THE CROATAN FOREST AND
NEUSIOK TRAIL

Foot Travel Through the Croatan National Forest

a pamphlet prepared by
William Simpson, Michael Murdoch and Mackey Garner


CONTENTS: History & Background, Natural History, The Neusiok Trail


HISTORY AND BACKGROUND

Native Americans occupied the territory of the present Croatan National Forest long before the arrival of European settlers. A population of 17,600 Indians were living in the Carolina coastal plain in 1584. Among the Indians, the Algonquian and Iroquoian tribes were about evenly represented, with about 7,000 people each. Siouan tribes comprised the remainder.

Each of these main tribes contributed traits to the Indians of the Croatan area but the principal contributors were the Tuscaroras and the Core (one of the smaller Iroquoian tribes) who lived in the area the longest. They built and named several villages along the Neuse River, its tributaries, and on the shores of Core Sound. "Croatan" literally means "town talk" or town where councils were held. "Neusiok" was the name of one of the villages on the Neuse River in the vicinity of Clubfoot Creek and provided the name for the tribal group, the river and the hiking trail.

The densely populated villages were usually located on high bluffs overlooking the water and were often protected by a stockade wall. The houses were typically constructed from a circle of poles that were set into the ground then bent together at the top to form a dome-shaped structure and covered with bark.

Fishing was the main source of food, but crops, including corn and peaches, supplemented the Indian diet. The Indians ranged over a wide region and many of their trading paths became routes for North Carolina's major highways.

In the early 1700's the coastal Indians were forced off their lands by white settlers. They joined the Indian League of Nations and their descendants now reside in northern Pennsylvania and New York.


NATURAL HISTORY

The Croatan National Forest lies on the Coastal Plain of North Carolina. It presents a large variety of land conditions: ancient sand ridges (derived from barrier islands marooned by lowering sea levels 10,000-150,000 years ago), bottomlands of black organic soil, pine savannas, and raised bogs called pocosins (an Indian term meaning "swamp on a hill"). Sandy beaches occur along the Neuse River. Low-lying areas are subject to flooding, especially near the Neuse where wind tides can dramatically raise or lower the water level.

The variety of soil types is reflected in the wide variety of Forest vegetation. Greenbrier, bay, smilax and titi form the dense impenetrable growths in low areas such as pocosins and slash drains located between the sand ridges. Carnivorous plants such as the Venus fly trap, pitcher plant, sundew and bladderworts also add their unique touch to the pocosins. Orchids including the rosebud orchid, habernaria, grass pink, and adder's tongue thrive in pine savannas. The dominant trees on the higher ground are the pines- loblolly, longleaf, pond and shortleaf, but stands of oaks (at least a dozen species), hickories and beech can be found on the sand ridges. Sweetgum, cypress and maple occupy drains and bottom lands.

Black bears, bobcats, white-tail deer, raccoons, opossums, and grey squirrels are the most notable mammaliam inhabitants. Ducks, geese and swan winter on the lakes of the Forest. The endangered red-cockaded woodpecker nests in several areas of the Forest.


THE NEUSIOK TRAIL

The Neusiok Trail, part of the 700-mile North Carolina Mountains-to-Sea Trail, is the longest hiking trail in eastern North Carolina, running for 22 miles from the Pinecliff Recreation Area on the Neuse River to the Newport River at Mill Creek.

The trail was laid out by the Carteret County Wildlife Club in 1971 and is maintained by the Forest Service and the club. It lies entirely within the National Forest, and passes through all the types of environments mentioned above. There are several access points so that short or long stretches can be selected.

While hiking the trail, the visitor is likely to see signs of wild turkeys scratching in the oak-hickory stands, or red-tailed hawks, ospreys, and even eagles soaring against the sky. Song birds (warbler populations peak in April and May) flit through the undergrowth and the tree tops, challenging the observer to get a glimpse sufficient for thier identification.Alligators are common in Cahoogue and Hancock creeks in the NW region of the trail- look for "logs" that don't belomg! The eyed visitor will also find reminders of the human history of the Forest. There are barrels, jars and copper coils, the remains of stills blown up by law officers in the not-too-distant past, scattered along the trail in the region of Cahoogue Creek. Early in this century much of the area along the Neuse was farmed and several graves are located near the trail although their wooden markers are now almost completely lost.

During wet periods, the hiker is advised to wear water-proof shoes. The club and the Forest Service have constructed wooden bridges over most of the low areas, greatly enhancing the enjoyment of going through swampy regions. The Suffolk scarp, the dune line of the ocean 10,000 years ago provides a dry footway for several miles of the trail.

During 1998, the club constructed two open-front shelters with fire pits along the trail. They are designed to give the weary hiker a place to rest or spend the night under cover. Remember, there is no trash pick-up along the trail! Please pack out your garbage.

The best time to hike the trail is October through May. Not only is the weather often delightful in this period, but biting insects are seldom a problemthen. Snakes, including a few venomous species, occur in the Croatan, but they are shy and seldom seem especially in the cooler months.