Raleigh Nature

May 20, 2015

Raleigh Nature Starts a Shift Westward With Lake Lynn Residency

Filed under: About & reflection, Nature Lore, Rural Raleigh, waterways, West Raleigh — Tags: , , , , , — raleighnaturalist @ 7:25 pm
A red-throated loon shows his Springtime stuff at Lake Lynn  in northwest Raleigh

A cormorant shows his Springtime stuff at Lake Lynn in northwest Raleigh

Blog News June 2015
This blog always centered on a book project: The Natural History of Raleigh, which now exists as a finished manuscript of 25,000 words I am working to get published. Having retired from over twenty years as a special educator, my wife Cara and I are selling our Oakwood home and moving to Asheville, setting up book arts studios as well as a big garden and small greenhouse to grow food, papermaking fibers, and flowers. For Cara’s final year of teaching, we are renting a small apartment that overlooks Lake Lynn. The blog will eventually take on a state-wide perspective, but will always focus on urban natural areas and have plenty of posts about Raleigh. For now, enjoy the Lake Lynn and Falls Lake areas I will pop into when in Raleigh, while I explore and document what to show you up in Baird Cove.  Best,  John
Sliders at Lake Lynn

Many kinds of wildlife inhabit Lake Lynn, but (for enthusiasts) it has a citywide reputation for its turtles.

Lake Lynn, along with Shelley Lake, was created to provide flood protection to Crabtree Valley Mall, which was constructed in a former muddy cow pasture and flooded soon after it was built. Hare Snipe Creek, which feeds Lake Lynn, runs from the back of Tabernacle Church on Leesville nearly due south all the way to Crabtree by the Golden Corral headquarters on Glenwood Avenue. Lake Lynn has a gigantic earthen dam but is normally quite shallow, and its edges are dissected by the numerous small creeks and freshets that formerly found their way to Hare Snipe Creek. A popular greenway with long boardwalks encircles the Lake, and a spur follows the soggy wetlands of its headwaters up to a public park. At uncrowded times (and I’m talking people driving and parking at my apartment complex just to walk here) it’s an opportunity for some remarkable encounters with nature.


Some of the more interesting  birds to watch are naturalized escapees – dark, red-wattled Muscovy ducks and aggressive white barnyard geese. Lake Lynn itself is a mixture of native and natural features blended with the man-made lake and the surrounding (relatively wooded) apartments and houses. The Canada geese, well described in an earlier post, are so numerous and boisterous as to evoke aquatic chickens as they honk out the rising day outside our windows each morning.

 An Enticing Nearby Area

Cypress trees on the southwestern shore of Falls Lake

Cypress trees on the southwestern shore of Falls Lake

Just a few miles north of Lake Lynn I can cross over the highest spot in Wake County – Crestmont off Leesville Road – and travel out of Crabtree Creek’s watershed into that of the Neuse, inundated by Falls Lake. North of 98, off Baptist Road, is an access point for the Mountain-to-Sea Trail, which traces the southern shore of Fall Lake. Here a juncture of powerline cuts and shallow lobes of the lake provide wide open views and a nifty look at a population of cypress. There is a stunning serpentine boardwalk that serves the trail, and a raised bridge over Lick Creek with gorgeous views. More to come, as well as more on the whole stretch from here to the Rollingview Marina.

Lick Creek footbridge

cypress in Falls Lake

January 26, 2015

Anderson Point Anchors the Union of Crabtree and the Neuse

moss mountains by Crabtree

moss on a rock outcrop by lower Crabtree Creek

Crabtree is usually a low-flow creek, but after long and heavy rains, its flow can rival the Neuse River, of which it is a major tributary. The newly completed lower Crabtree Trail, featured in my previous post, provides a very long bridge that gives you a good sense of Crabtree’s large size as it approaches Anderson Point to flow into the Neuse.

Crabtree bridge at Anderson

Crabtree begins in Cary and after passing though Morrisville and Umstead Park, arcs across north Raleigh, roughly parallel to 440. It gathers water from Brier Creek in the north to downtown Cary in the south: a huge swath of Wake County’s terrain. As it approaches Anderson Point Park, it is large and wide.

Crabtree Trail crosses the creek at Anderson Point

Crabtree Trail crosses the creek at Anderson Point

Anderson Point Park is a large complex amenity. Off Rogers Lane (from New Bern Avenue or New Hope Road) you can park before the bridge over the 64 bypass to access the Neuse River Trail and canoe put-in, or cross the bridge into the park proper, where large fields, picnic shelters, and specialty gardens attract many local families. At the bottom of this large and open expanse, a wooded path leads to the confluence of Crabtree and the Neuse. The connector with the Crabtree Trail is back at the top of the slope.

