Friday, December 31, 2021

South Fork River Park

Happy New Year, y'all. And may we all resolve to appreciate and enjoy nature a little (or a lot!) bit more in 2022. There's so much goodness to be found in the great outdoors. Let us delight in it. 

Whether you're an outdoor enthusiast or just toying with the idea of trying a hike, consider kicking off the new year with an outing to South Fork River Park, located near McAdenville, N.C., about 30 minutes west of Uptown. This 44-acre nature preserve is accessible, peaceful, and a little bit off the beaten path. 

Open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., South Fork River Park offers a 1.25-mile gravel figure-eight loop trail and 800 feet of river frontage with access points for canoeing, kayaking and fishing. There are also a handful of benches and tables for a picnic along the banks. 

The trail is wide and flat, largely free of roots and rocks, making it good for a leisurely stroll, brisk hike or quick jog. It's worth noting that there are some steep stretches as the path winds its way down to the river and back up again, but the undulations are a pleasant challenge on an otherwise tranquil excursion. 

I couldn't find a map online, but there is one posted at the trailhead. You'll see that the river stretch is along the northern loop of the trail. The most direct route to the water is to veer right/straight at the first split from the trailhead, but going either direction will get you there from the parking lot. 

When we went, we took snacks and enjoyed a break on the riverbank, watching wildlife and listening to the river tumble over the rocky shoals. We had the place to ourselves, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's often similarly unpopulated. Next time, we'll take fishing gear and stay a while longer. 

There's a spacious paved parking lot at the park entrance, but no restroom facilities, so plan accordingly. 

South Fork River Park offers a simple, but pleasant option for an active outdoor adventure to kick off the new year on a positive foot. Go ahead and make this the first of many opportunities to delight in nature in 2022. 

FYI, South Fork River Park is different than the South Fork Rail Trail and the nearby South Fork Trail, both of which are also good recreation options.  

How to get there: 
South Fork River Park is located at 4185 Mountain View Street, Gastonia, N.C., 28056. 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Revisiting Pearl Street Park

Next time you head uptown, carve out at least a little time to swing by the newly renovated Pearl Street Park. This beautiful space, located along E. Stonewall St. just outside of the I-277 loop (across from The Metropolitan complex) is as striking in its design as it is significant in its historical importance. 

In 1943, Pearl Street Park became the first and only public recreation area for African Americans in Charlotte. Located in what was then the Brooklyn neighborhood, it became an important athletic and social gathering spot for the community. You can read more about the park's history here

Over the years since Brooklyn was demolished in the name of urban renewal, the park space has been poorly maintained and offered few amenities to visitors. Mostly, park traffic was limited to Saturday morning rec league soccer games. 

Recently, though, the surrounding area has undergone a transformation with the redevelopment of the adjacent property.  Fortunately, part of the grand plan included a concerted effort to protect the green space, preserve the area's history, and offer visitors plenty of reasons to stop and play. 

A few weeks ago, a reimagined Pearl Street Park officially opened to the public. The space now includes reconfigured multi-purpose fields, pickleball and basketball courts, a restroom facility, plaza areas, a playground, a stationary workout center, and an amphitheater. You'll also find paved walking paths, public art, and a pretty impressive view of the Charlotte skyline. 

Our favorite features are the "Bamboo Jungle" -- a series of poles that create a climbing obstacle course -- and the rope merry-go-round. 

Importantly, part of the reconstruction included "daylighting" the stream that runs through the park. This not only alleviates flooding, but also restores ecological functions and gives park-goers more opportunities to connect with nature. 

Under the amphitheater pavilion, you'll find placards telling the story of Pearl Street Park and its place in our City's history. Take a minute to linger here. Pivoting from the wall to the park, you might just be struck by the diversity of folks now enjoying the space. 

The last time we went, with the park's backstory fresh on my mind, I marveled at the mix of kids and families -- people of all ages and colors -- playing together on the playground. It was a poignant and powerful reminder of the evolution of the park and what it has meant to its visitors over the decades since it was first built. 

I'm grateful Pearl Street Park has been rehabilitated. It's a true amenity for the area. And to know and appreciate its place in our City's history makes it even more beautiful. I highly recommend a visit. 

As an aside, there's a lovely protected bike lane along Baxter St. If you visit, consider cycling over to try it out. 

How to get there: 
Pearl Street Park is located at 1200 Baxter St., Charlotte, NC 28202. Parking is available on street.   

Friday, December 17, 2021

Hidden Parks: Davis Flohr Neighborhood Park

Busy making an entertainment gameplan for winter break? Me, too. Why not plan to check out a new park? 

