Thursday, December 21, 2017

Charlotte Rail Trail

The Charlotte Rail Trail is a 4.5 mile paved pathway that runs along the Lynx Blue Line route from uptown toward South End.

The wide, smooth, well-maintained trail – perfect for bikes, skates, scooters or walking -- is a lot like the nearby Little Sugar Creek Greenway that borders the creek and meanders through Midtown, Freedom Park and the Myers Park neighborhood.

The difference between the two is the things you’ll discover along the way. Where Little Sugar Creek Greenway is all about nature, the Charlotte Rail Trail offers fun and funky urban surprises.

Here’s a good two-mile (out and back) option for getting some exercise and discovering some new things about the Queen City.

Start at the Carson St. station just outside of Uptown. Carson St. intersects South Blvd. at the Dowd YMCA. You can park on the nearby neighborhood streets for free or at Pritchard Memorial Baptist Church for $5 (the church lot serves as a city-sanctioned public lot during business hours. You’ll see an automated pay station when you park.)

From here, it’s exactly one mile to Sycamore Brewing Company, a good stopping/turnaround point with lot to see in between.

There are no public restrooms on the Rail Trail, so consider making a quick stop at the Dowd Y. You don’t have to be a member to visit the guest facilities in the lobby.

The first attraction you’ll come to at Carson St. is the giant yellow porch swings at Edna’s Porch, named for the designer’s grandmother and the time he spent on her porch swings growing up on the east side of uptown Charlotte. You’ll want to stop here for a spell.

Strolling on along the Rail Trail, you’ll find a bike pump station and plenty of dog-friendly amenities (read: pick-up stations and trashcans).

You can also rent a bike through Charlotte B-cycle at the Bland St. station or East/West station. Or grab a nearby LimeBike or Spin bicycle using their apps. (Don’t forget to bring your own helmet!)

The trail is mostly lined with apartments and condos, so it has a friendly, neighborhood feel. What gives it urban character is the curious and eye-catching public art, like the dinosaur statue or metal roosters along the way. Some of our favorites are the giant “Before I die” chalkboard, which invites passersby to scrawl their own bucket-list items, and the oversized comic strip plastered along the backside of a parking deck bordering the trail.

Just outside the Charlotte Trolley Powerhouse Museum, near the Bland St. station, you’ll find a permanent ping-pong table, picnic tables, eclectic benches and solar charging stations. Next door is the Charlotte Art League art gallery.

There are a variety of restaurants flanking the trail, from the American Pub to Blaze Pizza to Clean Juice to Hot Taco to Luna’s Living Kitchen. But if you want to do it right, stop first for fried chicken and tater tots at Price’s Chicken Coop, a Charlotte fixture since 1962. And then for a milkshake at Pike’s Soda Shop, another classic Queen City establishment.

What makes the Rail Trail exciting to me is its proximity to Uptown (those skyline views!), its accessibility (easy to get to and a relatively traffic-free and protected space to walk and ride), and the sense of adventure it provides. It’s a fun, family-friendly place to get out, move around and explore – a compelling linear urban playground.

How to get there:
The Carson St. station is located at 218 E. Carson Blvd., Charlotte, NC 28203. Park on the street nearby or at Pritchard Memorial Baptist Church across South Blvd. from the station. Follow the Charlotte Rail Trail south, away from uptown.

Don’t forget to take:
  • Bikes, scooters and helmets or comfy walking shoes: The Rail Trail is super pedestrian-friendly.
  • Water: Stay hydrated.
  • Money: For refreshments along the way.
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: There is very little shade along the trail.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Hidden Parks: Sedgefield

We are fortunate to have a great neighborhood playground that we can walk to. It's usually our default afternoon activity destination. Sometimes, though, it's fun to mix it up a little bit.

There are a number of really fantastic Charlotte Mecklenburg Park and Recreation spaces. Some of them are easier to find than others. Here's one we enjoy that you might not have stumbled on, yet.

