Thursday, June 21, 2018

Revisit Charlotte's Best Kept Secret Garden

Last year I wrote about what we like to call "the secret garden," the immaculate grounds of the Duke Mansion, which, believe it or not, are open to the public.

This stunning estate offers lush gardens, playground equipment, charming pathways, a gazebo, a fairy garden, and a fountain. It's a little piece of Zen tucked in the Myers Park neighborhood.

This year, we discovered another reason to visit: the hands-on, Peter Rabbit-themed children's garden. A few visits ago, we met Maelynn, the full-time staff gardener. She and one of the many volunteers who help her year-round, were constructing a trellis between four large planting boxes in the grassy area next to the playground equipment. She explained her vision for this to be a "learning garden," where families can come and pick fresh produce.

This week, we visited again and the planting boxes were teeming and the trellises were draped with growth. We saw Maelynn and she enthusiastically invited us to pick some of the ruby red cherry tomatoes, encouraged us to sniff the mint leaves, and introduced us to Asian green beans.

She explained that the boxes were planted by theme: the pumpkin patch (gourds), vegetables (tomatoes, beans, etc.), herbs, and "medicinal" (including feverfew, lavender and lemon grass).

The gardens are all organic and there is a spigot on the side of one of the planting boxes if you want to give something a rinse before taking a taste. Maelynn hopes to include some more kid-friendly equipment, like buckets and watering cans over the course of the summer.

Of course all the summer plants are also in full bloom (the hydrangeas are exploding!), which makes for a fun stroll through the rest of the grounds as well.

For more information, read my earlier post. This outing is worth putting near the top of your to-do list this summer.

How to get there:
The Duke Mansion is located at 400 Hermitage Rd, Charlotte, NC 28207. To access the gardens, park on Ardsley Rd. Enter the grounds through a gated footpath on Ardsley.

Don't forget to pack:
Shoes: Something comfy for strolling.
Sunscreen, hat and sunglasses: The grounds are mostly shaded, but some spots are not.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Discover Dan Nicholas Park

Dan Nicholas Park, located in Salisbury, just under an hour north of Charlotte, is a remarkable hybrid recreation experience. On one hand, it offers amusement park attractions. On the other, it's a sprawling nature preserve, great for a hike in the woods. On the whole, I recommend it for a day out.

Here's a good way to experience some of everything Dan Nicholas Park has to offer.

Park at the boat dock parking lot. Head toward the lake and take a left to cross a bridge that will take you on a short hike along the banks. This is a pleasant stroll, good for exploring.

After you pass the campground, but before you reach the dam, you can veer into the woods to do a fun, but easy loop trail before returning to the lake. This option will add up to about 2 miles from the parking lot and back.

To get to the amusement attractions, follow the trail across the dam and take a left toward the paddle boats and concession stand. From there, there's a paved path that leads to the activity hub. Here, you'll find a carousel, a train, a nature center, miniature golf, a gem mine, a playground, a splash pad and paddle boats.

One of the appealing things about Dan Nicholas Park is the reasonable prices. Except for gem-mining, everything costs a dollar or less. There are also bundle package deals on tickets for a certain sets of activities.
Visit the train depot to purchase tickets, then make your way around the attractions -- all within a quarter mile loop. Check out the website for a park map, hours and prices.

Pack a lunch to make a day of it; there are plenty of picnic tables, shelters and shady spots to spread a blanket. There are also restroom facilities and concessions.
How to get there:
Dan Nicholas Park is located at 6800 Bringle Ferry Road, Salisbury, NC 28146.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Water: Stay hydrated; there are places to refill.
  • Comfortable shoes: Especially if you plan to hike a bit.
  • Cash: For admission to attractions.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: The trail is partially shaded, but the amusement park area is fairly wide open.
  • Snacks or a lunch: If you plan to stay a while.   
  • Towels and a change of clothes: If the splash pad is on your agenda.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

My New Favorite App: AllTrails

Whether you've got an itch to take a walk in the woods close to home or you'd like to plan an outdoor excursion in another town, the AllTrails app will change your trail-discovery game. It's awesome. And free (unless you want to upgrade to a pro subscription with access to more bells and whistles).
When we headed out of town a few weekends ago, we knew we wanted to stop somewhere along the way for a short hike to break up the drive. I pulled up the app, entered a few towns in the search bar and was rewarded with hundreds of options. When it looked like rain would thwart our plans to stop where we had hoped, I checked the radar en route and picked another location just outside the passing storm. Again, many options right at my fingertips.

The AllTrails app offers an extensive catalogue of trails all over the United States. But there's more!

Here are the features that make it one of my most-used apps:

Picking a hike: Search for trails based on your location or a specific city, park or specific trail name. Each trail comes with a description, including trail distance, trail features and a trail map. The app also includes the GPS coordinates of the trailhead and a button that opens Google Maps to give you directions to the exact place you'll start your hike -- helpful when you're unfamiliar with an area or want to know how much drive-time to plan around.

On the trail: One of the greatest parts of this app for me is the map feature when you're on the trail. When you click on the map in the app, you'll see the trail and a little GPS dot telling you in real time exactly where you are on it. Super handy for judging how far you've gone or have to go -- and for getting back on track when you wander off a spur trail.

Stats: The AllTrails app offers a record function if you want to keep track of your hiking stats, including time, distance, miles-per-hour, and elevation -- and see your progress in real time. You can also add "waypoints" and photos if you want to record particular moments along the way.

Extras: There are different map overlays you can apply, depending on what you need. A satellite feed, road map, trail map, contours. You can also see "waypoints," or points of interest, and photos that others have marked along the trail.

Record-keeping: If you're really mean business, using this app every time you hit the trails will allow you to build a profile that documents your lifetime stats, including miles hiked, elevation gain, moving time, and personal bests.

And if you really, REALLY mean business, you can upgrade to the pro account for a fee. This will let you download maps for use offline, design and save custom trail maps, keep track of your favorite trails and access more map overlays and layers.

The AllTrails app was a game-changer for me. I encourage you to check it out.