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First Day Hike: Hikers trek to swamp's Big Tree

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State park Ranger Joseph Hiatt leads about 60 hikers on a two-mile trek along Supple Jack Trail and Canal Road to the base of the state's largest persimmon tree — a registered N.C. Champion Big Tree — as part of the First Day Hike at Dismal Swamp State Park near South Mills, Tuesday.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

SOUTH MILLS — Participants in the First Day Hike at Dismal Swamp State Park Tuesday got a glimpse of the state’s largest persimmon tree — a registered N.C. Champion Big Tree growing on the banks of the Dismal Swamp Canal.

About 60 hikers turned out at the park for a First Day Hike a, program of the N.C. State Parks.

The hike, led by Ranger Joseph Hiatt, followed the park’s Supple Jack Trail and Canal Road for about two miles. Hiatt led hikers to the champion tree and then back to park headquarters.

Hiatt explained that the N.C. Champion Big Tree program uses a point system that adds a tree’s height in feet, circumference in inches and one-fourth of the average crown spread in feet to yield a total score. The champion persimmon tree at the park is 98 feet tall — about twice as tall as the species usually grows — and had a total score of 207 points when it was nominated in 2014.

“This is our state’s biggest persimmon tree that has been entered into the N.C. Champion Big Tree registry,” Hiatt said.

Spencer Hull of Chesapeake, Virginia, saw a notice about the First Day Hike on the Dismal Swamp State Park website.

“I said, ‘that sounds like a fun way to start the New Year,’” Hull said.

Hull said Tuesday was his first time hiking in the North Carolina section of the swamp. He said he has been hiking a number of times in the part of the swamp located in Virginia.

He also paddles regularly on weekends.

Robin Hull, Spencer’s wife, said she has often stopped at the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center on U.S. 17 as she was returning from visiting her parents in North Carolina, but Tuesday was her first visit to the state park.

“I have always wanted to come to this little park,” she said. “And it’s only about 20 minutes from our house so I’m sure we’ll be back.”

Hull said she was glad to be starting the year off with a hike.

“I usually run but he asked me to come along today,” she said, referring to her husband. “We like the outdoors.”

Kim Gabriel, also of Chesapeake, completed the hike with her husband and four children, ages 8, 10, 13 and 15. She said she has visited the park before but Tuesday was the first visit for the rest of her family.

Hiatt told the group the park includes more than 14,000 acres and has about 20 miles of hiking trails. Dismal Swamp is a relatively young park, having just celebrated its first decade.

Answering a question from a hiker about black bears in the park, Hiatt said the Dismal Swamp has one of the largest bear populations on the East Coast.

Black bears are shy and generally will run from people, Hiatt said.

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