Friday, May 29, 2020

A COVID Summer Kick-off

Well, the "gateway to the summer" sort of came and went for us in the context of this blurry “new normal.” Around dinnertime on Memorial Day, we belatedly recalled we’d usually have spent the day at the pool to kick off the season.

Such is the nature of these times and the shift from traditional anchor points to learning a more fluid way of living. Nonetheless, it’s summertime, and just because this one is going to be different, it doesn’t mean it can’t be full of meaningful fun.

This week, I shared some COVID summer activities and suggestions on WCNC's Charlotte Today. Here are my recommendations, along with some other tips and resources.

Just remember when you're out to adhere to the guidelines set forth by public health officials: Maintain a 6-foot distance from others, don’t gather in groups outside of your family unit, and keep a mask handy in case either of these conditions are difficult to meet.

A picnic is such a lovely way to take a refreshing breather. We like breakfast, lunch and dinner picnics. The backyard can do the trick, but there's something to be said for dining al fresco in other settings, too. Here are some of our favorites:

The Mint Museum on Randolph Rd (2730 Randolph Rd. Charlotte, NC 28207): Here you'll find a sprawling lawn with the added bonus of the 1-mile Eastover greenway for a short walk before or after your meal.

Big Rock Nature Preserve: Come for the school-bus sized boulders, stay for a picnic by the creek. This hidden gem, located in South Charlotte, has a little something for all ages.

UNCC Botanical Gardens: While the campus is closed, the gardens remain open and inviting. Find a quiet corner to sit for a spell and enjoy the beautifully maintained grounds.

Goat Island: An island park in Belmont, NC, that offers a novel recreation experience including a playground area, disc golf course, short hikes and waterside play spots.

There has probably never been a better time to ride bikes in Charlotte given how light traffic is these days. You can find any number of city bike routes, or consider a riding destination.

Shared Streets: These low-speed neighborhood roads have been temporarily closed to through-traffic to allow citizens to use them for outdoor exercise with a comfortable cushion for safe social-distancing.

Riverwalk: This smooth, paved, three-mile (one way) greenway in Rock Hill meanders along the banks of the Catawba River. The trail is mostly flat, somewhat shaded, and good for riders of all skill levels.

George Poston Park: Probably our favorite all-around two-wheeler option, this park includes mountain-biking trails in the woods, a short paved path for road bikes and, most exciting for the kids, a state-of-the-art pump track.


There are tons of hiking options in and around the Charlotte area. Take a walk in a nearby park, or venture a little farther from home.

Municipal Nature Preserves: Charlotte Mecklenburg Parks and Rec maintains more than two dozen protected nature preserves. You can't go wrong with any of them, but some of our favorites are Evergreen, Clarks Creek and Ribbonwalk.

Carolina Thread Trails: This regional network of trails in North and South Carolina offers hundreds of miles of hiking options. Some lesser-known beautiful destinations include Catawba Indian Nation Greenway Trail, Forney Creek Conservation Area, and Buffalo Creek Nature Preserve.

Rocky Face Mountain Recreation Area: A little over an hour from Charlotte, it's well worth the drive for more than five miles of beautiful, challenging trails and an impressive natural playground and picnic area.

If you're looking for more ideas, check out these resources.
  • Follow Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation on Facebook and Instagram for updates and information on facilities and a fun "Happy at Home" video series teaching things like juggling and knot-tying.
  • Follow North Carolina State Parks on Facebook and Instagram for programs and park capacity status updates. This is especially helpful on weekends and high-traffic days. Save yourself from taking a trip only to be turned around at the gates.
  • Check the Carolina Thread Trail website for hiking destination or follow on Facebook and Instagram for activities and suggested outings.
  • Follow Bike Charlotte on Facebook and Instagram for tips and helpful information on two-wheeling around the Queen City.

And, of course, I hope you'll take some time to explore this site for more adventure ideas.

The hallmarks of this summer may not be conventional, but consider ways to make it memorable for more than just what we can't do under the current conditions. Go ahead and get out. Just be safe. Be careful. Be responsible. And have fun!

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Falcon Trail

Here’s a fun outing off the beaten path. Plenty of parking. A beautiful, expansive pond-side park for a picnic. A covered bridge and two swinging bridges. And a long, winding, multi-terrain trail for hiking or biking.

That’s what you’ll get when you take a trip to the Carolina Thread Trail’s Falcon Trail in Stanly County, N.C., a little under an hour from uptown Charlotte.

The moderate 2.7-mile (one way) Falcon Trail, which connects the towns of of Richfield and Misenheimer, is mostly flat and mostly shaded with a lot of fun features that make the outing not only refreshing, but engaging.

