Hidden Gems

Robertson Millpond Preserve

by // April - May - June 2018

Spring offers a great opportunity to shake off the rust from a cold winter when we are forced to spend so much of our time indoors. The arrival of warmer weather is the perfect time to get outside to embrace nature and enjoy some new sights, new sounds, and new experiences ... this issue’s “Hidden Gem” – Robertson Millpond Preserve – is the ideal place to do just that.

A visit to the exquisite 85-acre refuge for nature lovers, canoeists, and kayakers, located nearby at 6333 Robertson Pond Road in Wendell, transports you back to nature, back to peace, and back in time.

A RICH CULTURAL HISTORY

Robertson Millpond Preserve is part of Buffalo Creek (named for the herds of buffalo once seen watering there), that was dammed back in the 1820s. The dam, part earthen and part masonry, is still in place today. The mill – a significant focal point of economic activity in the Wendell community for almost two centuries – was removed in the mid-1970s, but the dam and remaining foundation of the mill have been designated as historic landmarks. In the 1820s, William Avera operated a 600-acre farm and gristmill with his wife and two children, dwelling in a Federal-style house at the time. As an adult, William’s son, Thomas, became a farmer and doctor, eventually serving as a surgeon in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Thomas constructed an Italianate-style home in the early 1870s (also designated a historic landmark), and the family moved the original house to the new homesite on Robertson Pond Road, where it still stands today.

The Robertson family – for which the road and pond are named – gained ownership of the property following land sales in 1887 and 1914. They owned the land west of the pond and are believed to have operated the mill until the 1940s. In 1960, the Robertson estate was divided into 11 tracts for surviving heirs. Nettie Robertson Fowler inherited the millpond, where her family operated a boathouse in the 1960s, renting wooden boats for fishing. 

The Wake County Open Space Program purchased the site in September 2013, and opened Robertson Millpond Preserve to the public in October 2015.

A SIGNIFICANT NATURAL AREA

The North Carolina Natural Heritage Pro-gram has identified the site as one of 47 significant natural areas in Wake County and it has also been recognized as a Wetland Treasure by the Carolina Wetlands Association. 

This blackwater cypress-gum swamp is unique this far north and this far west in North Carolina (blackwater is formed when a river or creek flows through forested swamps or wetlands; as vegetation decays, tannins leach into the water, making a transparent, acidic water that is darkly stained, resembling tea or coffee).Thus, many species from the coastal plain are present. The bases of the cypress trees provide habitat for swamp rose and several coastal plain plants, shrubs, and vines, including the coastal fetterbush and sweetspire. Virginia blue flag, another species found primarily in the coastal plain, can be found blooming near the boat dock in the spring.

GET OUT AND EXPLORE

Bring your own canoe, kayak, paddle board, or small trolling boat (which can be launched at the grassy launch site or from the ADA-accessible boat dock). Don’t have your own? No problem. From mid-April through October, Paddle Creek rents kayaks from the shoreline. Outside of the season, contact them directly for rentals. (Please note that life jackets are required.)

The paddling trail consists of 73 buoys that lead you on a 1.15-mile loop through the forest (Robertson Pond, with a maximum depth of approximately 15 feet, is all flatwater and is very protected from the wind, as you are literally in a forest; there is no detectable current). In some places, the pond is wide enough to feel like a small lake, while in other places, it is not much wider than your kayak. With a relaxed paddling speed, one hour is just enough time to complete the trail. Two hours will give you ample time to explore, relax, and enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings as you meander through the trail. 

Got a little extra time? Bring your fishing pole (for designated fishing areas) – fish populations include sawcheek and swamp darters, flier, ironcolor shiner, and mud, bluespotted, and pigmy sunfish. In addition, the cypress swamp is also habitat for common birds, including wood and black duck, pileated and downy woodpeckers, prothonotary warblers, screech and great horned owls, great blue heron, and more. Also be on the lookout for beavers, muskrats, raccoons, water snakes, frogs, and turtles.

Robertson Millpond Preserve is open to the public on weekends and some holidays. Gates open Saturdays and Sundays at 8:00 AM, and are locked at sunset. The pond closes 30 minutes earlier than the preserve. The site offers vehicle access, parking, and unloading area; sheltered picnic tables; access to the pond by a short pier/dock or from the shoreline; and access to see the original gristmill site foundation.

This spring, step back from the business of every day life and let the unique beauty and history of Robertson Millpond Preserve welcome you. This local hidden gem provides the perfect opportunity for you and your family to make memories together while going back to nature, back to peace, and back in time.

Information courtesy of www.wakegov.com/parks/robertsonmillpond/Pages/default.aspx. Visit the website for detailed park information, park rules, and more.