Here's a suggestion: Davis Flohr Neighborhood Park in NoDa. Formerly Clemson Avenue Park, this pocket greenspace recently got a makeover and a new name. 

Located about 10 minutes east of uptown, Davis Flohr Park offers recreation options for all ages (grown-ups, included). There, you'll find a swing set with multiple types of swings, a sprawling set of new playground equipment with imaginative play and climbing options for a span of ages and development levels, and a stationary adult cardio workout station. 

There's also a basketball half-court with one goal, benches, paved walking paths, and plenty of field space to run around. And, our kids' favorite: One of those spinning balance rings (kind of like a merry-go-round, but not) that you can find in the NFL Play 60 area at Freedom Park. 

It's sort of surprising the number of amenities tucked into this 1-acre corner lot just off Matheson Ave.

This park was renovated in the past couple of years and, in 2020, was renamed in honor of proud NoDa resident, Davis Flohr, who faced a lifetime of health challenges with courage and strength, and lived with a determined spirit, optimism and an infectious light. 

Davis passed away in 2019 at 13 years old, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of his family and the NoDa community. They rallied to rename the park, where Davis enjoyed spending many afternoons with friends, in his honor. 

If the weather remains this mild, there ought to be plenty of opportunity for outdoor play over winter break! Consider visiting Davis Flohr Neighborhood if you're looking for a new place to explore. 

Note: There are no restroom facilities and parking is on-street only. 

How to get there: 
Davis Florh Neighborhood Park is located at 3020 Clemson Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205. 

Thursday, December 9, 2021

South Fork Rail Trail

A friend recently invited me to take a hike along the South Fork Rail Trail, located in Lincolnton, N.C., about 45 minutes northwest of uptown, and I'm so glad she did. This trail, a segment of the Carolina Thread Trail, is a beautiful place for a stroll through the woods. It also offers an opportunity to learn a little bit about local history. 

The South Fork Rail Trail, a 1.8-mile (one way) natural surface and crushed gravel trail, is situated in the 324-acre Rhyne Preserve, a tract of land protected by the Catawba Lands Conservancy. It runs along the South Fork of the Catawba River and is relatively flat, making it an excellent option for an easy hike or beginner mountain-biking outing. There's one street crossing where Southfork Rd. bridges the river, but the trail is otherwise protected and traffic-free. 

This is a beautiful area, featuring views of the river and rock outcrops, a bald cypress swamp, a shady mature forest canopy, and lots of wildlife. (South Fork Rail Trail is a part of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation Butterfly Highway.)

Another point of interest is the historic Laboratory Mill, located just across the river from the trail. You can see it about a quarter-mile into your hike. (You'll also pass it on your drive to the trailhead parking lot.)

Known as the Lincolnton Cotton Factory from 1819 to 1863, in addition to processing cotton, this water-powered mill once served as a laboratory established by the Confederate States of America to manufacture drugs from indigenous plants. There is some speculation it may also have been used for the production of gunpowder. You can read more about the mill's history here. The preserved building is now an event venue

The South Fork Rail Trail is open dusk 'til dawn daily. At the gravel trailhead parking lot, you'll find plenty of parking and a trail map kiosk, but no restroom facilities. 

If you're looking for new territory to explore, grab a friend and check it out. I think you'll be glad you did.  

Note: The South Fork Rail Trail is different from another of our favorites, the South Fork Trail. Similar names, both situated along the same river about 20 miles apart, and each excellent options for outdoor exploration. 

How to get there: 
The South Fork Rail Trail trailhead parking lot is located at 2677 Laboratory Rd., Lincolnton, NC, 28092. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Revisiting Charlotte's Trail of History

There's a new statue on Charlotte's Trail of History, another reason to (re)visit this self-guided walking tour along the paved Little Sugar Creek Greenway. (You can learn more about the excursion from this post on the Trail of History.) 

What's recently changed is the addition of a bronze statue honoring civil right attorney Julius Chambers to the 1.5-mile "outdoor museum" featuring people who were instrumental in the growth and development of Charlotte. 

Chambers, who was from Mount Gilead, accomplished many things in his lifetime that make him worthy of this recognition. You might know his name from the Swann V. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education case, which set the precedent for integrating schools nationwide in 1971. 

Chambers also won seven other cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, founded North Carolina's first integrated law firm, served as NAACP Legal Defense fund director and was chancellor at his alma mater, N.C. Central University. 

Chambers died in 2013 at 76, but his legacy most certainly remains in and around Charlotte. You can find his statue near the large fountain along Kings Dr. near S. Torrence St. (just past Dunkin' Donuts if you're heading away from town). 

