Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Palmetto Trail: Peak to Prosperity Passage

We've just discovered a new favorite trail, and the only thing I'd change about it if I could is to make it closer to home. The Peak to Prosperity Passage, a 10.7-mile stretch of the 500+-mile cross-South Carolina Palmetto Trail, is about 1.5 hours south of uptown Charlotte. But I guarantee it is well worth the drive.

The trail, preserved and maintained by the Palmetto Conservation, follows what was once a rail line and begins with a beautiful, exhilarating 1,100-foot-long trestle bridge across the Broad River. 

Usually, I like for there to be a "payoff" deeper into an outing, but I just love that this trek kicks off with something for everyone. Even if you don't continue on the trail (but I hope you do!), a stroll across the bridge is magical. We didn't see bald eagles (though they are reported to be in the area), but did spot dozens of turtles sunning on logs and a few otters playing in the river.

Just across the river, the wide, groomed, natural-surface trail heads west through shaded piedmont forest. In all, it crosses 14 wooden trestles over the serpentine Crims Creek. Some bridges include stairs for side-trips down to the creek banks (these make for great snack-break stops). Here's a trail map

The trail is flat and easy. And all along the way, there's an abundance of wildlife, from snakes to butterflies, birds and frogs. This time of year, the plant life is lush and green.

This section of the Palmetto Trail is part of the Kids in Parks TRACK Trail program. At the trailhead kiosk, you'll find self-guided brochures and signs to with activities to engage young explorers.

Also at the trailhead is a well-equipped bike maintenance station. What you won't find there are restrooms; plan your trip accordingly.

On a weekday morning, we had the trail almost to ourselves. I imagine (hope!) it gets more use during weekends and holidays, but there's plenty of space for everyone to enjoy its splendor. I'm already planning a return trip to this spectacular destination. I definitely encourage you to check it out, too.

How to get there:
The Peak to Prosperity Alston Trailhead is located at State Road S-20-35, Little Mountain, SC, 29075. This will show in Google Maps. Alternately, you can follow these directions from the trail website:

From Columbia: I-26, exit 97, take US 176 west 11 miles; turn east on SC 213; drive 3.1 miles, turn right onto Alston Road (1st road after the bridge); road changes to unpaved, take right fork, cross RR track and go under the trestle; parking is on the left at the top.

From Spartanburg: I-26, exit 82, take 773 to Pomaria, east on US 176 to SC 213; turn east on 213; follow directions above.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes (sneakers will do
  • Bikes and helmets
  • A day pack 
  • Water (bring plenty; there are no refill stations
  • Snacks
  • Sunglasses, hats and sunscreen
  • Bug spray (especially during warmer months)

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Riverside Park and Greenway

Cramerton, NC is one of the best nearby outdoor recreation destinations you’ve probably never heard of. Adjacent to its better-known sister small town, Belmont, Cramerton boasts a number of natural amenities well worth the short, 25-minute drive west of uptown.

I’ve written before about Goat Island and the River Link Greenway, two lovely options for an outing.

Recently, we discovered a third: Riverside Greenway, a segment of the Carolina Thread Trail. As the name suggests, this trail winds along the banks of the South Fork River and includes a water access point for canoes and kayaks.

Parking at Riverside Park, you’ll find a spacious fishing dock and river overlook. Taking a left from the lot (facing the river), you can follow a wide, paved greenway for 0.8 miles (one way) with a lollipop loop turnaround point at the impressive the Southern Railroad overpass. This makes for a pleasant stroll – or bike, skate or scooter ride.

Note: This is a low-lying area and ranges from damp to swampy after heavy rain.

Taking a right from the parking lot will lead you into downtown Cramerton, an easy half-mile walk that connects to the Goat Island Greenway and River Link Greenway, both short, accessible trails that make for a nice extension to your excursion.

How to get there:
Riverside Park and Greenway are located at 75 Riverside Dr., Cramerton, NC 28032. Take a left (facing the river) to follow the Riverside Greenway. Take a right to head into Cramerton and connect to Goat Island and the River Link Greenway.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Eastway Regional Recreation Center

Mecklenburg County’s brand-new, state-of-the-art Eastway Regional Recreation Center opened last week with only a fraction of the fanfare it deserves. It is beautiful, exciting and a tremendous community resource.

Located less than 20 minutes east of Uptown, this impressive facility is remarkable. An official grand opening, postponed due to COVID-19, will happen when conditions allow, but don’t wait for the party to enjoy phase 1 of opening, which includes pool and fitness center usage now.

