Thursday, May 31, 2018

Beyond the Gardens at Daniel Stowe

You don't have to have a green thumb to appreciate the exquisite grounds at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. There are plenty of reasons to visit Daniel Stowe, located about 45 minutes west of Charlotte in Belmont on the banks of Lake Wylie: The impressive gardens, the immaculate pathways, the playful fountains and the chance to get away and be in nature.
One of our favorite areas is the whimsical Lost Hollow children's garden, which offers natural play areas good for exploring and sparking imaginations.

Another big draw for us, though, are the lightly-trafficked natural-surface hiking trails on the outskirts of the 380-acre Daniel Stowe property. When a leisurely stroll through the gardens isn't quite enough to justify the car trip out there, these trails are excellent options for enhancing the adventure.

The Persimmon Trail is a half-mile loop that begins and ends on the far left side of the main parking lot. The trailhead is marked with a large sign. From the trail you can take a side trip to hop on the Seven Oaks Preserve trail, a nearly 3-mile out-and-back trail that hugs the banks of Lake Wylie. Sticking to the Persimmon Trail will return you to the main parking lot in short order. This is an easy, highly accessible trail.

The Meadowood Walk Trail is a one-mile, natural surface loop trail that begins and ends at the far end of the gardens, inside the gates. To access it, follow the garden pathways to the perimeters of the main gardens to a gravel service road. There's a sign marking the trailhead. You'll pass by a tall wooden hut as you head for the tree line at the far end of the field. There are educational signs throughout this trail.

You'll be handed a garden map at the door, but here's one if you want to get your bearings before setting out.

One of the lovely things about these trails is that on a hot summer day, they offer ample shade and a respite from the heat.

Check the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden website for hours, admission and programs and events. With the number of things to do (including the Christmas lights and regular activities), we've found it worthwhile to have a family membership.

Happy trails!
How to get there:
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is located at 6500 New Hope Rd., Belmont, NC, 28012. The Persimmon Trail trailhead is located at the far left side of the main parking lot. The Meadowood Walk Trail trailhead is located at the back of the main gardens inside the gates.
Don't forget to take:
  • Water: Especially on a hot day.
  • Money: For garden admission.
  • Snacks: During special events, food and drinks may be available.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: The main gardens are only sparsely shaded.
  • Bug spray: Especially during the warmer months.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Take a Paddle: It's Rocky Shoals Spider Lily Season!

Photo: SC Conservation Bank-SC Gov.
Last year, I wrote about Landsford Canal State Park, a wonderful destination just over 45 minutes from uptown Charlotte in Lancaster, SC. Anytime you go to Landsford Canal, it's a fantastic place for a relatively short, flat, natural surface hike along the banks of the Catawba River with some interesting canal history along the way.
But it's especially compelling now -- from May through June -- when the largest stand of Rocky Shoals Spider Lilies in the Southeast are in bloom. I highly recommend a hike to see them this time of year. Or, better yet, go for a paddle!
There's no better way to get up close and personal with the stunning display of flowers than by water. And it's feasible, even if you don't have the necessary gear or experience.
A number of outfitters offer outings, complete with boats, paddles, life vests, a guide and a shuttle. Thrifty Adventures and Catawba River Expeditions are two for your consideration. They'll help you launch, lead you down the 1.25-mile stretch of river, and bring you back to your car.
If you're an experienced paddler with your own boats, this is a very doable trip. Simply drop your gear at the main Landsford Canal State Park area, then double back with your car, taking a left out of the main entrance onto Landsford Rd. When it dead ends, take a left to find another simple, cul-de-sac State Park parking area. To get back to your boats, walk a short (pleasant!) 1.25 miles along the Canal Trail. Trailhead is to the left of the parking lot, marked with a State Park fee box. On the water, you'll see signs directing you back to the take-out point, a short walk through the woods from the shore to your parked car.
Note: Whether you're going with a group or on your own, river conditions matter. If the water is too high or rough, the Riverkeeper will advise against making the trip (and outfitters will comply). You can check the Landsford Canal State Park FAQ page for river status. River levels can be affected not just by heavy rains, but also by Duke Energy's release of water from power plants upriver.
If you'd just as soon stay on land, read my earlier post about hiking options and what you'll find along the way. You can still take in the Rocky Shoals Spider Lilies from an overlook at the end of the Nature Trail.
It's a pleasant visit -- and one I highly recommend this time of year -- however you choose to experience it.
Note: South Carolina state parks charge an entry fee for guests. You’ll need $5/adult, $3.25/S.C. senior, $3/children 6-15, and children under six are free. Bring cash for the self-serve envelope kiosk at the entrance. Just drop your money in the box and hang the punch-tag from your rear-view mirror.

