South Holston Dam (Bristol, TN)

Last fall, Bill and I headed to Bristol, TN to watch the highly-anticipated Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee football game. Wanting to make a big weekend out of it, we arranged a mini kid-free (thanks grandparents) college reunion with old Tech buds where we rented 3 RVs between 18 of us. The weekend was amazing to say the least, and the perfect kick-off to an amazing Hokie football season.

South Holston DamDam, Plant & Reservoir

Before everyone arrived to town on Friday, Bill and I explored the nearby South Holston Dam (918 South View Dam Dr), which consists of a reservoir, dam, hydroelectric plant, and weir. The TVA began construction of the South Holston Dam in 1942 as part of the Unified Development of the Tennessee River System plan, which set out to improve the poverty-stricken, often-flooded parts of the Tennessee Valley. Construction halted during World War II and the dam began operation in 1951. The dam is unique in that it’s an earth and rock-filled dam built in 30ft sections called berms to hold the massive potential energy of South Holston Reservoir. The dam is about 1600 ft across and 285 ft high with paved roads leading to an information center and parking lots at the top. The reservoir is huge – it has 168 miles of shoreline across two states and is a very popular recreational lake.

We parked at the top of the dam and walked across the paved section to catch the amazing views of the lake on one side and the downstream river on the other. As mentioned above, the dam helps with flood control, but also serves to generate hydroelectric power for the region. The dam regularly releases water –  a loud siren blares about five minutes before alerting folks downstream and then the large turbine and generator crank. 

DSC_0144Osceola Island

When water comes out of the dam it flows through weir dams and forks around Osecola Island before merging near the intersection of Holston Dam View Rd. In 1991 the TVA built weir dams south of the dam to increase oxygen in the water when the hydroelectric plant isn’t running. The extra oxygen improves the habitat for fish and vegetation. When we arrived early, the morning fog provided a beautiful backdrop for the fisherman wading in the river. We crossed the footbridge and walked the easy one-mile loop trail on Osceola Island where we saw beautiful herons, ducks, fish and more fisherman. The water level around Osecola Island is shallow, providing great spots for fly fishing.

We felt so grateful to spend quality time with old college buds in a beautiful part of the country. Being my first visit to Tennessee, I look forward to coming back and exploring more of the mountains and lakes.

Thumbs up: beautiful views, massiveness of earth and rock-filled dam, interesting information center at top of the dam, unique weir dams, convenient parking areas at top of dam and near Osceola Island

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Durant Nature Preserve

IMG_8283In early Fall we headed out to Durant Nature Preserve with some friends to enjoy their weekly Wee Walkers program (Thursdays from 10-11am).  Having never visited Durant Nature Preserve before I’m glad I attended an organized program that guides you and the kiddos on a short walk through the park because this nature park is huge!  Durant Nature Preserve is located at 8305 Camp Durant Rd in North Raleigh (north entrance is located off Camp Durant Rd and south entrance is located off Spottswood St).  According to the COR’s website, this park was originally known as Camp Durant and was the headquarters for the Occoneechee Council of the Boy Scouts until 1979 when the City of Raleigh purchased the land from the scouts and turned it into a nature park.  We parked in the parking lot near the park office at the north entrance.  Once everyone arrived (about 10-15 moms/kids total), we set off on our nature walk with our super friendly and knowledgeable guide.  For those with babies or early walkers, I’d recommend wearing the babes in a carrier as most of the trails are unpaved.

IMG_8271We hiked along the eastern side of the park following the Pine Ridge Connector, Pine Ridge Trail and Lakeside unpaved trails.  Our guide stopped several times along the trail to point out a variety of flora and fauna.  We saw a little bit of everything: wasp nests, leaf poppers, water striders, water frogs, mushrooms, mosquito fish, poplar tulip leaves, muscadine grapes, dogwood berries and a real turtle!  The kids (ranging in ages from under 1 to 5 years old) were most impressed by the turtle walking along the trail, but it’s been fun to see how Ashley gets excited when she sees dogwood berries in the backyard!  The neat part about the Wee Walkers program is that each program is different because it’s based on what’s going on in nature that week and it’s FREE…what a deal!

After the Wee Walkers program we explored the playground area and had a picnic lunch.  The nearby shelters were very muddy due to the recent heavy rains, but we made do.  The playground is for ages 2-12 and has a few slides, monkey bars, climbing ladders, a large sandbox with teeter totters and diggers, two tot swings, and two regular swings.  Also close to the playground area is sand volleyball, basketball and the public restrooms.