The trail starts at Richfield Park, where you’ll find an 18-hole disc golf course, baseball field, fishing pond and picnic island. When you pull in the park entrance, take a right and follow the gravel drive to a large parking area. The trailhead will be on your right and is well marked.

It’s tempting to head straight for the lake, but know that the trail will loop you by it and its signature bridges within a half mile of your trek.

The first thing we noticed on our visit was the wildlife. We spotted at least three blue herons, dozens of turtles, and some hawks.

The trail, which is marked by bright yellow blazes (you can’t miss them!), starts out pea gravel and borders the Curl Tail Creek. This loops around the baseball field and brings you to the pond.

Go straight to follow the trail across the covered bridge, but first stop for a trip across the swinging bridges to your left. These lead to the park’s picnic island. Take a minute here to notice the abundance of snapping turtles and skip a rock or two.

Hop back on the trail when you’re done playing. The next stretch is natural surface and shaded, followed by an expanse of wide-open fields winding through farmland and dotted with houses.

Soon, you’ll come to a small road crossing that will lead you back into the woods. Cross a wooden footbridge and make your way up to the Pfeiffer University sports complex and campus. Here, you’ll follow the sidewalk (look for the directional trail signs) back into the woods for the last stretch, which is natural surface and follows the Curl Tail Creek through the woods. The trail ends at Wesley Chapel Rd. in Misenheimer.

Note: There are a number of small boardwalk bridges throughout the trail, which runs largely through low-lying areas. These can be slippery and some may have shifted after a hard rain. Keep this in mind when planning a trip and consider wearing shoes you don’t mind getting muddy if it has rained lately.

This trail, which is good for hiking, jogging or biking, is open from dawn to dusk. There are restroom facilities at Richfield Park.

We had never heard of the Falcon Trail until recently, but I'm glad we checked it out. On the way home, our oldest asked if we can go back -- the mark of a fun and successful outing! I told him yes and will look forward to it, too. 

How to get there:
Richfield Park is located at Richfield Park Rd., Richfield, N.C., 28137. From Charlotte, take NC 49. The park entrance will be on your left a half-mile past the intersection of NC 49 and US 52. Just inside the park entrance, take a right and follow the gravel road to the parking area.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable shoes: Some you don't mind getting muddy if it has rained lately
  • Water: Pack for after your outing if it's especially warm out
  • Snacks: Or a picnic at the park before or after your hike
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: There are stretches of wide open spaces at the park and along the trail
  • Bikes and helmets: A fun option

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Little Sugar Creek Greenway: Cordelia Park to 12th Street

Lately, we've been visiting the Little Sugar Creek Greenway segment that runs from Cordelia Park to 12th St., just east of uptown, multiple afternoons a week after we finish "school." It's a very nice greenway, winding through urban residential areas, tucked magically in green space I didn't even realize existed. It's also close to us and easy to get to.

This 1.3-mile paved stretch (part of the Carolina Thread Trail) is perfect for bikes, scooters and walking the dog, which is how we most often experience it.

The greenway is accessible from either end of the segment or from neighborhood entrances along it. We like to park in spaces on 10th St. just before or after the intersection with Siegle Ave. Another nearby option is the Alexander Street Park parking lot off of Alexander St. at 12th St.

At the other end of this segment, there's on-street parking on 24th at North Davidson St., or in the Cordelia Park parking lot.

No matter where you start, you'll find this trail to be pleasantly quiet and partially shaded with a couple of beautiful views of the uptown skyline.

Along the route there are a handful of pedestrian bridges and a community garden. At the NoDa end, you'll find a playground, playing field, outdoor swimming pool and sprayground, and basketball courts at Cordelia Park. At the uptown end, you'll find a playground, tennis courts, and playing fields at Alexander Street Park.

See a the greenway map.

Also be sure to pay attention to wildlife in the creek the greenway runs along. Note that flooding sometimes occurs at the Parkwood Ave. underpass. Use the alternate overpass route after a heavy rain. 

During normal hours of operations, restrooms are available at Cordelia Park and Alexander Street Park.

For a quick, easy and enjoyable walk, stroll or bike ride, I highly recommend this segment of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway.

How to get there:
Parking is available near the uptown end of this greenway segment on 10th street before or after Siegle Ave. or at the Alexander Street Park located at 739 East 12th Street.

At the NoDa end of this greenway segment, parking is available on 24th St. at North Davidson St. or at the Cordelia Park parking lot at 600 E. 24th St.

Don't forget to pack: 
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Bikes, strollers or skates and helmets
  • Water and snacks
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Did That Tree Just Wink At Me?

I spotted a tree eating a trail blaze on our hike the other day and it made me laugh out loud. I know it’s silly, but the incongruity tickled me. Thinking about it now makes me giggle.

