Thursday, August 13, 2020

Rocky Creek Trail

Waterfalls are both beautiful and mystifying to me (how come the water never runs out?!). Of course, I think some of the the most spectacular ones can be found in the North Carolina mountains. But, turns out, there are a few cascades closer to home. One is in Great Falls, S.C., about an hour south of uptown Charlotte.

The waterfall is a fun feature of the Rocky Creek Trail, a 1.6-mile (one way) Carolina Thread Trail good for hiking and biking. The trail, which is flat and alternates between sandy, gravel and natural surfaces, follows the banks of Rocky Creek, a tributary of the Catawba River.

The trailhead is in a gravel parking lot just off a small highway and is marked with a Carolina Thread Trail sign. There are no restroom facilities, so plan accordingly.

From the parking lot, there's a short, steep spur trail that leads to a wide, sandy beach area, which serves as a canoe and kayak access point and launch.

At the beach, taking a right will lead to the western end of the trail, which is about a mile away. About 0.7 mile in, you'll come to a gate indicating private property. Hikers are welcome to continue on, but be mindful of the electric fence marking the boundaries. It's around here that the trail becomes more interesting, offering plenty of opportunities to stop and hop on the large creek rock formations and play in the water. This stretch is peaceful, mostly shady and, though there are no trail-markers, easy to follow.

One observation worth noting is that the trail follows a sewer line, which is not remarkable, other than to suggest not visiting on a particularly hot, still day.

This section of the trail ends somewhat abruptly at a fence. From here, retrace your steps and head east to take in the waterfall, which is about 0.2 mile past the beach area at the parking lot trailhead (taking a left where you took a right before).

Following the trail in this direction, the waterfall will be on your left. There's an option to take a bridge straight to remain on the main trail, but opt for the detour, marked with a sign, to reach the cascade. You can walk all the way to the base of the waterfall, but be careful doing so as the wet rocks are slippery. There's also a social trail that leads to the top of the waterfall, but I do not recommend taking it, especially with young kids, as the drop-off is steep and dangerous.

If you want to complete the trail, continue on for another 0.3 miles, where you'll run into a fence at the edge of a water treatment facility. At this end, the creek is wide and flat, offering a contrasting vista to the rocky, fast-moving water upstream.

Between the large, playful rocks at one end of the trail and the waterfall at the other, this outing offers a number of fun features. It's an easy outing for hikers of all ages and skill levels. And a nice option for beating the sweltering heat these days. Next time you're looking for someplace new to explore, Rocky Creek is worth your consideration.

How to get there:
The Rocky Creek Trail trailhead is located at 1030 Chester Ave, Great Falls, SC, 29055. The gravel parking lot is marked with a Carolina Thread Trail sign.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes: And consider shoes that can get wet if you want to rock-hop
  • Bug spray: Especially during summer months
  • Water: Bring plenty for during and after the hike
  • Snacks: Consider a picnic on the beach or rocks
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: This trail is mostly shaded, but not entirely

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Catch Some Timeless Fun

When the pandemic brought our family's daily scramble to a screeching halt, I found myself wondering if this pause on "normal" would have felt so dramatic several generations ago. In my mind, those days, for kids in particular, were less extracurricular, more free-range; less scheduled playdates, more impromptu playtime; less commuting in cars, more exploring on bikes; and most certainly less time plugged in, more time outdoors. 

When the coronavirus shut things down, we, like many families I know, were in full stride, leapfrogging from this practice to that lesson, from this meeting to that game. When suddenly our calendar was wiped clean, it felt a little disorienting. And we not only had nothing scheduled, but we couldn't even take unnecessary shopping trips or visit commercial amusement venues to fill the void. 

What to do? The only thing we could: (Re)discover a simpler time. This summer we've been enjoying some old-fashioned (I prefer "timeless") fun. If your creative entertainment bank is running on empty, consider these ideas: 

Catch June Bugs
: June Bugs, or June Beetles, are the green metallic bugs you find hovering in open grassy fields during the hottest parts of the day this time of year. Fun fact: You can tie a string to one of their legs and they'll fly around you like a tiny pet on a leash. Seriously. I thought my husband was making that up to keep the kids busy for a while, but then one of them actually succeeded and I was amazed. Try it. It's not easy, but it is possible.  

