Thursday, February 25, 2021

Girl Scouts, Hornets' Nest Council Trail

Sunshine! Sweet sunshine and warm breezes. Spring is in the air and it's got me feeling energized, especially after such a long, wet, grey stretch of winter. 

This past weekend, we seized the opportunity to spend the whole afternoon outside and cover new ground. And we discovered an outing that I'd highly recommend when you're ready to emerge from hibernation, too.

The Girl Scouts, Hornets Nest Council Trail is located in Statesville, NC, about 45 minutes north of uptown. This natural surface, 2.2-mile (one way), out-and-back trail, a segment of the Carolina Thread Trail, is nestled in a 359-acre conservation easement and hugs the banks of the South Yadkin River. 

It's quiet, peaceful and perfect for all ages and skill levels. The trail is hard-packed dirt, making it a great option for beginner mountain bikers. Wide, winding and not-very-crowded, we also found it to be good for running the dog. 

The trail begins with a handful of moderate hills, but flattens to gently rolling for most of the rest. It's well marked with CTT blazes, there are a few footbridges throughout, and you'll find a rocky knoll overlooking the river at the turnaround point (helpfully marked with a "End of Trail" sign). 

What I enjoyed most (besides the sun on my back!) was the immersive nature experience -- lots of frogs chirping, birds fluttering, and the river bubbling gently by. Ahhh. Yes, please and thank you. 

: The trailhead parking listed on the Carolina Thread Trail page gets you close, but not exactly to the lot. There's a designated gravel parking area, marked with a Carolina Thread Trail sign and map kiosk here

How to get there:
The Girl Scouts, Hornets Nest Council Trail trailhead is located in a gravel lot off US 21-N near (but not at!) 1763 Turnersburg Hwy, Statesville, NC 28625. From I-77 N, take exit 54. Turn right onto US 21-N and go approximately 3.5 miles. There's a designated gravel parking area, marked with a Carolina Thread Trail sign and map kiosk here

Don't forget to pack: 
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Water and snacks 
  • Bikes and helmets
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Martha Rivers Park

Dear parents of young kids, here's a recreation destination that's sure to dazzle your little ones.

Martha Rivers Park in Gastonia, about 40 minutes west of uptown, is home to a 1-acre playground castle, complete with turrets, slides, ladders and bridges. It's got places to climb and places to hide. It also has swings and a sand pit for digging. Even the tiniest of visitors have their own designated play area.

The magical playground sits within a 58-acre park that also boasts playing fields and restroom facilities.

There are also about 2.5 miles of paved walking paths. We didn't take riding toys when we visited, but it occurred to me that this would make an excellent place to skate, rip-stick and scooter. (Here's a trail map.

In light of the pandemic, I recommend going on an off day at an off time. When we went on a Wednesday afternoon, there were only a handful of other friends there. (But none of them were wearing masks.)

Martha Rivers Park is open dawn til dusk year-round. 

I noted a Pelican SnoBalls within a short walking distance on the way out. It was closed for the season, but I'm already imagining a warm-weather outing to play at the castle and get a sweet treat. Magical, right?

How to get there:
Martha Rivers Park is located at 1515 Neal Hawkins Rd., Gastonia, NC 28056. The castle playground is at the center of the park, between ball fields. You can't miss it. 

Don't forget to pack:
  • Water and snacks
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Riding toys and helmets

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Mountain Island Lake Park and Trail

We had the most refreshing outing the other day. Partly because the sun finally came out after a cold, gray stretch, and partly because we stumbled on a new-to-us destination with a little bit of something for everyone.

Mountain Island Lake park and trail, located about 30 minutes northwest of uptown near Mount Holly, NC, are nestled along the Catawba River next to the hydroelectric station and dam at the southern end of Mountain Island Lake. 

(As a point of interest, Mountain Island Lake, the smallest of the three man-made lakes that border Mecklenburg County (the other two are Lake Wylie and Lake Norman) provides drinking water for much of Charlotte, Mount Holly and Gastonia.) 

This recreational perch along the river offers water access for boaters, piers and accessible shoreline for fishers, a playground for young explorers, and several miles of trails for hikers and mountain bikers.

We visited with bikes and took to the trail system, which includes a 1.5-mile, easy, gravel out-and back stretch of the Carolina Thread Trail. Along the way, we discovered some side loops, built and maintained by the Tarheel Trailblazers, with fun bridges, boardwalks and features for more technical mountain biking.

The main trail is good for all ages and skill levels. It's mostly shady and well-marked with Carolina Thread Trail blazes. There are also map kiosks every 0.5 miles, and several footbridges and benches along the way. I can't find a trail map online, but this is the yellow trail on the maps posted at the park.

The mountain bike trails -- mostly single-track -- loop their way along either side of the main trail. To navigate them, follow the red arrows. We enjoyed the 0.4-mile Boardwalk loop. This trail is green on the posted trail map. Other options include the 0.6-mile inner loop (purple) and 0.8-mile outer loop (blue), and I understand there are more in the works.

We also spent some time on the playground equipment, which wasn't too crowded on a weekday afternoon.

Next time we go, we plan to take fishing gear and set up camp for a while along the large, handicap-accessible fishing pier situated near the base of the dam. I hear this is a good area for catching catfish and bass.

There's plenty of parking in the main lot, but no restroom facilities, so plan your visit accordingly. 

There's something very pleasant about spending time along the water and, with so much to do here, we plan to visit Mountain Island park and trail again soon. 

How to get there:
The Mountain Island Lake park and trailhead are located at 400 Mountain Island Rd, Mt Holly, NC 28120.
Don't forget to pack
  • Comfortable walking shoes (sneakers will do)
  • Water and snacks
  • Mountain bikes (and helmets) 
  • Fishing gear 
  • Hats, sunscreen and sunglasses

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Hector H. Henry II Greenway - Moss Creek Village Segment

Here's a fun, flat, paved, 1.3-mile (one way) stretch of greenway for folks looking to explore the great outdoors in the Concord, NC area, about 30 minutes north of uptown.

The Moss Creek Village segment of the Hector H. Henry II Greenway, named for a long-time city council member, is part of the Carolina Thread Trail. It begins at Odell Elementary School and winds its way through peaceful wetlands, over boardwalks, and by a pond with a perfect perch for observing wildlife.

One day, this developing greenway will cover 14 miles along the banks of the Rocky River, connecting Kannapolis and Davidson to the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Harrisburg and Charlotte's University area. Already, though, this segment is a great destination for walking, running, skating, and riding bikes and scooters. There are educational signs along the route providing interesting information about the wetland ecology. You'll also find a few benches for taking a break. 

Our favorite part is the large observation deck overlooking the pond about mid-way through. There, we were greeted by geese and other birds.

For those who live north of Charlotte, or others looking to cover new territory, the Hector H. Henry II Greenway is a pleasant, family-friendly destination.

Note: There are no restroom facilities along this greenway; plan accordingly.

How to get there: The trailhead is next to the Odell Elementary School parking lot, located at 1215 Moss Farm St. North West, Concord, NC, 28027. During school days most parking is reserved for school personnel, but there are a handful of spots, marked with painted lizards, designated for greenway parking.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Bikes or other riding toys and helmets
  • Water and snacks