The Untold Story of Raven Rock State Park

Harnett County’s outdoor oasis is understaffed and overwhelmed thanks to surging growth in the surrounding areas. Visitors flood the parks’ hiking, biking and bridle trails, especially this overlook on the raven Rock Loop Trail.

If you hear the outdoors calling, Raven Rock State Park probably has the answer.

On nearly 5,000 acres in Harnett County, the park contains hiking, mountain biking and bridle trails, campsites and a picnic shelter.

Fuel Up

The road to Raven Rock passes through Lillington. Fuel up for your hike at:

Tacos Oaxaca
Serving fresh, authentic Mexican food with an extensive menu and affordable prices. Tripadvisor’s No. 1 ranked Lillington restaurant.
809 W Front St, Lillington
(910) 893-4927

Mermaid Point
American classics like burgers and barbecue on the banks of the Cape Fear River. Features a full bar, including brews from our very own Aviator Brewing Company.
100 South Main Street, Lillington
(910) 893-4571

The Cape Fear River flows through the middle of the park, offering fishing, paddling and scenic river views.

Spring brings an abundance of wildflowers — Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, saxifrage, Solomon’s seal — and just as changing leaves in fall are an attraction unto themselves, the blossoming flowers are worth the trip.

The park’s signature attraction is the Raven Rock Loop Trail, says Park Superintendent John Privette. The 2.5-mile trek through tree-lined paths goes both above and below the namesake Raven Rock and affords visitors a picturesque bird’s-eye view some 350 feet above the Cape Fear River. Although the trail is labeled “easy,” according to the trail map, Privette cautions that topography changes and a 135-step wooden staircase add to the difficulty.

“The terrain can be tough,” he says. “We average two rescues per week. People come expecting flat fields, but the trails here are harder.”

Privette has been superintendent of Raven Rock just over a year, coming to Harnett Country from a previous posting at Carolina Beach. Since a sixth grade aptitude test matched Privette as a park ranger, he’s been training for and developing a love for managing our state’s protected spaces.

The Visitor Center was added to the park 10 years ago.

“People do this job for the love of it — for a love of the outdoors and of service and helping others,” he says.

Drive Time

From Holly Springs:
40 minutes

From Fuquay-Varina:
30 minutes

“Raven Rock is an important gem in Harnett County,” Privette says. Borrowing a quote from one of the park’s longtime seasonal employees, he continues, “‘Raven Rock is to Harnett County as Disney World is to Orlando.’”

Just like Walt Disney World, Raven Rock operates at nearly maximum capacity every day.

“It’s all we can do to make it through a weekend,” Privette says.

Raven Rock’s visitation has grown exponentially alongside the growth of Wake County, but the number of full-time staff — two rangers and two maintenance mechanics — has not changed since it opened in 1970.

“In 1981 there were 700 visitors per month, now the park gets 30,000,” says Privette. “Our attendance is in the top two-thirds of (North Carolina) parks, but we’re in the bottom 1 percent of staff,” he says.

Kamar Perkins and Asia Ruiz from Fort Bragg hike Raven Rock Loop Trail.

Privette knew of the staffing challenges facing the park when he accepted the job last year, but what he couldn’t anticipate were the impacts of two major hurricanes.

“Some trails are not cleaned up from Hurricane Florence yet. The canoe camps on the river and the group campsites are still closed. We can’t get vehicles down to them,” he says.

Raven Rock used to be a sleeper park, says Privette. Growth around Fort Bragg, Wake County and Harnett County has flooded the park with numbers it just isn’t equipped to handle.

Available parking quickly runs out on weekends, Privette says, and vehicles can only enter by a one-in-one-out process.

A 135-step wooden staircase leads hikers to the banks of the cape fear river and the bottom of the park’s namesake Raven Rock.

“Things have just got to get better,” Privette says. “I am fighting for the park and the visitors as much as I can.”

Construction recently began on a new campground, which will feature 30 campsites, six cabins and multiple RV sites, with completion expected this fall. However, Privette doesn’t think the campground will be able to open at their current staffing levels.

Educational displays in the visitor center explain the history and ecology of the park.

So, what can be done?

If you can, visit on a weekday and avoid the overcrowded weekends, advises Privette.

John Privette, Raven Rock State Park Superintendent

“Join the Friends of Raven Rock Park,” he suggests. “They provide great support and volunteers for the park. And write to your legislators — that’s where the change will have to come from.”

Membership to the Friends of Raven Rock costs just $10 per year. The organization supports the park with volunteers, educational resources and public awareness.

“Right now, we do the best we can and try to stay positive. I took this job to fix it, not keep things at status quo.”

Raven Rock State Park
3009 Raven Rock Road, Lillington
(910) 893-4888

Friends of Raven Rock State Park

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