Thursday, March 29, 2018

Go Prospectin' at Reed Gold Mine

In 1799, Reed Gold Mine, then a farm located in Midland, NC, just 25 miles east of Charlotte, became the site of the first documented gold find in the United States. When landowner John Reed's son stumbled on a 17-pound rock (which for a time the family naively used as a doorstop), it was the beginning of a stretch of time when North Carolina led the nation in gold production that ended in 1848 when the California gold rush began.

Today, you can enjoy a self-guided tour of a mining museum, restored portions of the underground mining tunnels and ore-crushing stamp mill, remnants of the engine/mill house, and other mining buildings and equipment. And, maybe most exciting, pan for your own piece of gold.

When you arrive at Reed Gold Mine, a short 45-minute drive from uptown, you'll park in a lot adjacent to the visitor center and museum. Take some time to meander through the museum's impressive collection of mining artifacts and absorb a trove of information about the history of gold, mining and the Reed Gold Mine.

Stop at the welcome desk on the way in to pick up a self-guided tour map and purchase panning tickets. Admission to the grounds is free. Gold panning costs $3 per pan. If you have small kids, consider sharing a pan. The process is a bit labor-intensive and requires big-kid or grown-up strength and dexterity. Hang on to your ticket; you'll pan at the end of your tour. (NOTE: Gold panning is accessible April 1 through October 31.)

When you've explored the museum, take the side door through a replica tunnel to begin the underground tour. Follow the site map to wind your way through the mining tunnels and past other significant stops around the grounds of the mine.
If you're feeling extra adventurous, consider taking a hike around one of two short trails that circumvent the grounds. The Lower Hill Trail (orange blazes) trailhead is beside the Stamp Mill. The Lake Hill Trail (white blazes) is accessible from the Lower Hill Trail and ends at the main parking lot.

When you've finished exploring the grounds, stop at the panning area to try your hand at prospecting. You may also consider a picnic at the tables in that area. Bathrooms are available at the visitor's center.

I like Reed Gold Mine because it's educational, exciting and a great place to do some outdoor exploring. A perfect family outing on a pretty day.

Bonus tip: Enjoy a stop at The Sundae Shop in Midland for a milkshake on the way home.

How to get there:
Reed Gold Mine is located at 9621 Reed Mine Rd, Midland, NC 28107.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes: You'll want to explore the grounds.
  • Snacks and water: Stay hydrated and keep your energy up. There's a lot of fun things to do if you don't run out of steam.
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: A lot of the grounds are shaded, but there are open areas as well.
  • Cash: Pack $3/pan if you want to pan for gold.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

StoryWalk 2.0

I first wrote about StoryWalk when the concept debuted at Independence Park in September 2017. Here are three new reasons to consider this enriching, worthwhile activity.
First, a refresher. StoryWalk is a collaboration between the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation and Read Charlotte.
The concept is both brilliant and simple: A children's book is displayed page-by-page on laminated posts along a paved walking path. To read the story, you follow the trail. And each sign offers Active Reading techniques to help improve vocabulary, language skills and reading comprehension. There's a scavenger-hunt element that keeps the kids on their toes.

Younger kids will enjoy hearing you read the story as they bound between the signs. Beginner readers will enjoy the challenge of reading it themselves. And older kids, along with their younger peers, can engage with the Active Reading prompts that accompany each page.

Here's what's new:
  • The Independence Park StoryWalk has a new book on display: Bear Snores On, by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman.
  • A StoryWalk has been added to Seversville Park, just west of Uptown. The book on display at Seversville is Wolfie the Bunny, by Ame Dyckman. 
  • And, on March 26, a new StoryWalk will debut at Grier Heights Park. We plan to be there for it's grand opening!
It's a novel and delightful way to enjoy reading as a family. As an adult who loves to read but also sometimes struggles to sit still, now I wish they'd make a StoryWalk for grown-ups!
How to get there:
Independence Park is located at 300 Hawthorne Lane, Charlotte, NC, 28204. The StoryWalk starts at the playground and winds its way along the walking path toward Hawthorne Lane away from town and ends back at the playground. Here's a park map.
Seversville Park is located at 530 Bruns Ave., Charlotte, NC 28208. The StoryWalk circles the area around the picnic shelter.
Grier Heights Park is located at 3110 Leroy St., Charlotte, NC 28205. Here's a park map.
Don't forget to pack:
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: All three parks offer little shade.
  • Water and snacks: Independence Park and Seversville Park have playgrounds and all three parks have picnic tables if you want to stay and make an afternoon of it.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Hidden Parks: Chantilly Ecological Sanctuary

Let me tell you about a beautiful ecological sanctuary that now sits on the site of what was once known as one of the most flood-prone buildings in Mecklenburg County.

In the 1960s, before there were restrictions on construction in floodplains, the Doral and Cavalier apartment complexes were built on a stretch of the banks of Briar Creek between Independence Blvd. and Monroe Rd. After a number of costly and devastating floods, engineering studies confirmed there was no way to prevent the flooding and that future flood damages would be far more expensive than buying and leveling the buildings.

All of the Cavalier apartments and half of the Doral apartments were purchased in 2008 and 2010, respectively, as part of Storm Water Services’ Floodplain Buyout Program.