How to get there:
Landsford Canal State Park is located at 2051 Park Dr., Catawba, SC, 29704. Take I-77 South to exit 77 onto US-21. Take a left on S. Anderson Rd. and go 10 miles. Turn left on Landsford Rd. You’ll see the park entrance signs just under two miles down the road.

Don’t forget to pack:
  • Cash: For the Park entry fee.
  • Water: A must-have for any hike. You don’t need to pack extra; you can refill at the visitor center when you finish your hike.
  • Snacks: Throw in a granola bar, trail mix or crackers. It buys you time on the trail when your tank starts running on empty.
  • Backpack or bag: Something lightweight and comfortable to carry your essentials.
  • Bug spray: Fend off mosquitoes and ticks.
  • Shoes: If you plan to do a little rock-hopping, consider Keen sandals or water shoes you can hike in. Otherwise, comfy sneakers will suffice.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: Especially if you plan to paddle.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Colonel Frances Beatty Park: Pefect for Mountain Biking

Calling all novice mountain bikers (young and old): This is a trail for you. On a recent scorching afternoon, we wanted to get out and do something active, but for sure in the shade, and preferably with some wind in our faces. So we threw the bikes in the trunk and headed for a new-to-us destination: Colonel Francis Beatty Park in Matthews, about 30 minutes from uptown Charlotte.

I found the park by scouring the Tarheel Trailblazers website (a valuable resource!) for recommendations for easy, beginner-level trails. We chose the Main Loop Trail, and it couldn't have been more perfect.

Here's why:

Distance: The Main Loop Trail is a little over 4 miles long. Which is enough to feel like you've taken a good spin and walkable if you plan to hike alongside young riders.

Difficultly: As long as you stick to the green and blue blazes, the trail is technical enough to keep things interesting without being overwhelming to beginners. Some portions (green blazes) are simply long stretches of dirt and gravel, but you also get the opportunity to wind through the woods on narrower natural-surface trails.

Features: There are some sneaky roots you have to mind, but obstacles are mostly relegated to some really fun man-made bridges and ramps.

Crowd: On a sunny Sunday afternoon, we were among the only bikers or hikers on the trail. I can't say for sure if that's a typical amount of traffic, but the smaller crowd made our outing enjoyable and manageable.

Proximity: Colonel Francis Beatty Park is an easy, 30-minute drive from uptown Charlotte. Quick to get to and easy to navigate.


To jump on the Main Loop Trail, park in the Lake Point Hall parking lot. There, you'll find the trailhead marked with an information kiosk. There are also restrooms, playgrounds and picnic shelters.

Unless you're feeling really adventurous, don't wander onto a Black Diamond Trail. Those are technically difficult.

Bike riders ride counterclockwise; hikers hike clockwise.

Be mindful of your surroundings. We spotted a large black snake and plenty of patches of poison ivy.

We also discovered tadpoles in the lake, so consider breaks for exploring along the way.

There's a TCBY two miles from the park (3116 Weddington Rd Suite 700, Matthews, NC 28105) . A promise of ice cream when we finished was a fun motivator for our crowd!

How to get there:

Colonel Francis Beatty Park is located at 4330 Weddington Rd, Matthews, NC 28105. To jump on the Main Loop Trail, park in the Lake Point Hall parking lot. There, you'll find the trailhead marked with an information kiosk. There are also restrooms, playgrounds and picnic shelters.

Don't forget to take:

  • Water: And plenty of it on warm days. There are bathroom facilities for refills.
  • Helmets: DO NOT RIDE WITHOUT ONE. Adults, too.
  • Snacks: In case you need refueling.
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen: The trail is only partially shaded.
  • Bug spray: Especially in the summer to ward off mosquitoes and ticks.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Race on up to Kannapolis

When you say Kannapolis, I think race cars. Which is only a sort of fair association given the town's close proximity to Concord, home of the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Really, though, this city just north of Concord along I-85 was born as a textile mill town, suffered momentarily when the mills closed, and has undergone a remarkable rebirth as home of the North Carolina Research Campus.

Kannapolis has definitely retained its small-town vibe, but also feels fresh and modern.

Among many other reasons to visit is a lovely greenway, part of which is part of the Carolina Thread Trail, that loops Kannapolis. From start to finish, it offers two miles of flat, paved, intermittently shaded trail that is perfect for walking, jogging or biking at all skill levels.

Of particular interest for families with small kids are a couple of remarkable parks along the trail route.

We parked at Baker’s Creek Park, where there’s plenty of parking, a couple of large sets of playground equipment and two giant picnic shelters. There’s also a municipal miniature golf course.

