Thursday, October 18, 2018

Buffalo Creek Nature Preserve

Want to mix up your hiking game? Head for Buffalo Creek Nature Preserve in Mt. Pleasant, N.C., just under 45 minutes northeast of Uptown Charlotte. Owned and managed by the Catawba Lands Conservancy, this nature preserve offers an easy, 2.1-mile (one way) natural surface trail (part of the Carolina Thread Trail) covering an interesting mix of terrains.

You'll find the trailhead in a small gravel parking lot with an information kiosk with a map and preserve information. From there, you'll head into the Piedmont Oak Savannah section of the trail. This landscape of open grassland, home to a number of ground-nesting birds and prairie species, was common in the southeastern U.S. until English settlers displaced the Native Americans who maintained the savannahs through intentional burning.

The Native Americans used to preserve the open space to make travel easier and facilitate the growth of herbs and berry-producing plants that were important for both food and medicines. To walk through the tall grasses under the open sky offers a peace unlike what you'll find on a typical hike in the woods.

Following the savannah, you'll pass the fields of an active working farm. The Catawba Lands Conservancy has leased the 130-acre farmland to a local farmer, who has implemented best-management practices to support both farming and wildlife. This farm grows hay and grains used to feed the local cattle.

After the farm, you'll turn into a stretch of oak forest that runs along Adams Creek and Buffalo Creek. At the 1.7-mile mark, you'll be rewarded with a trip across a suspension bridge over the water.

The trail ends at a neighborhood development; retrace your steps to return to the parking lot.

There are no restroom facilities at the nature preserve. Bikes are allowed, but only if it hasn't rained recently (if your tires make a track in the dirt, it's too wet to ride!).

Bonus: Hit the iconic Sundae Shop in Midland on the way home for a burger or milkshake!

How to get there:
The Buffalo Creek Nature Preserve parking lot and trailhead are located at 7911 Malibu Rd, Mt Pleasant, N.C. 28124.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: You'll need them on a clear day in the savannah portion of the trail.
  • Bugspray: Ward off mosquitoes and ticks.
  • Comfy shoes: The terrain is mostly flat.
  • Water and snacks: To refuel.
  • Bikes and helmets: Riders are welcome on the trail as long as it hasn't rained recently.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Our Favorite Pumpkin Patch

If you want a pumpkin, there are hundreds of options around town. If you want a pumpkin-picking experience, there are dozens of choices nearby. But here's our favorite patch for picking our own gourds and having some fall fun at the same time.

Riverbend Farm, located in Midland, NC, is just 30 minutes east of Uptown Charlotte. And, while they've got an abundance of pumpkins for the choosing, it's the other simple attractions that make it a magical experience.

Our favorite part: The slides. Riverbend offers a pretty amazing play area with a collection of impressive slides, some two stories and higher. They've built these around actual silos and other wooden treehouse-like structures. Kids could easily spend the majority of your visit in this area.

But there's more to see and do!

Take a stroll across the covered bridge that runs over one of a couple of bucolic ponds on the property. Take pictures with giant farm animal replicas. Visit the live farm animals in the barn, including a pony, turkeys and (when we were there) a baby pig. Or peruse the goods in the old country store (they have ice cream!).

And, of course, pick a pumpkin. Bonus: You get to take a giant, tractor-pulled wagon to get to the field, so no paying extra for a hayride around the grounds. The pumpkins have been cut from the vine, but remain scattered like Easter eggs in the field, which adds an element of authenticity to the experience.

The people who run Riverbend are kind and helpful. They make the visit all the more enjoyable.

The farm hours are 3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. weekdays, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturdays, and 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sundays. If you can swing it, I highly recommend going on a weekday afternoon. Weekends can get pretty crowded.

Admission is $5:50 per person. Pumpkins are $0.40 per pound (which makes them some of the less expensive among pick-your-own farms).

There are outhouse bathrooms on the farm (well kept and clean!) and picnic tables if you want to bring snacks or lunch.

If you're really looking to make a day of it, consider a short, 0.9 mile (one way) hike along the Riverbend Farm Trail, part of the Carolina Thread Trail.

How to get there:
Riverbend farm is located at 12150 McManus Road, Midland, NC 28107.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Money: For admission and your pumpkin. They take both cash and credit cards.
  • Comfy shoes: It's a great place to stroll and play. After a heavy rain, consider boots.
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: There's very little shade on the farm, especially in the pumpkin fields.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Schiele Museum of Natural History

Have you been to the Schiele Museum of Natural History? Located in Gastonia, 25 miles west of Uptown Charlotte, the Schiele offers a bunch of compelling reasons to visit. Here are my top 5:

1.) Outdoor trails and exhibits: In addition to all the cool stuff you’ll find INSIDE the museum, my favorite part of the campus is probably everything outside. That includes a 0.7 mile Nature Trail, complete with a beautiful pond; a playscape, which features structures and natural play “equipment;” gardens; the Catawba Indian Village (open seasonally), which offers an interpretation of Catawba Indian culture; and an 18th century backcountry farm (also open seasonally), which provides a glimpse into the ways of life for early settlers. (Call 704-866-6908 to verify that seasonal exhibits are open.)

2.) The Dinosaurs: Featuring scaled models of inhabitants of the Mesozoic Era, this exhibit is both entertaining and educational. There are at least a dozen different dinosaurs on display, along with actual fossils and casts.

3.) The Pirate Ship: This one is for the younger visitors. By far our kids’ favorite part of the museum, the Pirate Ship is a place for kids to climb and slide and hide and play. Tucked in one room, this play space also offers some educational opportunities. Learn about pirate flags and the scallywags who created them.

4.) The Planetarium: Take a high-def journey into space and other natural wonders through the SciDome XD system. Educational programs take visitors not only into the night sky, but also places like the human circulatory system. Shows run approximately 35 minutes. Admission to the Planetarium is an additional $5/person.

5.) Free Tuesdays: Who doesn’t enjoy a deal? Duke Energy has teamed up with the Schiele Museum to sponsor Free Tuesdays, granting free general admission to everyone from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month.

Regular admission is $7/adult and $6/children 3-17 years old. Museum hours are Monday – Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday, 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Of course there’s way more to the Schiele Museum than my top five, namely, the halls of North Carolina and North American natural habitats, wildlife and history. In these permanent exhibits, you’ll find dioramas and some live animals. And the Henry Hall of the American Indian offers an impressive collection of artifacts, weapons, ornaments, and tools from the culture of the North American Native Americans.

How to get there:
The Schiele Museum is located at 1500 E. Garrison Blvd., Gastonia, NC 28054. Parking is free.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfy shoes: Be prepared to explore, both indoors and out.
  • Bug spray and sunscreen: If you plan to spend time on the playscape or nature trail.