Carvers Creek State Park is situated in the Sandhills region of North Carolina, known for being one of the most distinctive, diverse, and endangered ecosystems in the country. It is home to rare species found nowhere else outside the region, such as the red-cockaded woodpecker and the Pine Barrens tree frog.
These species are rare due to habitat loss; it is estimated that only about 3 percent of the once-large longleaf pine wiregrass ecosystem remains within the United States. Rainfall and fire are key to sustaining this ecosystem, and conservation efforts, particularly regular prescribed fire, are of utmost importance at Carvers Creek.
The park is also part of the Cape Fear River Basin, and creeks and streams are scattered throughout both access areas. At Long Valley Farm, Jumping Run Creek flows into the McDiarmid Millpond, which was damaged by flooding in 2016 but has since been repaired and reopened. The eponymous Carvers Creek and its small tributaries meander through the Sandhills access.
These water sources, paired with the region's sandy soils, create a variety of natural communities at the park, including dry longleaf pine, wet pine savanna, streamhead pocosin, coastal plain floodplain and oak forest.
The longleaf pine forests at Carvers Creek State Park are home to many bird species, aside from the various woodpeckers. These include songbirds such as the summer tanager, Bachman's sparrow, chipping sparrow, brown-headed nuthatch, pine warblers, Carolina wren, and eastern towhee. Raptors like the American kestrel and red-shouldered hawk have also been spotted. Species such as the mourning dove, the Carolina chickadee, and brown-headed cowbird are known to live and breed here.
Mammals at the park include the eastern fox squirrel, the southern flying squirrel, and the eastern red bat. There are many types of frogs, salamanders, and lizards at the park, but among the most notable are the rare Pine Barrens treefrog and the dwarf waterdog. Eastern box turtles and the nonvenomous northern black racer and scarlet kingsnake round out some of the reptile species at the park, but cottonmouths have also been spotted, so watch your step and don't go off the trail.
Insects designated as rare by the N.C. Natural Heritage Program also call the park home; these include Hessel's hairstreak, frosted elfin, and four-lined chocolate moth.
The red-cockaded woodpecker, Dryobates borealis, is a bird species that has been classified as endangered both by the N.C. Natural Heritage Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is estimated that the remaining population in the state is in the low thousands, and that only about 1 percent of their original population in the United States are left.
Their primary habitat is the longleaf pine forest. Like other woodpeckers, they forage for insects on tree trunks and branches, and they roost and nest in cavities, usually about 40 feet above ground. However, they are unique in that they use living pine trees. At Carvers Creek State Park, trees with the RCW cavities are marked with white bands to help with conservation efforts.
Despite the name, you may not see any red on the woodpeckers, especially from afar. Only males have the cockade, which is a red line of feathers on the bird's cap, or behind the eye, and is only visible if the male is excited or threatened. To distinguish them from other woodpeckers, look for a black crown and large patch of white on its cheeks. They are also smaller than most woodpeckers at about 8 inches long.
The RCW does not migrate. They nest from April to June, and the young birds are fed and raised both by their parents and a few other bird helpers, also known as cooperative breeding.
Aside from tracking cavities and populations, park staff and biologists work to ensure a healthy longleaf pine forest through prescribed fire and removing invasive species. Fire not only helps maintain and expand this important RCW habitat, but it also helps the fire-hardy longleafs in protecting growing stems and in encouraging resin flow, which the birds then use to protect their nests from predators.
The longleaf pine, Pinus palustris, is an important part of the ecosystem in the Sandhills region, covering about 160,000 acres in area. These trees go to about 100 feet high and about 28 inches in diameter. Historically, the longleaf pine played an important role in North Carolina's naval stores industry, but it is now a key component of conservation efforts, as it serves as habitat for rare and endangered species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker.
Most park trails at both accesses lead you to longleaf pine forests, but Carvers Creek State Park as a whole is botanically diverse. Just beyond the pines are blackwater wetlands surrounding the millpond and where you can find pond cypress, with their distinctly shaped flared bases partially submerged in the still waters. Though a conifer, the pond cypress are also deciduous, and in the fall, their array of yellows and oranges stand in contrast to the evergreen pines.
Also at home at the park are unique species like yellow pitcher plant and Sandhills pyxie-moss, and rare ones like bog oatgrass, bog spicebush, Canby's bulrush, Cuthbert's turtlehead, lady lupin, and sarvis holly.
Though farm structures are still at Long Valley Farm, botanical traces of its previous life as pasture land have since been replaced with warm-season perennial grass, thanks to the work of The Nature Conservancy, which managed the land before donating it to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.
At the Rockefeller House, there are various trees of historical significance. An old pear tree and wisteria was possibly planted in the early 20th century by Robert Wall Christian, who was the previous owner of the farm before the Rockefellers.
As James Stillman Rockefeller built the house and developed the property as his family's winter estate, his wife Nancy handled the landscaping. Groves of southern magnolia and tulip-tree magnolia can be found near the house, as well as camellia and azalea plants, and dogwood and holly trees. Also of note are the live oaks in the yard, which were first brought to the property by Mrs. Rockefeller, transplanted from her Carnegie family's estate in Cumberland Island, Ga.
Long Valley Farm
The 1,420-acre farm that serves as the main access for Carvers Creek State Park has a history of lumber milling and gameland hunting prior to its agricultural use. In the early 20th century, Robert Wall Christian owned the property, and he built the beginnings of the farm; some of these structures such as the spring house and the gazebo were built by him.