Crabtree Trail at Anderson

Following this path northward from the park, one gets a great sense of Crabtree’s lower floodplain forests. Large beeches are profuse, and American holly greens up the dark stands of winter sweetgum and ash.

beech on lower Crabtree Trail

American holly in Crabtree's floodplain

American holly in Crabtree’s floodplain

The ancient age of Crabtree can be inferred from sandstone outcrops – huge rocks built by the creek itself over eons. Just before the creek crosses under Rogers Lane, it crosses over flat sheets of even older, harder rock and is only a few inches deep in times of low water. On the day of this visit, the water was high and the “rapids” were only visible as white ruffles in the brown flow.

rocks by lower Crabtree

My favorite spot on both my recent visits was a rocky overhang where the creek makes a sharp turn before approaching the river. The rocks are covered with a minature forest of moss, and on the second visit they were sunlit and quite photogenic.

moss on rocky overhang

Buckeye Trail, seen below, represents the oldest and “wildest” section of Raleigh greenway. Now it also presents a connection to a huge greenway loop around Raleigh, utilizing the Neuse River trail and the long extension of the Walnut Creek Trail to the River. Anderson Point is a great focal point for these connections, The exciting Mingo Creek Trail connection, just upstream, will have to wait for another post. Happy hiking or biking on our wonderful, ever-growing system!

Winter sycamores guard Buckeye Trail connector on Milburnie Road

Winter sycamores guard Buckeye Trail connector on Milburnie Road

November 6, 2014

Crabtree Trail to the Neuse River

Crabtree from bridge

Crabtree Creek from the new greenway bridge near Sunnybrook Road

I can now ride my bike from my house downtown to the Neuse River! The final leg of Crabtree Creek Trail, from Milburnie Road down to Anderson Point, is completed. A recent post shows the construction off Milburnie, but this one focuses on the wonderfully bucolic, downright meditative bike ride I had through the large, mostly undeveloped area surrounding Crabtree Creek’s intersection with New Hope Road. Several new bridges are part of this project, and contribute to the beautiful views of Crabtree Creek.

connector on Milburnie

From Oakwood, I rode down Milburnie to the trailhead of Buckeye Trail, the subsection of this trail that represents the oldest existing section of Raleigh greenway. Here a sidewalk connector takes you past the old Swain’s Steakhouse, under New Bern Avenue, and over a small bridge to the edge of the apartment complex off Calumet Drive.

new greenway bridge over Crabtree near Calumet Drive

Just past the bridge seen above I found a wonderful detour – a utility road that dives through fields along 440 and goes to the pumping station just below the first ramp for the 64 bypass off 440.

utility road

The dirt road was eroded but a marvelous adventure. I reached a “Robert Frost choice” and ducked into the shady woods for a couple of hundred yards before turning back to the paved greenway.

path to choose

The greenway passes under a maze of highway overpasses, and just off it is a tempting series of railroad beds, more utility roads, and overgrown fields. More tempting detours – but not for today!

highway near trail

 This area, due south of the Wake Animal Control Center and the old landfill, reminded me of old Raleigh, when waste fields and enticing lanes through them were much more common. I’m sure dirt bikers love this spot.

high overpass

The imposing arc of highway above the greenway here is the height of that ramp for the 64/264 Bypass, and it was both beautiful and sad for me to see. The new greenway passes very close to the spot where the borrowed sports car of some teenagers coming home from a ball game at very high speed, flew off this ramp to their deaths. The tragedy left a charred scar for several years, which I would see on forays from the old pecan farm near Poole Road and Sunnybrook (not Oakview, but the non-public part west of 440). Recalling it on this trip, I was again amazed at just how high this ramp soars.

long bridge

The greenway re-crosses the creek on an extended bridge near a swampy area where the water from Jones Lake and the previously mentioned abandoned farm comes in. There are long stretches with woodland on both sides, and I encountered just enough other bikers not to feel isolated.

rock outcrop

A large granite outcrop marks a sharp turn in the creek just east of New Hope Road. Up stream, the late afternoon light and the fall leaves made for a very nice scene. This would also be a great place to fish.