Catch lightening bugs: What's more classic than running around the yard as the day softly comes to an close, chasing these magical glowing treasures? Barefoot, if possible. And with a jar handy. 

Catch frogs
: We spend a lot of time at the pond in the field near our house. All of the kids have gotten quite good at spotting the tiny green tree frogs hiding in the fronds of the arrowhead bog plants. Even if you don't like touching frogs (me!), there's something exciting about finding them. And something especially pleasant about simply listening to their songs. 

Catch a breeze
: Why not make a paper boat? Or a boat made from nature. If there's not a stream or pond nearby, sail it in your bathtub. Fold up yesterday's newspaper or find some sticks and weave them together with monkey grass. This activity is really more about the journey than the destination. 

Catch crawfish and salamanders
: This is a fun way to cool off in refreshing ankle-deep water as these critters like to hide under rocks in small streams. They are quick and sometimes hard to spot, but entertaining to study when you find them. Mountain creeks are best, but around here, crawfish and salamanders can be found in streams running through county parks and nature preserves

Catch up on reading
: There are so many good books we never seem to have time to get to "in real life." Power down each night reading aloud as a family. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library has made it easy to discover new favorites. Choose something using their app and pick it up at a branch near you. Or, Imaginon, the children's library uptown, has a wonderful selection waiting at their entrance. Librarians have picked books suitable for all levels. And they are eager to offer suggestions based on what you're looking for and fetch some from the selves for you to check out at the front door. 

Some of our favorite books this summer have been Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert O'Brien; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg, and the "Ramona Quimby" series by Beverly Cleary. 

As we've adjusted to the new normal, I find I'm none too eager to return to our pre-pandemic rat race, whenever the day comes that we can. There's something to be said for yawning, obligation-free weeknights and weekends. Simpler is nice. And timeless is timeless for a reason. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

McDowell Creek Greenway

Another day, another greenway. It's looking like we might make it to all the county greenways over the duration of the pandemic. Because, as long as we're practicing responsible social distancing, they provide such a nice option for getting wiggles out and enjoying some fresh air.

Recently, we visited McDowell Creek Greenway, about 20 minutes north of uptown. Located in the Birkdale Village area, the paved 1.5-mile trail connects the towns of Huntersville and Cornelius. Part of the Carolina Thread Trail and the Lake Norman Bike Route, this is a great option for walking, biking, scooters, skates and strollers. 

Though it is sandwiched between I-77 and several suburban developments, McDowell Creek Greenway offers a pleasant dose of nature and wildlife. It also borders Westmoreland Athletic Complex, which has bathrooms, a playground (both currently closed), ball fields and picnic areas. (See trail map.

While there are a number of neighborhood entrances, the main trailhead is located next to the Birkdale Regal parking lot, which provides plenty of spaces for parking these days.

From the trailhead, take a left to go under a pedestrian overpass and follow the greenway past a pond, over a bridge, and through nicely protected green space. Along the route, you'll find an abundance of plants (including a number of species milkweed), animals (keep an eye out for a variety of birds and listen for the calls of a few different types of frogs), and insects (at times, this is home to around a dozen species of butterflies).

This trail is relatively flat, somewhat shady, and very family-friendly. For those in north Charlotte, especially up the I-77 corridor, McDowell Creek Greenway is worth a visit.

How to get there:
The McDowell Creek Greenway trailhead is located next to the Regal Birkdale at the intersection of Cranlyn Rd. and Townley Rd. The parking lot is across Cranlyn Rd. from Dick's Sporting Good's at 8825 Townley Rd., Huntersville, NC, 28078.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Bikes and helmets (or other riding toys)
  • Hats sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Water and snacks

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

5 Aquatic Adventures to Beat the Heat

Mercy, it is hawt. And many of our go-to summer cooling solutions are COVID-closed. Melting sigh. . .

