Thursday, September 24, 2020

Clarks Creek Community Park

I'm so glad that playgrounds are open again. I missed them. I missed what they represent. It's such a gift to be able to take kids to a safe, open play space where they can move their muscles, meet and make friends and enjoy fresh air and creative, screen-free fun. (I also enjoy the chance to run into and chat with grown-up friends, too). 

Long before the pandemic shut everything down, we discovered Clarks Creek Community Park and loved it. Located just under 20 minutes north of uptown, this park is exciting for a number of reasons. 

We actually stumbled on it when we visited Clarks Creek Nature Preserve (another fun discovery!), which is right across the street, for the first time. I would recommend hitting both destinations if you take a trip.

Here's what you'll find at Clarks Creek Community Park:

Trails: There are both natural-surface walking trails and paved paths good for scooters and strollers.

Courts: This park is home to a large complex of both pickleball and basketball courts.

Dog parks: There are large, spacious, fenced dog parks for both large and small breeds.

Playground: Probably our favorite equipment is the in-ground slides built into the wall bordering the playground space. There's also a climbing web, swing sets and a see-saw.

Sprayground: Open during summer months (in non-pandemic times), this new, sprawling water play area could keep littles content for hours.

You'll also find restroom facilities, an outdoor picnic shelter and a large community garden. Here's a park map

We haven't been back to Clarks Creek Community Park since pandemic restrictions have been lifted, but it remains high on our list for the next time we get a chance.

How to get there:
Clarks Creek Community Park is located at 5435 Hucks Rd, Charlotte, NC 28269.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable shoes: Sneakers will do
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: The park is not heavily shaded
  • Snacks and water: You can refill water at the restroom facilities
  • Toys: Pickleball equipment, basketball or rolling riding toys
  • Swim stuff: If you're visiting when the sprayground is operational

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Booty Loop

I first heard the term "Booty Loop" from my friend, Michael, when we were in high school. We'd been running some variation of this three-mile route around the heart of Myers Park as part of cross country practice for years. But it wasn't until he started riding bikes with older fellows who trained in the area that he learned -- and shared with a teenage-boy giggle -- that some in the cycling community had come up with the name as a nod to the fitness of the women they saw exercising while the riders were doing laps. 

There are other, more PC origin stories. I'll leave it to you to decide which to believe.

Whatever you think about the name or its genesis, there's no denying that the Booty Loop is a pretty ideal urban exercise destination. Lined with generous sidewalks and billowing old-growth trees, this city street route runs along Queens Rd., Selwyn Ave., Queens Rd. West and Hopedale Ave. Here's a map of the loop.

A good place to park and start is at the intersection of Hopedale Ave. and Queens Rd. (Note: this is a church parking lot; be mindful courteous about taking spaces during church events) or at or around Queens University (1900 Selwyn Ave., 28207). Of course, if you can ride or walk from wherever you're coming from, even better.

Here are some of the things we love about the Booty Loop:
It's pleasant. There's lots of shade. The terrain is flat-to-gently rolling (with the exception of one relatively steep hill at the north end around Hopedale). There are no left turns and no major intersections to navigate. If you're riding bikes, this is a relatively low-traffic area (but don't let your
guard down!).

It's dynamic
. You can use the loop for bike riding on the street or walking, jogging, or pushing a stroller on the sidewalk. You also don't have to do the whole loop to enjoy this as a destination. There are a number of smaller cut-through side-streets you can use to create your own shorter loop.

It's entertaining. There are plenty of jaw-dropping houses and buildings to admire as you make your way around the loop. This is one of Charlotte's oldest neighborhoods and some history is on full display.

It's in close proximity to other things to do
. Take a stroll through the beautiful Queens University campus. Visit nearby Freedom Park. Stop by the Myers Park branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library system. Each year in July, the loop is also home to 24 Hours of Booty, a 24-hour bike-riding event that raises money for cancer support services.

I've been enjoying the Booty Loop long before it got its name (I think?) and I still find it to be a compelling destination. If you're looking for a quick, easy outing with a slice of Charlotte thrown in, the Booty Loop is worth a visit.

How to get there:
A good place to park and start is at the intersection of Hopedale Ave. and Queens Rd. (Note: this is a church parking lot; be mindful courteous about taking spaces during church events) or at or around Queens University (1900 Selwyn Ave., 28207). Of course, if you can ride or walk from wherever you're coming from, even better.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Murray's Mill Historic District

Here's a fun field trip. Ever heard of Murray's Mill Historic District? I hadn't either until I started poking around for some new trails and educational destinations to supplement our remote learning.

Murray's Mill historic site is located in Catawba, NC, a little under an hour north of uptown Charlotte. It's a pretty straight shot up NC-16 (Brookshire Freeway) a little past Denver, NC. This destination is compelling for a number of reasons.

