Friday, April 24, 2020

Toby Creek Greenway

I love greenways. Especially these days. Wide open spaces. Long, paved trails. Plenty of room for walking the dog, running the kids, and burning off some crazy. Given that exercise at a safe social distance is permitted under stay-at-home orders, we’ve found greenways to be the perfect place for daily fresh air intermissions.

Recently, we discovered Toby Creek Greenway and loved it.

Located about 20 minutes north of Uptown, this 1.6-mile (one way) stretch is part of the 9-mile Mallard Creek Greenway system. (It is also part of the Carolina Thread Trail and the XCLT, or Cross Charlotte Trail.)

Toby Creek Greenway runs under beautiful, green wooded areas and through the heart of the sports fields and athletic facilities section of the UNC Charlotte campus.

There is plenty of parking at the trailhead, which is located at Kirk Farm Fields. You won't find restroom facilities there, but there are a couple of porta-potties. (Note: If this parking lot is closed due to stay-at-home restrictions, consider parking on the UNCC campus. The greenway runs along the western side of campus between athletic fields near Lot 14. From here, take a right to head to the northern greenway terminus at Kirk Farm Fields, or a left to head south.)

From the Kirk Farm Fields parking lot, take the paved trail to the right of the bridge. In about a quarter mile, take a left to hop on the main greenway (going straight will take you to North Tryon St.).

The greenway borders the creek and travels under several bridges, including the new Lynx light rail track. Near campus, about a mile from the trailhead, it passes a well appointed calisthenics park, then an alumni pavilion, where you'll find restrooms and a water fountain.

Smooth, flat and 10-feet wide, this trail is great for bikes, scooters, skateboards, and strollers. But no matter how you choose to enjoy it, it’s a perfect option for a housebound interlude.

How to get there:
The Toby Creek Greenway trailhead is adjacent to the parking lot at Kirk Field Farms located at 210 East Mallard Creek Church Rd., Charlotte, NC 28262. If this parking lot is closed, consider parking on the UNCC campus. The greenway runs along the western side of campus between athletic fields near Lot 14.

Don't forget to take:
  • Comfortable walking shoes: The entire trail is paved.
  • Bikes, scooters or other riding toys: Don’t forget your helmet!
  • Water: You can refill at the alumni pavilion.
  • Snacks: There are plenty of spots for a picnic break.
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: The trail is partially shaded, but open in spaces.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Forney Creek Conservation Area

Check it out! Over the weekend, we discovered a new favorite local hiking/biking destination: Forney Creek Conservation Area. Ever heard of it? Me neither. But stay-at-home has me digging deeper into Charlotte’s treasure trove of outdoor recreation resources.

A straight shot up Brookshire Freeway/NC-16 North, Forney Creek Conservation Area is located in Denver, NC, just 30 minutes from Uptown. Easy to get to, plenty of parking, and multiple trail options winding through more than 200 spacious acres of nature — everything we could want from a stay-at-home-friendly outing.

Protected by the Catawba Lands Conservancy, this space comprises Sally’s Y Preserve and Catawba Springs Preserve, both of which offer Carolina Thread Trail options for hiking and biking.

The trailhead access point, marked with a map kiosk, is just off Forney Creek Parkway. Roadside parking is allowed, but you can also use the Sally’s Y parking lot about 0.2 miles away. Take a short spur trail from the access point to an intersection of three hiking/biking options: the Katheryn G. Clark Trail, the Forney Creek Trail and Sally’s Y fitness trail. The intersection is well marked and signs will point you in the right direction. Below is what you’ll find on each option.

Katheryn G. Clark Trail: From the trailhead intersection, take a right to hop a 0.8-mile (one way) trail toward the southern end of the preserve. This is our favorite option. The single-track, natural-surface trail begins with a trip over a 66-foot suspension bridge, which is always a fun feature. Immediately after the bridge you’ll find a small challenge course. The rest of the single-track trail rolls gently through dense green forest full of foliage and wildlife (we spotted deer and heard the call of bobwhite quail on our hike). It ends at a turnaround point just before Optimist Club Rd. The Katheryn G. Clark Trail through the Sally’s Y Preserve is a segment of the Carolina Thread Trail.

Forney Creek Trail: From the trailhead intersection, take a left to hop on the 1.7-mile (one way) trail toward the northern end of the preserve. This natural-surface trail is wider and flatter and seems slightly more well-traveled. It traverses a couple of boardwalks and winds its way to two ponds, each offering an overlook. It ends at a turnaround point about a quarter-mile past the end of the second pond. The Forney Creek Trail through the Catawba Springs Preserve is also a segment of the Carolina Thread Trail.

Sally’s Y fitness trail: From the trailhead intersection, take either a left or a right to hop on a 1.6-mile loop trail. This is an easy wooded trail great for all ages to explore nature. We didn’t hike the whole thing, but this is a good option if you prefer a loop over an out-and-back.

On our visit, the kids rode bikes while we walked the dog and everyone enjoyed their experience.

Please note that bike riding is not permitted if the trail is wet. If it has rained lately or your tires make tracks, opt for a hike by foot. It’s also worth noting that this is low-lying area that largely follows the banks of a creek. As such, after rain, some days may be too muddy even for a hike.

One other consideration is that there are no restroom facilities. Plan accordingly!

I get excited anytime we discover a new outdoor recreation destination, but I’m particularly pleased with Forney Creek Conservation Area. This is a beautiful space with lots of options. I think you’ll find it to be quite enjoyable, too.

How to get there:
Sally’s YMCA is located at 1601 Forney Creek Parkway, Denver, NC 28037. The trailhead access point is less than 0.2 mile past Sally’s Y on the right. It is marked by a map kiosk. Parking is available at Sally’s Y or on the street by the trailhead.

