Raleigh Nature

March 3, 2014

Buckeye Connecting to the Neuse

Filed under: Crabtree Creek, East Raleigh, Greenways & Parks — Tags: , , , — raleighnaturalist @ 8:58 pm

Milburnie greenway entrance

The trail head of Buckeye, the oldest and the beginning of the longest stretch of Raleigh Greenway, is being extended down Crabtree Creek to Anderson Point, the creek’s intersection with the Neuse River. Much progress has been made with grading and a layer of crush-n-run, but a break remains just south of New Bern Avenue, where a freshet ditch needs a bridge or culvert before paving can begin. With an easy hop over that, a hiker or biker can travel from Milburnie down the creek beside Sunnybrook road, toward the pump stations under 440 and the huge off ramp for the 64 Bypass. Here the creek, and eventually the greenway, will travel beside the railroad track through a large undeveloped area as it crossed New Hope Road and heads toward Anderson Point.

Buckeye toward Milburnie

Looking at Milburnie and Longview Creek from Buckeye

The trail head of Buckeye will not connect directly. Here is a view of Longview Creek from Buckeye, where I thought a bridge might be built, but instead there is a short jog down Milburnie Road from the current entrance to the extension, which runs right behind the old Swain’s Steakhouse and then under New Bern Avenue.

New Bern Ave greenway crossing

Past New Bern is the freshet ditch, then a long stretch parallel to Sunnybrook and Wakefield Village.

greenway extension beside Sunnybrook

Crabtree is at full strength as it makes its last swing toward the Neuse.  Across the creek, the railroad cut is terraced into some impressive slopes, and the hardwood bottomland trees along the creek are impressive.

Crabtree past New Bern Ave

This will be an exciting connection and make possible some amazing round trips on bicycle.

future greenway bridge south of New Bern Ave

Now they just need to build this crossing!

November 16, 2013

Great Blue Heron Rookery Exposed, As Are Buckeye’s Beaches

Blue Heron or hawk nest

Google map of rookery

The sewer work beside Crabtree Creek in East Raleigh has provided temporary easy access to a favorite, mostly secret feature of Raleigh Swamp: a small permanent marsh fed by Pigeon House Branch which provides a yearly haven for breeding great blue herons and red-shouldered hawks.  The site, seen below, is not pretty but has water all year and a wide variety of cover, and so provides a perfect nursery for the babies of large predatory water-loving birds.

Blue Heron rookery at Raleigh Swamp

The site can be seen by walking a short way down the new sewer cut off of Crabtree Boulevard. After crossing a nifty and temporary metal bridge over Pigeon House Branch, just before it reaches Crabtree, Crabtree Creek is on your right and the small marsh is on the left.  It makes me think of gator country for very small gators, though the “gators” that startle one here are furry and have criss-crossed tails.

gator country for very small gators

Between sewer cuts the best access to this site, which is currently low, is from the railroad line parallel to Capital Boulevard.  The greenway is just across the creek, and  you can often see the activity of the breeding birds on Raleigh Swamp walks, while looking SW across the creek.

low water at Blue Heron marshedge of small marshmarshy area off Crabtree Boulevard

Across Raleigh Boulevard, the sewer project swallows the greenway and makes it appear impassable. But I was slightly amazed to see a jogger and biker come right through the construction. A very friendly construction crew, which was hard at work this Saturday morning.

construction sign on Buckeye

Buckeye jogger approaches bulldozer

Buckeye jogger approaches bulldozer

Buckeye jogger heads into construction site

beach at hackberry grove by Crabtree

Walking Buckeye eastward toward Rollingwood and Milburnie, I could see very well here in late fall the sandy beaches, old and new, that ring the inner banks of Crabtree’s curves.  Beaches also form just downstream of large obstacles, typically fallen trees.  Just such a beach has newly formed across the greenway from the first stretch of this walk.

new Buckeye beach off Ral blvd

pebbly beach on Crabtree off Yonkers

pebbly beach on Crabtree

One of my favorite Buckeye beaches is Goose Beach, which is no longer a beach but has become a vegetated  bank.  This happened when Crabtree changed its course, right after Hurricane Floyd in 1999.  My children, ten and nine at the time, watched our sandy gosling playpen (thus the name) slowly change as it swallowed the previous turning path of the creek and divert it back to the more ancient path it had abandoned for several decades.

former Goose beach

former Goose Beach at Crabtree’s turn, which was abandoned in 1999

What could make such a change?  Besides a hurricane flood to carve the new path, there needs to be a blockage in the old path.  Below is just such a near blockage right below Goose beach.  Who knows when Crabtree will turn again?

