Summer Explosion 4-H members learn about Pilot Mountain Park’s resources

By David Broyles

July 17, 2013

PILOT MOUNTAIN — The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Summer Explosion series continued Tuesday at Pilot Mountain State Park as 4-H members participated in “Outdoor Adventures” led by Ranger Nick Bowman.

The day’s activities began with a “skulls and skins” talk from Bowman about some animals commonly found in the area.

“Our whole idea behind outdoor adventures was to offer the kids a chance to learn about the park and its natural resources,” said Extension Service Director Bryan Cave. “Learning about plants and animals as well as the scavenger hunt we have planned will get them familiar with the park. You would be amazed how many in the area don’t know about it. It’s unique and a good place to go and do things that get children outside.”

Bowman opened his talk showing a skull and hide of a white-tailed deer. He also displayed similar items from a skunk, bobcat, opossum, beaver, raccoon, red fox, bear and a river otter. Bowman also talked about the fire which occurred at the park in November last year and about the park’s geology and history.

He said Pilot Mountain State Park came about because of the work of the Pilot Mountain Preservation Park Committee, which raised enough money to qualify matching grants to purchase the property which became the 14th state park in 1968.

“This (the deer) is the most common mammal you’ll see in the park,” said Bowman as he opened the skulls and skins talk. “They will be seen eating lots of green plants now, but they will begin to forage on acorns in the fall because the high fat content in acorns will get them through the winter.”

He told the group the opossum is the only marsupial in North America and has the most teeth of any American mammal with 51 teeth. Bowman said newborn opossums are the size of honeybees. He said while deer eat only plants, opossums are omnivores and will eat almost anything. Another animal he discussed was the raccoon, which also eats a variety of items.

“The reason an opossum or raccoon will eat your dog’s or cat’s food is the same as why we go to McDonalds,” Bowman said. “It’s because they are looking for an easy meal.” He talked about raccoons being clever and that they almost have an opposable thumb. He said he routinely finds them opening the latches on trash cans at the park and climbing in for a meal.

He also told the participants how the box turtle is the state reptile.

Bowman said park employees are participating in The Box Turtle Connection, which is an initiative of The Box Turtle Collaborative. The project is to enlist the help of citizens in providing information to scientists about box turtles in the Carolinas.

Representatives from two universities (Davidson College and UNC Greensboro) and four state agencies (NC Wildlife Resources Commission, NC State Parks, NC Zoo, and NC State Museum of Natural Sciences) came together in 2007 and initiated a plan to collect data on box turtles from around the state.

The goal is to gather baseline data on population size and structure for the purpose of long-term monitoring and engage citizens in scientific data collection. This will be used to determine how box turtle populations differ across the state and factors that limit box turtle populations.

Bowman also explained to participants how park officials hoped to use a prescribed burn last year to help plants and to stop a wildfire from occurring during peak busy seasons at the park. He said a hot spot went undetected, later causing a wildfire. He pointed out trees and mountain laurel had survived and said many plants not seen before were present because of the fire clearing out the underbrush.

“A really bad thing has proved to be a good thing,” said Bowman. “Many of the trees on the southern side of the park are dropping seeds that will fall on bare soil and they are sprouting which will replace any trees we have lost.”

Reach David Broyles at or 719-1952.