There’s not a whole lot of public land in this northernmost reach of the Triangle. Until 2004, the lone option was the 2,450-acre Hill Demonstration Forest operated by N.C. State University. While yes, technically, it is public, the mention of recreational permits to visit always put something of a damper on a spontaneous drop-in. Then, in 2004, the 391-acre Little River Regional Park opened. With 7 miles of hiking and 7 miles of separate mountain biking trail, it was a welcome addition to the Triangle’s outdoor scene. Yet it was essentially the lone northern Durham option.
Today marks the grand opening of the Horton Grove Nature Preserve, a 708-acre preserve located near Bahama. Horton Grove is part of what was once one of the biggest plantations in the South, the 30,000-acre Stagville Plantation. Worked by as many as 900 slaves, the plantation grew a variety of crops and was extensively timbered. Like so much farmland of the time, it was worked, almost literally, to death. Much of the farmland was eventually retired and Mother Nature began returning the land to its original state. Today, the preserve is covered with a maturing forest between 30 and 80 years of age, save for a 30-acre plot being returned by preserve owner the Triangle Land Conservancy to a Piedmont Prairie.
At present, more than three miles of hiking trail explores the preserve. Eventually, that number will grow to 10, including a connection to nearby Historic Stagville. Even at its present length, Horton Grove is worth a visit. One of the allure’s of northern Durham County is its slightly higher elevation (topping out around 500 feet). This makes for slightly cooler hiking: in the summer, that can mean a bearable hike, in the winter it can mean the difference between hiking in a cold rain or a light snow.
Saturday’s grand opening events offer even more incentive to visit. At 8 a.m. there’s an Early Bird Hike. There’ll be nature hikes, a Stagville tour, drumming, kids craft programs and more. Check out the lineup here. And if you can’t make it out Saturday, be advised that fall returns to the region Sunday, with forecast highs in the upper 60s.
For more information on exploring Horton Grove, go here.