Lake Benson Park
Clyde Smith and Lena Gallitano
Habitats: Open water, shallow cove, grassy areas bordered by mixed pine/hardwood forest, oak/hickory forest.
Key birds: Summer: Wood Thrush, Acadian Flycatcher, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak. Winter: Gadwall, Ruddy Duck, Northern Shoveler, Hooded Merganser, and sparrows. Year-round: Bald Eagle, Brown-headed and White-breasted Nuthatches, Loggerhead Shrike, Great Blue Heron, and woodpeckers.
Best times to bird: Winter and migration periods.
Description: The establishment of Lake Benson Park by the Town of Garner has preserved a small, undeveloped area on the north shore of the lake. The park is a combination of rolling open grassy areas and woodlands. Access is not permitted to the area below the dam and all southern shore access is privately owned.
Directions: From the west take Exit 298 off I-440 to US 70 East/US 401 South. Go 2.7 miles on US 401 S to Old Stage Road. Turn left and go 1.7 miles to Vandora Springs Road. Turn left and then bear right on Buffalo Road at Y intersection. The boathouse is 1.6 miles on the right and the entrance to the park another 0.3 miles on the right. From the east take Exit 306 off I-40 to US 70 West. Drive 2.4 miles and take the NC 50 South/Benson exit. Go 1.5 miles to Timber Drive and turn right. Drive another 0.7 miles to Aversboro Road and turn left. The park entrance is 0.9 miles on the left. Aversboro Road becomes Buffalo Road just before the park entrance.
Birding Highlights: If approaching the park from the west on Buffalo Road, the first stop should be the boathouse area, where the road crosses a small cove of the lake. The boathouse parking lot is open only when staff is present. The trees around the boathouse parking lot are frequently filled with Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed and White-breasted Nuthatches, and American Goldfinch year-round as well as Yellow-rumped Warbler, Ruby and Golden-crowned Kinglets in the winter. From the parking lot scan the main body of the lake for gulls, waterfowl, Double-crested Cormorant and Bald Eagle. View the lake shore for waterfowl and wading birds. Check the brushy areas around the bridge for Song and Swamp Sparrows during the winter.
If you approach the park from the east watch for Loggerhead Shrike in the area just before the park entrance. Park in the lot at the end of the entrance road where there is access to the lakeshore. In the winter scan the lake for Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Canvasback, mergansers, and Double-crested Cormorant. This is also the best area to scan the trees on the south shore for Bald Eagle and Osprey. Follow the paved trail between the parking lot and the lake access. Where the paved trail turns to the left away from the lake there is a dirt trail that continues along the lakeshore. In the summer look for Ovenbird and Wood Thrush. The paved trail continues through a mixed pine/hardwood forest where Hermit Thrush, woodpeckers and nuthatches are common in winter. The trail continues along the margin of the open area passing a meadow and a wooded marsh area. Check these areas for Eastern Meadowlark, Northern Flicker, Gray Catbird, Indigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak. Look for Yellow-rumped Warbler in winter in a wax myrtle border between the park and the church property. The trail passes several houses and a garden area near the entrance where Eastern Bluebird and Chipping Sparrow are common before it reenters the woods bordering the lakeshore and takes you back to the parking lot.
Continuing on Buffalo Road east of the park will take you to the dam area where a small area of the main lake is visible as well as a small cove across the road. Ruddy Duck and Hooded Merganser are often seen in the winter in this part of the lake. There are no parking signs along this section of Buffalo Road, so you may park here before reaching the immediate area of the dam.
General Information: There are picnic and restroom facilities in the park and primitive restroom facilities at the boathouse. The park is open year-round, seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to sunset. There are no snacks/drinks available in the park or immediate vicinity, but there are plenty of restaurants and stores on US 401 and US 70.
DeLorme map grid: page 40, D2
North Carolina Travel Map grid: H2
For more information: Town of Garner Parks & Recreation, (919) 772-4688