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.