But, good news! Not every water play option is off limits. We've just got to be a little more creative about finding them this year. Below are some suggestions.

First, what's closed:

As of when this post was published, Mecklenburg County public spraygrounds (including fountain features at places like First Ward Park) are turned off. Ray's Splash Planet and other municipal aquatic centers are closed, though a few pools, including the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center and some of the area Ys are open with limited hours for lap swim and programs. Most public lake beaches, like Ramsey Creek Park at Lake Norman are also closed, as are inland swim areas and beaches at NC State Parks.

Now, here's where you can still find some refreshing water recreation:

Emerald Hollow Gem Mine: The big summertime draw here is creek mining, which means wading in the blissfully cool water while you search for treasures. Other options include classic sluicing at a table or digging in a nearby pit. But I say put on some sandals and opt for the creek, which is a pleasant, short hike from the parking area and offers plenty of space for social distancing.

U.S. National Whitewater Center: Water activities include rafting, flatwater paddling, and deep water solo climbing. Of course, there are other fun things to do there, too, like ropes courses and ziplining All of the above require passes, but you can hike or mountain bike for just the cost of parking ($6/day or $50 for an annual pass).

Carrigan Farms Quarry: Take a dip in a deep, natural quarry. They have implemented a number of coronavirus safety measures. Bonus: They also have a snack bar. You must register in advance due to capacity limits.

Tubing: Enjoy a leisurely trip down a lazy river. Good for most ages and one of the more relaxing water adventures you can take. There are lots of fun options within a two-hour drive towards the mountains. Here's one we recommend: Wilderness Cove. If you have your own tubes, you can go closer to home. Here's one option in York County, SC.

Waterfalls: Of course, you're going to find the most spectacular waterfalls around here in Western North Carolina, however, you might be interested to know there are two local waterfalls within about an hour of uptown. One is at Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve in Kershaw, SC and the other is along the Rocky Creek Trail in Great Falls, SC. Neither will necessarily cool you down, but both have creeks for wading in and sometimes just the sight and sounds of a waterfall can be refreshing.

Got any other fun water play suggestions? We'd love to find more creative cooling adventures to make the most of the sweltering dog days of summer. I hope the recommendations above will help you do the same.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Twelve Mile Creek

A 170-foot suspension bridge and the novelty of standing in two states at once. Pretty cool, right? But those aren't the only compelling reasons to visit Twelve Mile Creek, a Catawba River subbasin near the North Carolina/South Carolina border, about 45 minutes from uptown.

Two conjoining Carolina Thread Trails border the creek, offering about five miles of mostly natural-surface, wooded hiking and biking options.

I recommend starting at H.C. Nesbit Park in Waxhaw. There, you'll find plenty of parking, restrooms (currently closed) and a connector trail to the Twelve Mile Creek Greenway--Town of Waxhaw segment.

The greenway trail is 1.4 miles (one-way) end-to-end, but the park entrance starts you about mid-way through. You'll find the trailhead at the back of the parking lot, just past the soccer and baseball fields. Follow the trail -- which for a stretch offers both a paved and gravel option -- south (veering straight/right) and continue on for about a quarter of a mile to find the suspension bridge at the state line.

This bridge is impressive. It's long and it soars over the creek. It's sturdy, but sways playfully. There's a well-marked spot where you can stand with one foot in North Carolina and the other in South Carolina. Even if you turn around here, you'll have gotten your money's worth from the outing.

But I recommend journeying on.

It is worth noting that the north bridge entrance is ground level, but to get off on the southern end, there's a steep set of about a dozen steps. This may be of particular interest to folks who choose to ride bikes. Be prepared to heft your bike down and then up again.

Just on the other side of the bridge, the Twelve Mile Creek Trail--Walnut Creek Park segment begins. This is 3.5 miles (one-way) end-to-end. The trail is well marked with Carolina Thread Trail blazes and there are are mile-markers every half-mile.