This post simply scratches the surface of all there is to explore at Durant Nature Preserve.  If you want more than just hiking, this seems to be a great park for camping, biking, birding and so much more.  I look forward to coming back again soon!

More Resources:

Thumbs up: Wee Walkers program, variety of hiking trails

Thumbs down: signage throughout park (we got lost heading back to our cars)

Falls Lake Hike Day Hike A: Raven Ridge Rd towards Dam

img_4946Every New Year’s Day, NC hosts First Day Hikes all over their state parks to promote a healthy start to the year. Even though the organized First Day Hikes didn’t exactly work with our kiddo schedules we drove up for a short hike of our own near Falls Lake.

Falls Lake is a state recreation area just 10 miles north of Raleigh with 7 individual parks, a 12,000-acre lake and 26,000 acres of woodlands.  For our hike, we chose one of the southeastern fingers to explore.  The portion of the trail we hiked is from Day Hike A (from Shinleaf Rec Area to Falls Lake Dam) of the Mountains to Sea Trail.  Mark Edelstein provides a very detailed description of the hiking trails through Falls Lake, which I used to help navigate the area.  We hiked a portion of this trail heading west to east.

img_4947To find the gravel pull-off parking area (noted at the 3.5mi mark in Section 1) we drove north on Falls of Neuse Rd and turned left on Raven Ridge Rd and parked along the side of the road shortly after passing Annie Wilkerson Nature Park.  After getting everyone strapped in their gear, we set off by following the small sign pointing east towards Falls Lake Dam, which is 3.5 miles away.

This is a very moderate hike with small hills and a fairly wide trail throughout.  It is a heavily wooded area, giving a lot of shade to the trail.  Most of this section also closely follows much of the lake, so there are several lake inhabitants and small waterfalls to discover along the way (great for puddle stomping during summer time).  We also passed a trail entrance into Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Park, which happened to be closed for the New Year holiday, but would be fun to incorporate into a short hike.

We only hiked about 2.4 total miles that day and didn’t make it to Falls Lake Dam, but I’m looking forward to starting at the dam and heading west on our next hike through Falls Lake.

Resources:

  • list of day hikes through Falls Lake as compiled by the Mountains to Sea Trail campaign
  • Detailed hiking descriptions from Falls Lake Dam to Raven Ridge Rd
  • Falls Lake map (although not detailed enough for hiking trails)

Thumbs up: views along stream, clear hiking signage along trail, great shade

Thumbs down: planning a hike in Falls Lake using NC Parks online resources (use the Mountains to Sea Trail site instead)

Lake Raleigh

This post originally appeared on southwestraleigh.com, where you can learn more about what a great place South West Raleigh is to live, work, and play.

The last time I was at Lake Raleigh (unknowingly) was during last year’s Polar Plunge 5k race with the Raleigh Jaycees.  The race started near the lake, meandered through Centennial Campus, and then ended back at the lake where several people plunged into Lake Raleigh…in February!  All for a good cause nonetheless.

Visiting Lake Raleigh on a cool-summer-almost-Fall-time day is a much more practical way to explore the lake.

Open to the public, Lake Raleigh is located on NC State’s Centennial Campus, nestled between college buildings, corporate/government/non-profit partners, and residential space.  Like any place you visit on a college campus, parking will always be a nuisance.  There is a small parking lot at Lake Raleigh, but it requires an NC State parking permit Mon-Fri from 7am-5pm.  You can pick up a $2 visitor day pass from the visitor center or plan to go during other times.  There is also parking along Main Campus Dr, but those too have parking restrictions.

Fishing is permitted in marked areas and non-motorized car-top boats such as kayaks or canoes are also allowed in the lake.  There are two fishing piers near the entrance with long benches, perfect for enjoying the views or waiting for a bite.  The paved trail is part of the Centennial Greenway, which is a work-in-progress.

The trail extends in both directions past the main entrance, but does not loop around the lake.  If you walk to the right, you’ll pass other popular fishing spots, wetlands, The Shores residential area, and a bridge perfect for taking photos.  If you walk to the left, you’ll pass gorgeous views of the lake, the SOUL community garden, the 9-hole par 3 frisbee golf course, and an exercise station before coming to the tunnel under Main Campus Dr.

As noted above, the trail is part of the Centennial Greenway, which is a fitness trail and educational tool for the campus community.  Little mowing is done around Lake Raleigh to allow the natural plants to thrive.  Future development of the greenway will connect Centennial Greenway to the Capital Area Greenway at Lake Wheeler Rd and Lake Johnson.

