Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Morrow Mountain State Park

So you want to go for a hike. But it’s been a while. Or you’re not sure if the kids are up for it. Or you don’t know where to start. Let me recommend Morrow Mountain State Park.

An easy hour drive east of Charlotte, Morrow Mountain offers something for everyone. While ambitious hikers can opt for a 5-mile (round trip) trek to the summit, you can also plan a trip around one or more other short (less than a mile each), compelling hikes. Breaking up the adventure into bite-sized pieces lets you do as much or as little as your energy, interest and enthusiasm allows. Here, you’ll find it’s worth the drive whether you take one hike or more.

Here are four good, short hiking options and what you can expect from each:

Laurel Loop Trail (0.6 mi.)
This is a great place to start. The trailhead is next to the living history museum at the opposite end of the main parking lot from the Visitor Center. The gently rolling natural surface Laurel Loop trail follows the Sugarloaf Creek and winds around the park’s vacation cabins. If you want to go farther, you can connect to the longer Morrow Mountain Trail. Otherwise, it’s a short, manageable hike back to the parking lot.

Three Rivers Nature Trail (0.8 mi.)
This trail is named for the intersection of the Uwharrie, Yadkin and Pee Dee Rivers. It meanders between floodplain and ridge top and offers plenty of opportunities to take in nature – from wildlife habitats to native plant life. This trail offers a relatively flat, peaceful stroll with plenty to explore.

Quarry Trail (0.6)
This is our favorite trail at the park. Designated a Kids in Parks Track Trail, you have the option to pick up a brochure with a variety of activities for children at the trailhead. The trail is wide and mostly flat and traverses a the Civilian Conservation Corps’ (CCC) rock quarry that supplied many of the rocks used to construct the park’s buildings, curbs and walls during The Great Depression. There’s also a creek-crossing and lots of wildlife to take in.

Mountain Loop Trail (0.8 mi.)
Morrow Mountain is the highest point in Stanly County and the Mountain Loop Trail is an excellent way to enjoy the views it has to offer. The trail, which is rugged in some places, circles the top of Morrow Mountain, passing remnants of pre-historic quarrying. With restrooms and a picnic area next to the trailhead, this trail is a good one to end on for the day.

We usually opt for one long hike, but really enjoyed switching it up on our recent visit to Morrow Mountain State Park. We found that choosing several shorter hikes gave us the chance cover new terrain, see several notable landmarks, and maintain a sense of adventure. If you want to give a hike a go, but are feeling hesitant, this is a great place to start.

How to get there:
Morrow Mountain State Park is located at 49104 Morrow Mountain Rd., Albemarle, NC 28001. Start at the Visitor Center for a trail map. The Laurel Loop Trail starts in the Visitor Center parking lot. The Quarry Trail is in walking distance of this parking lot. Drive to the Three Rivers Nature Trail and Mountain Loop trail trailheads.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable shoes: Hiking boots or sneakers.
  • Water: You can refill at the Visitor Center or restrooms on top of the mountain.
  • Snacks or a picnic lunch: There are plenty of picnic tables and natural spots to take a break.
  • Hats, sunscreen and sunglasses: The trails are only partially shaded.
  • Trail map: Print one or pick one up at the Visitor Center.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Stretch Your Mind: CLT Cultural Experiences Abound

While we certainly love spending time in nature, we also place a high value on cultural opportunities and, fortunately, there is an abundance of family-friendly options to choose from in and around Charlotte.

We enjoy season tickets to performances at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and we get our money’s worth out of annual memberships to the Mint Museum, Discovery Place, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden and the North Carolina Zoo Society. Our other favorites include the Carolinas Aviation Museum and, of course, Imaginon.

But these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to arts, science and history experiences Charlotte has to offer.

That’s why we’re excited about the Arts and Science Council’s (ASC) upcoming Connect with Culture Days. On Friday, January 25 and Saturday, January 26, everyone will have free access to an impressive lineup of shows, museums and demonstrations.

Here’s how it works:
There are thirteen different geographical hubs with activities in a single or surrounding locations. Each will offer free admission, performances or experiences scheduled throughout the day Friday and Saturday. Some require registration and space may be limited, so check before you go. Otherwise, pick the spot(s) and event(s) that excite you most and drop by for free fun.

You can find the complete line-up of experiences on the ACS website.

