Thursday, February 28, 2019

Trail of History

I've long maintained that, if I could travel back in time, I'd visit Charlotte in the early 20th century. I have such a fascination with this period in my hometown's history, when streetcars clanged through Dilworth, when city folks shopped at Belk Brothers department store uptown, when today's historic homes were new construction, and when many of our current urban neighborhoods were still farmland.

So much of Charlotte is new and shiny these days that it's easy to forget what a rich history the city has. Which is why I recommend a trip down the Trail of History, a 1.5 mile stretch of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway displaying a collection of bronze statues of key figures in Charlotte's historic growth and development.

Part outdoor museum, part scavenger hunt, the Trail of History offers a fantastic opportunity for exercise, exploration and education.

The Trail of History runs along Kings Dr. from 7th St. to Morehead St. There are currently eight statues installed, with more planned. (See the Trail of History marker map.) Some statues have informational signs and some are described online here.

The Trail of History is still very much a work in progress, and I hope that someday the statue biographies will be available in a consistent, accessible format (self-guided audio tour, maybe?). Until then, though, I think this is still a walk (or bike or scooter ride) worth taking.

How to experience the Trail of History
Parking is available at the Metropolitan (Target/BJ's deck) at 1116 Metropolitan Ave. (jump on the greenway on the other side of Wendy's) or the Elizabeth Park parking lot at 1124 E. 4th St. (there is a four hour limit on parking here). We also sometimes park in the CPCC lot at the corner of 7th and Kings Dr. adjacent to Memorial Stadium/Grady Cole Center.

Wherever you park, make your way toward the Philip L. Van Every Culinary Arts Center (425 N. Kings Dr.), also home to CPCC's Greenway Restaurant. On the greenway side of the building, you'll find the first two statues: Thomas Spratt and King Haigler. They are standing together. Spratt was an early settler and Haigler was Chief of the Catawbas. (Look for Spratt's hat across the greenway from the statues!)

Heading south on the Greenway, next you'll come to one of the latest installments on the Trail: Edwin Augustus Osborne, founding superintendent of Thompson Orphanage, surrounded by barefoot children. This is probably our favorite.

Next, at the corner of 4th St. and Kings Dr. is Captain James Jack, Spirit of Mecklenburg, brave courier of Mecklenburg's Declaration of Freedom.

Behind the Metropolitan you'll find William Henry Belk (retail pioneer) and Thad Tate (prominent African American businessman and civic leader).

The last two statues are near Morehead St. James B. Duke (business and philanthropic giant) is facing the intersection of Morehead St. and Kings Dr. (behind the clock tower) and Jane Wilkes (who was instrumental in building Charlotte's first two hospitals) is just around the Morehead St. corner facing, appropriately, one of the hospitals she helped establish.

As you backtrack to your parking spot, enjoy the Charlotte skyline with a better appreciation for how it came to be. And, if you're a local history geek like me, when you get home, check out the Trail of History series on PBS Charlotte.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Big Rock Nature Preserve

I would argue Charlotte has a number of natural wonders. Our majestic, towering oaks. Our creeks that permeate town like a network of veins. The capacity of our weather to run the gamut of seasons in a single 24-hour period.

I've lived here all my life, but only recently learned of a Queen City natural wonder that might top the list. Tucked quite incongruently in a south Charlotte suburban subdivision is the aptly named Big Rock Nature Preserve.

Here, you'll find an outcropping of boulders bigger than school buses. They sit nestled in a 22-acre forest setting, now protected by Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation.

The first visitors here are thought to have been the Archaic Indians some 10,000 years ago. This tribe of hunters and gatherers probably camped in and around the boulders during their travels. Today, there's about a mile of trails that wind through and around the nature preserve. A McAlpine Creek tributary borders the preserve and makes for an excellent spot to explore wildlife.

I recommend a visit to the Big Rock Nature Preserve if for no other reason than to marvel at the boulders' incongruous and improbable existence in the heart of Charlotte.

Note: There are no restroom facilities at the preserve, so make a stop before you arrive.

How to get there:
The entrance to Big Rock Nature Preserve is located at 6500 Elmstone Dr., Charlotte, NC 28277. There's no parking area, but a county sign signals the trailhead. Park along the neighborhood road. The boulders are less than a quarter of a mile from the entrance.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable shoes: Sneakers will do the trick. The creek is accessible, so consider sandals if you want to do some rock-hopping.
  • Water: There are no facilities to refill.
  • Snacks or lunch: The rocks make for an excellent picnic spot.
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: The park is only partially shaded.
  • Bugspray: Especially in warmer months.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Come Hike With Us!

