Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Hey, That’s Neat!

I follow a lot of local media and municipal organizations and I often come across things that are so cool I feel like everyone should know about them. Here are a few recent discoveries I hope you'll enjoy. Check them out and tell your friends. Some things just need to be shared! 

Fun to know!

Looking for something different – and safe – to do over the long holiday weekend? Why not check out a cool new interactive art installation? Charlotte Listens, created and developed by Sara Kate Baudhuin at the Charlotte Art League, is a creative answer to the realities of COVID-19 isolation. It’s a storytelling “payphone,” but, instead of a phone, you’ll find a panel with a QR code that, when scanned, gives you a phone number to listen to one of five different short stories recorded by previous participants. After you listen, you’re invited to share a story of your own with the help of prompts. (Note: The Charlotte Art League screens the recordings, so there’s no risk of encountering anything inappropriate.) As stories are added, the menu of options changes and expands.

We visited the other day and found this to be a clever, fun, family-friendly activity. It’s a compelling, contactless and engaging outing that can help us all feel a little more connected to our community while we remain physically apart.

This is a mobile installation. Follow @charlotte.listens on Instagram to find its current location. At the time of this post, the booth was located at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams in South End. While it's there, consider pairing your visit with a bike ride or walk on the Rail Trail and a frozen treat!

Good to know!

I recently read an article in CharlotteFive about “essential distancing” and the popularity trends for visiting places like grocery stores, coffee shops and parks in Charlotte under COVID-19. The reporter gleaned this data from Google’s Community Mobility Report a resource I find fascinating. This report shows movement trends by region across categories of places we visit in our day-to-day lives. With an unbelievably vast database, Google is able to compare mobility trends worldwide, but the real value for local citizens is being able to modify their personal outings to account for crowds and, hopefully, mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

This database is easy to use. Enter a region (down to the state level) and download the most recent report. Of particular interest to me are stats on parks and recreation. 

Other fun tools the article mentioned are Google Maps’ popular times and live busyness feature, which offers real-time insight into how crowded a place might be before you go, and the live view, which helps orient users en route to an unfamiliar destination. Both seem genius at any time, but particularly in the age of COVID-19. 

Did you know?

You probably know that paper yard waste bags are way better for the environment than plastic. But did you know that Mecklenburg County gives compostable paper bags away for free? These are available at all Mecklenburg County Drop Centers (Mondays through Saturdays, 7 a.m. – 4 p.m.) and other locations like the City of Charlotte Solid Waste Office (located at 1200 Ottis Street, first-come/first-served every Friday from 12 p.m. – 3 p.m.). You can get up to 10 bags per visit. Pretty cool, huh?

Got any other fun local tips, suggestions or resources? Message me! I’d love to check them out and spread the word.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Steven's Creek Nature Preserve

There's a new nature preserve in town and I'm a big fan. Steven's Creek Nature Preserve, located in Mint Hill, NC, about 30 minutes east of uptown, is home to a new, state-of-the-art Nature Center (currently closed due to COVID-19) and some really beautiful trails. 

The Nature Center wasn't open when we visited, but we thoroughly enjoyed a fun hike through the surrounding woods. There are several easy, natural-surface loop options, all of which leave from a paved trail just off the main parking lot.

The kids and I did this 3.7-mile hike with the dog (pets are welcome -- on leash, please!), and everyone was happy with the outing.

The preserve trails are shady, mostly flat, not too technical, and well marked with spray-paint blazes (orange squares, yellow triangles and blue circles) on trees.

Some considerations to note:
  • Don't go after rain. There are several low-lying areas that are prone to swampy flooding and your feet will get soaked. I understand plans are in the works for a boardwalk or footbridge over one particularly squishy area near the beginning of the trail.
  • Look for wildlife! During our visit, we spotted a pack of deer and a heron.
  • Though it's currently closed to the general public due to the pandemic, the Nature Center offers small group programs. You can check those out here.
We find nature preserves to be such a gift for so many reasons and visit them frequently. It's a treat to be able to add a new one to our rotation. I highly recommend you check out Steven's Creek. It's another great local outdoor destination.

How to get there: Steven's Creek Nature Center and Preserve are located at 15700 Thompson Rd., Mint Hill, North Carolina 28227. 

Don't forget to pack
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Water and snacks
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Bug spray 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Gearing Up

There's no denying that packing and preparation for an outing is work, no matter how many times you've done it. And, quite frankly, no matter how long or far you're going. I suspect that just the the thought of figuring out what to take and making sure everything is covered has ended some folks' adventures before they even begin.

If the packing part of heading out has been a barrier to entry for you, maybe this day-trip starter list will help. Here's what we generally pack for most of our local outings.

Day pack
: A good backpack can make your life a lot easier. We have a number of bags that we choose from, depending on what the adventure calls for. For longer hikes, we love our LL Bean backpack. But for shorter day-outings (whether we're hitting the trails, taking a bike ride, or walking to a nearby store), my go-to is a simple Ozark Trail bag I found at WalMart. This no-fuss nylon pack is light and just roomy enough for a few hours' worth of "gear." The model we have has just one side pocket, perfect for a phone, keys and dog bags.

Water bottles
: Always pack water. Even on cool days. I find that hydration can be key not just to health and wellbeing, but staving off grumpiness. Don't let yourself get thirsty. And, please, for the love of the planet, use reusable containers. 

Our favorite water bottles are simple, screw-top Nalgene bottles. The kids each have their own color 12-ounce mini loop-top and the grown-ups use either the 32-ounce wide mouth or 30-ounce screw top. I cannot be bothered with maintenance and cleaning of straws, valves or complicated tops. Simple suits us best.

Snacks: Your type of snack is a personal preference, of course, but consider things that are light, easy to eat, and produce minimal waste. I will admit we usually throw a treat of some sort in our bag (fruit snacks are our go-to) for those times that call for a little extra motivation or celebration along the journey.

Necessary accessories
: In our pack, we always carry a few staples. Consider assembling a small bag with the following:
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • First aid materials (bandaids, at the least)
  • Wet wipes
  • Bug bite relief (After Bite is a magical product)
  • A small pocket knife
  • Masks (even out on the trails, it's good to be prepared for large-group encounters)
Hiking sticks: Completely optional, of course. And we often find our own along the trail. But there are lots of inexpensive options on the market if you're inclined to get your own. The trail poles we have are light and extendable -- good for all ages and heights. We bought a couple pairs for about $20 each on Amazon and often just use one each. Consider something that can be stashed in your pack if someone tires of using their pole.

Other things we consider when we prepare for an outing are outfits, shoes and hats. Each adventure calls for its own wardrobe. Dress in layers. Wear supportive footwear and think about whether your trek requires water shoes, hiking boots, or something in between. And protect your head. We love our wide-brimmed sunhats that shade both our faces and necks.

Of course, if you're bringing your dog, don't forget plenty of water (we recently discovered this amazing invention), leash and some doggy bags.

If you're in the market for any outdoor gear, I highly recommend Gear Goat Exchange, an outdoor gear consignment shop located on Central Ave. close to uptown. They've got good deals on great equipment and some really friendly folks to help you find what you're looking for. (Helpful tip: If they don't have what you need, they'll take your number and give you a call when it comes in.)

If packing and prep still feels like a lot of work, I understand. But I can also tell you that we've found that the more we do it, the easier it gets. Of course I still keep lots of lists handy, but it no longer feels overwhelming to throw together what we'll need for a trip. I think you'll find that to be the case, too.