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.

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