Be sure to meet Charlie the Corn Snake
Updated: Jul 15
My wife and I started a tradition in 2016: if our birthdays fell on a weekday, we'd each take the day off and spend some time relaxing, doing fun activities, and well...not working. (By the way, if I ever get to make the HR rules at a company, everyone gets their birthday off). A couple of months earlier, I'd planned some surprises for her special day, and in June 2020, she had the reins. The end of my 37th trip around the sun ended up including exotic birds, North Carolina history, my first draft beer in months (thanks COVID), and, of course, because she knew I needed to fill up my Passport booklet, a hike in a never-before-visited state park. So we ended up making our way to what is, at 325 feet, one of the highest points in the state east of Wilson: Medoc Mountain State Park.
Medoc Mountain is a structure of biotite granite that formed 350 years ago from volcanic activity. Its name is derived from the famous wine-producing province in the Bordeaux region of France. That's because from the 1820s through the 1850s, the mountain's owner Sidney Weller improved wild scuppernong grapes enough to develop a commercial winery. It thrived into the 1900s and even helped North Carolina become the leading wine-producing state in the nation in 1840.
The land was sold after Weller's death in 1854 and was then used for the production of various crops. A Boy Scout camp was built on the summit of the mountain in the 1920s, and in the 1930s and 1960s, it was mined for the rare chemical element molybdenum, which is used to strengthen and bond other metals. Commonly used by locals for outdoor recreation, a state park was proposed in 1970, and the state park was officially founded in 1973.
My birthday had to be muggiest day of the year to date in 2020. Sarah had planned an early morning adventure to the nearby Sylvan Heights Bird Park, and I was extremely thankful of the A/C when we got back in the car. It was early afternoon by the time we made it to Medoc Mountain, and as usual, we headed to the park headquarters first for a Passport stamp and the lay of the land. And that's when we met one of the most unique and colorful creatures to inhabit a park office: Charlie the corn snake.
Charlie is a rustic orange color on top and a black and off-white checkered color on his belly. He seemed relaxed and to enjoy being lifted from his terrarium, but I was also told that by Allan the office manager, who introduced me to (and handed me) Charlie. COVID had limited a lot of in-person contact recently, and I got the feeling that Charlie may have been a better listener than a talker over the past four months. Allan did tell us that the Summit Loop trail we intended to hike was the best choice, and then he showed us a really cool telescope in a back room before we set out. Charlie and Allan made quite an impression.
- Map Link
- Distance: 4.7 miles
- Rating: Easy - moderate
- Time: 1.5 hours
Now if you've read any of my posts before, you're probably wondering why in the world I'm spending more details on the adventure surrounding the hike and not the hike itself. And that's because - well - the hike isn't all that adventurous. It's definitely a beautiful change of scenery from the typical grassy and flat areas in the county to canopied woods and a rockier hill, and it's certainly fun to hike over the small streams of Bear Swamp and along the Little Fishing Creek, a tributary of the Tar River. And there are also remnants of a dam from an old mill, which I always love seeing when hiking in historical areas.
But the mountain summit is reached after a fairly mundane half-mile slog up an old vehicle path, and there are no views that await you - although there is an oak tree that greets you with open arms. From there it's a quick descent down the north side of the hill, and you'll be back to the parking lot soon. The hike itself is pretty easy, but the summer humidity will treat your body as it would anywhere else in eastern NC, so be prepared to towel off when you're done.
All in all, Medoc Mountain is a fun hike because it's unique for the area, and Halifax County residents should be proud of hosting this state park. But for me, the most memorable part of the experience remains my time spent with a corn snake named Charlie.
Sidney Weller was not only famous for his vineyards. He also helped create the State Agricultural Society and was a major organizer of the first North Carolina State Fair in 1853.
You're less than a 30-minute drive from Halifax, where the first official colonial action calling for independence was penned on April 12, 1776. It's also the home of William Davie, the University of North Carolina's founder.