From its origins in the late 1960s, the Eno River Association, known then as the Association for the Preservation of the Eno River Valley, has been saving land along the Eno River in Orange and Durham counties. In that time, they’ve preserved more than 4,000 acres along the Eno and its tributaries. Much of that land has gone into creating Eno River State Park, some into Little River Regional Park. The Confluence Natural Area, which opened a couple years ago, is the only land the ERA has purchased that it operates as its own.
A little under 3 miles of trail explores this 200-acre sanctuary at the confluence of the east and west forks of the Eno. It’s remarkable for the mix of vast, open meadows, tight passage through lush bottomland forest, and open beech bluffs. Perhaps most remarkable is something that takes a minute to notice. Hiking clockwise — the recommended direction right now to help you social distance from other hikers — on the Two Forks Trail as it drops down to the Eno’s east fork, you notice something’s … different. At first, you can’t put your finger on it: the lush woods are indeed lush, a dense sea of green from forest floor to the canopy. But look a little harder and you see it’s a more varied green, especially nearer the ground. Rather than a constant carpet of weedy grasses or bamboo-like brush, there’s a varied mix, of mayapple and native ferns, of dogwoods and redbuds, of beech and oaks. The exotic plant invasion so evident throughout much of the rest of the region, from the endless runs of Japanese stilt grass to the tree-climbing kudzu, is absent. The landscape is more in synch with what it was before the European invasion. It’s a hike back in time.
The Confluence Natural Area is a jewel, one that until a few weeks back was on display only on weekends. But when the coronavirus began shrinking our supply of trails, the Eno River Association decided to open the preserve seven days a week. Yet another gift from the grass roots group that’s been giving us the gift of nature for more than a half century.
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Confluence Natural Area
Address: 4214 Highland Farm Road, Hillsborough
Trail: 2.75 miles (Two Forks Trail, 2.25 miles, Shepherd Mill Trail 0.5 miles)
Size: 20 acres
Hours: dawn to dusk, daily.
Facilities: Restroom, pavilion (both currently closed as a result of COVID-19)
Learn more about the Confluence Natural Area here.
Eno River Association
Learn more about the Eno River Association and its mission, as well as how you can support it, by visiting their web page, here.
Explore Your Neighborhood
For more on exploring your neighborhood during these shelter-in-place times, check out our new “Explore Your Neighborhood: A Guide to Discovering the World Immediately Around You,” available in both ebook and paperback. Includes guidance on everything from how to scout your neighborhood for hidden gems to how to execute your neighborhood treks.