Half a century after establishing Raven Rock State Park in North Carolina, Robert Soots, a former biology professor at Campbell University, is still around to enjoy the stunning views. The university celebrated his vision and his work with a special 50th anniversary event at the park’s visitor center on Saturday, Sept. 14, with live music, lectures, hikes and activities for the whole family.
Soots, who served as head of the Campbell biology department, was teaching a course on invertebrates’ natural history in the mid-60s when he first became acquainted with what is now Raven Rock State Park. He needed a place outside of the classroom to teach the laboratory portion of the class, and the large tract of land just a short drive from the university suited his needs.
Seeking permission to access the area for his classes, Soots had gotten to know some of the landowners. One—he calls her “Miss Lizzy”—became a good friend. She lived alone on the several hundred acres she owned along the Cape Fear River, and she often had Soots and his wife, Sharron, over for meals or to help in the garden.
When Miss Lizzy considered selling her property for mining, Soots asked her to consider learning what it would take to convert it into a state park. He researched the process at length and visited other nearby landowners, floating the idea and testing the waters. “Without exception,” Soots said, “everybody said they would sell their property for the state park if we could make it happen. I made it clear to them there was no guarantee I could accomplish this, but I’d try.”
Soots sketched out a plan and took it to the Harnett County Board of Commissioners, showing them slides of the beautiful area and discussing the benefits of having a state park in an area. He went to every town meeting and every garden club, bird club and scout club he could think of to get people on board.
Following months of hard work, in 1969, Raven Rock State Park was created with the passage and adoption of North Carolina Senate Bill 495. Today, Raven Rock State Park, which covers 4,810 acres along the Cape Fear River’s banks, is a popular destination for hikers, campers, anglers and canoeists, drawing thousands of visitors ever month The park also boasts horseback riding trails and beautiful overlooks.
At the 50th anniversary event, which was co-sponsored by the Sullivan Foundation, several speakers discussed the park’s history. Musical entertainment featured regional talent, and throughout the five-hour event, an artists village, food trucks, games and other activities were offered, along with guided nature hikes on the Cape Fear.
Dr. John Bartlett, an associate professor of biology at Campbell University, said the event was “a celebration of the park and the people who made it happen.” Of the man whose work helped create a state park and spare hundreds of acres from a potentially much different future, Bartlett is clear. “I think Bob Soots is a hero,” he said. “He’s a visionary, and he was way out ahead of his time on things.”
This story was adapted from the original article appearing on the Campbell University website.