Don’t forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes: Something supportive, but hiking boots aren't necessary. 
  • Bikes and helmets: Optional, but fun. 
  • Water: Pack plenty for during and after; there are no facilities for refills. 
  • Snacks: Take a break and refuel. 
  • Bug spray: Especially during warmer months. 
  • Hats, sunscreen and sunglasses: The trails are mostly shaded, but not completely. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Pharr Family Preserve Trail

The Pharr Family Preserve Trail checks all the boxes for a satisfying local, fresh-air outing, especially these days: Close to home. Spacious. Plenty of parking. Beautiful. Peaceful. Refreshing.

This 1.7-mile (one way) Carolina Thread Trail traverses 66 lush, green acres protected by the Catawba Lands Conservancy. Located in the rural farmlands of Concord, it's an easy, 30-minute drive from uptown, but feels many miles away from the increasingly all-too-familiar walls of home and the extraordinarily well-worn routine route around the neighborhood.

The single-track, packed-dirt, natural-surface trail is smooth with only gentle undulations and a few roots to navigate. It meanders through a rich forest ecosystem with an abundance of trees and wildlife. It is also part of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation's Butterfly Highway, a statewide conservation effort to restore native pollinator habitats.

The trail, which is good for both hiking and biking, runs parallel to the Rocky River and offers glimpses of the water along the way. At 0.2 miles from the trailhead, there's an official Rocky River Blueway boat launch for kayaks and canoes.

When we went, I walked while the kids rode bikes and everyone enjoyed the outing. (Please note that bike riding is only permitted when the trail is dry. If your tires are making prints, it's too wet to ride.)

The Pharr Family Preserve Trail gates are open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. from fall through spring and from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the summer. In the parking lot, you'll find a map kiosk, but no restrooms (so plan accordingly!).

This destination offers such a pleasant journey through the woods that it's quite easy to get lost (figuratively, not literally) in a way that makes the "end of trail" sign at the terminus feel all too abrupt. We'll definitely be back to enjoy it again soon.

How to get there:
Pharr Family Preserve Trail is located near 9111 Mt. Pleasant Rd. South, Concord, NC, 28205. Follow a long gravel drive to the trailhead parking lot. The trail begins next to the map kiosk.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes: Something supportive, but hiking boots are not necessary.
  • Bikes and helmets: A fun option!
  • Water: Bring plenty; there are no facilities for refills.
  • Snacks or a picnic lunch: Take a break on the trail (there's a bench mid-way through) or at the trailhead.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: The trail is mostly shaded, but not completely.
  • Bug spray: Especially during warmer weather.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Torrence Creek Greenway

We are big into scooters, both people-powered and electric, in our house these days. So, finding a long, flat, smooth, paved stretch of riding space is like gold. Which is why I was glad to recently discover Torrence Creek Greenway.

This suburban trail, located in Huntersville, less than 30 minutes north of Uptown, is part of the Carolina Thread Trail. The main stretch is 1.8 miles end-to-end. But the greenway network also offers side trails to various neighborhood entrances that add another half-mile. (Here's a trail map.)

One novel feature of this greenway are large rock formations (not unlike those you can find at Big Rock Nature Preserve) at the eastern end of the greenway. These are fun for climbing, but beware that some are on private property in peoples' backyards.

Something else we enjoyed was hearing the frogs chirp in the bordering creek. Beyond these animal sounds, the greenway is remarkably quiet. And there are plenty of benches to take a break and enjoy the respite for a spell.

Mostly paved with a few boardwalks here and there, this trail is great not just for scooters, but walking, strollers and most wheeled riding toys. For folks on the north side of town, or anyone looking for a pleasant place to get outdoors and move, Torrence Creek Greenway is a very good option.

Note: There are no restroom facilities on the greenway; plan accordingly.

How to get there:
The best place to park is on the street at 13121 Bradford Hill Ln. just off of Gilead Rd. This puts you about midway through the trail. From the trailhead, if you're facing Giliad Rd. and take a left, it is 0.7 miles to the western end of the greenway. Taking a right, the eastern end of the trailhead (which takes you to the big rocks) is 0.8 miles away.

Don't forget to take:
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Riding toys and helmets
  • Water
  • Snacks or a picnic lunch
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen

Friday, April 3, 2020

Saving Recess: New Rules, Same Great Outdoors

Y’all, if we don’t get better at enjoying public outdoor space in isolation, we’re going to lose the privilege of enjoying it at all.

I know it’s hard. For one thing, suddenly everyone is vying for the same popular green spaces at the same time.

Plus we’re socially wired for polite distancing, not quarantine distancing. And we’re innately trusting. If that guy’s feeling good enough to go for a jog, surely he’s healthy, right?

I met a friend at a greenway the other day where we walked two miles, hollering our conversation from opposite sides of the 10-foot paved trail. That felt funny. Especially since we’re good buddies who usually start and end our get-togethers with a hug. But that's what it's going to take to do this thing right.

At that same greenway, someone has very helpfully spray painted marked 6-foot lines along the path to remind us what it means to hold that distance. I wish more people there were taking note.

Fortunately, we've got lots of recreation options and resources. Like these lesser-known Catawba Lands Conservancy trails. Or this Carolina Thread Trail guide to neighborhood nature tours. And this helpful Bike Charlotte back-on-the-bike safety check.

You can also follow Mecklenburg County Park and Rec on Facebook for updates and ideas (like their new "Happy at Home" video series. Now playing: Learn how to juggle!) Maybe this is an opportunity to discover your new favorite local outdoor spot -- one with ample parking and plenty of room to disperse.

It has probably been since elementary school since many of us have worried about losing outdoor play time. Now, I hope we can all agree to follow the rules like our recess depends on it.