In 1927, Christian sold the farm to Percy Avery Rockefeller, nephew of John D. Rockefeller, who used the land for hunting. Percy had already established the much larger Overhills Estate, located about 7 miles northwest of Long Valley Farm and is now part of Fort Bragg.
A few years after Percy's death, in 1937, James Stillman Rockefeller purchased Long Valley Farm from his cousins.
James and his wife Nancy took a liking to the Sandhills area, and after purchasing the farm, they built a house on the property that was completed in May 1938. James and Nancy made Long Valley Farm their winter getaway.
James hired George McNeil to manage the farm. The farm grew tobacco; it also had a grist mill and, in the 1940s, produced cornmeal and flour, which were then sold under the Long Valley Farm name.
The Rockefeller Family
James Stillman Rockefeller was born on June 8, 1902, in New York to William Goodsell Rockefeller and Sarah Elizabeth (Elsie) Stillman. A man of many accomplishments, James would eventually live 102 years through some of the most eventful decades of American history.
James was the third of five children and born into a family of immense combined wealth. His paternal grandfather, William Rockefeller, and great uncle John Davidson Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil of Ohio in 1870. In its heyday, Standard Oil was the largest oil company in the world and made the Rockefellers among the richest and most prominent families to this day. On the maternal side, his mother was the daughter of James Jewett Stillman, who led National City Bank (now known as Citibank) to being the largest one in the United States before the turn of the century. The Rockfellers and the Stillmans had a strong alliance that was cemented when William Goodsell married Elsie, while his brother Percy Avery married Elsie's sister.
James attended Yale University, where he was elected into Phi Beta Kappa and Yale's secret society, Scroll and Key. He became captain of the Yale rowing team, which won at gold medal at the 1924 Summer Olympic Games in Paris. That same year, he graduated from Yale and appeared on the cover of Time magazine on its July 7 issue.
On his way to the Paris Olympics, he sailed on the boat SS Homeric, and on it he met Nancy Campbell Sherlock Carnegie, daughter of Andrew Carnegie II and Bertha Sherlock. That their respective great uncles happened to be the two richest Americans in history — Nancy's is the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie — must have been serendipity too good to ignore. By the time they got to Paris, James had fallen in love with Nancy. After a courtship throughout Italy, the pair got married on April 15, 1925.
The couple settled in a Greenwich, Conn., estate. James worked in Wall Street, first at a bank called Brown Brothers, before following in his maternal grandfather's footsteps and moving to National City Bank in 1930.
The first of their four children, James Stillman Rockefeller, Jr., was born in 1926. Three more followed: Nancy Sherlock Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie Rockefeller, and Georgia Stillman Rockefeller.
Overhills Estate and Long Valley Farm
As the family settled in their grand mansion, James and Nancy sought to establish a winter getaway in the South. James' uncle Percy had already established a large estate in the Sandhills called Overhills, which was centered on a plantation once owned by Daniel McDiarmid (namesake of the millpond at Long Valley Farm).
Overhills was a vast compound that Percy turned into a sportsman's paradise; elite memberships were sold for access to the estate's clubhouse, stables, fishing lake, hunting grounds, golf course, and polo fields. A railroad station and miles of track were built inside the property to accommodate shipment of goods. In his later years, Percy also bought back Long Valley Farm and used it for hunting. Overhills also transitioned back into a family estate by the time Percy died.
James bought Long Valley Farm from his cousins in 1937. He hired George McNeil to live on the property year-round and manage the farm, while he and Nancy got started right away on construction of the house. The house was completed in May 1938.
World War II
Establishing a winter estate at Long Valley Farm turned out to be fortuitous for James Stillman Rockefeller. It became a convenient location during World War II when he was stationed at Fort Bragg as lieutenant colonel of the U.S. Airborne Command.
After the War
James returned to his banking career after World War II. He was elected president of National City Bank in 1952, and he helped merge it with the First National Bank in 1955. The merger created the First National City Bank of New York, which is now called Citibank. He served as president until 1959 when he became chairman, a title he held until 1967.
He also sat on the boards of Pan American World Airways, Northern Pacific Railroad, National Cash Register, Kimberly-Clark, and Monsanto.
Long Valley Farm was his winter estate. He visited on long weekends and during holidays throughout the years to get away from the hustle and bustle of New York City. He would spend his days working on the farm, swimming in the millpond, and enjoying the scenery.
His family's permanent residence was a grand Georgian mansion in Greenwich, Conn., situated on an estate that he and Nancy called "Rockfields." The 19,000-square-foot, 11-bedroom mansion was complemented by an English box garden and outdoor pool.
Nancy died in 1994 after 68 years of marriage.
On August 5, 2004, James suffered a stroke. Per his wishes, he was not placed on life support and passed away 5 days later at the age of 102. In his final years, he was the oldest living Olympic Gold Medal recipient and the earliest living cover subject of Time magazine.
By the time he died, he had 14 grandchildren, 37 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-granddaughter.
How Rockefeller Gave Back
James donated his time and money to many causes, such as the American Museum of Natural History, New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and many environmental organizations. His wife helped establish the Greenwich Maternal Health Center, championing birth control.
The Rockefeller family created and funded a nonprofit conservation organization called the Overhills Foundation. In 2011, this foundation granted funds to help educate the public and to preserve the historic significance of Long Valley Farm. This money has helped purchased educational materials, such as the interpretive panels along the trails, books, canoes, fishing gear, and more. Some grant money was also allocated to the renovation of the Rockefeller House.
Upon the death of James Stillman Rockefeller in 2004, his estate left Long Valley Farm to The Nature Conservancy for protection and preservation.
In 2010, the conservancy gifted the land to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.