Thumbs up:  beautiful views, fishing, boating, frisbee golf course

Thumbs down:  parking, lack of area map near main entrance

Lake Johnson Park

Picturesque. Serene. Beloved. All words to describe my recent visits to Lake Johnson Park.

Lake Johnson Park is located in the heart of southwest Raleigh at 4601 Avent Ferry Rd. Its popularity is evident with the many parking lots scattered throughout the park. On two of the mornings I visited, I had to loop around the lot a few times before a spot opened up. Other parking areas are highlighted on this map and can be found further down Avent Ferry Rd on the left, off Lake Dam Dr, at Athens Dr High School, or at Lake Johnson Pool.

The main entrance is where you’ll find the large veranda, deck, conference room, concessions, restrooms, rentals, live bait/tackle vending machines, and the boat put-in area. The veranda, conference room, and deck are available for rent. Paddle boats, jon boats, sunfish sailboats and canoes/kayaks are also available for rent. Rocking chairs along the perimeter of the deck provide peaceful views of the lake. There are also several picnic tables and information boards highlighting several of the unique park programs (boot camp, nature photography, fly fishing, sailing). Even though most have already begun, the fall programs such as the kayak and canoe lessons for ages 12+ are starting soon. Call 919-233-2121 for more information. Stroller Strides also runs fitness classes for moms/dads with kids on Tues/Thurs mornings and is beginning a mom/dad 5k training program on Friday, Aug. 26th.

Avent Ferry Rd splits Lake Johnson in half and there is a paved trail loop on the eastern half and an unpaved trail loop on the western half. The trail is the Lake Johnson Segment of the Walnut Creek greenway trail. Park maps can be found at several of the parking areas, but if you head east on the trail from the main entrance you’ll find a helpful map detailing distances and features of the park.

Distances around the park:

  • West Loop (unpaved, prohibited to biking) = 2.15 miles
  • East Loop (paved) = 2.75 miles
  • Full Loop = 4.33 miles
  • East to west loop from the bridge = 1.32 miles

East Trail – This is a wide, paved path perfect for biking, strolling kids/dogs, walking, and running. The trail is enveloped in large trees that provide great shade. You’ll find beautiful views of the lake throughout this trail, especially along the dam and boardwalk. You’ll also pass a few benches, swings, and shelters for rent along this trail. Shelter 2 has two picnic tables and a large charcoal grill and Shelter 4 has four picnic tables, several benches, and a large charcoal grill. Magnolia Cottage is a medium-sized building tucked deep in the woods that can also be rented for events. If you head clockwise on the trail from the main parking lot the trail starts off flat and then gets rather hilly after crossing the dam.

West Trail – This is a fun trail for hiking or trail running. Bikes are prohibited and I would recommend using a Baby Bjorn or back pack if bringing an infant/very young child. Use caution on the trail, as it is mostly a narrow, hilly, dirt trail with roots covering the path. Nature photography opportunities are galore on this trail. You can also access Lake Johnson Pool from the West Trail. Even though we didn’t have time for a visit inside the pool, from the outside there looks to be a spray garden, baby pool, and main pool with lap lanes and free swim area.

After a two year hiatus from visiting Lake Johnson Park until last week, I’ve been back three times and it is quickly becoming a favorite. Between the scenic views, boating opportunities, great running trails, and safeness of the area it’s a must-visit park!

Thumbs up: shady trails, scenic views, condition of paved trail, boating opportunities, security, facility rentals, mile markers along East trail, peacefulness

Thumbs down: confusing signage (especially along West Trail)

This post originally appeared on soutwestraleigh.com, where you can learn more about what a great place South West Raleigh is to live, work, and play.

Lake Lynn Park

A couple weeks ago I found myself in a terrifying position: at home alone with the baby for 36 hours. I hadn’t done that before. My lovely wife, the creator of this blog, was at the Britney Spears concert in Washington DC (I’m afraid I’m not joking) with her sister and some other troublemakers.

I asked my wife, “What do I do with the baby for that length of time?!” After an incredulous look followed by, “What do you think I do while you’re at work all week?” she politely suggested I take the baby to a yet unexplored park, take some pictures, and write a guest article on her blog. I did the first two at the end of July, and here I am mid-August completing the job.

My assignment was Lake Lynn Park. I had no idea there was a Lake Lynn. I knew Lynn Road from the shopping center with Goodwill and the movie theater that serves beer, but this lake was news to me. Turns out that it’s a great location for walking or running, and it’s teeming with fauna, considering its suburban location.

