Last week we once more found ourselves in the “Research Triangle” in North Carolina, home to University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Duke in Durham and NC State in Raleigh. Our stay was in the town of Carrboro, which neighbors Chapel Hill to the west with no clear boundary separating it from the University town of larger fame. We’ve visited many attractions in the nearby area including the NC Botanical Garden, University of North Carolina, the Coker Arboretum and the Museum of Life & Science, but on our first day decided to stick rather close to our temporary home and go for a local hike.
On our most recent visit to Congaree National Park I signed the boys up for the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation’s Kids in Parks Track Trail program, aimed at promoting children’s health and the health of our parks by “increasing physical activity and engaging families in outdoor adventures that foster a meaningful connection to the natural and cultural world.” Sadly there is only one Track Trail in South Carolina (the one in Congaree), but as I soon noticed, dozens in North Carolina including one not even a mile north of Carrboro’s Main Street. We got an early start and pulled into a near-empty parking lot at Charles Herman Wilson Park.
The 1.3 mile Track Trail follows trails in “Adam’s Tract,” with a very short section utilizing the Bolin Creek Greenway, a multi-use, paved trail connecting the Community Center Park and the Battle Branch Trail. Each Track Trail has an accompanying “adventure,” the choices for the Town of Carrboro being Birds, Bug Out and Nature’s Relationships in addition to our choice, Hide and Seek. The brochures are meant to guide the kids in their exploration, to be educational without being dry, and are available for download or at the beginning of the hike. Lauris and Mikus both got into the spirit, finding all sorts of cool stuff that had escaped my notice.
We found a pair of mature American elms that have somehow escaped/repelled the Dutch elm disease, the fatal fungal disease that pretty much wiped out the American elm in the 1900s. Spread by the elm bark beetle the tree is usually killed upon reaching maturity, and although isolated native elms have survived in the US and researchers have developed several hybrid Asian elms and American elms that are resistant or tolerant, it is extremely rare to see large American elms in our forests.
They also spotted a lime-green Luna moth caterpillar, the Actias luna moth being one of the largest in the US with an average wingspan of 3-4.5 inches (but occasionally up to 7 inches!). Because they only spend a week of their lives as adults, sightings of the luna moth are rare so a daytime sighting of a caterpillar (while not as rare) was a cool discovery.
However, Bolin Creek was the most exciting ‘find’ on our hike. With numerous opportunities for boulder climbing, splashing and rock skipping, the boys were in their element. Lauris and Mikus were immediately engrossed with the search for animal tracks, the splash resulting from a rock being dropped in, the eddy of leaves in the current and with criss-crossing the stream via rocks. Vilis would have been more content to play in the water; cooler weather disallowing this option he was rather unsatisfied at first, but eventually his fussiness was lulled by the sounds of water rushing over stone and autumn wind rustling the trees.
As far as other sightings go, the boys checked off quite a few things in their nature journals including mammals (squirrels and chipmunks), amphibians (Lauris sighted the toad trailside on our hike in) and birds. Even the hike out was all smiles, and there was enough energy remaining that another hour was happily spent playing in the sandbox and on the playground. It was only when the time came to head out that the smiles disappeared – but not for long, as we were headed to lunch and another adventure…