First, the history. The original Murray's mill was built by William Murray in the nineteenth century. His son, John, replaced his father's mill in 1913, building the two-story structure and a waterwheel you can still see there today. Surrounding the mill are a number of other historic buildings, including a wheat house and the Murray family dwellings.

For $7, visitors can take a self-guided tour of the grounds (during non-pandemic times, guided tours are an option).

The next draw: The 1890s general store. One of our favorite things to do when we're exploring the state -- particularly in rural mountain towns -- is to find old-fashioned general stores. The creakier the wooden floors, the better. The Murray & Minges General Store checks all the boxes for a fun, authentic old-timey shopping experience, including soda in glass bottes (from an antique Coca-Cola refrigerator) and bulk candy bins. We bought giant pinwheel lollipops to enjoy along our hike. 

Finally, the trail. The Murray's Mill Trail, a Carolina Thread Trail, is a 1.4-mile (one way) natural surface trail good for hiking. The mill is at the mid-way point of the trail. Take a right at the dam to follow the banks of the beautiful pond (while the CTT trail is technically out-and-back, you can also follow a footpath around the entire pond to return to the parking area. See this map.). This section of the trail is well marked with CTT blazes.

Or you can take a left just after the bridge across the road from the dam to take a wooded trek. This section is not as well marked and we found ourselves walking in circles a couple of times. That said, we found both ends of the Murray's Mill trail to be pleasant.

One other fun feature to mention is the StoryWalk (a children's book posted one page at a time along a short walking path) that begins and ends at the field just above the parking area. This is especially fun for tiny visitors.

If you've got kids who have been stuck in front of a screen all day and could use some fresh-air mental and physical stimulation, I think you'll find Murray's Mill to be a lovely afternoon field trip destination. Easy to get to, lots to do, and there's a Chick-fil-a on the way home Win, win, win, right?

How to get there: Parking for Murray's Mill Historic District is located at 1489 Murrays Mill Road, Catawba, NC 28609. From here, you can see the mill, take a tour, visit the general store or hike the trail.

Don't forget to pack: 
  • Comfortable walking shoes: Sneakers will do
  • Some spending money: It's free to walk around, but just in case you want to do some shopping at the general store
  • Bug spray: Particularly during warmer months
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: This area is partially shaded, but not entirely 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

River Link Greenway

I've lived close to uptown Charlotte all my life and I wouldn't want it any other way. But if I had to move somewhere nearby, I think I'd consider Belmont, NC. This small town, less than 30 minutes west of Charlotte, is charming, accessible, and home to a number of our favorite outdoor destinations (see Seven Oaks Preserve, Goat Island and Rocky Branch Park).

The other day, we decided to do some more exploring in the area and found the River Link Greenway, a short but compelling stretch of the Carolina Thread Trail.

This smooth, flat, 0.7-mile (one way) out-and-back trail is paved from end-to-end, making it excellent for strollers, bikes, skates and scooters. It runs along the banks of the South Fork Catawba River and is tucked neatly behind a neighborhood development, though you wouldn't know it for most of your stroll.

The trail ends at an overlook (spoiler alert, there are no breathtaking views, but this is a nice place to sit a spell and enjoy nature). All along the way there are lots of opportunities to enjoy wildlife, including a bunch of turtles basking in the sun on the river.

A really cool feature of the River Link Greenway is its proximity to other connector trails, including the Goat Island Greenway, which is a short walk over the footbridge from the River Link Greenway trailhead parking lot. At the west end of the Goat Island Greenway, you can hop on the Riverside Greenway, and at the east end, the Stuart Cramer High School Trail.

All together, this is nearly five miles of trails, and that's not counting the South Fork Blueway, an approximately 10-mile stretch of the river for folks to paddle through more than 1,300 acres of land permanently protected by the Catawba Lands Conservancy.

Another perk: Just on the other side of Goat Island is the quaint downtown Cramerton, where you can find a cup of coffee or a bite to eat.

If you, like me, are partial to center city Charlotte, I'd invite you to take a field trip to Belmont. It's a lovely little community and its nearby greenway system is a good excuse to visit. Start with a stroll along the River Link Greenway and see what you can discover from there.

How to get there: The River Link Greenway trailhead is in the Goat Island Park and Greenway Belmont Access parking lot, which is located at 305 Greenwood Pl., Belmont, NC, 28012. There are no restroom facilities; plan accordingly.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes: Sneakers will do
  • Water: Bring enough for during and after your trek; there are no facilities to refill nearby
  • Bikes, scooters or other riding toys and a helmet: The paved trail is good for wheels
  • Hats, sunscreen and sunglasses: The trail is partially shaded, but not completely
  • Bug spray: Especially during warmer months