A family finds there’s so much to discover close to home.
Recently, my daughter Peyton and I embarked on the Discover Uwharrie Welcome Center passport program near our home in Montgomery County, North Carolina. The program awards medallions to anyone who visits and takes selfies at 10 designated sites in the Uwharrie Mountain region. It sounded simple enough. I have lived in the area my entire life, so finding all the places would be an easy and educational way to show Peyton some of the history and natural beauty of one of the oldest mountain ranges in the United States. What I didn’t expect was that I’d end up learning as much as she did over the next few months.
HAVE PASSPORT, WILL TRAVEL
We began at the Discover Uwharrie Welcome Center in Troy, where we got a brochure and an overview of the passport program. Before we headed to the forest to find the first checkpoints, we stopped by a co ee shop in the historic Hotel Troy and got maps at the ranger station.
On our second outing, we visited several of our region’s artistic treasures. STARworks, a working art studio, was our first stop. Peyton watched, enthralled, as a glassblower crafted a squirrel out of a piece of red-hot molten glass. Our next adventure took us to the town of Seagrove, home to the largest concentration of working potters in the U.S., to learn about the history of pottery in our region.
Up to this point, every site on our list had been easy to find. Next up was Big Rocks (also called Nifty Rocks). After consulting our map and Google, I was still unsure how to get there, so I brought my daddy along as navigator. After following miles of unmarked gravel trails, asking strangers for directions and calling the welcome center, we finally made it to Big Rocks and took a selfie. Now Daddy was also committed to our quest.
Next on our list was Morrow Mountain State Park, a favorite spot for campers, hikers and kayakers. Peyton loved exploring the park’s museum, as well as a re-creation of the original house of Dr. Francis Kron, a physician and pioneer horticulturist.
Continuing our study of history, we visited Town Creek Indian Mound just outside of Mount Gilead, the only North Carolina state historical site devoted to Native American culture. We intended to visit the Russell Mine next. Just as with Big Rocks, there was no sign. I didn’t want to admit it to Peyton, but I was beginning to wonder if we were going to be able to find every location on our list.
SUMMER’S SWAN SONG
A few weeks later we returned to the welcome center and asked Tracy Davis, the center’s director, if she could point us in the right direction for the elusive Russell Mine. She connected me with Harvey Younts, a local prospector and self-taught historian who is brimming with knowledge about gold mining in the area. A real-life prospector, he showed us a vial of gold flakes he had found that day. Peyton’s eyes sparkled as he showed her a vein of gold in a piece of quartz under a microscope.
With Younts’ directions, we were able to find the deserted Russell Mine just down the road—as well as Jumping O Rock and Low Water Bridge, the last destinations on our odyssey.
Four months after our quest began, we had completed all the stops. We received our special reward: medallions emblazoned with the Uwharrie Mountains on one side and Low Water Bridge on the other. But the best reward was experiencing it with my daughter and my daddy along the way.