A short human history of Carvin’s Cove

The first human settlement of part of the 12,000 acres at the base of Mt. Tinker was by a man named William Carvin in July of 1746.He received a land grant for 150 acres along Carvin’s creek. Some of this land was devoted to Hollins University, while the rest of the land behind the dam would come to be known as the Happy Valley community.

Future site of the Carvins Cove Dame -the Falls at Carvins Cove from the creek bed. 11-25-26
Photo of a waterfall at Carvin’s Cove in 1926

At the time of this Carvin’s Cove was not a part of Roanoke County, but a part of Botetourt (pronounced: bodytot) County, in the city of Hollins.From my research it stayed in the families hands until November of 1926 when then Roanoke announced that the Virginia company would build a $700,000 Dam to impound six billion gallons of water for the city. The Dam is 80 feet high and was completed in 1928. The Virginia Company was devastated by the great depression and was bought by the Roanoke water works for just $1 dollar in 1936.The City of Roanoke paid $4,523,437 bought out the water works company for all of the land that they held including Carvin’s Cove after it was voted in favor of evaporating the Roanoke Water Works Company and passing a $5,000,000 bond issue in 1936.

Carvins Cove Water Treatment Facility 1947
The filtration plant at Carvin’s Cove

During World War II German prisoners of war were housed in Salem to clear timber for the cove in the spring of 1945. In 1946 the damn reached his full capacity filling the pond, now known as Carvin’s Cove. In 1947 the cove put into operation a filtration plant that could filter 6,000,000 gallons a day. Nothing really happened with the cove until 1954 when the filtration plant capacity was up to 16,000,000 gallons. In 1966 Tinker Creek Tunnel was open to divert water from Tinker Creek to the coast reservoir. The construction of this tunnel cost $1.25 million you Dollars and it had a maximum flow of 286 million. The cove’s filtration plant was last updated in 1994 in terms of capacity to what it is today at 28 million gallons.

Drought in 2002

In 2002 the greater Roanoke region experiencing a record drought, Carvins Cove had reached an all-time low of 34.1 feet below the shore.  Discussions between the County and City of Roanoke were held on ideas for best meeting the valley’s water needs. In 2004 the Western Virginia Water Authority was formed as a regional  water and wastewater service provider for the valley. The Authority bought the reservoir and land up to the 1,200-foot area around it. The City of Roanoke still has ownership of the remainder of the land at the cove, making it the second largest municipal owned park based on acreage in the United States. 

In 2009 the City of Roanoke completed the donation of a two-part conservation in Roanoke and Botetourt counties that permanently protected 11,363 acres of open space around the reservoir, making it the largest publicly-held easement in the state. The first part, 6,185 acres, was placed under easement in 2008 and the remaining 5,178 acres were placed under easement in early September 2009.In 2014 the Western Virginia Water Authority purchases the last remaining privately held piece of real estate in the watershed to protect the reservoir from potential runoff.

The facts for this blog post were taken from : https://www.westernvawater.org/i-am-a-/recreationalist/carvins-cove-natural-reserve/history-of-carvins-cove

The Road Most Taken Pt. 2: Roots

Hello! If you’ve made it this far, congratulations on overlooking my questionable pun (just wait for the next title). While the walk and the journey were refreshing and inspiring by themselves, my main objective for the walk was to visit the historical Underground Railroad tree in the Guilford Woods. This tree was my primary reason for selecting the Guilford Woods in the first place. My sophomore year, we went on a walk with my APUSH class. Before I delve into the explicit history of the tree itself, I want to discuss some of the history of the Quaker Movement and the people that helped manage the Underground Railroad “stop” in this area.

Guilford College was founded by the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, in 1837. Quakers have left their marks on several walks of US history, starting with the city of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania, and going on to become some of the most active proponents of abolition and reform. Several notable Quaker figures have advocated for reform.

