The Little Park That Could

by | Feb 1, 2021 | Attractions, Greenspace, Municipalities

One cold night it began to snow and little did anyone know that this snowfall would create a beautiful greenspace for all to enjoy. So, let’s step back in time to that snowy night when land in the middle of Spencer, North Carolina was preparing to be logged and equipment was in place to do just that. There were those in the community; however, that saw a bigger and better way to use that land and thanks to them we have the Fred and Alice Stanback Educational Forest and Nature Preserve, better known to locals in the community as Spencer Woods.

Like many during the pandemic, I sought out ways to get outdoors to get fresh air and to exercise. I love to walk and while I had found a place to go it was becoming mundane, so I began to search for other areas in the community and I found the best hidden gem in the Town of Spencer.

Woman hugging little girl in woods
Conservation Boundary Sign on tree


I reached out to Delaine Fowler, DPT, owner and operator of Accelerate Therapy and Performance and a friend of mine. If she’s ever done any physical therapy work on you, I know she’s your friend as well because she is great! Delaine and I were chatting one day and the topic of exercise came up. I mentioned Spencer Woods and she said she was an alderperson at the time the vote came on the property. “It’s definitely one of the best things I did on council.”

Jason Walser, former Executive Director of the Three Rivers Land Trust, presented the idea for the 42-acre property. The board voted and the votes were 3 yay and 3 nays. At the time, Jody Everhart was the Mayor of Spencer and he cast the deciding vote for yay breaking the tie. According to Delaine, “without his yay vote it wouldn’t have happened. It was awesome that Mayor Everhart was led to see that greenspaces are necessary for towns.”

Before ending our conversation, she said how much she appreciates the Land Trust and for them looking out for our greenspaces. She said “I definitely have heard an expansion is going to double the park and it’s going to be something special!”

Shelter in woods
Trail to a dock


My next step was to get in touch with several people working currently on the Fred and Alice Stanback Educational Forest and Nature Preserve/Spencer Woods. I called the Land Management Department and was able to speak with Joe Morris, the Interim Planner for the Town of Spencer.

If you know Joe, you know he’s a fountain of knowledge and I have had the pleasure of knowing him for several years. Joe shared a lot of the history with me and a lot of things that are to come in the future. The future plans are in the making and not exactly ready for primetime news, but when they are I plan to broadcast it widely. Joe gave me several people to speak with that could give me more information and added the old adage “after 20 years it’s an overnight success”.


One of the people Joe recommended was Joel Taylor, the Public Works Director for the Town of Spencer for the last 10 years. Joel agreed to meet me at the park to discuss the role of his department. We had hoped for a nice spring-like day, but trust me, it was damp and freezing cold instead. We persevered through the situation and I got a lot of information from Joel about the park.
The park planning and building started in years 2011-2012 and by 2017 they had their grand opening. During the process there were a lot of players involved and Fred Stanback was one of many that stand out. According to Joel, “Mr. Stanback was very vetted in the park.” He discussed how both Fred and Alice frequent the park and, in fact, I ran into them one day walking through over to the 8th Street Park from Spencer Woods.

Joel shared that the North Carolina Youth Conservation Corp. helped to “bench” the primitive trails in the park during the summer of 2014. “Benching” means cutting shelf or making a walk way wide enough to walk on along slopes. Every rock, stump, and woody plant was dug out to level off the ground so there is enough slope for drainage. The youth group stayed and worked in the park for 7 weeks working long days to reach their goal. Some of their projects were to erect the bridges and building the trails that we now enjoy on the Stanback Loop. “The Stanback Loop is totally natural and has been left that way on purpose because it is an educational forest and a nature preserve.”

In the park you will find two educational pavilions; one overlooks the pond and another overlooks the plant growth, where you will find trash cans, a floating dock, and tons of wildlife including ducks (which I have named Blanche and Miss Piggy), herons, mallards, geese, wood ducks, belted kingfisher birds, owls, cooper hawks, squirrels (including a few white squirrels that you may be lucky enough to spot), deer, snakes, frogs, salamanders, and more.

Ducks on a trail to the pond

There are so many interesting plants in the preserve as well. Plants such as devil’s bit, old man’s beard, violet wood sorrels, mayapples, wild ginger, and a variety of ferns. There is also a variety of trees on the property. In fact, in the main parking lot that ends on 11th Street, when you enter the trail you will find to your right a huge tree that has survived many years. It’s gorgeous year-round with or without leaves.

The public works department does a great job of maintaining the park and makes sure that the trash cans are emptied, the grass stays cut and sprayed, trees that may have died and may be dangerous to the public are cut down, and rocks are filled in where needed for the maintenance of the gravel trail, the runoffs, and the path to the pond where you can observe the wildlife. It should be noted that there is no swimming or fishing at the pond. Dogs love to walk along the trails and need to be on leashes according to the town ordinance. Naturally, owners need to pick-up after their pets. The trails are good for biking, but no 4-wheel vehicles are allowed.

Joel mentioned several people including Bob Pendergrass, who is the Animal Services Director for Rowan County. I have known Bob for many years and wasn’t surprised that he had an interest in this park. He has helped with input as well as to design. Bob’s years with Dan Nicholas Park Nature Center is definitely an asset to Spencer.

Before Joel and I bolted to our vehicles to turn on the heat it was evident that Joel truly loves this park and all the residents that surround it which he called by name. The big news is that the Fred and Alice Stanback Educational Forest and Nature Preserve is expanding and will in the coming years double in size connecting to Grant’s Creek. The future for this park is exciting! As Joel stated, “This park is a hidden gem and we have a lot of people that use it, especially since the pandemic started. The more word of mouth and the more people come and use it is a big asset for us.”

There are multiple ways to get into the park. If you turn onto 11th Street it dead ends straight into a large gravel parking lot. There are even bike racks there as well. You can also park in several small areas on South Rowan Avenue and enter the park there as well.

Small white dog with harness
All dogs must be leashed sign on a tree


As someone that frequently walks the 2.5 miles at the park, I can attest to the fact that I usually see something new when I visit. This is a beautiful area that all of us should try and take care of so that the generations to come will have somewhere to go and take their kids or walk their dogs. The future plans are going to make not just the residents in Spencer proud, but all of us in Rowan County. This definitely is the little park that could and it has!

Map of the Park

The Fred and Alice Stanback Educational Forest and Nature Preserve is located at 11th Street, Spencer, NC 28159.

Park Hours:
8 a.m. – 8 p.m. 
Wheelchair accessible in the main entrance on 11th St.

About The Author

Janet Ruffin

I’m an adventurous soul that loves to interact with people everywhere I go. You might say I’ve never met a stranger! I look forward to discovering and sharing all the things Rowan County has to offer because it’s Your Rowan!