Monday, July 23, 2018

Let's Go Blueberry Picking!

Situated in the heart of North Carolina's piedmont, Charlotte is ripe with pick-your-own strawberry farms and pumpkin patches. You can even find some good apple orchards nearby. Blueberries tend to grow in cooler climates, which makes them a little harder to find around here. But not impossible!
One great pick-your-own blueberry spot is Helms Christmas Tree Farm in Vale, NC, just a little over an hour west of uptown Charlotte.

The blueberry bushes, nestled between an abundance of beautiful Christmas trees, are well-established and tall, which makes picking easy for the smallest to tallest harvesters. The blueberry patch is a short, easy walk from where you park at the entrance.

Henry Helms, the friendly owner, greeted us on arrival and gave each of us a bucket, equipped with a rope handle that can be hung around your neck to free up both hands for picking (clever!). When you're done picking, just take your baskets back to the hut, where they'll bag them and take your money. Pick-your-own berries are $12 per gallon ($20 if they pick them for you).

The farm has great hours: Open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Sunday 7 a.m.-10 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.). Check the website or call (704-276-1835) for picking conditions. There are picnic tables and a porta-potty at the near the parking area.

This was a find for us. Not only was blueberry picking fun and fruitful, but we may have discovered a place to cut our own Christmas tree come December!

How to get there:
Helms Christmas Tree Farm is located at 6345 Christmas Tree Lane, Vale, NC 28168.

Don't forget to bring:
  • Shoes: Comfortable walking shoes.
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: There's very little shade in the picking field.
  • Water: On a hot day, stay hydrated.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Village Park in Kannapolis

The ornate, hand-painted, double-decker carousel is reason enough to visit Village Park in Kannapolis, about 40 minutes north of Uptown Charlotte. But it's just one of a handful of features that make this a fantastic, family-friendly outing destination, especially during the summer.

The other draws? How about the Rotary Express Train, a g-24 scale replica CP Huntington engine and three coaches that visitors can ride on a winding track that circles the park (complete with working miniature crossing arms at pedestrian footpaths).

And the splash pad, with jets, geysers and water cannons. This area includes shaded picnic tables and benches and restrooms.

And, of course, playground equipment.

There's also a fantastic paved greenway, part of which is part of the Carolina Thread Trail, that loops Kannapolis.

The best part? A visit here is budget-friendly. Cost ranges from free to $1.50 per attraction.

If you, like us, enjoy sneaking in a bike ride or hike on your adventures, here's an outing for your consideration:

Park at Baker’s Creek Park, less than a mile away from Village Park, where there’s plenty of parking, a couple of large sets of playground equipment, two giant picnic shelters and a miniature golf course (open weekends only).

You could easily spend the morning here alone. But when you're ready to venture on to the attractions at Village Park, hop on the greenway trail behind the playground.

Take 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. It's an easy, flat, paved trail that winds through wooded areas and a quiet neighborhood. (Take a quick look at the map to familiarize yourself with the route.)

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. 

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.

If you’re looking for new ground to cover – and certainly if you’re in the Kannapolis area already – Village Park, Bakers Park and the greenway between them are worth a visit.

How to get there:
Village Park is located at 700 West C Street, Kannapolis, NC, 28081.
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.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: Village Park is not heavily shaded.
  • Bikes and helmets, strollers or comfortable shoes: If you want to take the greenway route. Otherwise, all the Village Park attraction are within a stone's throw of each other.
  • Swimsuits and towels: In case you want to enjoy the splash pad.
  • Cash: You’ll need to pay a small fee to ride the train or carousel or to play miniature golf.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

RibbonWalk Nature Preserve

RibbonWalk Nature Preserve, maintained by Charlotte Mecklenburg Park and Recreation, is where to go when you want to escape into nature, but don't have time or interest in venturing far from town. Just five miles north of uptown, tucked in the wedge between I-77 and I-85 off Nevin Rd., it's a surprisingly accessible place to get away from the hustle and bustle and enjoy some gorgeous green space, fresh air, exercise and solitude.