One of these figures was George Fox. George Fox was the 17th century English founders of the Quakers, called so since they “quaked” in front of God. He rejected the traditional oaths of the churches, regarding them as empty and meaningless. He began his ministry very publicly, preaching in large, communal spaces for all to hear. The Quaker movement appeared eccentric to many, as it rejected things such as flattering speech, which angered many in power. Their unusual ways led to immense persecution, and Fox was jailed for numerous years. When he came to America, he helped lay the foundations for movements of social reform and abolition that were reignited around the time of the Second Great Awakening, and shaped modern American society.

Nathan Hunt was a Quaker minister, leader, and principal founder of Guilford College. At the time he was advocating for abolition, there was great public resentment of abolitionists in Guilford County. He preached Quaker ideals across the continent, even traveling to speak to Indian tribes, and people in Great Britain and Canada. His leadership helped keep NC’s Quakers together, and he actively participated in regional politics. In Guilford College, which he helped found, he spread his ideas through frequent talks and exerted considerable influence in spreading ideas of abolition. His style of “missionary” preaching reflected that of the Second Great Awakening as a whole, and he sparked movements of reform.

Levi Coffin reflected the result of the spread of abolitionist ideas at the time. He and his wife set up their home as a “stop” in the Underground Railroad that helped free hundreds of slaves, similar to how Guilford College had a stop of its own. Called the “President of the Underground Railroad”, his Quaker faith avidly led him to support abolition and assist the fugitive slaves.

The efforts of all of these people reflected the sentiments of the Second Great Awakening and the Age of Reform, as people used God to take a better look at the society around them. These famous Quakers left their marks on society and advocated for freedom and egalitarianism, and hold an important role in American history.

The Road Most Taken Pt. 1: Walking

After my lab in the beloved 8:30 a.m. time slot came to an end, I was exhausted. The week has been full of preparation for various assessments and major assignments and I decided that I needed a break from all the stress. After dragging my friend on a much-needed coffee run, my caffeinated self saw the beautiful weather and decided that today was the day: I was finally going to go visit the famous Underground Railroad tree. While the trail itself was brief, I will be splitting my observations and research up into three posts.

The craze of midterms and exams have put me in a noticeably more anxious state focused on meeting deadlines and completing assignments, but somehow being outside in the sun helped me forget those worries for a bit. As we trekked along the murky lake and small artificial “beach” it felt like the world opened up just a bit and it became easier to breathe. I felt a cool breeze ripple through the air, creating the perfect break from the warmth of the Sun that served as a reminder that Spring is just around the corner. We even met a yellow-bellied slider, even though it swam away before I could get much of a picture.

Our turtle friend! We named him Tortuga before he swam away.

After passing the lake, we began walking alongside the asphalt road towards the clearing further down. It was interesting to see how the natural world blended seamlessly together, with the air, water, and greenery living in perfect harmony, yet this road cut through it all. We followed along until we came across the sign announcing the start of the Underground Railroad Educational trail. The clearing wasn’t particularly striking on its own: it housed the same pines, oak trees, and beech trees I’d noticed on my last walk. We proceeded to continue down the trail, passing several fallen trees, tangled roots, and crunching the dry leaves scattering the ground. I cannot hope to possibly know the story of each tree I found laid to rest in its home. My guess would be a storm of some sort, as some tree still presented charred remains. Even though I was only with one other person, I still felt fully surrounded as all of my senses were presented with the serenity of my surroundings: the bird calls in the air, rustling of leaves, and the sound of small animals occasionally scurrying around.

The trees overhead

While the trail was easy to follow, the uneven ground kept me on high alert throughout, but also made me pause and consider my location relative to the earth— I was up much higher than the ravine-like formation below but was dwarfed by the pines towering over me. I felt encompassed by the woods, just a small being next to the wonders of the natural world around me. My walk led me to the place I had been seeking: the viewing platform for the Underground Railroad tree. The inviting space provided seating and a helpful QR code that led me to discover a virtual tour as well as resources educating me on the history of this site and the massive Tulip Poplar towering over me (despite the fact that I was on this raised platform). After taking photos and observing, I began to head towards my Spanish class. The journey was a soothing one that gave me a much-needed pause in my chaotic day, and I can’t wait to share more about it!