One of the remarkable things to me about this trail is how nicely it is tucked into a natural setting out of view of the surrounding development. There are some sections where you'll find yourself in open grassy meadows, in folks' backyards or at street-crossings. But, for the most part, this gently-rolling, natural surface trail is shaded and meanders through quiet woods along the banks of the creek. There are also a handful of boardwalks and foot bridges.

The trail ends at Walnut Creek Park in Lancaster, SC (10521 Walnut Creek Parkway), where you'll find a giant sports complex, playground and ponds with fountains.

In all, Twelve Mile Creek is a peasant destination, great for hiking and biking, with some fun, novel features thrown in.

Note: This area is subject to flooding after heavy rain.

How to get there:
To start near the swinging bridge, use the trailhead at 1304 H.C. Nesbit Park Rd., Waxhaw, NC, 28173. There's a map kiosk at the trail entrance in the back of the parking, just past the soccer and baseball fields.

Don't forget to pack:

  • Comfortable walking shoes: Sneakers will do
  • Bikes and helmets: This is a good trail for beginners
  • Water: Pack extra for after your outing since restrooms are currently closed
  • Snacks: There is a lovely bench for a rest and refuel break on the south side of the suspension bridge
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: The trail is mostly shaded, but there are open stretches
  • Bug spray: Particularly in warm summer months 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Charlotte Shared Streets

Editor's Note: This post has been updated to reflect the opening of additional Shared Streets. 

My hat's off to the City of Charlotte for innovative thinking. Much respect for the folks in the brainstorming room who came up with the concept of Shared Streets. As the pandemic shifts the way we do everything from shop for groceries to educate our kids, one constant is the need for fresh air and exercise to support mental and physical health. Shared Streets give residents another great option for healthy living.

Shared Streets are low-speed neighborhood roads throughout the city that have been temporarily closed to through-traffic to allow citizens to use them for outdoor exercise, like walking and biking, with a comfortable cushion for safe social-distancing.

The streets remain accessible to residents and people performing essential services (like emergency workers, garbage pick-up and street-sweeping), and on-street parking is not impacted.

Shared Streets are marked with special signage that reads "Road Closed to Thru Traffic," placed at key intersections.

These protected spaces provide more recreational areas in proximity to more Charlotteans. Folks can also continue to use parks, greenways and nature preserves run by Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, which are all open, though the department is operating at a limited capacity due to COVID-19 (restrooms, recreation centers and playgrounds remain closed).

Shared Streets are opening in phases. As of the end of June, the following Shared Streets are open (click on the links for maps):

Folks using Shared Streets for recreation and exercise should obey pedestrian signals and watch for traffic. Bike riders should wear helmets and use hand signals to indicate turns. Residents should not view this as an invitation to gather on Shared Streets for social purposes.

Motorists using Shared Streets must always yield to pedestrians and give them the right of way.

This is a pilot program that will be monitored and adjusted as public health officials provide ongoing guidance.

I'm genuinely impressed by this simple, yet innovative concept. We look forward to enjoying these new designated corridors for protected, enjoyable outdoor time together. Shared Streets will give us an opportunity to explore different parts of the city as we chart bike routes to them and plan to visit parks or other open spaces near them. Kudos to the City of Charlotte for a creative and nimble move to provide more safe spaces for citizens to enjoy fresh air and keep mentally and physically fit.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Take a Placemaking Project Street Mural Tour

You’ve probably heard about the giant Black Lives Matter mural on Tryon St uptown (if you haven’t been, make time to go; it’s compelling). Did you know there’s another mural movement quietly hitting the streets (quite literally) this summer?

In June, the City of Charlotte's Urban Design Center and the Office of Sustainability had local artists from the city's Placemaking Artist pool install street murals that capture the impact of COVID-19 and the resiliency and sustainability of Charlotte in 15 locations across town.

Charlotte launched the Placemaking Program in 2018 with the goal of using urban design to transform underutilized public spaces into vibrant places.

This summer's Placemaking Project is one of many creative ways that the Urban Design Center is working to enhance public spaces and promote community collaboration. Some of the other programs they facilitate include Adopt-a-Street, community gardens, decorative signages, and cabinet wraps.