Crabtree Creek constricted at turn

Crabtree Creek constricted at turn

Bonus pics

hackberry grove on Buckeye just east of Raleigh Boulevard

hackberry grove on Buckeye just east of Raleigh Boulevard

lower rockfall on Crabtree below Raleigh Boulevard

lower rockfall on Crabtree below Raleigh Boulevard

spiky herb at Raleigh swamp

November Mistletoe

November Mistletoe

September 16, 2013

Excavating East Raleigh

Filed under: East Raleigh, Greenways & Parks, waterways — Tags: , , , , — raleighnaturalist @ 6:17 pm

excavating Longview

The massive sewer work that stretches across east Raleigh is accompanied by a different kind of excavation.  Above is upper Longview Lake from Bertie Drive below Enloe High School.  For years silt from construction on the hill behind it has steadily filled this section.  Now they are dredging the silt out and restoring the pond.  The lower section is larger and much more healthy.  All our our lakes and ponds gradually fill in with plant matter and eroded soil, but this happened too fast and I am glad they are fixing it. Now if they would just re-allow fishing!  More pics below – click to enlarge.

Longview low spotupper Longview Lake

Just down the road from this, where Milburnie hits the extension of Sunnybrook across New Bern, the old beginning of the Raleigh Greenway, Buckeye Trail,  will soon be extended all the way down to Anderson Point, where Crabtree hits the Neuse River.  Very exciting! Right now the spot is part of the huge sewer work alluded to in the first sentence.  The first picture below is looking toward Milburnie and is actually the path of the new extension.  The new greenway should be in place this spring.

future greenway to the Neuse

sewer runs under greenway at rocky overhang

Up the trail toward Raleigh Swamp, a fallen tree has created a dump of sand that makes quite a beach.  All the sand and silt seen in this post is terrible for the mussels and microfauna that inhabit the creek’s bottom.

fallen tree creates sandbank

Bonus pic: deer tracks where  I climbed down to view the sandbank.

deer prints at Crabtree

all posts on Buckeye Trail

April 9, 2013

Raleigh Swamp Shifts with Sewer Project

sewer project meets Raleigh Swamp_1_1

The huge sewer project – seen above at Crabtree Boulevard looking toward the Mouth of Pigeon House Branch – has introduced a new geography to Raleigh Swamp, my name for the body of water off Raleigh Boulevard just north of its intersection with Crabtree Boulevard.  The large wooden causeway and gazebo were wonderful additions to the meeting of Buckeye trail and Middle Crabtree Trail.  Now the sewer project has dictated a large dam and concrete bridge section that bisects the “swamp.”  I know a real swamp is moving water with trees, but this lowland was dotted with dying trees for years after its establishment, and the snags of many remain as resting spots for herons, cormorants, and the occasional wood duck.  Canada geese and mallards breed here, while the turtle population has grown to a staggering level.  It is all thanks to the beavers.

Raleigh Swamp_1_1

When I first returned to Raleigh from Greensboro in 1980, they were starting to build the Raleigh Boulevard bridge over Crabtree Creek.  The caissons they used to sink the bridge piers were impressive, and Dulci, my black lab and I kept a close watch on the process.  At this time, the “Raleigh Swamp” area was a sometime wetland dotted with scrub trees and ribboned with the paths of homeless campers. Like many floodplains in the area, it got wet in the winter but stayed dry most summers.  The Boulevard project changed that, with a little help from the local beavers.  The transition was clarified for me by a city engineer years later through a comment on this blog in 2009.  I quote it in full below:

Was reading through your website after getting the link from the Fletcher Park Watergarden and noted that the “pond” off Raleigh Blvd was one of your favorite places. I thought I’d mention that this was actually a City of Raleigh mitigation project I designed many years ago to offset the environmental impacts from the construction of Raleigh Blvd. It was supposed to be a wetland but the beavers in the area had a different idea as they immediately blocked the culverts under the roadway causing the water to back up and form a permanent pond. Can’t say I object to the result of their efforts. It’s a beautiful spot and the addition of the greenway has made it accessible to the masses.