Check out the Trail of History website for more information about the historic individuals featured. You can also see a trail map here

Another fun recent development: The Little Sugar Creek Greenway now extends north of the northern end of the Trail of History with a recently opened section that connects 7th St. to 10th. St., and on to NoDa. Read about the new section here

How to get there
The Trail of History runs along the Little Sugar Creek Greenway from 7th St. to Morehead St. Parking is available in a number of places along that stretch, including at the Metropolitan (Target/BJ's deck) at 1116 Metropolitan Ave. (jump on the greenway on the other side of Wendy's) or the Elizabeth Park parking lot at 1124 E. 4th St. (there is a four hour limit on parking here). We also sometimes park in the CPCC lot at the corner of 7th and Kings Dr. adjacent to Memorial Stadium/Grady Cole Center. 

The Little Sugar Creek Greenway is also accessible as far south as Park Road Shopping Center and as far north as NoDa at Cordelia Park. Consider a bike ride from either end! 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Kings Mountain Gateway Trail

What a glorious fall it has been! For weeks now, every time we leave the house, I can't help but declare "look at those leaves!" Have you noticed, too? The colors are brilliant. The autumn hue is golden. Magical, right? It's the perfect backdrop against which to explore.  

Here's a trail you might consider for your next outing. (This one might be good for entertaining family in town for the holidays!)

Check out Kings Mountain Gateway Trail, located about 45 minutes west of Uptown, just past Gastonia. This Carolina Thread Trail segment offers hikers and bikers eight beautiful miles of trails. 

The trail system begins in a gravel lot, which features restroom facilities, a picnic shelter with grills, and a map kiosk.

Just behind the picnic shelter is a short interpretive nature trail for children. From the main trailhead, you have four options, all of which begin along the Rail Trail Loop, a 0.7-mile gravel path built along an old rail bed. 

From the Rail Trail Loop, you can jump on the Plateau Loop (0.8-miles long), a moderate paved incline; Cardio Hill (0.4 miles, one way), a strenuous gravel trail that ends with an overlook of the city and surrounding areas; or the Foote Trail, a rolling gravel trail that ranges from flat to strenuous over 4.5 miles (one way).  Here's a trail map

We enjoyed a stretch of the Foote Trail, which winds its way by an abandoned quarry, through fields and forested areas, and over creeks. We hiked, but would consider taking bikes next time. Both are good options for this destination (though there are some hilly sections on which a beginner mountain biker might need to dismount and push). 

Along the trail, you'll find benches to take a snack break. Of course, a nice thing about such a long out-and-back is that you can go as far or as short as you're up for. 

The Gateway Trail is open dawn to dusk daily. You can check out scheduled events here

Another fun fact: Kings Mountain Gateway Trail is minutes from Hounds Drive-In Theater (the trail runs directly behind a couple of the screens!). It's also about a half mile south of downtown Kings Mountain. Either/both might make for a nice combo outing if you're looking to entertain for the day.  

One day, this portion of the Carolina Thread Trail will connect the City of Kings Mountain, Crowders Mountain State ParkKings Mountain State Park and Kings Mountain National Military Park. For now, it's a nice standalone option for a hike or a ride. 

How to get there: 
The Kings Mountain Gateway Trailhead parking lot is located at 807 S. Battleground Ave., Kings Mountain, NC, 28086. 

Friday, November 5, 2021

Little Sugar Creek Greenway/XCLT: 7th Street to 10th Street

Y'all. We are THIS CLOSE to being able to walk or ride a bike along a safe, protected, vehicular-traffic-free greenway from NoDa to Pineville. With the quiet opening of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway 7th Street to 10th Street segment last week, that grand vision became one step closer to a reality. 

This stretch of greenway, located on the east side of Uptown just outside of the interstate loop, fills a key gap in the Cross Charlotte Trail (XCLT) and provides users safe passage across the I-277/Independence Boulevard interchange, connecting two existing portions of the greenway (Cordelia to 12th St. and E. 7th St to Morehead). 

The new passage is also part of the Uptown CycleLink, a 6.5-mile network of protected bikeways that connect greenways into and across Uptown. 

Some fun features of this segment: 
  • A parklet at the end of Jackson Ave. Here, you'll find a bike maintenance station, an art installation, and benches. 
  • Proximity and access to nearby parks (like Alexander Street Park and Independence Park), businesses and amenities (like Two Scoops Creamery!)
  • A beautiful, panoramic view of Uptown from the Central Ave. bridge over I-277.
  • Fully protected bike lanes with physical barriers on the street portions of the trail. Note the distinctive green paint in crosswalks where crossings are necessary. 