We discovered our first Placemaking Project mural, marked with a yard sign, on a greenway near our house. Then another next to our neighborhood playground. Curious, I did some research and found a super handy interactive map of all fifteen projects. The next day, we took a bike tour of some of the other nearby murals.

While the murals are easily accessible (all are located on Shared Streets, greenways or low-traffic neighborhood roads), there's an exciting scavenger hunt element to finding them, which makes it especially fun for kids. And the artwork is remarkable. You can learn more about the pieces and their artists on the map as you go.

We found it fun to make a tour of this new public artwork, but I'd argue it's worth your while to pick one or two pieces to find when you're out. Each tells its own story and represents a piece of what makes Charlotte a place we can all feel proud to call home.

How to get there:
You'll find mural addresses as well as information about the artwork and artists on this interactive map. Many are located within a few miles of each other. Create your own tour, or pick one nearby.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes or your bike and helmet
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses
  • Water

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Historic West End: A Neighborhood Walking Tour

I'm a lifelong Charlottean, but there are plenty of parts of town I'm not very familiar with. One of those is the West End. With Beatties Ford Rd. in the news so much these days, I wanted to challenge my prejudiced notions of this area. For a number of reasons, I'm glad I did and I'd invite you to do so, too.

Renowned Charlotte historian Tom Hanchett has created a series of historic neighborhood self-guided walking tours. The other day, we took the West End/JCSU tour, which runs along a stretch of the Beatties Ford corridor.

Before we went, I read up on the history of West End development, which I found fascinating and served to enrich our experience. (You can also find an amazing collection of digital artifacts here.)

Then, we packed scooters and water and drove to the tour starting point at The Mosaic (1601 W. Trade St.). We found on-street parking, but there's also a parking deck under Mosaic Village. From there, we followed the Mr. Hanchett's instructions, which include helpful pictures and turn-by-turn directions. 

All together, the outing is around 1.5 miles and took us about 45 minutes to complete. (Note: Street car line construction has much of Beatties Ford Rd. closed to vehicular traffic in this area, but sidewalks along the tour route remain open.)

You know what we didn't see while we meandered? There was no violence. No damaged or neglected buildings. No threatening groups of people. None of the images you might expect if you've only paid attention to recent headlines.

What we did see were lots of smiling faces, friendly waves, and beautiful historic buildings. Our favorite stops included the murals, the homes, and the Grand Theatre.

The most poignant moment for me was a brief sighting of Dorothy Counts Scoggins, who lives on one of the featured streets. If you're not familiar with her story, take time to learn about this remarkable woman and the role she played in history. I was awestruck seeing her in person and overcome with considerable emotion while I explained to the kids who Mrs. Dorothy Counts Scoggins is, what she represents, and why we care.

On the whole, this was a meaningful outing that we should have taken long before now.

Sometimes intentional exploration of historical and contemporary context can endear us to places our biases, conscious or unconscious, have kept us from enjoying. That was our experience with Charlotte's West End. It's a beautiful area, an important area, and I'm sorry we haven't taken the time to appreciate it sooner. We will be back soon.

Note: If you enjoy the walking tour and are interested in exploring more, you might consider the African American Heritage Driving Tour.

How to get there:
The West End/JCSU historic walking tour begins at 1601 W. Trade St., Charlotte, NC, 28216. Park on the street or in the Mosaic Village parking deck.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Water
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Your phone or a printed copy of tour directions
  • An open mind

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Plaza Bike Lane

While bikes have every bit as much a right to city roads as cars do, it doesn't always feel safe to hit the streets on two wheels. Especially with young riders. We've only just gotten comfortable with letting the kids leave the sidewalks, and only under certain conditions, like quiet neighborhoods or protected bike lanes. While there are plenty of side streets, designated bike-only lanes are few and far between. Fortunately, there are groups, like Sustain Charlotte, working to change that.

Recently, thanks to the efforts of neighbors, and a partnership between the Charlotte Department of Transportation, Charlotte Fire, and Solid Waste Services, a new, innovative permanent separated bike lane opened. It runs the length of The Plaza, from Central Ave. to Parkwood Ave., connecting the residential neighborhood with adjacent business corridors.