Crabtree Creek bends as it makes it final approach to the Neuse River

field below New Hope

When I got to a large powerline field, I turned for home. The end of this trail, Anderson Point, is a story in itself, and I hope to take Cara biking on this trail soon, starting at the mouth of Crabtree and traveling upstream. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, give this wonderful section, with highly varied landscapes and a few surprises, a try soon.

A shallow Crabtree slides over a gtanite bed near New Hope Road

A shallow Crabtree slides over a granite bed near New Hope Road

October 29, 2014

Mystery Bridge in Crabtree Valley

Filed under: Crabtree Creek, Gems & Surprises, Greenways & Parks, West Raleigh — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 2:50 pm
stop sign at bridge

abandoned bridge over Crabtree Creek just off Glenwood Avenue

Crabtree Creek Trail is 14.6 miles of greenway through the heart of Raleigh, starting at Anderson Point off New Bern Avenue east of town and following the creek all the way to Oak Park in northwest Raleigh. It was until recently the longest continuous stretch of Raleigh greenway, and now has been eclipsed by the Neuse River Walk and Walnut Creek Trail, both newly completed, relatively rural connectors. Of all the wonderful features on this complex trail, the abandoned bridge just upstream of Kidd Brewer’s old cow meadow (now Raleigh’s most floodable mall) wins the honors for mystery and quirkiness.

Crabtree creek from bridge

When and how was this bridge used? I will be crowdsourcing on Facebook, and don’t hesitate to comment here if you know anything. This stretch of greenway picks up across Edwards Mill Road from Crabtree Valley Mall, and meanders through old neighborhoods as well as a sprinkling of new condo developments before dead-ending into Lindsay Road in Oak Park.

abandpned bridge

I do NOT recommend walking on this bridge! It is very rotten. You wouldn’t fall in, but stepping through would be no fun. I stuck to the crossbeams, but was still anxious. Lovely view, though. Any thoughts?


The Facebook post for this piece has produced wonderful information: Foy Beal states that the bridge was installed by the Martin family, namesakes of Martin MIddle School, when they owned property on both sides of the creek. Richard Butner has this info: “Used to go to the Leroy B. and Charlotte M. Martin House, designed by Brian Shawcroft.” Chip Robie has a fun story about using this “driveway” as a shortcut to Edward Mills Road. Others have interesting memories as well, and I am sure more to come.  Thanks!

August 7, 2014

Piedmont Prairies in Raleigh

Filed under: Gems & Surprises, green initiatives, Nature Lore, West Raleigh — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 3:17 pm

Museum Field (1)

Fire, hurricanes, and Native American land management all created prairies, or tall grass meadows, across the area in prehistoric times. Almost no original prairies still exist, but Raleigh boasts two right down the road from each other off Blue Ridge Road. The best place to experience and learn about prairies is Prairie Ridge Ecostation, managed by The Museum of Natural Sciences on Reedy Creek Road. Below is the entrance map for this rich and complex facility, which covers 45 acres.

Prairie Ridge sign

 The top right shows the entrance and parking area, right next to the National Guard Armory. There are forest and prairie trails and at the bottom is a tributary of Reedy Creek, heading west to cross under Edwards Mill Road.  A large solar panel array provides power for a Frank Harmon-designed outdoor classroom built with green features. A residential center is in the works. There is a new Nature Play Space for young children with learning stations, a prairie maze, and logs and boulders for climbing.

Prairie Ridge

Trail heads at Prairie Ridge Ecostation

The highly diverse profusion of grasses, herbs and accompanying hordes of insects are riven with well-mowed paths to allow easy access. On each side, this mid-summer stroll revealed masses of seed heads, arching, competing green blades, and the occasional intrusion of pokeweed. Numerous butterflies, hunting spiders and other bugs roam the vegetation.

Prairie Trail

Zooming insects planed down onto the mowed surface every few seconds. Here is a grasshopper taking a short rest.

Prairie Ridge grasshopper

You can see clover enjoys the clear-cutting of the mower.

Prairie Ridge garden

Prairie Ridge flower garden on right, classroom building down slope on left. Note the black-eyed Susans on the roof of the garden shelter.

Fun fact: the Wet Lab, seen below, contains jarred biological specimens contained in over a hunded thousand gallons of alcohol. This huge collection, constantly growing as smaller facilities pass on their own holdings, was originally planned for downtown as part of the new science museum – but legislators decided that such a volatile stash needed a more remote location than across the street from them!

Wet Lab

Just a few hundred yards down the road is the campus of the NC Museum of Art, which maintains slopes of prairie meadows along with wooded trails and large lawns with outdoor sculptures. These prairie spaces are usually maintain by controlled burns, which reduce invading tree species and provide readily used nutrients. Mowing every two or three years works nearly as well.