The standing, murky water

A Human Animal

Spending alone time in nature is vastly different than venturing out with friends. In solitude things are noticed differently, possibly more intently. But with friends topics are discussed and can be viewed with different explanations. My experiences in the woods have been shaped drastically by who I am with and what I am doing. In this awareness, I am often reminded that the woods serve as a space for us to interact with nature in a controlled environment.  

Alone time in the woods is often spiritual for me, a time of reflection and a space for me to reset. I am able to take the time to center myself with nature and collect my thoughts. As a Quaker, I am not bound to one space where I must worship and worshipping in nature has always been something that is nourishing for me. The woods have served as a space where I can escape to when I am in need of alone time or have a lot on my mind that I want to work through. This time spent in the woods in solitude has allowed for a deeper personal connection to the area, and an understanding of the natural space. 

On the other hand, the woods have also served as a social space for me. In my four years spent at Guilford I have spent many days exploring the woods with friends, and several nights venturing out to bonfires in small groups. I look back on these experiences with a sense of peace and fondness, feeling fortunate to have had such a space to make special memories. 

Our human interaction with nature is often one where we are removed from the natural landscape except for when we choose to insert ourselves in to it. The woods serve as an example of this. Our concept of what “life” is unfolds only in the spaces that we have set aside for our own use. We go about our daily lives in the developed parts of campus and are largely unaware of the whole other world that exists within the woods, even when some of us sleep within inches of it every night.  Only those who choose to wander come know what survives beyond the confines of our community. 

Washed Up

I’ve trapped the power of the sun beneath my skin, feel it radiating off my shoulders and sticking to my cheeks in patches of blotchy pink blooms. It has kept me warm through the night, but will soon reveal its true master as black fades from the sky. Announcing the approaching sun, the horizon bleeds a radiant red. Streaks of gold, orange, and salmon stream above the ocean, illuminate the clouds, dissolve into blue while the fiery blaze begins to rise. As its rays intensify, they meet my skin with burning resolve; a hot, stretched, prickling sensation digs its nails into my shoulders and face. I cover them in a beach towel and feel immediate relief, though the fabric against my burns causes problems of its own.

Image: Sunrise on the Beach

I remain outside, parted from the soothing cool of air conditioning and aloe, determined to make the most of this dawning moment—when shells are ripe for the picking, washed up overnight and turned visible by day. Some of my most precious shells have been found just as daylight breeches this sliver of planet called Topsail Beach. But before I can continue my journey, I must leave my phone behind; there are waters to be tread before finding the best locations, and I am not willing to risk the safety of my device.

Pushing through the oncoming currents, I reach a part of the beach best known for its shell deposits. There, I find treasure troves of countless Cockles, even more Arcs, Netted Olives, Keyhole Limpets, Periwinkles, Turkey Wings, Coquinas, Cat’s Paws, Angled Wentletrap, Scallops, Clams, Angel Wings, Atlantic Lady Slippers, Bittersweets, Eastern Oysters, Cross Barred and Imperial Venuses, Turrets, and even the shell of a banded tulip snail. I scour the sand for pearly glints, shades of red, yellow, orange, purple, and pink—like a sunset made solid and scattered through the beach.

Image: Shells I’ve collected

Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpse a vibrant blue. But I am more experienced than to fall for such a trick; any extreme blues almost surely mean plastic, and I will not go out of my way to be met with a Mounds candy wrapper. I am given pause, however, when I see that same blue repeated once, twice… Looking up from my feet to scan the beach I find, to my surprise, a scattering of cerulean disks, increasing in numbers as one after the other floats from sea to land.

