by CC Parker
At the height of summer, North Carolina humidity drives many of us indoors. But eventually, it’s inevitable: Cabin fever strikes. When it does, one sure way to beat the summer blues is to take a trip – not a long one – to beyond where the sidewalk ends.
Follow it far enough, and you’ll discover that one of our main arteries, Six Forks Road, leads you to a perfect picnic at Falls Lake, with several charming stops along the way.
The route is easy: Get on Six Forks Road and head north. The in-town portion is heavily developed and congested with traffic. I am always surprised to see that the old pastures and farmhouses of my youth (the ones that provided clandestine sites for Broughton’s “Algebra Club” parties) have been replaced by row after row of tanning salons, lawyers’ offices, and eclectic doctors.
Technically, Six Forks’ sidewalk ends at Strickland, and yes, the landscape opens up a bit after that. But it’s not until you cross I-540 that you’ve officially left all that “citified” stuff behind.
Good thing: It’s time to assemble your picnic.
Just beyond 540, pull into Taylor’s Wine Shop, run by Taylor Cash and his son Ben. Taylor’s is a rocking chairs-on the-front-porch community gathering place that is part wine seller, part gas station, part picnic supplier. During my most recent visit, several regulars popped in and out, bantering, sharing the good-natured teasing that is part of most exchanges here. Other regulars milled about quietly at the back of the store, taking it all in. If you see one, be sure to say hello – they may be pretending to read the nutritional information on the back of the Nabs, but they know you’re there.
My friend Stefanie Kahn, who has lived nearby for years, says her children’s neighborhood carpools used to originate at Taylor’s. The mothers would meet at Taylor’s and swap children according to destination – one car heading to school, another to sports, a third to Boy Scouts, etc. One year, the story goes, a farmer approached Taylor Cash to ask if he could set up a Christmas stand in the parking lot. Instead of weighing his profit opportunity, Cash wondered about his loyal regulars: “Where would my carpool moms meet?” he asked. That response – unsurprisingly – earned him undying loyalty from the carpool mom cohort.
Back to the picnic. On weekday mornings from 6 to 10:30, you can snag one of Taylor’s homemade biscuits (pork chop, steak, sausage or chicken) and Larry’s Beans coffee. You can also find Escazu chocolates, locally made Pleasant Bee honey, and Norm’s Farms elderberry juice.
If you’re in the mood, grab a bottle of champagne from the inventory of 1,000 wines – Ben points out that Dom Perignon recently come down in price to a mere $149. Too rich for your blood? They also sell worms for fishing.
Across the parking lot is Crazy Lady’s vegetable stand where you can assemble the rest of your picnic. Locally grown fruits, vegetables, and boiled peanuts in a crockpot, homemade pickles and the most delicious pound cake sold in large slices. (Buy two. You’ll be glad.)
As you continue north on Six Forks, the road narrows. You may feel you’ve passed into another county. A small fenced cemetery near Durant Road reminds you that this has been a self-sufficient community long before Whole Foods arrived at Strickland.
A mile or so down the road, you can’t miss the cacophony of color and movement from the brightly colored metalwork outside the shop When Pigz Fly. Inside are all sorts of gifts from local artists. The violet, apple blossom, and dandelion jellies might make an interesting picnic addition, as would the homemade pickles chilling in the fridge next to the register.
At this point, you’ll be getting hungry.
Next door to The Flying Pig, if it’s the weekend, you’ll see Madden’s Seafood stand. Proprietor Scott Madden drives in local seafood from Surf City. What wanted to leap into my picnic basket were the spicy cooked crawfish. Unfortunately for me, they were all already pre-sold. Turns out Scott emails his customers at the beginning of each week listing his freshest fish, and customers are able to pre-order. Many of the items in his stand had already sold out by noon Saturday. Plan ahead, and your picnic could get even tastier
A mile or so further up the road is Outhouse Tackle Company, an old-fashioned gas station converted to a bait shop. With the “Live Bait” sign and icebox out front, you expect Andy Griffith to emerge to greet you. The shop is fully stocked for both novice and experienced anglers. For the novice there are $5 to $19 bamboo poles including hook, bobber and sinkers, and plenty of live worms. For the pros, it offers a fine assortment of rods, reels, and tackle. For bait, make your choice: Live eels, minnows, red worms, night crawlers, and crickets round out the list.
At the register you’ll find business cards for fishing guides, taxidermists, and firearm instructors. Grab a honeybun while you’re at it.
Continue north on Six Forks, being careful to take the unexpected sharp left veer, and you’ll find yourself winding through residential developments scattered throughout the countryside. This zip code is the 21st wealthiest in the state based on IRS figures, and yes, the houses over the hill are spectacular, but you wouldn’t know they’re there from this vantage point.
Once you’ve crossed Falls Lake, follow signs to Blue Jay Point County Park, part of the Wake County Park system.
Here you’ve got a lot of fun options: The Center for Environmental Education, a large playground, hiking trails, and playing fields. Any of these places is perfect for your picnic.
The park also has an Overnight Lodge, which provides an overnight environmental education experience for organized groups. Overnight accommodations are dorm-style, with boys and girls in separate cabins, and the lodge boasts a great porch and fire pit below. Students from St. Raphael were in residence that day I visited. Advance reservations are required.
Posted throughout the park are specially made bluebird boxes, many put up as Eagle Scout projects. The four hiking trails are of varying length and difficulty. The staff is excited about the park’s flora and fauna – I was excited to see, near the first bridge, more than 100 elusive Jack-in-a-Pulpits happily growing.
Shoreline fishing can be done in the park at Sandy Point Trail (a five- to 10-minute walk from your car). If you’re fishing from a boat, you can access Falls Lake from the Upper Barton Creek boat ramp, which requires leaving the park but is just north on Six Forks. (Don’t forget to get a fishing license – available at Walmarts around Raleigh.)
If you’re not ready to go home, follow Six Forks until it dead ends at Highway 98. Bear right, taking 98 east, and you can buy fresh brown eggs and firewood at a roadside stand and Japanese maples at a Japanese maple farm across the street. Who knew?
Hopefully, you’ll have saved that second slice of pound cake for dinner at home. A sweet end to a super staycation.