Exploring the state’s little gems

Yesterday I may have been a tad premature with my early morning proclamation that the sun, after a week’s hiatus, had returned. But eventually, at least here in Cary, it was out in full force by mid-afternoon. At which point, after a morning of vigorous wet-leaf raking, we piled the family into the minivan and spend the remainder at the day at one of our favorite, off-the-beaten-path parklands: Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve.

When we think of spending time in the woods, our thoughts generally turn to our larger parcels of public land: national forests (Croatan, Uwharrie, Pisgah, Nantahala), state parks (Umstead, Eno River, Carolina Beach, Crowders Mountain, Pilot Mountain, Hanging Rock, Mt. Mitchell) or our larger municipal parks. Hidden out there, though, are smaller gems such as Hemlock Bluffs. The 150-acre preserve is best known for its north-facing, 80-foot bluffs that support a disjunct community of eastern hemlocks, a tree generally found in cooler, higher climes 200 miles to the west. The park’s five miles of hiking trail take in the bluffs, as well as a wetlands along Swift Creek and a hardwood forest typical of the Piedmont. A small slice of nature, yet one that’s easy to devour an afternoon.

Two thoughts on where to find spots such as Hemlock Bluffs in your area. Check with your local parks and rec. department; you may be surprised by some of the local preserves in your own backyard. Another option: the state Office of Environmental Education. The office represents 190 centers around the state that offer environmental programs. In most cases, these centers are in preserves that help them fulfill their mission. Case in point: The Howell Woods Environmental Center in Four Oaks, located east of I-95 in Johnston County. Some 15 miles of trail let you explore this 2,800-acre preserve where swamps more common in the coastal plain snuggle up to the Piedmont.

Google. Explore. Enjoy.

Got a favorite natural place that others should know about? Let us know.

2 thoughts on “Exploring the state’s little gems”

  1. Joe, another little pocket of loveliness along Swift Creek is just a little bit downstream at the Triangle Land Conservancy’s Swift Creek Bluffs Preserve. Lacks the big hemlock and beech trees, but offers a similar mix of streamside/wetlands and blufftop hiking. Trailhead is at a tiny parking lot off Holly Springs Road, just north of the Swift Creek bridge.

    More info at: http://www.triangleland.org/lands/tlc/swift_creek_np.shtml

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