Thursday, February 22, 2018

McApline Creek Park: Trails, Puddles and Wildlife

If you can muster a little child-like abandon, McApline Creek Park is a great place to visit after a good pouring rain. Situated in a low-lying area on the banks of the sizable creek, it puddles easily. And that can be fun.

McAlpine Creek Park is the Monroe Rd. access point for the McAlpine Creek Greenway, a natural surface, gravel and paved path that stretches three miles from Sardis Rd. to Margaret Wallace Rd. in East Charlotte.

But it's also home to a three-acre lake, several miles of non-greenway nature trails and a remarkable collection of wildlife, including beavers that have built dens and dams you can observe from the trails.

After a rain, we like to strap on our rubber boots and traipse on over to McApline Creek Park for a nature walk. It's a quiet, spacious area, good for exploring and puddle-jumping.

In addition to beavers, we've seen cranes, hawks, ducks, turtles and frogs. The mostly-flat trails wind around the lake, soccer fields and through the woods, which keeps the stroll interesting. There's also a fishing pier, picnic area, dog park and restrooms.

You won't find playground equipment at McApline Creek Park, but it is a fun destination for exploring nature, rain or shine.

How to get there:
McApline Creek Park is located at 8711 Monroe Rd., Charlotte, NC 28227. To access the trails, follow the large footbridge at the back of the parking lot across the creek toward the lake. Here's a trail map.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Water and snacks: There are a number of good picnic spots.
  • Comfortable shoes: Consider boots if it has rained lately.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: There are some shady spots on the nature trails in the woods, but the park and greenway are largely wide open.  

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Myers Park's Hidden Trail

If you don't know it's there, it is easy to miss the Briar Creek Greenway tucked neatly behind Myers Park High School. But it is well worth seeking out.

The 0.91 mile (one way) gravel trail, which follows Briar Creek behind the school between Colony Road and Runnymeade Lane, serves as the home cross country course for Myers Park (Go Mustangs!).
As a high-schooler, I put in many fun, exhausting miles there. Back then, though, it was a little more than a beaten path and some drain pipes. Now, it's a bona fide greenway, wide, smooth and well maintained.
Less than five miles from uptown, it's a lovely option for taking a hike in the woods without committing to a commute. With smooth, rolling terrain, it's also good for beginner mountain bikers.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can check out some of the natural paths carved in the wooded area on either side of the main trail. See trail map.

This section of greenway is home to river otters and other water critters. There are benches along the creek to take a break and enjoy wildlife.
You'll also find the remains of the foundation remains of the old Isaac Newton Alexander grist mill, circa 1857, which is listed on the Mecklenburg County Historical Registry. The remnants are substantial and marked with an informational sign.
Though it is short and tucked between high-traffic areas, the trail is quiet and secluded. If you're itching to escape to nature close to home, I think you'll find the Briar Creek Greenway satisfying and enjoyable.

Note: The Briar Creek Greenway will eventually run 6 miles. through Charlotte, connecting to the Little Sugar Creek Greenway. There's currently another accessible short section between the Plaza Midwood and Merry Oaks neighborhoods. At this time, there is no targeted timeframe for development of the rest of Briar Creek Greenway, but one day there will be sections running from Central Ave. to Commonwealth Ave., from Bay St. to Monroe Rd., and from Manning Dr. to Marion Diehl Park.

How to get there:

Park at Myers Park High School at 2400 Colony Rd. Charlotte, NC 28209 (after school hours and on weekends). On foot, follow Colony Rd. away from the school. The trailhead will be on your left at the creek before you reach Picardy Pl.
Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfy hiking shoes:
  • Mountain bike and helmet: This is a very easy beginner trail.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: This is a shady trail, but has bright, open stretches.
  • Water: Stay hydrated!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

3 Reasons to Visit Reedy Creek Nature Preserve

Reedy Creek Park and Nature Preserve, part of Charlotte Mecklenburg Park and Recreation, is a sprawling, 927-acre natural, forested habitat 10 mile east of Uptown Charlotte. There, you’ll find all the outdoor sporting amenities, including volleyball and basketball courts; softball, soccer and cricket fields; horseshoe pits; picnic shelters; ponds; fishing, a dog park, playgrounds and a disc golf course.

Here are our three favorite reasons to visit.

Hiking trails
There are 10 miles of well-marked, gravel hiking trails winding through the nature preserve. Wide and relatively flat, the trails are accessible to hikers of all ages and offer fun opportunities for exploring.

