Get plant and animal checklists at the park office.
All of the fields cultivated by past residents of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries have been reforested by pines through natural succession and intentional planting. Today, the park is comprised of a mix of pine and hardwood forests. Due to severe storms and infestation by southern pine beetles, the pine forest exists as smaller pockets surrounded by a forest of hardwoods. Hickories, sweet gum, red maple, dogwood and oaks are the prevalent species. Mountain laurel, wild hydrangea, box elder, strawberry bush and other small trees and shrubs comprise the understory.
Stream banks are dominated by sweet gum, ironwood and river birch while beech may be found in the coves. Alder and willow thickets grow along the lake's edge, and marsh communities include a variety of grasses, rushes and sedges.
Though most of the park's animal species are rarely seen, at least 35 species of mammals have been found in the area around the park. Upland communities are home to coyotes, Virginia opossum, eastern cottontail, gray squirrel, red and gray foxes, and white-tailed deer, as well as the eastern mole and several species of shrews and mice. Muskrat and raccoon may be seen in the marshes along the creeks and lake.
Amphibians and reptiles are abundant and diverse. Frogs, turtles and water snakes inhabit wetlands along the creeks and the perimeter of the lake. Most of the snakes found in the park are harmless and seldom seen. However, the venomous copperhead lives in the park; hikers should exercise caution.
Bird life in the park is typical of the Carolina piedmont. Carolina chickadees, pine warblers, rufous-sided towhees and bobwhites make their homes in the uplands. Red-tailed hawks are common, and wild turkey and osprey also may be seen near the lake.
The waters of Lake Norman attract a variety of waterfowl. Mallards, wood ducks, teal and other ducks, as well as geese, may be seen during certain seasons. Wading birds, including great blue herons, green-backed herons and egrets, may be encountered along lake shallows in summer. Shorebirds rest in these areas during spring and fall migrations. A 3,000-acre waterfowl refuge is located south of Cowans Ford Dam.