Taking a closer look, the disks appear like some flattened jellyfish, with a silver coin set in gooey blue gel, and translucent tentacles sprawled out over the sand like a child’s depiction of the sun’s shining rays. Later this evening I will learn that, despite its common name of “Blue Button Jelly,” the Porpita Porpita is not a jellyfish at all. Rather, each is its own colony of individual polyps, linked together and serving unique functions to keep the mass a functional unit. Kept afloat by a gas filled chamber that makes up the majority of their unified body, Blue Buttons drift aimlessly along the tips of waves, their destinations completely determined by the elements that engulf them.

Image: a Blue Button Jellyfish washed up on shore. The photo is not mine, but is the closest I could find to what I saw. Credit: http://www.wect.com/2018/10/10/blue-button-jellyfish-washing-ashore-topsail-surf-city-beaches/

I wish now that I had risked my iPhone plunging headfirst into the sea so that I might snap a shot of the blue dotted sand and colonial hydrozoan that seem a hybrid between some elegant alien and a sweet gummy snack. Thinking that I might bring one back to be photographed later, I dig my fingers beneath the sand and scoop up a mound that has, perched on its back, a perfect Porpita. But, departed from its resting place, it soon begins to crumble. I know that by the time I could return, the Blue Buttons would be made ghosts by the rising tide; so, I collect my shells, take one final glimpse, and begin my trek back home.



Carolina Seashells, by Nancy Rhyne

Southeastern and Caribbean Seashores, by Eugene Kaplan

Spring? pt.2

I keep walking and I have to look at the ground to find leaves to identify. There are not that many. However, the ones that I do find are not completely intact. This makes it hard to see what the original shape really is.

The color seems to have left this leaf but it does give off a hint of yellow.

Maple Leaf?

This was one of the better leaves that I found. It was pretty big and Mia thought that it was a toy. My first impression is that it maybe a Red Maple leaf. I will have to do some research when I get home.

As you can see, the leaves have lost their color. They no longer have their individualized color. Their shape has also lost some of its form. Trying to find information may be a little difficult. However, I am up for the challenge. It feels like spring in the Guilford woods however it does not look like it. Hopefully, some more greenery will begin to appear.


Walking into the Guilford woods with Mia at one of the many entrances I realize how bland everything looks. The colors around are mostly brown with hints of yellow. The leaves are finally beginning to disintegrate and I can finally see a path again.

Strolling down the path there are many bare trees. On such a nice day I wanted there to be more signs of life in the woods. I listen for noises and it a pretty quiet day. I wonder what all of the birds and other creatures are. Maybe Mia running through the area has scared most of them away. I am hoping to see a deer today while I walk. Some small trees are covered with vines. Most of the trees look the same very thin and not super tall. However, as I keep walking I come across a tree that sticks out from the others.

Its bark is smooth compared to the others rough and jagged bark. Its branches also grow in all different directions. Its branches are also fairly short and thin. This makes me wonder how such a different tree is out here. Where did it come from? What is it? After I leave the woods I will go onto search to find its orgin. I felt a weird sense of connection with this tree. Maybe it is because it sticks out from the others? I am not entirely sure, I do know that this will not be the last time I visit this tree.

The First Seed

When I see the Guilford woods for the first time, I only go on the trails. It’s 2016, and I’m a recent transfer student. I’ve come from a school where there are no trees. There are no woods. There are roads. There are squirrels. The trees are young but their roots have not claimed the land yet. Here at Guilford, trees are everywhere. Not only in physical form, but in spirit: the t-shirts have trees, the school talks about core values and I can’t help but imagine them as roots. I’ll find out later that our tree, our roots, need tending. But now, I am new. Now I am exploring this new space.

The Underground Railroad tour is one of the first experiences many Guilford students have at the school. Today, there is a structure built to view the tree, made of a bright wood that you can see some ways away from the actual tree. (I am not sure what kind of wood it is, though I would like to ask. Is it made of the same wood as the trees around it? What is the story of these panels of wood; are they sibling to the trees that surround them? More on this, perhaps, in a later post.)