Here’s what we have our eye on:
  • Charlotte Museum of History (3500 Shamrock Drive, Charlotte 28215): Free Admission and tours of the Hezekiah Alexander Homesite. Saturday, 1/26 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. From 2:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m., visitors can participate in a workshop by Charlotte Ballet on West African Dance, rhythms and music.
  • Northwest School of the Arts (1415 Beatties Ford Road, Charlotte 28216): Experience the Solar System Spectacular in the Starlab presented by Discovery place. Saturday, 1/26 from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Sam Lerner Center at Foundation of Shalom Park (5007 Providence Road, Charlotte 28270): Jamming Through the African Diaspora with stories music, dance and spoken word, presented by A Sign of the Times of the Carolinas. Saturday, 1/26 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Lebanon Road Elementary School (7300 Lebanon Road Charlotte 28227): Musical Petting Zoo presented by the Charlotte Symphony. Saturday, 1/6 from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
  • Sugar Creek Church of Christ – Fellowship Hall (3932 Sofley Rd., Charlotte, NC 28206): The Wonderful Potential of Clay, presented by Clayworks. Saturday, 1/26 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
  • McColl Center for Art + Innovation (721 N. Tryon St., Charlotte 28202): Free admission and hands-on art, demonstrations and music. Saturday 1/26 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Levine Museum of the New South (200 E. 7th Street, Charlotte 28202): Free admission and a tour of the “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” permanent exhibit. Saturday, 1/26 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Mint Museum at Levine Center for the Arts (500 S. Tryon Street, Charlotte 28202): Free admission, dance performances and hands-on activities. Saturday, 1/26 from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • Carolina Raptor Center (6000 Sample Road, Huntersville, NC 28078): Free admission, art and hands-on experiences. Saturday, 1/26 from 10 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
  • Wing Haven (260 Ridgewood Avenue, Charlotte, NC 28209: Free admission and guided bird walks, photography workshop and mixed media art for children. Saturday, 1/26 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Whether or not you make it out for the free festivities this weekend, Charlotte's culture scene is worth exploring.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Art Walk on the Rail Trail

A couple weeks ago, I read an article in the Charlotte Observer about a new art installation along the Charlotte Rail Trail in Historic South End.

Aptly named “The Color Forest,” the sculpture comprises 100 towering poles painted bright colors that line both sides of the track near Bland Street. The work is a collaboration between local artist Ivan Toth DepeƱa and Glen Nocik, who fabricated and installed the display.

One recent sunny day, we hit the Rail Trail to check it out. And I recommend you do the same.

“The Color Forest” is just one of dozens of bright, quirky and curious displays scattered along the trail. Many of them, including an 8-foot chicken, a giant yellow swing set, magic carpet sidewalk murals, an interactive chalkboard and an enormous seesaw, were organized by architect David Furman of Centro CityWorks, a visionary for the Rail Trail itself.

Within a mile stretch of the Rail Trail, you can spot these and a bunch of other noteworthy pieces, including several yellow steel Adirondack chairs, a bright red oversized exclamation point, a wire dinosaur, metal roosters, a parking-deck-sized comic strip, a permanent ping pong table, eclectic benches (with solar charging stations!) and a number of splashy wall murals. Even the rainbow-colored patio table umbrellas at Pike’s Soda Shop and the adornments on the deck at Hot Taco (including the painted cow statue) contribute to the artsy, funky urban South End vibe.

Here’s a good two-mile (out and back) option for a walk, stroll or bike ride to get fresh air, take in fun local art, and discover new things about the Queen City.

Start at the Carson St. station just outside of Uptown. Carson St. intersects South Blvd. at the Dowd YMCA. You can park on the nearby neighborhood streets for free or at Pritchard Memorial Baptist Church for $5 (the church lot serves as a city-sanctioned public lot during business hours. You’ll see an automated pay station when you park.)

From the Pritchard side of the street, cross South Blvd. and take a left on the Rail Trail. It’s exactly one mile to Sycamore Brewing Company, a good stopping/turnaround point with lot to see in between.

Note: There are no public restrooms on the Rail Trail, so consider making a quick stop at the Dowd Y. You don’t have to be a member to visit the guest facilities in the lobby.

The first attraction you’ll come to at Carson St. is the giant yellow porch swings at Edna’s Porch.

