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Mebane has budding scientists explore Cates Farm Park

MEBANE — A group of kids has gathered around a skeleton in the woods at Cates Farm Park.

It’s not human — thank God — but it’s a dead thing and it’s cool, and they lean over it trying to figure out what it might have been when it was alive. The leading guesses are possum or fox. A parent quips that it may be a dinosaur.

They jot down notes and snap a photo to take up the hill to Brooke Massa, a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission who’s traveled to Mebane to help identify native species at the city’s newest park.

She’s joined by representatives from Elon University, Stormwater SMART, the Haw River Assembly, the Alamance Cooperative Extension, Alamance Community College and Alley, Williams, Carmen & King. Together, they form a network of environmental experts eager to collect data and encourage youngsters to get out and explore nature.

“You guys are all scientists,” Haw River Keeper Emily Sutton says. “You have eyes, ears, a nose and a mouth, and those give you all of your senses to observe.”

After a beat, she adds, “Don’t eat anything, actually.”

It’s Saturday, April 6, the beginning of the second annual Alamance Creek Week.

The kids are tasked with noting everything they see — from the woods to the water in Mill Creek. They take the job seriously.

As they trudge back to base camp, they point out every bug, weed, flower and vine, occasionally consulting Phil Ross’s leather-bound copy of “The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees.”


There’s a solid white oak with the words “Lee loves Judy” carved into the bark — a reminder of the history of the land they’re mapping out.

The tree may collect more names once the park’s trails are finished and it’s open to the public.


Cates Farm Park

The City of Mebane purchased the 54.6-acre lot for what’s currently known as “Cates Farm Park” from Unique Places, a land and resource conservation firm, in August 2017.

The master plan, presented in November 2018 by Unique Places to Save, the firm’s design leg, includes four trails, a renovated barn, wildflower meadow, educational space and elevated treehouse playground. A map of the plan can be found at

So far, the city has conducted a survey for the first trail and obtained a quote for the cost of construction, which can begin this summer thanks to a $250,000 grant from Impact Alamance. The grant will also fund the elevated treehouse.

More specific details with be ironed out during the process, Development Director Cy Stober said Saturday.


For example, the renovated barn — which they expect will be modeled after Carrboro’s Honeysuckle Tea House — could include retail space and adult beverages.

For now, the city is enjoying the land as it is.

With booming growth happening in every corner of Mebane, a quiet, empty field is something special — and a small band of young explorers finding joy in nature even more so.

Reporter Jessica Williams can be reached or at 336-506-3046. Follow her on Twitter at @jessicawtn.