By 2011, both complexes had been demolished, providing space for Mecklenburg County and the City of Charlotte to turn the space into a natural and beneficial urban floodplain.
The renovation included expanding the existing community park; restoring the channels of Briar Creek, Edwards Branch and Chantilly Tributary; adding water quality enhancements, such as ponds or wetlands, to the floodplain to remove some storm water pollution, and preserving the more than 24 acres of open-space land along Briar Creek as an ecological sanctuary.

Today, the area is home to a thriving ecosystem for land animals and aquatic life. It’s also a really fun place to explore.

We love the Chantilly Ecological Sanctuary for a number of reasons. Here’s what you can expect when you visit:

The main park entrance is at the end of a neighborhood street (see “How to get there below”). There’s no parking lot, so you’ll have to grab a roadside spot.

The Chantilly Neighborhood park sports a large playground with swings and two sets of climbing equipment—one for younger kids and the other for older ones. There are benches, picnic tables and a large picnic shelter.

Just beyond the playground is a beach volleyball court, athletic field and a 3-hole disc golf course.

A stream runs alongside the play area. With gently sloping banks and plenty of rocks for hopping, it makes for a fun place to explore.

Follow the gravel trail toward the back of the park and take a left at the bridge adjacent to the athletic field to access the greenway area. This sprawling natural area includes dirt footpaths, access to the creek and a couple of ponds. This is a great place for dogs. Take the footbridge across the creek for more areas to explore.

When you go, you’ll note hundreds of tall, white, plastic tubes arranged methodically throughout the field. These currently protect 1500 saplings planted last fall. In several years’ time, the ecological sanctuary will be home to far more wildlife—and shade!—as the trees mature.

Future plans for the space include a formal greenway trail, educational opportunities for the community and nearby elementary school, and certification of sanctuary for waterfowl and other species.

The one thing you won’t find here are bathrooms, so plan accordingly. Also, note that after a heavy rain, the ecological sanctuary field becomes extremely muddy.

How to get there:
Park at the entrance to Chantilly Neighborhood Park, located at 222 Wyanoke Ave., Charlotte, NC, 20205. There’s no parking lot, so you’ll have to grab a roadside spot. Follow the gravel footpath past the playground equipment to access the Chantilly Ecological Sanctuary. Here’s a park map.

Don't forget to take:
  • Water and snacks: You might consider packing a picnic lunch. There are no bathroom facilities, so bring plenty of water if you plan to stay a while.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: The park and ecological sanctuary are only partially shaded.
  • Boots and binoculars: Come prepared to do some creek and field exploration.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Take a Trip to Rocky Face Mountain

I'd never heard of Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Area until a friend mentioned it a few weeks ago. Now it's among my favorite "finds."

Located in Hiddenite, NC, about an hour and fifteen minutes north of Charlotte, it's relatively easy to get to and well worth the drive.

The Rocky Face Mountain Recreational area opened in 2012, but the site is home to some rich history, dating back to the early 1900s when it served as a quarry. In 2003 it was added to the North Carolina Registry of Natural Heritage areas.

Today, it offers an impressive natural playground; more than five miles of beautiful, challenging trails; and a sheer cliff face for qualified rock climbers.

Here's how to make the most of your visit.

Directions to the Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Area (located at 3451 Rocky Face Church Rd., Hiddenite, NC, 28636) will take you to a gravel parking lot with a building that I understand will eventually serve as the Welcome Center with restrooms, but it was locked and deserted when we visited.

From the parking lot, gather your gear and take a left on the trail behind the building. In less than 0.25 miles, you'll reach the former quarry, which has been converted to an enormous natural playground, complete with a zip line, slide, games, building materials, and climbing features. There's a paved 0.3-mile walking track around the quarry, as well as bathrooms and a picnic shelter. The playground is adjacent to the cliff face, where you may enjoy watching qualified climbers scale the mountain.

If you want to do some hiking and exploring, head for the rocky staircase to the left of the sheer rock face. There are a number of trails (see trail map) originating from this trailhead to choose from, none longer than 2.5 miles round-trip. Many are designated as "strenuous," probably for the steep ascents and uneven terrain, but the kids were able to navigate if we moved slowly and steadily when necessary.

I recommend the Hollow Rock Trail, which offers the most dramatic and impressive vistas. What I especially love about these trails is the blazes, which are labeled with numbers that correspond to the map, making navigating simple and exciting for young explorers. All of the trails are well marked, with "you-are-here" maps along the way.

Be mindful of visiting after a rain. Large portions of the trails are bald rock faces, which could be extremely slippery when wet.

On a gorgeous spring weekend when you're looking for a fun outing that's a little out of the ordinary, pack a picnic lunch, and plan to spend the day at Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Area. It's one of the coolest outdoor destinations you've probably never heard of . . . yet.

How to get there:
Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Area is located at 3451 Rocky Face Church Rd., Hiddenite, NC, 28636. To access the natural playground, bathrooms and picnic shelter, take a left on the trail at the back of the parking lot and walk 0.25 miles.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Water: Stay hydrated. You can refill at the restroom facilities next to the playground.
  • Snacks or a picnic: You can easily spend hours at the Recreation Area if you've got some food to keep your energy up.
  • Shoes: Comfortable walking shoes. Keep in mind that some of the trails will be very slippery when wet. Plan accordingly.
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: The trails are mostly shady, but the natural playground and rock faces are out in the open.
  • Trail map: Print one to take along.