This 1-mile stretch is a fun option for taking a recreational spin, but, importantly, it's also a very practical connector for commuting to a number of destinations.

At the Central Ave. end of the protected bike lane, you can head west toward uptown, south toward the Elizabeth neighborhood or take designated city bike route No. 8 east toward Evergreen Nature Preserve.

At the Parkwood Ave. end of the bike lane, you can take designated city bike route No. 7 to get to NoDa.

Check out the City of Charlotte designated bike route map for directions and other route ideas.

Of course, there are lots of restaurants and shops around The Plaza and Central Ave. We like to ride to the bike lane, take a lap up The Plaza and back, and stop for something to eat at one of the many establishments nearby. The novelty of riding on a "busy street," holds lots of appeal for the kids and everyone enjoys a treat afterwards.

I hope organizations pushing to make bike riding safer and more accessible around Charlotte will keep up the good work. The Plaza separated lane is an asset and a model that should be replicated.

How to get there:
The bike lane segment of The Plaza runs from Central Ave. to Parkwood Ave. If it's not feasible for you to ride to this stretch, you can park on neighboring side streets. Another option is the on-street spaces along Commonwealth Ave., a block south of the Central Ave./The Plaza intersection. Be careful about parking at local businesses; they will tow.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Helmets: Never ride without one.
  • Lights or reflective gear: If it's getting anywhere near dark.
  • Water: Bring plenty for your ride and to rehydrate afterwards.
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen: This route is only partially shaded.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

A Different Kind of Journey

Innocent black people are dying. Protests are raging. The system is broken. My heart aches.

I’m a white woman whose eyes are opening to the harsh realities of being a person of color in this country, to my own privilege, and to my bubble of ignorance and complicity.

I feel unsure of what to do, but I know that doing nothing is not an option.

So, I’ve decided to start where I am and see if I can discern a meaningful, constructive way forward.

I know it’s not enough, but I can take this step. . . I’ve been researching diverse recreational interest groups because I recognize that ours is a distressingly closed circle. I have requested to join Afro Outdoors, a national non-profit with a local chapter that organizes outings to connect people of color to outdoor experiences and promotes nature and conservation for all.

I’ll admit I filled out the form and deleted it three times before I pushed send. What would they think of this white woman knocking on their door, asking to come out and play? But I recognize that my deliberate hesitancy pales in comparison to what my black friends must feel when they decide what to do, where to go, and with whom they will spend their time. More to the point, how will our circle grow if we’re not intentional about seeking opportunities to spend time with people who don’t look like us?

As a family, we are committing to finding ways to enjoy shared interests with new and different people.

I know it’s not enough, but I can take this step. . . I’ve been working on understanding the black outdoor recreational experience and history behind it. I’ve learned that land use decisions over many decades have exacerbated racial inequities locally and nationwide. Redlining has forced people of color to live in certain neighborhoods – ones that, in Charlotte, were cut off by the strategic placement of highways and landfills. It's awfully hard to spend time in green spaces when there's a freeway in your backyard.

In 1904, when Independence Park became Charlotte's first public park, the only black people allowed were servants of white children. Even when Morgan Park, Charlotte's first park for African-Americans, was built in the Cherry neighborhood in 1927, it was inaccessible to the majority of black citizens who lived in other neighborhoods. It wasn’t until 1955 that the Supreme Court banned segregation in all public parks and playgrounds.

As recently as a couple of years ago, only 28 percent of the parks located within Charlotte were considered to be within a 10-minute walk of residents. That’s not ok. Easy access to recreational opportunities shouldn’t be an exclusive privilege.

To combat this injustice, we will continue to financially support Sustain Charlotte, a local organization that works towards a healthy, vibrant and equitable community by advocating for smart growth.

I know it’s not enough, but I can take this step. . . We’re talking to the kids. When we’re driving, when we’re hiking, when we’re biking, when we’re camping. We talk about what happened to George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. We talk about the protests and why they are necessary. We talk about the atrocity of slavery and its lingering consequences. We talk about how God loves everyone no matter what they look like, and that He has taught us to do the same. We talk about making kind and compassionate choices.

