Considering the Future on a Winter Hike to Bobbitt Hole

by Mark Miles

During the month of January, I went hiking for the third time to Bobbitt Hole at Eno River State Park. The two times I’ve been there previously were during the spring and summer, when there was so much vegetation along the banks of the Eno River that many of the best views were obscured. With the greatly reduced foliage of winter, however, I was able to photograph much more of the Eno River than I expected.

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I parked at the trailhead for Cole Mill Trail, just off Old Cole Mill Road in Durham, North Carolina. It was early in the evening on a Tuesday, an unusual time for me to go hiking—I normally go on the weekends—but one of the few days in the month of January when central North Carolina wasn’t inundated by torrential rains.

Torrential rains and flash flooding are becoming increasingly commonplace in North Carolina. They’re also hugely destructive, especially when combined with cold winter weather that prevents the accumulated floodwaters from evaporating. This combination of flooding and cold temperatures causes the soil to become hypersaturated at a time when many animal species are hibernating in the ground. As a result, these animals drown in floodwaters, die of exposure, or starve from lack of seasonal food sources when they come to the surface. All of this is the inevitable consequence of a rapidly destabilizing climate that is currently being wrecked beyond repair by extractive industries fueling the growth of the global economy.

Despite the recent flash flooding and an increasingly destabilizing climate, I tried to make the most of the clear weather on a Tuesday evening as I hiked along Cole Mill Trail to Bobbitt Hole. There were a number of other people who had the same idea, apparently motivated to get some fresh air on one of the few days in January when there wasn’t an immediate risk of being drowned.

It was nice to see so many people enjoying the park without leaving it in worse shape than they found it. This, of course, is proof that humans are not destructive by nature. On the contrary, we are beneficial to nature as long as we tread lightly. The blame for our destructiveness lies at the feet of our economic system, which prioritizes greed over altruism and the individual over the community. If there’s one thing you’ll learn in any park, it’s the simple fact that all of nature is one big community.

Considering the plight of the park, I made my way on Cole Mill Trail past a sycamore tree—which was recently toppled by flash flooding and is now a stump—that has one of the the most distinctive root structures in Eno River State Park. For its twisty roots, white coloration, and hollow trunk—which frequently gives shelter to small animals—the American sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis) is by far one of my favorites. In the following photo, you can see some of the distinctively twisty roots of the sycamore covering a portion of the Cole Mill Trail by the Eno River.

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After trekking a short distance, I came to one of many popular fishing spots along the banks of the Eno River. I’ve never been fishing along Cole Mill Trail, for the simple reason that I don’t have the time or equipment to do it properly. But judging from the number of fishermen I’ve seen at or near this particular location, I would be willing to bet it’s one of the best in Eno River State Park. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also incredibly beautiful and provides a great opportunity to hone your skills in landscape photography.

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For a mile or so, I hiked through the peace and quiet of Cole Mill Trail. The number of other hikers was noticeably thinning by this time, and the colors of dusk were settling in. I was surprised by how beautifully the evening light accentuated the barren landscape of winter. Grays, whites, and browns were bathed in a shade of subdued violet that gave the experience a slightly otherworldly quality, not entirely out of place in our rapidly destabilizing world. This was especially noticeable when I stumbled upon a very unusual tree growing in the shape of a rainbow over the trail, nearly dipping into the Eno River, as you can see in the following photo.

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After a short distance, I reached the footbridge that announces to the observant hiker the approach to Bobbitt Hole. The creek that the footbridge crosses has no name that I’ve been able to find, but it has so much character and distinctiveness that I can’t help feeling it should. For my own part, I would love to name it “Steep Leaf Creek,” since its sides are so steeply inclined and its banks are covered in a thick layer of leaves that have collected over the years.

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The last sign of my approach to Bobbitt Hole was a distinctive stand of oak, maple, and pine. These trees are ubiquitous throughout Eno River State Park and North Carolina. They line the banks of rivers and lakes, fill forests and bottomlands, provide food and shelter to wildlife, and retain topsoil that’s increasingly at risk of erosion due to torrential rains and flash flooding. They are members of the community too, though most humans fail to see them in that light. And they are deserving of recognition for their contribution. It doesn’t hurt that they provide another opportunity to hone those landscape photography skills either.