Dense, lush and serene, RibbonWalk offers several miles of flat, natural surface trails around ponds, through woods, and even over a small covered bridge. Compared to the den of city life that surrounds this escape, the preserve is remarkably, noticeably quiet.

While RibbonWalk tends to be lightly trafficked by fellow hikers, you will find an abundance of wildlife throughout the park. This is an excellent place to spot birds, frogs, turtles, lizards and all kinds of plants and insects. Beware the snakes; we saw a water moccasin once.

Take a peak at the trail map on the information kiosk in the parking lot before you set out. Follow the paved road from the parking lot to the trailheads.

I recommend taking a right on the Wetlands Trail (black square blazes) to start, following it over a boardwalk to the Beech Walk Trail (blue triangles blazes) that will then connect you by taking a right to the Covered Bridge Trail (green circle blazes) to enjoy a couple of the park features. Follow the Covered Bridge Trail until it becomes the Irwin Creek Trail (yellow square blazes), which will lead you back to the paved road you began on. This hike is approximately two miles. The trails are well-marked.

Fun fact: RibbonWalk derived its name from Queen Charlotte's family's gardens, through which pathways "ribboned" their way though the woods.

There are porta-potties in the main parking lot, but no restroom facilities.

How to get there:
RibbonWalk Nature Preserve is located at 4601 Nevin Rd, Charlotte, NC 28269. From the parking lot, follow the paved road past the gates to the forest line, where several trails begin.

Don't forget to take:
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: The trails are mostly shaded, but there are some open areas.
  • Bug repellant: To ward off mosquitoes, ticks and gnats.
  • Water: There are no facilities to refill, so bring what you think you'll need.
  • Comfortable walking shoes: Note that most of the trails are easy, natural surface pathways, but there's a chance your feet will get wet crossing the boardwalk if you choose to take the Wetlands Trail after a heavy rain.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Bakers Mountain Park

Want a scenic mountain view without the drive to western North Carolina? Want a hike in the woods without competing with the crowds at Crowders Mountain? Let me introduce you to Bakers Mountain Park, just over an hour west of uptown Charlotte in Hickory, NC.
Nestled in the foothills, Bakers Mountain Park is a public park managed by Catawba County. It features nearly six miles of trails through 189 acres and sports the highest elevation point (1780 feet) in the county.
This quiet, well-maintained, gem of a park is inviting for a number of reasons, including the charming community bucket of hiking sticks that greets you at the trailhead. Grab one as you set off for a pleasant stroll through the woods.
I recommend heading first toward the observation platform (see park map) by following the red trail until it intersects with the orange trail. Take a right and follow the orange trail less than half a mile to a gazebo (this makes a great place for a snack break!) and deck with views of the Catawba Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.
The trails throughout the park are natural surface (with the exception of a quarter-mile paved, ADA accessible loop around the parking area) and rolling, with some pretty steep climbs. Beyond the ascents/descents, the biggest obstacles are roots and rocks. There are some impressive boulder outcroppings in some areas. We found all the trails to be well marked.
If you make your way to the stream habitat area (the western side of the red trail loop), you'll be rewarded with a small waterfall and a great place to rock-hop through the water (there's also a bridge if you'd rather not traverse the creek).
Another fun feature are the handful of turn-of-the-century home sites along some of the trails. There are also plenty of benches throughout the park to take a break.
Make note: The park is closed Wednesdays (as well as Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). Hours are seasonal. The park is open 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. from April to September, 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in March and October, and 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from November to February.
A clean, well-maintained restroom facility is available in the main parking lot.
Bonus: If you have time and energy after your hike, little ones might enjoy the story walk on the paved trail around the parking area. A children's book is displayed one page at a time on signs at intervals along the trail.

How to get there:
Bakers Mountain Park is located at 6680 Bakers Mountain Rd., Hickory, NC 28602.
Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable, supportive shoes: The terrain can be uneven and challenging.
  • Water: Stay hydrated; you can refill at the restroom facility in the parking lot.
  • Snacks or lunch: There are plenty of benches and a couple of picnic shelters to stop and refuel.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: The trails are mostly shady, but there are some exposed spaces throughout the park.
  • Bug spray: Ward off ticks, gnats and mosquitoes.