Museum Field (1)

Museum slope

A slice of Piedmont prairie is no farther away then the nearest power line cut, where tall grasses are allowed to mature and flower but mowing is conducted every few years. To see something close to the original, visit the Horton Grove Preserve, managed by the Triangle Land Conservancy, which is part of the historical Stagville Plantation north of Durham. Another remnant of Piedmont praire is at Temple Flat Rock in Wake County, also managed by the TLC.


March 25, 2014

Raleigh Weather

Filed under: Gems & Surprises, Nature Lore, Raleigh History — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 6:44 pm
Black cherry blossoms announce spring

Backyard blossoms announce spring

Raleigh enjoys a temperate climate that can surprise with ease. Hailstorms, blizzards, damaging thunderstorms, and sustained droughts have all played havoc with Raleigh. The Great Blizzard of 1899 brought 17.7 inches, which record was not broken until 1927. In this century, late January 2000 brought 18 inches of snow that closed school for about 3 weeks.  Perhaps the most infamous weather event in Raleigh history was an ice storm in 2005 that lay a mere half inch of slick ice on every surface but created an Armageddon of gridlock across the town, stranding hundreds and keeping dozens of schoolchildren camped at school overnight . Historically we average about 6 inches of snow a year; in the last decade that dropped to under 5 inches. Our diverse seasons provide the outdoor naturalist with challenges and pleasures alike – within two months in fall, one can get short of breath in a stagnant sauna of hot air, then have a sinking cold air mass flow as a discernible fluid over your hat brim and down your cheeks. Each season provides unique natural experiences.

Hurricanes pound North Carolina on a regular basis, and many of these have affected Raleigh.  Hurricane Hazel, which came ashore in October 1954 and was nicknamed “the Bulldozer,” was at full strength when it hit Raleigh and flattened everything in its path. Hurricane Fran in 1996 changed the face of Raleigh dramatically by shearing hundreds of trees across the city. North Carolina, for the first time in history, declared all 100 counties a disaster zone, and 24 deaths were reported statewide.  The most destructive hurricane to ever hit Raleigh made water, not wind, its weapon.  Hurricane Floyd in 1999 was preceded by a tropical storm that saturated the ground and filled the waterways. When Floyd hit Wilmington and slowly moved across the state, some areas in eastern North Carolina had rain for 60 straight hours. The result was a deluge that claimed 52 lives, mostly from flooding, and totaled over 6 billion dollars in damages. The Neuse River reached 500 year flood levels and flooding continued for weeks after the storm.  These storms perform a natural role in opening the canopy of tree cover and letting sunlight promote young trees and diverse ground cover, even when the losses are painful.  Edna Metz Wells Park by Cameron Village presents a good microcosm of Fran damage and the slow fitful succession that occurs in an urban natural setting after such a tree loss. Out at Umstead Park, the same storm’s ravages are being used in a long term study of such recovery processes in a pine forest.

Normal rain in Raleigh follows seasonal patterns, with spring and fall slightly drier, but our generous rainfall of 42 inches or so is relatively evenly spread across the year. Our specific climate classification is humid sub-tropical, with the mountains shielding the Piedmont from Midwestern air masses. Raleigh’s average temperature in January is 40 degrees, in August it is 77 degrees. Summer popcorn storms punctuate the hot dry summer days with occasional quick deluges. Droughts are typical for the area but affect man-made landscapes far more than natural ones, which are adapted to survive them.

downed tree at Shaw University after tornado

downed tree at Shaw University after tornado

Raleigh could experience an earthquake, but that chances of a direct hit in the next 50 years are less than 1%. We do sometimes feel earthquakes, such as the 5.8 tremor that struck Virginia in August of 2011 and rattled homes and businesses across the Triangle. Tornadoes threaten on a regular basis: the April 2011 tornado that created much damage and destroyed almost 1500 trees in Raleigh was part of a massive outbreak of tornadoes across the South. The tree loss in downtown cemeteries was particularly distressing: in Raleigh City Cemetery and Mount Hope Cemetery in south Raleigh, beautiful old cedar trees were torn down or truncated by the winds.

The 2014 year has been unusual, to say the least, with snow flurries late in March and general delays/risks with spring blossoms. But  being in the borderline area between northern cold and southern warm has always been Raleigh’s fate. We can thank that factor for our amazing diversity of trees – and resign ourselves to enjoying the elements of surprise.

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