Our favorite is the Dragonfly Pond Trail, which hugs the trail shoreline where you’re likely to spot turtles and other wildlife. Another popular route is the Robinson Rockhouse Trail, which leads the ruins of the Robinson Rockhouse, built circa 1790.

If you’re itching to get out in nature, but don’t want to hassle with a long drive, Reedy Creek is a perfect outdoor retreat. Dogs are welcome to hike with their friends on a 6-foot or shorter leash.

Reedy Creek Nature Center
The Reedy Creek Nature Center and Preserve is an interactive nature museum and gift shop located in one corner of the preserve. It features a woodland-themed hands-on educational area and live native animals. Just outside is a National Wildlife Federation certified Backyard Habitat Garden that includes a demonstration compost area, butterfly garden and bird feeding stations.

The Nature Center offers dozens of fun, engaging and educational programs each month. See what they offer and register here.

On a very practical note, there are restrooms and a water fountain in the Nature Center.

One of our favorite playgrounds in Charlotte is just outside the Nature Center at Reedy Creek. It features a giant tree house with a climbing wall, swinging bridge and tube slide. Other highlights are a sharks-tooth-digging sand pit, natural materials building area, climbing and balancing equipment and two xylophones, one made with wood and the other out of wrenches.
We also like to stop at a newly opened NFL Play 60 challenge course, sponsored by the Carolina Panthers. 

A tip for your visit: You can park at the Nature Center parking lot and visit the Nature Center, play on the tree house playground and access a number of trails. We like to park at one of the other parking lots and hike our way over to the Nature Center. Check out the park map to decide how you want to plan your visit.

How to get there:
Reedy Creek Nature Center and Preserve is located at 2900 Rocky River Road. Follow park signs to the Nature Center parking lot. Or park in another lot and hike your way around the preserve. Check out the park map.

Don’t forget to bring:
  • Picnic or snacks and water: There are a number of great picnic shelters throughout the park.
  • Comfy shoes: The trails are easy, but wear something supportive.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: The park is well shaded throughout, but you might want some cover if you visit the NFL Play 60 challenge course.
  • Bugspray: In case of mosquitoes and ticks.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Have You Been to Goat Island?

In 1910, textile magnate Stuart Cramer released goats onto a small river island in the town that would eventually take his name. They were put there to control vegetation. Today, you won't find livestock roaming Goat Island in Cramerton, the quaint town 20 miles west of Uptown Charlotte, but you will find a destination for outdoor fun. Here's what makes Goat Island worth the trip:

The trail: The Goat Island Greenway is a wide, paved footpath that runs through the heart of Goat Island. It starts at the 8th Ave. entrance to the island, traverses an impressive bridge over the South Fork Catawba River and winds through the island, across another bridge and into the adjacent neighborhood. The 0.7 mi. (one way) trail is good for walking, biking, skating, scooting and strollers.

The equipment: The park sports a remarkable treehouse playground for big kids, a preschool playground for the littles, and adult exercise equipment for the grown-ups.

The games: Goat Island is home to a beautiful 18-hole disc golf course, two permanent ping pong tables and 3 concrete corn hole sets (BYO paddles, balls and bean bags).

The amenities: No. 1 is bathrooms! Also, picnic shelters, a fenced dog park and fishing/observation piers.

The setting: The main Goat Island entrance is directly across from the historic main street in downtown Cramerton, where you can grab a bite to eat. Beside the park entrance is a fire station (fun for little ones who are into trucks!) And, bonus, you're an 8-minute drive from the Cotton Candy Factory in downtown Belmont -- worth a stop on the way back home.

How to get there:
The main entrance to Goat Island is located at 142 8th Ave., Cramerton, NC, 28032. There's a free municipal parking lot across the street from the park bridge. This is also where you'll find the bathrooms. Using this entrance will put you directly at the playground once you cross the bridge.

There's another entrance on the opposite side of the island located at 305 Greenwood Pl., Belmont NC, 28012. There's plenty of parking here as well. And porta-potties.

Don't forget to take:
  • Water and snacks or a picnic lunch: There's enough to do here to plan on spending a while playing and exploring.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: The trails are partially covered, but the playgrounds are wide open.
  • Bikes and helmets, bean bags, ping pong paddles and balls, Frisbees, etc. . . Take your pick of games and come equipped to play them.