As parents, we will honestly acknowledge what’s broken in the hopes that our children will understand the urgency and importance of being part of a better way forward.

I know it's not enough, but I can take this step. . . I'm noticing. I noticed the black and brown-skinned hikers out enjoying a beautiful day at Crowders Mountain the last time we went. I noticed the African American jogger on my run this morning. I noticed the brown-skinned kids playing at the greenway the other day. I made an intentional effort to catch each of their eyes, smile and wave in solidarity.

I will pay attention, because it matters.

Our family has taken hundreds of hikes covering hundreds more miles. If there’s anything we know, it’s that a journey takes many steps. Some are easy, some are treacherous, some are invigorating, some are exhausting. I recognize that, while this moment in time is an awakening for many of us, our black sisters and brothers have been on this journey for a long, long time.

While I wrestle with the right way to be an active part of the solution in a broken society, I know that what I have been doing is not enough. But I also know that each step, however small, counts, is well worth taking, and gets us closer to our destination, together.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Founders Trail

Founders Trail is not your typical walk in the woods. It starts in a quiet suburban subdivision, ends where a massively popular paved riverside greenway begins, and covers an interesting mix of terrains in between.

Founders Trail, a Carolina Thread Trail located in Tega Cay, SC, about 30 minutes from Uptown, is a 2.3-mile (one way) trail good for biking and hiking.

The northern trailhead is in a parking lot at the end of a residential neighborhood street in the Mason's Bend development. Look for the map kiosk to get started.

Take a short spur trail to an intersection where you'll take a left to follow Founders Trail. Taking a right will put you on the 1.9-mile out-and-back Mason's Bend Trail. You can also take a right to follow a short spur trail to a river overlook, which is worth an extra 5-10 minutes of your time for this outing.

The first mile or so, the trail is flat-to-gently-rolling, packed dirt/natural surface, and shady, winding through a high-canopy forest setting. You'll cross a long stretch of boardwalk and several foot bridges. It's worth noting that, following rain, this area becomes muddy, but remains passable.

About a half-mile in, you'll come to an I-77 underpass, which is a fun place to pause for a break by the river. The following stretch is quiet and peaceful, bordering the river with benches dotting the trailside.

When you come to the second highway underpass, take a left to follow the trail to a gravel/paved abandoned service road. This next half-mile runs by a powerline field and is mostly wide open with little shade.

When you reach the gate, take a left to follow the trail up to highway 21, where you'll hop on a sidewalk connector trail. This turn is not obvious; look carefully. Once you reach the road, you'll see Carolina Thread Trail blazes painted on the sidewalk.

Follow the sidewalk connector across the river to the Riverwalk greenway at the Pump House. We chose to skip this leg of the hike, opting to retrace our steps along the service road and back to the trailhead parking lot.

Note: It is possible to skip the service road section of the hike by taking a "social trail" just after the highway 21 underpass and jumping on the sidewalk connector trail over the bridge. This cuts off about a half-mile.

Founders Trail offers a bit of an unconventional hike, but that is part of its appeal. A bonus is being able to tack on Riverwalk or Mason's Bend at either end of the excursion. If you're looking to cover new and different ground, consider this outing.

How to get there:
The Founders Trail trailhead is located in a parking lot at the end of Weir Court in Tega Cay, SC, 29708. Start by the map kiosk.

You can start at the other end of the trail by parking at the Piedmont Medical Center Trail (Riverwalk) trailhead parking lot by the Pump House at 575 Herrons Ferry Rd., Rock Hill, SC 29730.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes: Wear something that you don't mind getting muddy if it's rained lately.
  • Bikes and helmets: A nice option if you'd prefer to ride.
  • Water: Bring plenty for before and after your hike; there are no facilities for refills.
  • Snacks: Enjoy a refueling break on a bench by the river.
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: The trail is only partially shaded.
  • Bug spray: Especially during summer months.