The sign announces a new park along the recently opened House Creek Greenway. But dominating the scene is a new housing development, which turns out to belong to land sold to developers by the same Rick Marshall that provided Marshall Memorial Park – a set of amenities arranged along the lower part of the new trail. The plantings and side trails are nice, but are dwarfed by the impact of these huge retaining walls and future buildings right in the riparian buffer that protects the creek. An excellent article in the Midtown Raleigh News spells out the tit for tat – planning approval in exchange for a greenway easement to get the trail through this steep, heavily wooded section. (In his comment on this post, Mr. Marshall states that the land and improvements were offered unconditionally. I got my stated impression not only from the article but from a conversation with Vic Lebsock, head of greenways, about the project – my apologies to Mr. Marshall).
These walls are REALLY big! It’s a rough loss of permeability for this sponge of a slope that slows Blue Ridge water as it makes its way down. House Creek already has orange algae blooms in the meadow where it meets Crabtree. The greenway section will still be lovely, once the construction ends, and they have already installed rip-rap troughs to handle the increased flow into the creek. Below is a look at the Marshall Memorial Park proper, and a tour of the new trail.
The rich but tiny linear park is dedicated to Lt. Col. George F. Marshall, a war hero whose son is a Raleigh businessmen. It contains a side trail to a sandy beach on the creek, a longish side trail up the side of the hardwood slope below Ridge Road, a gazebo area, and some nice trailside plantings. This is a rich bottomland forest which only lost a portion of itself when the Beltline was built. The steep slope of Ridge Road’s ridge creates a quick succession of trees toward upland species. I can remember when some lucky woodlot-dwelling horses were living on this slope in the 60′s. They were visible on the east-bound Beltline approaching the Ridge Road ramp. The wooded floodplain has long been valuable to naturalists and neighbors, but inaccessible to most – until the House Creek Trail opened.
House Creek Trail has an inauspicious start indeed, at the Ridge Road Connector. Directly across 440 and left is the Vet School and the Faculty Club golf course – the headwaters of House Creek. To the right is the Museum of Art campus, whose greenway follows House Creek, then up to the gorgeous pedestrian bridge over 440. From here the trail finds the Meredith College greenway. The connector was built after Meredith starting locking the bridge access to maintain their campus security. Neighbors raised a hue and cry, having lost evening access to the Museum trails. Now Meredith can lock at the tunnel seen below, which was originally built under Wade Avenue to give the campus access to their equestrian facilities.
House Creek Trail officially starts at the pedestrian bridge, and finds the creek at Horton Road, where it borders an apartment complex. As soon as it crosses Lake Boone, the rich slopes offer stunning nature sights.
House Creek Trail crosses 440 to the outside just below Glen Eden. The park of that name is an excellent central spot from which to explore House Creek. As you approach Blue Ridge Road and Crabtree Valley, the Marshall Memorial Park offers its amenities and looming walls. After being piped for its final fifty yards, the mouth of the creek reaches Crabtree as a 72 inch storm drain. I love the greenways, including this one, but you can never forget when on them that you are in a fast-developing urban environment. So it goes.