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Finally, I reached Bobbitt Hole. Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to find any historical background on Bobbitt Hole itself. Considering the history of the Eno River as a whole, however, it’s logical to assume that there were substantial mills immediately upstream and downstream of it. The ruins of Alpha Woolen Mill and Cole Mill are still observable on the opposite bank not far from this location. Beyond that, Bobbitt Hole is one of the deepest points on the Eno and one of the most popular swimming holes in this part of Durham, North Carolina. And of course it’s just plain beautiful.

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But being beautiful isn’t enough in the global economy. Being profitable is the only thing that matters now, since multinational corporations and their political allies are making the laws and setting the precedents. In practice, this means that places like Bobbitt Hole and Eno River State Park will soon be on the chopping block. One only has to look at recent selloffs of national parks to see the trend. Yet without these places—places where we can breathe freely, think clearly, and feel deeply—we would lose the most important part of what it means to be human. And that’s why it’s our responsibility—as humans, citizens, and stakeholders—to preserve these places, for now and forever. Without them, our future will be nothing more than a footnote in history.


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The Importance of Fighting to Preserve Wilderness

by Mark Miles

Whether we realize it or not, wilderness is essential to all of our lives. A short list of the major ecological services provided by wilderness includes the following: 1) regulating climate by sequestering carbon, 2) retaining topsoil through expansion of root networks, 3) preserving biodiversity by providing habitat and food sources for endemic species, 4) filtering watersheds through microorganismal and vegetal communities, 5) purifying air through respiration and storage of pollutants, and 6) supporting indigenous communities who depend on the land for the necessities of life. And best of all, these essential services are provided to us free of charge.

By contrast, if tech industries were to attempt to fulfill the same ecological services provided for free by wilderness, the cost could very easily surpass the national deficit on a monthly basis. In short, wilderness is doing all of us a favor merely by existing. Needless to say, that should be enough for our leaders to preserve wilderness at all costs. Such is not the case however.

As you may have heard, there were some sobering statistics released not long ago in the scientific journal Current Biology regarding the state of wilderness globally. The bottom line, as with so many issues relating to planetary health, is horrifying and obscene. Over a period of two decades, ten percent of all wilderness (3.3 million square kilometers or the equivalent land area of two Alaskas) was annihilated to feed the engine of industrialization. This may not seem to be much on the surface, but it is when you consider two things: 1) only twenty percent of Earth’s land area is still wilderness, and 2) the rate of global deforestation is only increasing due to the growing appetite for resources of China, Brazil, Russia, and Indonesia. Whether because of construction, manufacturing, mining, forestry, or agriculture, the result is the same: wilderness pays the price while the wealthy who run the global economy walk away with the bank. It’s the very definition of unsustainable, unjust, and unforgivably wrong.

Which is why we should be doing everything we can to protect and support wilderness wherever we are. For my part I do this by raising awareness through my blog, gardening organically, reducing my consumption, buying as little as possible, and encouraging others to do the same. But the reality is that none of these actions will stop the bulldozers, the pipelines, the paramilitary troops, or the endless waves of industrialization that are eviscerating our planet. What we need is an organized, mobilized, and uncompromisingly dedicated army of concerned citizens who want to save the planet and their children’s future before it’s too late.

And one focal point for mobilizing should be our national and state parks. These are bastions of nature, freedom, wildlife, and health which are frequently within driving distance from where we live and which are doing their best to ensure that the little of wilderness that’s left has a fighting chance for the future. To that end I’ve compiled some of my latest photography from three parks in my area of central North Carolina to demonstrate exactly what it is that all of us should be fighting for.

The trails at Eno River State Park are so extensive that even after exploring them on a monthly basis for the past year and a half, I haven’t covered all of them. The park includes 4,200 acres of land and preserves nine miles of riparian habitat along the banks of the Eno River, where I found this bubbling brook nestled amidst a bucolic valley that could’ve come straight out of a fairy tale. There are so many places in Eno River State Park that are equally beautiful and worthy of preservation, but the only guarantee we have that they will continue to exist in the future is our own efforts to fight on their behalf in the present.