Wanna come out and play? Our family will be leading a series of hikes throughout 2019 as part of our recreation and congregational life ministries at Covenant Presbyterian Church. These hikes are designed for all ages and everyone is welcome. We've picked some of our favorites and we'd love for you to join us!

Below are all the details. Go ahead and mark your calendar for one or more of these fun adventures. Questions? Email me at

Keep close to nature’s heart. ~John Muir

When: Saturday, March 2 at 9:00 a.m.

Where to meet: Kings Mountain State Park in the RV/Tent Campground parking area (Address: Lake Crawford Rd., Clover, SC 29710). From SC-161, turn right onto State Route 705 (Park Rd.) Take the second right onto Lake Crawford Rd. at the admission booth ($2/adult; $1.25/SC Seniors; free/age 15 and under). The parking area and restrooms are located by Lake Crawford approximately 1 mile from the admission booth.

What to expect: This easy, 3-mile hike will traverse gently rolling hills, first passing an impressive Civilian Conservation Corp-era dam at the end of Lake Crawford and leading to the Living History Farm, a replica mid-19th century farm that includes a number of live animals and historically accurate buildings. We’ll end with a picnic lunch next to Lake Crawford.

What to bring:
  • Cash for admission ($2/adult; $1.25/SC Seniors; free/age 15 and under)
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Water and snacks
  • Hats, sunscreen and sunglasses
  • A picnic lunch

The earth laughs in flowers. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

When: Saturday, June 1 at 9:00 a.m.

Where to meet: Landsford Canal State Park main entrance (Address: 2051 Park Dr., Catawba, SC 29704). Here, you’ll find a restroom, playground and picnic pavilion. It’s also where you’ll pay park admission. ($5/adult 16 years and older; $3/child ages 6-15; free/age 5 and under).

What to expect: This flat 3-mile hike will hug the banks of the Catawba River, following the Landsford Canal, a relic of the 19th century built to bypass the river’s rocky rapids. Remnants of the canal, which at one point served as an important trading route between the foothills and coastal plain, can be seen along the route. Landsford Canal State Park is also home to the world’s largest population of Rocky Shoals Spider Lilies, which are in full bloom this time of year. They can be viewed from an overlook mid-way through the hike. We’ll end with a picnic lunch at the park entrance.

What to bring:
  • Cash for admission ($5/adult 16 years and older; $3/child ages 6-15; free/age 5 and under)
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Water and snacks
  • Hats, sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Bug spray
  • A picnic lunch

The earth has music for those who listen. ~Shakespeare

When: Saturday, August 3 at 9:00 a.m.

Where to meet: Lake Norman State Park Visitor Center parking lot (Address: 759 State Park Road, Troutman, NC 28166). Here, you’ll find restrooms and educational exhibits.

What to expect: The Hawk Loop trail is 3.0 moderate miles of the 30-mile Itusi Trail. This gently rolling natural-surface footpath winds through wooded areas adjacent to Hick’s Creek. Following the hike, we have the option to rent pedal boats, kayaks, paddle boards, and canoes from the Visitor Center ($5/hour; all equipment, including life jackets, included.) We’ll end with a picnic lunch at the Visitor Center picnic area.

What to bring:
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Water and snacks
  • Hats, sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Bug spray
  • Cash for boat rentals ($5/hour)
  • Bathing suit, towels and/or a change of clothes in case you want to get wet
  • A picnic lunch

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. ~John Muir

When: Saturday, November 2 at 9:00 a.m.

Where to meet: Crowders Mountain State Park office parking lot (Sparrow Springs Rd. Access/Address: 522 Park Office Ln., Kings Mountain, NC 28086). Here, you’ll find restrooms.

What to expect: This challenging 4-mile hike will follow the Pinnacle Trail to an impressive panoramic view of fall foliage and the surrounding area. The Pinnacle Trail includes some boulder outcrops to climb over and steep terrain on the final stretch leading to the summit. It is a strenuous, but highly rewarding hike. We’ll break for snacks at the pinnacle and end with a picnic lunch at the picnic area next to the parking area.

What to bring:
  • Comfortable and supportive walking shoes or boots
  • Water and snacks
  • Hats, sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Bug spray
  • Hiking stick (optional)
  • A picnic lunch

See you on the trails!