State Park ceased to exist. I don’t know if and when that will happen, but I do know this piece of paradise would only be polluted by the presence of a strip mall.

After crossing the suspension bridge leading to Cox Mountain Trail, I passed a small historic cabin in the woods and noticed the land around me gaining elevation with every passing step. I rounded several curves and twists, noticing more and more visibility as I continued my upward transit. Before too long, I came to the highest point on Cox Mountain Trail, where I found this sight of the surrounding land. Though the powerlines obstructed my view, the scope and beauty of the land were breathtaking. From this point I could see for miles eastward, and I knew this piece of paradise would only be polluted by the presence of a subdivision.

From the eastward view, I followed Cox Mountain Trail through woodland until the trail began to descend. I hadn’t realized how high I was prior to this, but with the slope of the land in front of me it was clear to see that the estimate of 270 feet in elevation, stated on the park website, was reasonably accurate. The adjacent hillside loomed larger with every downward step, and it wasn’t long before I was surrounded by the shade produced by the late afternoon sun falling behind the opposite hill. Once the trail had reached the level of the river once again, I noticed small creekbeds converging toward the Eno. One of those creekbeds was mostly dry but provided a nice view which I promptly photographed. As I did so, I knew this piece of paradise would only be polluted by the presence of a convenience store.

With the sound of rushing water in the distance, I knew the Eno wasn’t far away. In less than five minutes I was once again hiking the banks of my favorite river, looking for any and every angle from which to capture its beauty. The Eno is fairly shallow at this point, and it wasn’t unrealistic for me to navigate my way over stones in the river to try to find a good view. Unfortunately, despite wading a third of the way into the river, the photos I ended up with were less than stellar. Nonetheless I did manage to find a decent view of the old dam, graced by the late afternoon sun. Soaking in the beauty of the moment, I knew this piece of paradise would only be polluted by the presence of a highway.

From the ruins of the old dam I followed the course of the trail on its eastward circuit. Soon enough the trail veered away from the Eno and made its way back into the surrounding woodland, where I found a rich canopy of oaks, beeches, and pines on every side. The trail continued through the woods for a another mile, providing me ample opportunity to inspect my surroundings. Around this time, I stopped to look through the branches overhead and saw the rotund shape of the moon in waxing gibbous phase. Stopping in my tracks to take a photo, I knew this piece of paradise would only be polluted by the presence of a factory farm.

Trekking through the woods for another half-mile, I passed several small streams and creekbeds before I found myself at the suspension bridge which provides access to Cox Mountain. The sunlight had dimmed considerably and provided much more even illumination at this time, the hour before dusk. I found the perfect angle to frame the bridge and considered how lucky I was to have such a beautiful place within thirty minutes’ driving distance from where I live. Likewise I knew this piece of paradise would only be polluted by the presence of an overpass.

Finally I crossed the suspension bridge, feeling the gentle swaying of the wood planks beneath me with every footstep. While it wasn’t the most stable surface, it provided a lovely view of the Eno to the north and the south. There were no other hikers in sight, so I had the bridge to myself, which allowed me to take as long as I wanted to get a satisfactory shot. Gazing into the serenely rippling waters of my favorite river, I knew this piece of paradise would only be polluted by the presence of a parking lot.


Hansman, Heather. “Congress just made it easier to sell off federal land, including national parks.The Guardian via Business Insider. Accessed February 21st, 2017.

Mitchell, Joni. “Big Yellow Taxi.” Ladies of the Canyon, 1970.

Rowland, Jenny. “GOP Platform Proposes to Get Rid of National Parks and National Forests.Think Progress. Accessed February 21st, 2017.

Schlanger, Zoë. “What Can a Donald Trump Presidency Do to National Parks?Newsweek. Accessed February 21st, 2017.


21 thoughts on “Turning Paradise into a Parking Lot: a Reflection on Eno River State Park

  1. Mel & Suan February 25, 2017 / 4:04 am

    We read recently in NatGeo the question: will it still be called Glacier NP if there are no glaciers there anymore due to climate change? And how relevant are NPs. But we also read that millions of people continue to throng the NPs. And to be honest if we were to do an epic road trip, surely many NPs will be on the list of stopping points.

    • Mark Miles February 27, 2017 / 4:36 am

      I’m glad to hear that you’re supportive of national parks too. It would be nothing short of an unmitigated tragedy if we were to lose them. I only hope my prediction is wrong in the long run, though my gut tells me otherwise.

      • Mel & Suan February 27, 2017 / 5:50 am

        Absolutely. When we do our own “epic” drives we buy the annual pass so that we’d not miss any NP along the way!

  2. Jasbir Chatterjee February 25, 2017 / 4:31 am

    lovely post. It’s important to strike a balance between profit and social welfare…

  3. Pauline Y February 25, 2017 / 1:34 pm

    I just hope these beautiful parks are remote enough that there isn’t enough commercial justification to develop them

    • Mark Miles February 27, 2017 / 4:37 am

      It would be nice to think, but there’s nothing that can’t be sold if one tries hard enough.

