Why are there two unconnected entrances to Umstead State Park?

I’m a big fan of Umstead State Park – especially since getting there from my front door requires ten minutes by bike or five minutes by car. But I’ve always been a little mystified by something. I live on the Cary side of the park, near the Harrison Avenue entrance. A lot of the park’s facilities (for example, the campgrounds) are on the far side of the park on the US 70 entrance. And there’s absolutely no way to drive through the park to get from the Cary side to the US 70 side! One day I decided to figure out why this was and found out there’s a really interesting story for how things ended up. So, how’d we get two entrances to Umstead? Read on to find out…

umstead

Umstead’s entrance sign.

Like several parks in North Carolina (Hanging Rock, for example), what we now know as Umstead State Park was originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. You usually don’t need to do much more than visit these parks to confirm that this is the case… all of the parks built by the CCC contain picnic shelters, stairways, bridges, and other structures that have an eerily similar design. Usually, they’re made of stone and seem like they were designed to withstand a nuclear holocaust. If you go into the US 70 entrance of Umstead, you’ll find plenty of evidence that this park definitely was a CCC project.

Of course, at the time, it wasn’t referred to as Umstead State Park. Instead, the name for the park was the “Crabtree Creek Recreational Demonstration” area – and it was federally owned. It wasn’t until 1943 that the land was turned over to the State of North Carolina. The State chose to divide the land to create two parks – the northern half of the park with the US 70 entrance was a park for whites, and was eventually named “William B. Umstead State Park.” The southern half of the park with the Harrison Avenue entrance was a park for blacks, named Reedy Creek State Park. Though the two parks were joined together into one park accessible to everyone in 1966, the disconnected entrances live on as a reminder of the original segregation.

Of course, there are other good reasons not to connect the two entrances. The park (with the adjacent Raleigh/Durham International Airport) makes travel between certain Triangle destinations a maddeningly difficult affair. Getting from, say, SAS Institute in Cary to the furniture stores on Glenwood Avenue is only a 3.5 mile trip as the crow flies… but requires a 12 mile, 15 minute trek around Umstead. Imagine the number of cut-throughs that would occur if Umstead had a road going from one entrance to the other!

Umstead also contains a lot of preserved natural areas, including the Piedmont Beech Natural Area, a National Natural Landmark. The Piedmont Beech Natural Area has been closed even to foot traffic for quite some time and requires a permit to enter. Running a road right through the middle of the park might mess a lot of that up…

So, there you have it. The lack of a road connecting Umstead’s two entrances is a holdover from segregation-era policies. But today it keeps the park a little bit less traveled and a little bit more natural!

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