Tuesday, December 29, 2020

McAlpine Creek Greenway: Sardis Rd. to Providence Rd.

Over the holidays, our kids each got a new riding toy, which gave us the perfect opportunity to seek out fresh, safe, paved routes for outings. 

One we recently found and enjoyed is the stretch of McAlpine Creek Greenway that runs from Sardis Rd. to Providence Rd. This is the latest segment to open on what's now a 6.2-mile (one way) greenway connecting Idlewild Rd. to Providence Rd, passing Independence Blvd., McAlpine Creek ParkJames Boyce Park, and Sardis Rd. in between. 

This new, southernmost segment of McAlpine Creek Greenway is a little over a mile, one way. It begins at a parking area off Old Bell Rd. at Sardis Rd. (there's no parking at the southern terminus). It's smooth, wide, paved and flat -- all perfect conditions for walking, jogging and, especially, riding toys. 

The greenway follows the creek through natural area running behind neighborhoods. It's a pleasant escape into nature, though the surrounding growth is fairly new and there's little shade. 

We went on a pretty Sunday afternoon and it was crowded, but not uncomfortably so. 

Whether you're looking for a traffic-free stretch to let your kids loose on wheeled toys or a nice place to take a walk, McAlpine Creek Greenway -- and the southern portion, in particular -- is a great option. 

Note: There are no bathrooms along this stretch of greenway; plan accordingly. 

How to get there: The Sardis Rd. trailhead is located at 110 Old Bell Rd., Charlotte, NC 28270. Take a left on the greenway from the parking lot to head south. 

Don't forget to pack

  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Riding toys and helmets. 
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen 
  • Water and snacks 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

4 COVID-Conscious Holiday Outings

Winter break and holiday time-off is going to be different from what many of us are used to this year. But there are still fun, safe ways to enjoy the excitement of this season. 

Here are some COVID-conscious outings for the weeks ahead. Whatever adventures you embark on, wear your mask, keep your distance, and be of good cheer! Happy holidays and stay well, friends.

Uptown Lights
On one hand, it's a little eerie how quiet uptown is these days. On the other, it's actually quite a festive place to be. While you won't find some of the annual favorites, like singing bears in Founders Hall or ice skating on the NASCAR Hall of Fame Plaza, you will find some fun and dazzling holiday decorations throughout the heart of town.

We took an informal walking tour the other evening and found lots to look at and enjoy. Some of our favorites included the lighted animations around the perimeter of First Ward Park, the great big tree and hanging lights at The Square (the corner of Trade St. and Tryon St.), the giant ornaments at the Levine Center for the Arts, and the colorful tree at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Plaza (400 E. MLK Jr. Blvd.). 

Just as exciting as spotting the large outdoor ornamentation was peering through the windows at building lobbies and shop fronts. If you go, make sure to take a peak at the "book tree" just inside the entrance of Imaginon. So fun!

McAdenville Magic on Foot

It's been an annual tradition since I was a kid for our family to visit the spectacular whole-town light display at Christmastown, USA. These days, we like to experience the magic of McAdenville on foot. Check out this post for details on how to do this.

New this year, wear your mask! Yes, even outside. There are spots where foot traffic can get a little congested if you're there at a busy time.

Also, if you've been before, you may recall the beauty of the lighted trees reflecting in the lake at the center of town. They decided not to decorate this area and other public gathering spots to prevent crowding. Bummer, but absolutely the right call. Don't worry, there are still plenty of lights to go around.

When you're there, consider taking the side streets. While vehicular traffic is relegated to a set route through the main street, pedestrians are allowed to wander. I encourage you to do so. Some of the houses "off the beaten path" are breathtaking. (Look for the yard with a million blow-up penguins.)

Finally, I recommend going early (lights switch on at 5:30 p.m.) on a weekday, if you can. Lights go out at 10, but get your visit in before then to adhere to curfew. The display runs through December 26. 

Ice Skating at the U.S. National Whitewater Center
Last year, the USNWC debuted a skating rink, and we plan to make it an annual tradition as long as it's part of the winter activity line-up. Read this post about what to expect if you go -- and it's definitely worth considering!

Some things to note this year:

Due to the pandemic, there's limited capacity and everyone is required to sign up for an assigned time slot, which can be secured in advance online or by phone, or onsite when you arrive (call guest services at 704-391-3900 for more information).