I wonder why that image captivated me so.

Maybe the stunningly clear air has gone to my head. Have you noticed the brilliant blue skies lately? They are among the most visible positive consequences of “stay-at-home.” Maybe this extraordinary throwback to pollution-lite times is making me delightfully delirious.

In any case, now that I’ve noticed my anthropomorphized tree friend doing slapstick, I’m compelled to pay more attention to him.

I wonder, for example, if he’s upset with whoever invaded his territory and tattooed the blaze on him to begin with. I mean, I’m sure they didn’t ask.

On the other hand, I wonder if he’s been lonesome and would like some attention. Maybe not enough folks take the time to visit. It must be exasperating to have so much to give — shade on a hot day, shelter from the rain — when people are too busy and distracted to stop by for a spell, to be present and attentive. Has one too many hiker walked by with unseeing eyes, without so much as a passing glance?

Or maybe nature plays all kinds of games when we’re not looking. Perhaps there’s more whimsy in the woods than we realize. If only we’d spend less time taking the planet for granted, maybe we’d be invited to that party, too.

I do wonder.

Mostly, though, I think his little prank is simply a poignant reminder to pay attention. How much richer life is when we consider it from others’ perspectives.

One thing is for sure: My whimsical tree and his friends definitely share a sense of humor. How do I know? I saw his buddy devouring another blaze about a half-mile later.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve

I would argue any hike is rewarding in its own ways. But fun features and surprising discoveries can make an outing all the more gratifying. Which is why I recommend Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve. Here, you’ll find an impressive expanse of balds that give this area its name. But keep going and there’s lots more to make it worth a visit.

Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve is located in Lancaster, SC, a little over an hour from uptown. The drive there is pleasant, winding through open farmland. You’ll find the trailhead at the far end of a gravel parking lot. The trail begins on a service road just beyond the gate. A short, half-mile walk along this road takes you directly to the preserve’s namesake rocks.

The crest of the rocks offers pretty views of the surrounding Piedmont. Dips and crevices in the rock’s surface fill with water after rain, creating miniature gardens of a variety of mosses, lichens and small plants. The one and only disappointment with this destination is the amount of graffiti folks have left behind.  

After a stop at the top of the rock, one could turn back and call it a day, but I recommend continuing the journey because there’s a lot more to discover. Here you have two options: The Forty Acre Rock Trail, a 1.7-mile loop (including the service road you started on), or the Forty Acre Rock and Beaver Pond Trail, which is 3.9 miles all together.

The trailhead from the rock is not obvious, but also not too difficult to find. Before you go, you might consider downloading the AllTrails app, which gives you a real-time location map as you hike to keep you on track. The trail is marked by white diamond blazes that read “Heritage Preserve Trail” in green lettering. Some of the markers are easier to find than others.

Following the Forty Acre Rock trail will take you down to the creek with several small wooden bridges and lots of places to play in the water. It also passes a waterfall. Taking a “social trail,” you can scramble to the top of the waterfall, but be careful not to slip on the wet rocks! In general, this moderate, natural-surface trail is gently rolling and easy to navigate. This is a fun option that kids will enjoy.

To add the Beaver Pond loop to your hike, follow the trail across the bridge where the creek bends and take an immediate right along its banks. This will lead to some of the richest areas of plant and wildlife species protected by the preserve. It is also probably our favorite part of the adventure.

As the name suggests, this trail takes you around a large beaver pond humming with life. Covered with a blanket of lily pads and teeming with lush growth all around, this area feels almost mystical. This section appears to be less popular (read: less crowded), which I tend to think adds to its appeal. There are several stunning overlooks and a fun boardwalk bridge at the far end of the loop. Like the Forty Acre Loop, this trail is moderate.

Take your time circling the pond, then retrace your steps up to the rock and down the service road back to the parking lot.

The Forty Acre Preserve is open during daylight hours. It is meant for hiking only; no bikes or motorized vehicles permitted. Keep in mind that there are no restroom facilities.

If you’re looking for a hike off the beaten path, consider this one. And go ahead and plan to enjoy the full experience by taking the long loop. It’s rewarding on a number of levels.

How to get there:
The Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve parking is located at 2207 Conservancy Rd., Kershaw, SC, 29067.

Don’t forget to take:
  • Comfortable walking shoes: Hiking boots would be nice to have, but not necessary. If you or your kids want to rock-hop in the creek, consider water shoes.
  • Water and snacks: Bring enough water for during and after your hike; there are no facilities for refills.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: While the trails are mostly shaded, the rocky bald is wide open.
  • Bug spray: Especially during warmer months.