The trails at Eno River State Park preserve not only opportunities for hiking but also opportunities for fishing and swimming. Though no one was swimming at Bobbitt Hole when I took the following photo, there was at least one person fishing with his girlfriend on the rocks around it. It may seem trivial to some people to preserve an opportunity for fishing when so few of us depend on the work of our own hands to survive, but it’s a reminder to all of us that our human lives are directly tied to and dependent upon the health of the land, which provides food to all of us along with beauty and recreation.

The Eno Riverwalk in Hillsborough, North Carolina is a stretch of riparian habitat that includes 1.8 miles of trails which border downtown and run through several neighborhoods in the area. It’s one of the most beautiful stretches of riverfront that I’ve ever seen and demonstrates that it is indeed possible to combine some degree of human habitation with wilderness, though obviously there are limits. Even in the quaint and historic town of Hillsborough, however, there is an increasing push to construct ever more housing that will inevitably erode the health of the river and the surrounding land.

Another feature of the Eno Riverwalk is the gradual reconstruction of a traditional Occaneechi roundhouse, which sits just southeast of the courthouse in downtown Hillsborough. The Occaneechi Indians lived in this area through the eighteenth century but were forcibly displaced by European colonization at the end of that century, only beginning to re-emerge from the shadows of history in the last quarter of the twentieth century. They’ve become active in historical recreation and have demonstrated some of their traditional habitation in this roundhouse. This place then is a testament to the importance not only of preserving wilderness but also of preserving cultures that have historically revered wilderness and sought to live in harmony with nature rather than in dominion over it.

The State Natural Area of Occoneechee Mountain is another wilderness area where I go hiking frequently. It covers 190 acres of beautiful terrain and straddles the Eno River along its northern and western borders; it was also part of the traditional territory of the Occaneechi Indians before they were forcibly displaced by European colonization. My understanding is that they regarded the mountain as a holy place where they could commune with their ancestors and the spirits of nature. It’s easy to understand how they could have come to that conclusion when you see for yourself the awe-inspiring beauty of the view from the Overlook, where I took this photo.

Sadly there is also mining for pyrophyllite and andalusite in the area surrounding Occoneechee Mountain, though you would never be able to tell from the view provided by the Overlook. Fortunately Occoneechee Mountain remains protected from the deforestation and contamination which are the inevitable byproducts of mining, but there’s no guarantee for the future. If Occoneechee Mountain were ever to be sold by the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation in order to ameliorate budgetary shortfalls, the fate of Occoneechee Mountain would be the same as that of most mining sites: it would be turned into a hollow and lifeless shell of its former self, never to be the same again.

So while there are many stretches of wilderness in my own area of central North Carolina, any or all of them could be clear-cut, bulldozed, mined, or turned into an industrial wasteland at the drop of a politician’s hat. And that is neither ethical nor acceptable to anyone with half an ounce of sense or concern for the future. If we want to live on a planet that continues to be habitable for humans as well as every other species, we need to take action now to preserve wilderness anywhere and everywhere we can, starting with the wilderness in our own backyards. Organizing, mobilizing, and acting decisively to defend wilderness while it still exists is not only our responsibility as inhabitants of this planet, it’s the best way of ensuring our survival as a species.

References:

Eno River State Park,” Wikipedia, accessed Nov. 29th, 2017.

Fraggoso, Alejandro Davila, “The planet is going through a ‘catastrophic’ wilderness loss, study says,” Think Progress, accessed Nov. 28th, 2017.

Harvey, Chelsea, “The world has lost a tenth of all its wilderness in the past two decades,” Washington Post, accessed Nov. 28th, 2017.

Occoneechee Mountain — Active Mine,” Eno River Geology, accessed Nov. 30th, 2017.

Riverwalk,” Town of Hillsborough, accessed Nov. 30th, 2017.

Watson, James E. M., Danielle F. Shanahan, Moreno di Marco, James Allan, William F. Laurance, Eric W. Sanderson, Brendan Mackey, Oscar Venter, “Catastrophic Declines in Wilderness Areas Undermine Global Environment Targets,” Current Biology, accessed Dec. 1st, 2017.