William B. Umstead State Park covers 6000 acres right in the middle of the Raleigh metropolitan area.
“I think what is so unique about Umstead State Park is the size and the location,” said Scott Letchworth, park superintendent.“We're just minutes from the beltline and the airport, but you'd never know it once you turn in to our entrance and come back here. It's a whole different world.”
Many state parks are named for the features that are located there, but this place is named instead for an individual who saw the value of protecting the natural elements of North Carolina.
“Former governor, William B. Umstead, he was a very big proponent of nature and the environment,” said Letchworth.
Situated where it is, Umstead State Park has a great number of day visitors counted among the more than 800,000 people who come here each year.
“We certainly have a large segment of regular visitors that are here almost every day, but we'll meet people from all over the country and from all over the world,” said Letchworth.
There is quite a bit for all those individuals to see and do. Water plays a key role in the recreational opportunities.
“Several creeks run through the park, and there's three man-made lakes and those were all built by the Civilian Conservation Corps,” said Letchworth.
It’s the network of trails however, that might be the biggest recreational asset.
There are 13 miles of multi-use trails and another twenty miles of trails devoted to hiking.
“We have a lot of people come out; they'll practice for hikes on the Appalachian trail, taking advantage of our trail system,” said Letchworth.
Some of the trails even host the annual Umstead 100 event each spring.
That’s a 100 mile foot race that attracts 250 participants.
“All within the confines of the park,” said Letchworth. “It's what's considered an ultra-marathon.”
Those same trails are quite popular with the community of horse enthusiasts.
"That multi-use trail that's thirteen miles, very popular with equestrians,” said Letchworth. “You know, there's, as land gets developed, there's less and less places that they can enjoy their sport.”
The pine and hardwood forest that encompasses the majority of the park is not virgin woods.
“This area was largely used for farming at the turn of the century and eventually, in the late 1930s, the federal government came in and purchased the majority of the land you see in the park now, as part of a land reclamation project,” said Letchworth.
Looking back from this point in time, that decision to set aside this land becomes more valuable every day.
“I think that was a very wise decision and as more land becomes developed in the area, I think it really becomes an even wiser decision,” said Letchworth.