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.