I’m most thrilled with the 8-lane, 25-yard lap pool (a precious commodity for local swimmers, particularly in this time of pandemic safety restrictions and protocols) and the family-friendly leisure pool with a slide, vortex and play area for the kids.

A near second for us is the outdoor nature amenities, including trails, water features, play fields and an educational nature center. There’s also some neat public art outside the facility. Amazing.

Indoors, you’ll find cardio and weight rooms, fitness studios, basketball courts and an elevated track.

One day soon, they plan to offer sports, programs and activities for all ages and skill levels, from badminton clinics for kids to silver sneakers fitness for seniors and a lot of everything in between.

Eastway Rec is well staffed with super friendly, knowledgeable folks (get to know some of them before you go!). It’s obvious that a lot of time and attention has been given to making this a vibrant, dynamic, attentive resource for the entire community.

I love, too, that they are committed to making activities and spaces accessible regardless of skill or ability. Staff is certified to assess and implement equipment and space modifications for anyone who asks.

For now, visits are by reservation with minimal walk-in slots available. You can reserve your spot by phone (980-314-ERRC (3772)) or online. In my opinion, the MeckPass is one of the best deals in town. You can learn more about facility rates and schedules here.

Fun fact: The Eastway Regional Recreation Center and adjoining Briarwood Park has more than 125 acres of parkland, which used to be farmland and a horserace track. Plans for the current site, which now boasts 90,000 square feet of indoor recreation space, sports fields, and other outdoor amenities, began in 1993, when the City of Charlotte acquired the land and began dreaming about the facility that now serves so many communities in the eastern part of the county.

I can’t say enough good things about Eastway Regional Recreation Center. Go. I think you’ll love it, too.

How to get there
Eastway Regional Recreation Center is located at 3150 Eastway Park Drive, Charlotte, NC, 28213.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Morrow Mountain State Park: Short Bridle Loop

A new-to-Charlotte friend asked me for ideas for a nearby hike she could take with her husband on her birthday. Something with a view. A little bit of a challenge, covering at least several miles. Dog-friendly.

Fortunately, we'd just done taken a hike that checked all the boxes. If you're looking for a trail along the same lines, here's what I would recommend.

Morrow Mountain State Park is about an hour east of Charlotte, just past Albemarle. There are around a dozen trails and lots of other fun things to do at Morrow Mountain. Though the park is east of town, it encompasses four mountains, the tallest of which has some elevation (936 feet) and offers a pretty impressive 360-degree view of the surrounding area.

To take an invigorating 5-mile hike, beginning and ending with a view and traversing some gorgeous land in between, I recommend a combination of segments of the Morrow Mountain Trail and Bridle Trail. Here's a park map

To do this hike, park in the Morrow Mountain picnic area parking lot (take a right at the intersection where the main entrance road splits). This puts you at the pinnacle of the the mountain to start. Here, you'll find scenic overlooks, a picnic shelter, and some informational signs about the area's historical significance. 

Take the Morrow Mountain Trail (blue triangle blazes; look for the trailhead just over the stone wall by the parking spaces at the front end of the parking lot) a little over half-mile downhill. (Note: This section is steep and strenuous.)

When Morrow Mountain Trail intersects with the Bride Trail: Short Loop (white circle blazes), take a left or right to hop on a pleasant, rolling, 3.9-mile loop. This section of trail is wide and quiet. As the name suggests, you might encounter horseback riders (and almost certainly need to watch for equine droppings). This seems to be one of the less popular (read: "less crowded") trails in the park, which makes it dog-friendly and perfect for a little solitude.

When you complete the Bridle Loop, retrace your steps up the Morrow Mountain Trail and plan to catch your breath -- and maybe have a picnic lunch or snack -- perched along the stone wall overlooks.

We loved this hike -- and so did my birthday-celebrating friend -- but if it's been a while since you've hit the trails, you might consider some other options at Morrow Mountain State Park first. Here are a few we've enjoyed: 
Happy trails! 

How to get there
Morrow Mountain State Park is located at 49104 Morrow Mountain Rd., Albemarle, NC, 28001. To do this hike, park in the Morrow Mountain picnic area parking lot (take a right at the intersection where the main entrance road splits). The Morrow Mountain Trail trailhead is just over the stone wall by the parking spaces at the front end of the parking lot.