Hop on the greenway trail behind the playground. Taking a left puts you on the 8th Street Greenway that runs about three-quarters of a mile to Loop Rd. We took a right, which puts you on the Baker’s Creek Greenway that connects Baker’s Creek Park with Village Park a little under a mile away.

Take a quick look at the map to familiarize yourself with the route.

Village Park is the more spectacular of the two parks, complete with playground equipment, an impressive carrousel, splash pad, and the Rotary Express Train (a g-24 scale replica CP Huntington engine and three coaches that visitors can ride). Attractions at both Baker’s Creek Park and Village Park are seasonal. You can find run times and prices by visiting the Kannapolis Park and Recreation site. Both parks have bathroom facilities.

When you’re finished at Village Park, you can retrace your path back to Baker’s Creek by way of the Baker’s Creek Greenway. Or, if you’d prefer, you can take Loop Rd from Village Park toward the opposite end of the 8th Street Greenway and come full circle to Baker’s Creek in just over two miles round trip. 

If you’re looking for new ground to cover – and certainly if you’re in the Kannapolis area already – this greenway and accompanying parks are definitely worth the visit.

How to get there:
Baker’s Creek Park is located at 1275 West A St., Kannapolis, NC, 28081.

Don’t forget to take:
  • Water and snacks: Keep the essentials handy! There are facilities for refilling water if needed.
  • Bikes and helmets: It’s an easy, pleasant ride, but also doable by foot if you’d prefer to stroll.
  • Swimsuits and towels: In case you want to take advantage of the splash pad.
  • Cash: You’ll need to pay a small fee to ride the train or carrousel or to play miniature golf.
  • Bug spray, sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: I pack ‘em everywhere we go.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

How to Navigate Anne Springs Close Greenway

Anne Springs Close Greenway is a gorgeous, sprawling nature preserve in Fort Mill, SC, about 30 minutes down I-77 from Uptown Charlotte.

There are so many wonderful aspects of Anne Springs Close Greenway that it can be a bit overwhelming to plan a visit. Here are some tips for a fun trip or two.

The Greenway is 2,100 acres with multiple entry points on all sides. Folks with young children ought to park at the Dairy Barn entrance (288 Dairy Barn Lane, Fort Mill, SC 29715) for a family-friendly outing. If you're not a member, there's a daily usage fee of $5 per person (4 and under free), payable at each entrance kiosk.

From the Dairy Barn entrance, you can take the short, half-mile, paved (stroller-friendly) Historic Solid Surface Loop trail from the parking area to an overlook of Steele Creek. This winds you around bathrooms, an amphitheater, a couple of historic cabins and some farm animals.

I encourage you to be a bit more adventurous than this loop, as a fun and impressive swinging bridge is a short hike down either the Blue Star trail (gravel and still suitable for strollers) or the Steele Creek trail (natural surface) from the paved loop. The bridge is definitely a highlight of the park for our crew. From the Dairy Barn to the swinging bridge is just under a mile hike.

To continue the fun, from the swinging bridge, follow the Blue Star trail another 0.3 miles to the Nature Center, or another 0.3 miles past the Nature Center to Lake Haigler.
Admission to the small Nature Center is free. On display are a number of native animals (some live, some stuffed). There's also a play area for preschoolers.

Lake Haigler is beautiful, circled by a 1.3-mile natural surface trail that hugs the shoreline, crossing a couple bridges and offering excellent views of wildlife.

For adults and older kids, the Anne Springs Close Greenway trail system is 40 miles and growing. If you're up for more than an amble, we recommend parking at the Anne Springs Close Recreation Complex entrance (971 Tom Hall Street, Fort Mill, SC 29715). Here you can hop on the Paradise Loop trail from the well-marked trailhead at the back of the parking lot. This 3.5-mile natural surface trail is rolling and pleasant. Make sure you hike counterclockwise; mountain bikers share the trail riding clockwise.

Trail maps are posted at all entrances to the Greenway and trail markers are placed every 0.25 miles throughout trails, providing reference points that correspond to the trail map.

Other activities at Anne Springs Close Greenway include kayaking, canoeing, horseback riding, fishing and camping. We'll definitely be back out there to try some of these adventures on another day.

How to get there:
The Dairy Barn entrance is located at 288 Dairy Barn Lane, Fort Mill, SC 29715. The Recreation Complex entrance is located at 971 Tom Hall Street, Fort Mill, SC 29715. Consider printing a copy of the trail map.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable shoes: The trail are mostly flat, but you'll want something supportive for your hike.
  • Water: Stay hydrated.
  • Snacks or a picnic lunch: There's plenty to do, so you'll want to keep your tanks full.
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: The nature preserve trails are only partially shaded. Areas around the Dairy Barn and farm area are less so.