In addition to art, along the Rail Trail, you’ll find a bike pump station and plenty of dog-friendly amenities (read: pick-up stations and trashcans).

There are a variety of restaurants flanking the trail, including the American Pub, Blaze Pizza, Clean Juice, Hot Taco, Price's Chicken Coop and Luna’s Living Kitchen. We like Pike’s Soda Shop, a classic Queen City establishment.

In addition to all the things to see along the way, what makes the Rail Trail exciting to me is its proximity to Uptown (those skyline views!), its accessibility (easy to get to and a relatively traffic-free and protected space to walk and ride), and the sense of adventure it provides. It’s a fun, family-friendly place to get out, move around and explore.

How to get there:
The Carson St. station is located at 218 E. Carson Blvd., Charlotte, NC 28203. Park on the street nearby or at Pritchard Memorial Baptist Church across South Blvd. from the station. Follow the Charlotte Rail Trail south, away from uptown.

Don’t forget to take:
  • Bikes, scooters and helmets or comfy walking shoes: The Rail Trail is super pedestrian-friendly.
  • Water: Stay hydrated.
  • Money: For refreshments along the way.
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: There is very little shade along the trail.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

#52familyhikes: What We Learned From Our Year of Adventures

Our family started 2018 with a challenge and three simple rules: Take 52 hikes, at least one mile each, all five of us together, no repeats. It seemed like a fun goal for our active, outdoorsy crew and a formal, if arbitrary, reason to get out and play. But it became so much more.

Our excursions took us from Charlotte nature preserves to the sandy dunes of Hammocks Beach State Park on the coast of North Carolina, from the peak of Mount Mitchell (the highest point on the East Coast) to the sedan-sized boulders of Devil's Marbleyard in Virginia, from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mecklenburg County greenways. Every time we laced up our boots, we gained a precious and unanticipated gift of a bonding experience, an important life lesson or a poignant and lasting memory.

Here are some of the most compelling takeaways from our year of adventures:

We got to know each other better. Turns out Jeff can recall a remarkable number of silly old show tunes, which was especially handy when cranky hikers needed a distraction. More importantly, though, we all became more in tune with one another. During long hours on the trails and in the car, we came to better understand what makes each other laugh, and how to be gracious and supportive when one of us would just as soon cry. Being alone together in nature heightened our understanding and appreciation for the roles we play in our family.

We talked. About silly things. About current events. About our values, beliefs, hopes and dreams. We told jokes and asked questions. With only the whisper of wind in the trees, birdsong in the skies and our padding footsteps along the trail to interrupt us, we learned to fully engage in conversations.

We gained a greater appreciation for our environment. We became nature savvy and more confident in the wild. We can all identify poison ivy and know how to tread carefully where snakes might be basking. We pause to marvel at wildlife, rather than blindly passing it by. We no longer take the environment for granted and we intentionally talk about things we can do to preserve and protect it.

We created lasting memories. We once rescued a 90-year-old man stranded on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Another time we encountered a rattlesnake thicker and longer than a baseball bat. We also survived a hike that will go down in infamy for its swampy terrain and swarming clouds of mosquitoes. Those are the stories we'll tell for years to come.

We laughed. Oh, the things that are funny after hours on a trail. We've all gotten really good at answering nature's call in the woods. We have a secret warning call for when fellow hikers are encroaching. And, yes, we use it more often than not to trick each other. It never gets old.

We got lost. And learned to be ok with it. Every time we finally found the trailhead after a long and winding drive or ended up taking a creative route back to the car on our hike, we gained confidence in handling the unexpected and unfamiliar.

We covered new ground. We saw how beautiful and dynamic our state is and learned to appreciate what's outside of our urban Charlotte bubble. We saw stunning views and discovered splendor in rural countrysides, shadowy valleys, expansive waterways and groomed city recreation areas.

And we reached our goal. In fact, we surpassed it. We finished the year with 68 hikes. That's 168.6 miles for each of us, a cumulative 843 miles covered. But of course we've found that what really matters can't be tallied. It’s the shared journey that means the most.

I'm not sure what our next challenge will be. Maybe we'll try to visit all the North Carolina state parks or tackle part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail or explore more sections of the Carolina Thread Trail. I do know that what we set out to do will just be the beginning of the adventure.

Thanks for following our journey. Happy trails in 2019. May you embark on a challenge that brings unexpected gifts.