The Underground Railroad tree is famous for its age; it’s a tulip poplar that is over 200 years old. Its been in the woods we now call the Guilford Woods long enough to see the region change. Tulip poplars are a fast-growing tree; their leaves can be used for oil-blotting. It’s a small use, but it’s one that as a camp counselor I loved to share with the kids. (Careful though: you don’t want them rubbing poison ivy on their faces.) The wood of a tulip poplar is inexpensive but sturdy, often used in the sidings of homes.

The Underground Railroad tree, as a simple seed, had no reason to expect anything other than human interaction. There was no reason for this seed to believe it would grow to be the oldest tulip poplar in these woods; that it would be a monument to the horrific, long-lasting, still relevant issue of slavery and racism. It grew without knowing that it would keep growing, that it wouldn’t be stunted by humans in the same way its siblings were. How old was it when it first saw people running through the woods in pursuit of a freedom stolen from them on land stolen from another civilization? What did this seed expect? What did it get? What memories does this tree hold onto, and can we see it in the ridges in the roots, which spread out around the tree?

Upon my first tour of the Underground Railroad Tree, we were allowed to sit on its roots. There’s a small crevice in the tree that makes it the perfect sitting spot. It’s a tree that is wider than any I’ve seen before; certainly it is wider than any that I have come this close in contact to. Today, they ask that people do not walk on the roots. We want to preserve the tree; we want it to last forever, though we know that is impossible. This tree represents what Guilford College strives to be: wise, knowing, continuing to grow. James Shields, who lead the tour, began singing “This Little Light of Mine.” Students joined in. We sang together. I felt like I belonged there, with the trees, with the students, with the community.

From the Lake to Price Park – How the Stream Changes

If you enter the woods from the lake, there is a stream immediately to the right of the path. This stream is fed from the Guilford College Lake and flows all the way through the woods. If you follow the stream it will take you to Price Park, which is a public park that backs up to the Guilford College Woods. While following the stream you are taken through an interesting transition from the more private setting of our woods to the more public setting of the park, and along the way you are taken through the back of a housing development. These vastly different environments have an interesting effect on the stream, the way it moves, and the quality of the water flowing through it. 

Through the Guilford woods, the stream has many meanders, which means that the stream is slower moving for the most part. However, this also means that the banks of the stream are ever changing. As water moves around the curve of a stream it increases in velocity at the outer edge of the stream and decreases in velocity at the inner edge. This creates what is referred to as point bars and cut banks. The point bar being where much of the sediment is deposited with the slowing velocity, and the cut bank being where the stream cuts in to the stream bank. With meandering streams, the profile of the stream will slowly change over time, due to erosion. This means that over time you can see beautiful natural changes to the way the stream moves with the land, rather than cutting through it. Taking charge over its location and disregarding the paths that may have been set by the people interfering with the landscape.

Moving further downstream towards price park the stream naturally straightened out. This was caused by an increase in velocity and volume of water. However, this increase in velocity caused rapid erosion to the stream banks in the park, and also decreased the overall water quality. Because of this, there was a stream restoration project that took place in Price Park, which drastically changed the profile of the stream. As can be seen in the google maps images from February 1993 and October 2015, the stream was altered to create more meanders in an effort to decrease velocity—therefore decreasing erosion and improving water quality. However, this restoration effort was not done correctly and actually ended up having the reverse effect on the quality of the water and the way the banks were eroding. 

It is interesting to look at natural landscape that surrounds the stream and how it affects the way that it moves and plays in to the landscape. In the Guilford woods it feels as though the stream is a key part of the landscape and how people interact with it. The stream moves with the land with its meanders, and the water is clear and healthy for the most part. Moving downstream and closer to the housing development, the stream seems to be more of a forgotten relic than part of the natural land. In Price Park the stream is meant to be a pleasant element to a space for people to visit, but the stream does not feel natural in the way it moves. With the man made restoration the stream cuts in to the land, rather than moving with natural curves. 

