Winfred “Wendy” Griffith lives in a log cabin in a forest. He’s a hermit, he concedes, leaving the woods mainly to collect items out of dumpsters, eat at the Taco Bell on Old Route 86 in Hillsborough and do odd jobs for his bosses. But mostly, the 49-year-old keeps to himself, watching COPS or the Discovery Channel alongside his constant companion, an elderly pit bull named Red.
The forest abuts an unused campground behind the shops of Daniel Boone Village, squeezed between Interstate 85 and the Eno River. The area contains three additional log cabins and two trailers, one of them vacant. Filled with poplars and pine trees, the forest harbors the sounds of crickets, squirrels, raccoons and, sometimes, skunks. “I like hearing nature here,” says Wendy, who works for the village’s proprietors.
To get to his cabin you must travel past the village motel, go up the hill, veer left at the cabinetry building and follow the curve where the asphalt turns to gravel. Beyond the weathered campground gate, the electric wires and the waist-high weeds, affixed to a tree stump is a sign that reads NO TRESSPASSING. Here, you can spot the clothes drooping from a line outside Wendy’s cabin.
These days, Daniel Boone Village attracts tourists who come for the antiques shops and Western-themed architecture. Anchored by an iconic statue of the village’s namesake, it contains a strip mall, several mom and pop stores and a couple of chain restaurants. After dark it resembles a ghost towna remarkably different scene from 40 years ago, says Wendy, “When this was a happenin’ place.”
In 1965, before the completion of I-85, the village was founded by James J. Freeland, a history enthusiast and entrepreneur known as the “Walt Disney of Hillsborough.” He built the village as a Western-style theme park featuring a wooden water slide, Ferris wheel, buffalo ranch and cowboy and Indian shows. Its amphitheater brought in stars like Loretta Lynn. The “Daniel Boone Railroad” locomotive, which cut through the woodlands, offered rides in which costumed cowboys and Indians jumped inside to stage train robberies and gun fights.
But eventually the Environmental Protection Agency banned the train, according to a local bartender, and the revelers stopped coming. The theme park closed. The village contains a few remnants of the park, including a blacksmith shop and old train cars.
Meanwhile, a cultural renaissance was happening one mile north, in downtown Hillsborough. Artists and writers have swarmed in, and restaurants and bars have taken up unoccupied storefronts downtown. The town has grown so popular that some people now refer to it as “Chapel Hillsborough.”
Back in Daniel Boone forest, Wendy clutched a tin of Copenhagen and leaned over the bed of his Ford pickup, which carried a few empty 40-ounce Miller High Life bottles wrapped in brown bags. His junk collection included vacuum cleaners, a mattress, several tires, copper and a lawnmower. “You’d be surprised what people throw away,” he said.
Wendy wore sunglasses on his forehead, holding back his wispy blond hair. His shorts were purple and orange, and his steel-toed sneakers were muddied. He was a construction worker “till I got into a bad habit,” he said, declining to elaborate. Of his cabin, he said, “It’s a roof over my head. Better than being in a cardboard box.”
His goal is to “keep on livin’ for a few more years.” He is happy in his forest, where there is not a lot of fuss.