Recently my two favorite words have been air and conditioning, side by side and in that order.
I do not like to be hot, so this oppressive heat is really making me sedentary. I barely take my poor dog out for walks any more. I don’t even want to drive in my air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned gym.
I could just hole up in my house until September, but for my heart health (and my dog’s sake) I am trying to embrace two different cooling words: shade and water.
Fortunately, we have acres of shade and water in two state parks located just minutes from the heart of Raleigh.
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William B. Umstead State Park has almost 6,000 acres of wooded land, and Falls Lake State Recreation Area has more than 5,000 acres of park surrounding a 12,000-acre lake.
To put that in perspective, consider that New York City’s more than 8 million residents have to share Central Park’s 843 acres.
But it seems like a lot of the 1 million people that live here are not aware of the gems in our midst.
“Two or three times a week someone will come in and say, ‘I’ve lived here 20 years and I have never come into the park’,” Umstead Park Superintendent Scott Letchworth said.
When they do come, Letchworth said, they are always surprised to find “how quickly it feels like you are in the wilderness, or in nature at least, right of off I-40 and Highway 70. As soon as you come into the park, you are surrounded by trees, and you stop hearing the noise from the highways.”
Umstead has 20 miles of shady hiking trails and a small lake for boating. Canoes and rowboats can be rented on the weekend. It also offers educational programs for all ages, campsites, interactive exhibits in the visitor’s center and 13 miles of horse trails – bring your own horse.
But my new favorite thing at Umstead is the bats roosting in the eves of the visitor’s center. To see them, just walk around to the right side of the building and look up. They are small and tucked up in there very tightly, so bring binoculars for a closer look.
The major attractions at Falls Lake State Recreation Area are the beaches, boating access, picnic pavilions and campsites. There is also a 16 mile mountain bike trail, educational programs, many short loop hiking trails and 59 miles of the mountain to sea trail.
And there’s plenty of wildlife. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a beaver or a bald eagle during your visit.
Boating at Falls Lake is BYOB (bring your own boat). Canoes and kayaks can be rented from private companies such as Paddle Creek, which you can find at www.paddlecreeknc.com. The Beaverdam Recreation Area doesn’t allow motorized boats, so it’s perfect for paddling along and enjoying the view.
Park Superintendent Scott Kershner said that because the lake is on federal land, there are no homes or boat ramps on the lake.
“It’s what makes the lake so unique, so picturesque,” Kershner said.
To get more information on our state parks, you can call, stop by their visitor’s centers or browse their websites.
Another good way to hear what’s going on at the parks is to join The Umstead Coalition and the B.W. Wells Association, which partners with Falls Lake. These friends-of-the-park groups are nonprofits that support the parks by raising money to pay for improvements.
So although a 90-something degree day is still a little warm even under a canopy of trees, the benefits of getting out there will be worth it. I’m going to grab my dog and head out for a stroll in the woods.
And, with no charge to enter Umstead and Falls Lake charging just $6 per car during the summer months, shade and water are not only good for mind and body, they may be better for the wallet, too.