Sedgefield Park is tucked between the Dilworth and Sedgefield neighborhoods. This impressive park is both surprisingly spacious and comfortably contained.

With playground equipment, a picnic pavilion, tennis and basketball courts and paved walking trails, it feels like a smaller, more approachable sibling of the nearby universally popular Freedom Park.

The main entrance is off of Poindexter Dr., one of the main arteries of the Sedgefield neighborhood. The park sits behind Sedgefield Middle School, adjacent to the school track and an apartment complex. Parking is limited, but we've never been when that's been a problem.

There's playground equipment suitable for all ages and a sand play area. There's also a large pavilion with a half dozen tables, a grill and electricity. We like to hit the nearby Chick-fil-a on the way there for a take-out picnic lunch.

Our favorite part, though, is the mile or so of wide paved walking trails that wind around the playground, across a bridge, past the basketball and tennis courts, and along the Dairy Branch Creek tributary, ending at McDonald Ave. off of Ideal Way at the other end of the park. There's a lot of ground to cover, but it's confined to five well-designed acres. The paths are perfect for bikes, scooters, skates and strollers.

If you haven't discovered Sedgefield Park, yet, it's worth checking out. Definitely a solid alternative to your old standby.

Note: There are no bathroom facilities, so make sure to make a stop before you go.

How to get there:
Sedgefield Park is located at 621 Elmhurst Rd., Charlotte, NC 28203.

Don't forget to pack:
  • A picnic or snack: There's a great big picnic shelter with half a dozen tables as well as plenty of green space to spread out a blanket.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: The trails are shaded, but the rest of the park is wide open.
  • Bikes or scooters and helmets: The paved trails are perfect for riding.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Campbell Creek is Calling

If you’re like me, you primarily venture down Independence Blvd. for two reasons: To get the car maintenanced at the dealership or to go to the beach.

Like me, you may be pleasantly surprised to discover Campbell Creek Greenway, which runs along a McAlpine Creek tributary between Margaret Wallace Road and Harris Boulevard. 

This quiet 1-mile paved greenway – great for bikes and strollers – is tucked just beyond the den of Independence Blvd. It’s the northern leg of the popular McAlpine Creek Greenway, which stretches three miles from Margaret Wallace Rd. south to Sardis Rd.

Campbell Creek has some fun features, including the impressive remains of the abandoned turn-of-the-century Lucas family grist mill.  The Lucas family moved to a farm off Margaret Wallace Rd. in 1935. The grist mill and dam they built on Campbell Creek were used to grind corn and generate power for their home. You’ll see the remnants on your right about a quarter-mile from the greenway entrance.

Also interesting: Campbell Creek Greenway was the last documented location for Queen snakes in Mecklenburg County. They were last sighted around the greenway’s clear, rocky stream (their natural habitat) in the early 1990s and haven’t been spotted since. Keep your eyes peeled!

The Campbell Creek Greenway is a tranquil, shady, meandering trail. It officially ends at the Harris Blvd. overpass, but you can follow a very nice paved neighborhood trail another half mile and end at the Hindu Center of Charlotte.

If you have a little one, the fire station at the entrance to the greenway can be a bonus stop on your outing.

Note: There are no bathroom facilities at the Campbell Creek Greenway, so make a stop before you go.

How to get there:
The parking lot for the Campbell Creek Greenway trailhead is located at 2116 Margaret Wallace Road Charlotte, NC 28105. Take Independence Blvd. east, away from uptown. Turn Left on Margaret Wallace Rd. The marked gravel parking lot will be approximately 300 yards after the turn on your right. The Campbell Creek Greenway entrance is across the street from the parking lot, next to a fire station.

Don’t forget to pack:
  • Bikes and helmets or stroller: This paved trail is great for riders of all skill levels or a stroll with the little ones.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: The greenway is mostly shady, with patches of open sun.
  • Water and snacks: There are no facilities at the greenway for refilling a water bottle, so pack plenty.
  • Shoes: Comfy walking shoes will do.