Though this new segment of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway is short (about half a mile), its importance is monumental, representing another exciting, meaningful step toward a truly bikeable community. This is good news not just for folks who enjoy trails for recreation, but for the sustainability of Charlotte, especially as it continues to grow for years to come. 

Join me in taking a celebratory walk or spin along one of our newest urban trails as we eagerly anticipate the completion of the Brandywine (Park Road Shopping Center) to Tyvola stretch of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, currently under construction. NoDa to Pineville, here we come! 

How to get there: 
The north end of this segment of the trail is at the intersection of E. 10th Street and E. 12th Street, near Alexander Street park (where you can find parking). The south end is located at the intersection of Central Ave. and E. 7th St., near Memorial Stadium (1218 Armory Dr., Charlotte, NC, 28204) and the Grady Cole Center. The greenway is well marked with directional signage and road markings. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Airline Bike Park

Mountain bikers, trail runners and hikers, listen up: Airline Bike Park is calling your name. Located near the airport, about 20 minutes from uptown, this sprawling wooded recreation area offers trails for all interests and and skill levels. 

Built and maintained by the Tarheel Trailblazers, this six-mile, natural-surface, single-track trail system offers options ranging in difficulty from beginner to black diamond. Important to note, trails switch direction daily. Odd days are to be ridden clockwise, even days counter-clockwise. 

The Kitty Hawk loop, a 1.25-mile beginner trail, marked with green circle blazes is our favorite. This trail, accessible directly from the parking lot behind the map kiosk, poses minimal technical challenges. Rocks, roots and some short dips and climbs are the toughest obstacles. (Side note: Kitty Hawk is the one trail that doesn't switch directions; it is always ridden counter-clockwise.) 

Other trails offer various degrees of challenge. You can view the map and trail descriptions at the map kiosk, or check out this interactive map

This relatively new park is in a soft-launch phase and is currently open primarily on weekends and some occasional weekdays. Be mindful that trails close after rain. You can check trail status here

The parking lot is spacious, but does fill on pretty Saturdays and Sundays. Note: There are no restroom facilities; plan accordingly. 

When you go, you'll see folks ranging from hard-core mountain bikers to kids out for a spin. I like to follow the kids on foot while they ride. The trails are lovely for hiking as long as you keep an eye out for bikes and give them the right of way. 

If you haven't been, make Airline Bike Park a next new place to explore. I think you'll find it a nice option for getting out and getting moving, particularly on these pretty fall days!

How to get there
Airline Bike Park is located at 8101 Dixie River Rd., Charlotte, NC 28278. NOTE: The parking lot gate is currently open primarily on weekends and some weekdays here and there. Trails also close after rain. You can check trail status here

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Ballantyne's Backyard

You know the best thing about Ballantyne's Backyard Community Park? The preservation of green space. This golf-course-turned-recreation-area is a beautiful swath of nature that could surely have been destined for paved-over, bricked-up growth in this fast-growing, development-happy area of town. But kudos to whatever ordinance, foresight or community goodwill that persevered. 

Ballantyne's Backyard -- 100 acres of rolling green hills, miles of paved walking paths, and a catch-and-release fishing pond -- is an oasis for South Charlotteans who want to escape their corporate park cubicles, sprawling shopping centers and spaghetti junction traffic. 

Parking for this private park (owned and managed by Northwood Office) is abundant and free, as is space to walk, ride, play and picnic. (Not in abundance: Shade. But there is beauty in the open layout and there are pretty stands of trees along the perimeters of the park.) 

Open from dusk 'til dawn daily, this is a great area for a dose of nature. We especially enjoy the room to roam, birdsong, and ponds. Leashed pets are welcome and there are two restrooms, one at either end of the park. Here's a park map

On the second Saturday of every month, Ballantyne's Backyard hosts Markets at 11, featuring activities, local business vendors, music, food trucks and local beer from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 

There's no question Ballantyne's Backyard was built to be -- and still largely resembles -- a golf course. From the sand traps (sandboxes!) to water hazards (fishing holes!), and even some leftover fairway signs and markers, you'll feel like you're on the links. But it's really a genius repurposing of land.  

I don't love the amount of manicured grass that's less than eco-friendly to maintain, but maybe planners will transition to a more natural landscape over time. Meanwhile, folks in and around Ballantyne can go ahead and count this "backyard" as a big win and a community asset. 

How to get there: 
Ballantyne's Backyard is located at 11611 North Community House Rd., Charlotte, NC, 28277.