Hiking to an Old Mill Dam at Cedarock Park

On December 6th, 2020 I went to Cedarock Park (4242 R. Dean Coleman Rd., Burlington, N.C., 27215) in Burlington, North Carolina. Though I’ve been there before, it’s been a long time, and the experience felt completely new and different as a result.

Along the way, I took a 4.4 mile out-and-back hike and encountered a historic farmstead, a flock of sheep and goats, muddy trails, scenic creeks, a distinctive edible mushroom, more muddy trails, an old mill dam, and — oh yeah, did I mention? — more muddy trails.

Even so, it was an enjoyable hike on the whole and one I would recommend to anyone living in or visiting central North Carolina — though you should make sure to wear sturdy hiking boots and be ready to get muddy.

Arriving in the mid-afternoon on a Sunday, I wasn’t surprised to see substantial crowds. Ever since the advent of the coronavirus, there’s been a surge in interest in hiking, which is understandable since people are desperate to be active and social, and hiking allows a bit of both, albeit at a controlled level.

After parking, I got out of my car and took a look at the Garrett Historical Farm, one of the foremost attractions at Cedarock Park. As I approached, the first thing that caught my eye was the Garrett Home Place.

Though it wasn’t open at the time I visited, it can be seen in more depth with a guided tour, which is available on weekdays through the official site.

Off to the north side of the farmstead, there was a pen where sheep and goats could be seen, foraging and lounging around in the sun.

One of the goats in particular was quite inquisitive and decided to introduce himself, climbing on the wooden fence to check out my phone.

After looking around the farmstead, I joined Spoon Branch Trail and started my hike. This trail, however, is somewhat deceptive at the start, winding through a field with almost no indication of where the trail ends and the field begins. Thankfully, that changed when I hit the forest to the south, passed Fox Branch, and then crossed R. Dean Coleman Road.

In no time, I was passing a pond on my right and a field on my left, where a small of number of farm animals were kept. Within a quarter mile, the land descended to the Mud Pit of Despair (not the acutal name, but should be) and the soil went from damp to waterlogged, so much so that I nearly lost my footing more than once.

Even so, there is at least one stretch of elevated walkway on Spoon Branch Trail, which makes hiking less likely to result in spontaneous self-targeted mud wrestling.

Around this time, there was another trail that came up on my right. This was the Equestrian Trail, which, as the name implies, allows horses and their riders to explore the park. With this trail to the side, I continued south until I came to a footbridge.

Crossing the footbridge over Rock Creek, I hiked another tenth of a mile before reaching another footbridge, this one over Spoon Branch.

After making my way through a dizzying labyrinth of overlapping trails — which the park map really doesn’t adequately delineate — I finally made my way through the Mud Pit of Despair and reached the Connector Trail.

Though this trail had little to offer in the way of opportunities for landscape photography, there was one pleasant surprise that I stumbled upon, quite unintentionally.

Growing out of the decaying trunk of an old tree, I found an impressive specimen of Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus), an edible mushroom that reputedly tastes like scallops, especially when fried in olive oil.

Continuing on, I followed the Connector Trail for a quarter mile before reaching Rock Creek Trail and turning left. This in turn led to a corkscrew in the creek and trail, stretching a half mile or so, during which I crossed another three footbridges. And though this was the longest stretch of my hike, sadly there was little to catch the eye along the way.

That changed however when I reached the Old Mill Dam.

Situated at the northeast extent of Cedarock Park, it apparently used to be part of an old water mill, presumably Curtis Mill, since that’s the name of one of the trails leading to it. Even so, there’s no indication of its history in the park literature that I found. Despite that, it was a beautiful location, as evidenced by the small crowd of people gravitating around it, which you can see in the short video above.

After admiring the mill dam, I turned around and made my way back to Garrett Historical Farm, where I parked.

And though I was lucky to have passed through the Mud Pit of Despair unscathed, I was also glad I took the time to explore an underappreciated gem of hiking and history here in central North Carolina, nestled in the backwoods of a farmstead and an old mill.

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