To avoid crowds, I suggest that you go during the day on weekdays, if you can. We went at 2:00 p.m. on a Wednesday and found the crowd sizes to be comfortable. On the ice, masks are encouraged, but not required. Most, but not all, of the people we skated among were wearing them.

Check the website for hours for both skating and the adjacent lights display. Ice skating runs through mid-February. 

Star Gazing
Maybe you've heard about the "Christmas Star" shining down on Earth this week? This rare and fascinating alignment of Jupiter and Saturn is visible now and will be at it's brightest on December 21. It has been 400 years since the planets passed each other so closely, and nearly 800 years since it happened at night. You can read more about this "great conjunction" on the NASA website

We're considering a short trip to a place where the view will be unencumbered by light pollution. We'll be using the free SkyView Lite app, which I highly recommend, to figure out what we're looking for and where. 

I think it will be a fun, memorable excursion. Wouldn't it be neat if we all share this moment together, apart?

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Pump Track at Colonel Frances Beatty Park

Colonel Frances Beatty Park was already one of our favorite places to ride mountain bikes. There, you'll find beautiful trails for all ages and skill levels. But we only just recently discovered they also have a 0.1-mile natural surface pump track, which has become another big draw for us. 

A pump track is a cross between an obstacle course and a roller coaster for bikes. They are called pump tracks because really skilled riders can "pump" their way around the course using momentum without peddling. But, they are every bit as much fun for even the most tentative riders among us. 

We visited one weekday afternoon not long ago and had the area to ourselves. I imagine it could get more crowded on a pretty weekend day. But even still, the space is large enough to comfortably accommodate a small crowd (remember to ride in the designated direction!). 

We always enjoy a trip to the pump track at George Poston Park, which is paved. I like the one at Colonel Frances Beatty because it's on the dirt in the woods and somewhat less technical. And, we can take a spin on the other trails, visit the pond or play on the playground (here's a park map) if we get tired of riding in circles. 

Colonel Frances Beatty Park is huge and has lots of amenities. You'll find the pump track next to the tennis court parking lot. Whether you're a biker or not, this park is a fun place to spend some time playing outdoors. And the pump track is an especially exciting feature for folks who like to ride. 

How to get there

Colonel Frances Beatty Park is located at 4330 Weddington Rd, Matthews, NC 28105. The pump track is located next to the tennis court parking lot. 

Don't forget to pack: 

  • Bikes and a helmet 
  • Comfortable walking shoes 
  • Water and snacks
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Southview District Park

I love discovering green space close to town. It feels especially valuable to be able to escape to nature without much of a commute. Such is the case with Southview District Park, a large, beautiful swath of forested land tucked magically off West Blvd. just 10 minutes from the heart of Uptown. 

This Mecklenburg County park is home to a large recreation center with lots of amenities, but the big draw for us is the trail system. The park offers about three miles of natural-surface routes, maintained by Tarheel Trailblazers, good for both biking and hiking. 

The trails are relatively flat and easy with very few technical challenges. The main loop, which begins and ends at a trailhead at the end of the parking lot to the left of the recreation center, is almost exactly two miles. You can add another half-mile by tacking on the Tamale Loop, or another 1.25 miles by taking the Stillwater Loop. Both are just off the main loop. 

The trails are well marked and offer helpful directional signs for bikers (counter clockwise) and hikers (clockwise). "Real" mountain bikers will appreciate the added features, including some berms and skinny bridges, but this trail is good for riders of all levels. 

We went on a cool day, but could appreciate the relief the shade would provide in warmer months. We also noticed just how peaceful and quiet the park was, despite its proximity to some pretty popular thoroughfares. It was also a nice option for distancing; we were the only ones there on a Sunday afternoon. 

I don't know how it took us this long to discover Southview, as pleasant and convenient as it is, but now that we have, it will most certainly be on our regular rotation of nearby destinations for quick afternoon or weekend outings. I recommend you check it out, too, if you haven't already.

How to get there:
Southview District Park is located at 1720 Vilma St., Charlotte NC 28208. The trailhead is at the far end of the parking lot to the left of the recreation center. 

Don't forget to pack
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Bikes and helmets
  • Water and snacks