  4. usathroughoureyes February 25, 2017 / 3:51 pm

    Gosh we sure do hope they aren’t eliminated. The national parks are such a blessing and to think we didn’t know anything about them prior to getting out and exploring this great United States. Then to learn they are in other countries is wonderful to know. We do note however how sad it is as we camp and hike in them to see the liter people leave strewn about. For the life of us what are they thinking as they fling their debris about other then only of themselves.

    • Mark Miles February 27, 2017 / 4:39 am

      For the record I hope the National Park Service continues to exist and to thrive long into the future, but there are too many political indicators pointing in the opposite direction at this point.

      Hope you’re doing well, and have a great week ahead.

      • usathroughoureyes February 27, 2017 / 3:24 pm

        Time will certainly reveal their destiny. I know its difficult as we hike the trails across this great country to see them littered with bottles, cans and wrappers. We keep looking up and doing what we can to leave a place a little better then we found it.

  5. Tasmanian traveller February 26, 2017 / 2:16 am

    I felt profoundly alarmed by the contents of your post. In Australia, and particularly in my state of Tasmania, our fights are always to have more of our original forests protected and there has seldom been signs that designated national parks and forests will lose that status and be reduced. Our biggest obstacle and continuing fear is that the forestry industry will get the ear of politicians and then log our pristine primeval forests. So far sufficient activists have helped to limit any expansion.The problem of course is that since people want to use wood for all sorts of products it has to come from some where.So at the moment the issue is not so much about whether the costs of park maintenance are untenable at a government level rather whether the forestry industry will place jobs and landscape destruction over the long term health of the planet and its species.

    • Mark Miles February 27, 2017 / 4:44 am

      Your point is well-stated. The real issue is one of placing sufficient restraint on extractive industries to keep them from doing what they do best — tearing stuff up. I’m very glad to hear that Australia is foresighted enough to protect some of the greatest gifts we have on this earth, our old-growth forests. I just wish there were more of the same sentiment here.

  6. rivertoprambles February 26, 2017 / 2:35 am

    We could make America great again by kicking out of office all those scoundrels who propose elimination of our national parks. And that’s just one link in their chain of privatization designed to fatten their own wallets. Thanks for helping to spread a message that our so-called democracy should heed.

    • Mark Miles February 27, 2017 / 4:45 am

      I totally agree. The corporatization of our society is one of the greatest threats to the continuance of democracy and biodiversity on this planet. We should all be fighting like hell to stop it.

      • pennygadd51 March 25, 2017 / 7:34 am

        Absolutely right, Mark.

  7. ashiftinconsciousness February 26, 2017 / 5:21 pm

    Great piece. It’s sad that so many people don’t appreciate beauty and, instead, see everything with monetary gain in mind.

    • Mark Miles February 27, 2017 / 4:47 am

      Very much so. It makes me furious when I realize there are people in this world who care for nothing so much as money. We’d all be better off without it, in truth.

  8. junglequeen February 27, 2017 / 12:59 pm

    I hope this never happens to the USA. Here in NZ, we have a country that was once almost totally covered in native forest, gradually decimated since the first arrival of humans, Maori and European alike – each to the extent of its technological capacity. A huge percentage of the forest was burned, cut for spars or cleared for farming very early in the piece. And more recently there have been great battles over logging (people sitting in trees, petitioning Parliament and the like), Thank goodness we have a strong “Forest and Bird” lobby. Also, we now have large areas of managed forestry growing the introduced Pinus radiata species for timber. Maybe a blessing, but Pinus is a poor substitute for the wonders of our native species. I have to say (on a lighter note) that as a long-time walker (going back to the 70’s) I was appalled to see recent photos that show our National Parks ‘invaded’ by huge trails of boardwalks. I originally thought this must be to protect the native species but no, it’s apparently because the tourists don’t like getting their boots wet and muddy. Quel dommage! So – we no longer have wilderness! I’m glad I experienced it in the days when one woke up in a cold tent and put on wet socks and cold boots to cross yet another river…

  9. Brad Nixon March 7, 2017 / 7:02 pm

    So, we’ll all simply have to push back as the pressure against the NPS and wild areas in general escalates. Thanks.

  10. Robin S. Kent March 30, 2017 / 3:10 pm

    Excellent post, thanks for raising these issues. It will take a good bit of effort by those who care about the NPS. One way to help is to participate in the Climate March on April 29. Although the largest turnout is likely to be in Washington, DC (where I am one of the volunteers), “Sister Marches” are taking place in many other cities and in other countries as well. Those who might have an interest can find details on the peoplesclimatemarch.org website which has a page with information on the location of the Sister Marches.

  11. rezinate April 11, 2017 / 6:44 am

    Teddy Roosevelt founded the first national parks, was a conservationist and a staunch opponent of corporate influence in government.
    A century or so later another Republican seeks to destroy the environment, strip all related protections and regulations, and further empower corporations.
    While I don’t agree with all of Roosevelt’s policies I’m more than willing to give credit where it is due.
    Time for the electorate to set political differences aside and focus on the common good.

  12. F. T. Hall-Bowden July 20, 2017 / 4:51 pm

    I love the photo “Brown February Eno”. The colours and the stillness it portrays is captivating.

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