Ron Sutherland, chief scientist with the Wildlands Network who led the successful activist efforts to save the 79,000-acre Hoffmann Forest in 2015, recalls what the Odd Fellows tract looked like in the ’80s, when he was a Boy Scout roaming through the woods and playing capture the flag.
I asked Dr. Sutherland what he remembered, and his memories came out uninterrupted and still very clear from more than 30 years ago.
It was the place to go in camp for our Boy Scout troop. We didn’t need to do much. We could just go out there on pretty short notice and go out and camp. It was kind of a home away from home for the Boy Scouts. It took all of ten minutes to get there.
We didn’t feel like we were in a small, tightly regulated state park. It felt like it was the woods that belonged to the Boy Scouts essentially. It was our place to roam around. It was a particularly … It reminds me a lot of the old Calvin and Hobbs cartoons, or a lot of mythical landscapes where there are a lot of big rocks, and trees everywhere and ravines. Odd Fellows is like that. It packs a lot into 105 acres of forest. It starts high by Old Reedy Creek Road and then it goes all the way down to Crabtree Creek. There are multiple sides, ravines that go out. There’s Foxcroft Lake. It’s a nice little pond but it’s beautiful. I heard tell that Boy Scouts used to swim there.
When we were there in the ’80s, there used to be a field. And we played capture the flag in the field there. Had to watch out for pine stubs and things. It was fun roaming around there. What the troop tended to do is park not far off the road there but have the patrols split up and go different directions, sort of hiked off in different directions and found places to camp. There’s different room to go different places.
There’s a nice ridge where Foxcroft Lake is. Someone put a rock in a crook of a tree (probably in the ‘70s). I think the tree just grew around the rocks and enveloped them. That’s a pretty cool phenomenon. We’d roam around. There’s interesting rock features. You’d be able to see the berm and fence and everything they’d put up for the quarry. Another one of my friends, an older Scout, he was looking for an Eagle Scout project. There were ruins. So the Eagle Scout was rebuilding the picnic shelter. He made some custom grill stands out of… hub caps, old hub caps with metals. He raised the room of the picnic shelter on some big oak logs. That was in the early ‘90s. Not long after that, ’96 and Hurricane Fran came along and I think put a tree through the picnic shelter. I was out there a couple times with some friends, in the late ‘90s, before 2001. Before things got tight with airport security. I heard after 9/11, airport security would come out and track you down.
I have a soft place in my heart for it. It was the first place I went camping and woke up with my fingers freezing. It was just really cold. Another time, we camped out on the creek and I got up the next morning before everyone else, and got out of the tent and looked around and there was a ridge going up above the creek. There was a herd of deer that saw me and took off, with their tails flagging down the ridge. When I was there in the ‘80s, seeing this herd of deer running through what looked like the wilderness, was a pretty formative experience to me to see this. The other thing we would do is we would camp there at Odd Fellows and we would hike into Umstead from there and go on long day hikes as a troop, and there were some cool spots that were off the main map that you could get to and we could go through the back woods of Umstead. Umstead still has these hidden valleys that nobody else really goes to. Quartz, boulders. A cute little pond with a stone dam. That’s kind of grown in. It gives you a feeling that you’ve found something that nobody else has found. There’s value in being able to explore a park like that.
There’s that big parking lot that felt like overkill in the ’90s, now it’s full. Every weekend. People coming in. That’s crazy.
Snapping turtles. Pond was unusually clear. Huge bass. Trees – lots of hardwood, beech trees, of a respectable age now, 40 years. A lot of pines. The field where we played capture the flag, last time I was out there, it has already become a young pine forest. Succession going on. There’s an old house between Odd Fellows and Reedy Creek Road, old homestead. I felt like there were some old rusting cars. More stuff for the Boy Scouts to explore. Tons and tons of white quartz rocks everywhere. Quartz are more durable, so they end up on the surface.
One of my hopes is we can save Odd Fellows from being turned into a quarry and that it can go back to being turned into a primitive camping area for the Scouts.