The park is squarely in north Raleigh, between 540 and 440 to the north and south, and Creedmoor Rd and Glenwood Ave to the east and west. I entered at 7921 Ray Rd and parked in a large, 90% empty parking lot on a Monday morning. (By the way, what were those 20 cars doing there? Don’t these people have jobs?) There is a large community center that looks like it’s used for things like summer camps, several lighted tennis courts, a lighted softball field, and a nice playground.

But, the real attraction is the lake and Lake Lynn Trail around it. The trail is alternately paved and a sort of boardwalk/causeway stretching over long sections of water. This segment of the greenway is part of the Hare Snip Creek Trail. I’ve heard it’s around 2 miles, but we didn’t make it to the halfway point before someone got fussy so we didn’t make it all the way around (I’ll leave who it was to your imagination).

There are waterfowl galore, including many stripes of duck and a camera-shy white swan. I even found a pair of adult turtles with their litter of babies sunning on a log, but they scattered when I was close enough for a photo. A little girl was feeding the ducks stale bread as we were leaving. I’m guessing this is a popular activity, due to the large duck population and their affinity to humans, hanging out within a few feet of a busy section of trail.

All in all, Ashley and I had a great time exploring this park. It’s another great Raleigh Parks facility, and ideal for going on a walk, feeding the ducks, or a short run with great scenery.

Umstead Park – Reedy Creek & Reedy Creek Lake Trails

Two weekends ago we made a short drive to the Umstead Park entrance near the intersection of Reedy Creek Rd and Trenton Rd to try our new BOB stroller. We parked in the grassy median between the paved greenway trail and Reedy Creek Rd since there isn’t an actual parking lot. Be careful to abide by the parking signs.

Once in the park, we decided to head straight and follow the Reedy Creek Trail, which we’ve biked several times in the past. It’s a wide, gravel, mostly shady trail that is great for walking, running, biking, and horse back riding.  It’s a very long trail that eventually goes past the Airport Overlook, crosses I-40 west of Harrison Ave, and connects with the Black Creek Greenway.  Even though we didn’t see any horses that day, we’ve definitely seen them on cooler days.  The new stroller glided over the gravel trail, but we did have to be more careful when going over washout areas.
Along Reedy Creek Trail, you’ll pass access to other popular trails such as the Loblolly Trail (heavily wooded trail for hiking) and Reedy Creek Lake Trail (access to the Harrison Ave entrance of Umstead Park).  Knowing the Reedy Creek Lake Trail is a relatively short walk and passes by Reedy Creek Lake we made a sharp left turn onto Reedy Creek Lake Trail.  You’ll immediately pass by Reedy Creek Lake, which is great for photo ops but swimming is prohibited.  Horses are not allowed any further on this trail either.  Here is a 360 degree video taken along the trail by the lake.

Continuing on the trail is a long, steep hill that eventually flattens out.  It’s quite shady and also a gravel path, perfect for using the new stroller.  Eventually you’ll come to the trail head at the paved Reedy Creek Pkwy, which leads to the Harrison Ave entrance of Umstead Park.  Follow Reedy Creek Pkwy where you’ll pass the Park Ranger’s residence and eventually come to the large Harrison Ave parking lot.  We needed to refill our water bottles, so once in the parking lot we stopped at the first shelter on the left, Shelter #2.  We followed the paved sidewalk where we passed several picnic tables, charcoal grills, recycling areas, a water fountain, and a large pavilion for Shelter #2.

After a water refill, we quickly began our hike back to beat the encroaching heat!  This has to be one of my favorite trails in Raleigh.  It’s a great combination of shade, scenery, and steepness.  Even though we walked most of the hike, the steep hills made for an exhausting workout.  To extend your ride/walk further start by parking at the NC Museum of Art and following Reedy Creek Rd across Blue Ridge Rd and Edwards Mill Rd before arriving at Umstead Park.

Distances:

  • 1.1 miles from Reedy Creek Rd entrance to Reedy Creek Lake
  • 1.7 miles from Reedy Creek Rd entrance to Reedy Creek Pkwy
  • 2.4 miles from Reedy Creek Rd entrance to Harrison Ave entrance

Thumbs up: wide, shady trails, helpful maps, scenic views, good combination of steep hills and flat roads, access to other trails, signs and maps

Thumbs down: little parking near Reedy Creek Rd entrance