A Dark Night

Night consumes me—starless and black. There are no lights in the ocean, no lights in the sky, nothing to distinguish earth from water, water from air. All visual barriers have become obsolete. The horizon has vanished, leaving behind a boundless black sea, an infinite black sky. I hear the waves wrestle, feel their pulse in the ground as they crash and recede, know the ocean will greet me if I take one step more… And yet, I feel as though I could walk for miles, up into the void, higher and higher, without my feet ever leaving the sand. 

My dreaming has seized my logic; my legs react as if teetering on the edge of existence. A fear of falling—of being abandoned by my surroundings, of flailing hopelessly in a world of nothing—forces me to stumble forward. Wrenching me from my anxieties and thrusting me into the reality of pain, the sensation of sharpness shoots through my leg as I recoil from a perfectly angled slice of shell. My hand finds the sole of my foot, follows the ache, feels for traces of something warm and wet. Finding nothing, I shuffle tentatively back towards civilization.

The glaring light pierces my vision as I round a corner. Shielding my eyes, it takes me a moment to make out the road I know to be sprawled out before me. After a few blinks, I make it out: a beacon of grating light and cracked asphalt. The walk home will be less perilous from here.

Past the signs that warn of swift currents, past the lumps of beach that have invaded the road, past the cattails, past the pond, I come to the complex called “Topsail Reef.” The parking lot is littered with more cats than cars. Tabbies and calicos laze in the open, comforted by the safety of dim light and late hours. They sniff at the dumpsters, weave between wheels, lick at their hides, then freeze. I see every ear raise, every eye widen; they scatter like a fist full of rocks flung at the pavement the moment they see me coming. And in less than a second, it’s as though they’d never existed.

Image: Signs posted by the vehicle entrance onto the beach

Feral cats were not an original element of the island’s ecosystem. They were brought by people hoping to be rid of snakes and of mice, or perhaps just people who thought it’d be nice to have an outdoor cat to terrorize the gulls. Whatever the reason, they’re here now—and, they’ve multiplied. In 1995 the colonies became notable enough to warrant the foundation of Operation Topcat, a non-profit made up of Topsail residents who “trap, neuter, and return” feral cats across the beach, in hopes of severing their means of reproduction.

My twang of guilt ebbs. Had I not scared off the cats myself, they’d be fleeing now; a dog trots down the road and heads directly for me. Its demeanor is so friendly and it approaches with such pep that it takes me a moment to realize the dog is, in fact, a coyote. A surge of excitement fills my chest as I watch the native predator diminish our distance. I expect at any moment for it to dash into the bushes, or freeze while several feet back, but it keeps coming. My heart races and, before I can decide whether I’m incredibly lucky or incredibly unlucky, the coyote is at my heals, sniffing at my shoes. In that moment, magic was real. I wait for it to look up at me with glowing gold eyes, to speak in a rumbling song, to walk towards the brush with a single glance back, showing in its face that I ought to follow suit. And I would. I would follow that coyote to the ends of the earth.

Instead, what I get is, “hey! You okay?” I jump as my body swivels to meet the sound—simultaneously shrill and deep. I see a man beneath a porch light, and quickly redirect my attention to the destiny-fulfilling creature before me. But it’s already scurrying off into tightly packed bushes I could not hope to penetrate.

“Boy, sure is the biggest fox I’ve ever seen!” the man blurts.

“Oh? I thought it was a coyote.” It was a coyote.

“Nah, I should know—hunted plenty of foxes in my time.” Oh, great, Mr. White-Man, the expert, here to teach me what a great learning tool violence can be. “You need a ride somewhere?”

“Uh, no. I live just down there.” I gesture towards my house.

“Alright then, just be careful.” My eyes roll internally as I thank him and say goodnight. Luckily, despite the man’s best efforts, an essence of extraordinary still tingles in my fingertips. I turn my head skywards and see that the clouds have begun to part. Moonlight follows me all the way home.

Image: Moonlight on the sea