Mark Senior, PE, Senior Project Engineer, Water Quality Section, Stormwater Divsion of the City of Raleigh Public Works Department

The beavers have indeed made great use of the spot with several different lodges in different spots.  New generations of beavers tend to build their own lodge. Until I got the info from Mark, I assumed the construction of the road bed dammed up the water.  The water on the east side of Raleigh Boulevard acts more normally – rising and falling with rains and seasons.  I know the beavers play over there as well, because you can see their slides into Crabtree Creek as you walk down Buckeye toward Rollingwood.

Raleigh Swamp sewer dam_1_1

sewer pipe dam looking toward Crabtree_1_1

sewer dam bridge on causeway_1_1

Getting back to the sewer project, you can see above the large dam across the wetland.  This, along with the upgraded line in general, has changed the location and depth of water around the edges of the marsh (which is technically what it is).  Some areas are now totally dry – at least for now – and some are substantially deeper.  No real harm done, since nature and time effect these kinds of changes all the time anyway.  but the newly dry areas, which were beaver playgrounds until now, will undergo an interesting and specialized kind of succession – new plants adapted to the new conditions will take over.   It should be a fascinating transition and Raleigh Nature will keep an eye on it.  Below are shots of the stranded areas.

dry area behind sewer dam_1_1dry wetland near stairs of causeway_1_1new dry area at Raleigh Swamp_1_1

The beavers had a lodge at the very spot pictured below years ago but abandoned it during the drought of the early 2000s.  Perhaps they will rebuild now that the water situation is restored!

former beaver lodge water restored!_1_1

All posts on Raleigh Swamp

previous post on this sewer project

March 5, 2013

Paving a Little Paradise: Marshall Additions Highlight and Loom Over House Creek Greenway

Filed under: Greenways & Parks, waterways, West Raleigh — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 4:31 pm

Marshall Park sign_1_1

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).

Marshall apartment project_1_1Marshall retaining wall_1_1

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.

Marshall park gazebo and beach_1_1

Side Trail up slope at Marshall Memorial Park

Side Trail up slope at Marshall Memorial Park

new plantings along House Creek Trail

new plantings along House Creek 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.

bottomland woods by House Creek_1_1

Ridge Rd greenway connector_1_1

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.

Ridge Road Connectors meets Meredith greenway

Ridge Road Connectors meets Meredith greenway

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 officially begins here_1_1House Creek Trail beside Lake Boone_1_1

Ridge road tributary joins House Creek

Ridge Road tributary joins House Creek

House creek Crosses the Beltline

House creek Crosses the Beltline

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.

House Creek enters Crabtree_1_1

Raleigh Parks article on House Creek Trail

Raleigh Nature’s post on House Creek Trail construction

December 30, 2012

Raleigh’s Greenways Hook Up With House Creek

Filed under: Greenways & Parks, waterways, West Raleigh — Tags: , , , — raleighnaturalist @ 10:32 pm

House Creek greenway construction

The new House Creek section of Raleigh’s ever-expanding greenways is up and running – the grand opening was September 25th; most of my pictures are from its construction phase.  The trail, which follows House Creek and the Beltline from Wade Avenue to Glenwood, is a vital connection between the Walnut Creek and Crabtree Creek watersheds and their respective stretches of greenway.  With the inclusion of the pedestrian bridge over 440 and the NC Art Museum Park, it has earned recognition from National Recreation Trails as a unique, multi-partner amenity.  It enables many long trip options across Raleigh, as detailed by that inimitable outsider, Joe Miller.

future beginning of House Crk greenwayThe new trail begins here, looking down the powercut from the Meredith side of the pedestrian bridge, which we should remember is the longest in North Carolina.  This is before construction, when I used to ease down this powercut to see deer.

House Creek tributary joins at Lake BooneAt Lake Boone, a tributary enters and there is a sturdy concrete bridge installed in this spot, seen below.

House Creek greenway bridge

The trail follows a long slope that sides the long and narrow floodplain of House Creek, which begins up near the Vet School and Faculty Club and cuts through the Museum campus before edging 440 all the way around to Crabtree Mall.  This is yet another example of how Raleigh’s Beltline was built on the under-used floodplains of the creeks surrounding central Raleigh.  House Creek is clean and lovely in this stretch, and is bordered by rich mixed pine and hardwood slopes.  There is even an unpaved side trail that explores this slope.

House Creek side trail

House Creek slope near Beltline

House Creek slope near Beltline

The project crosses the Beltline with a tunnel at Glen Eden and then hits Blue Ridge Road  and connect with the Crabtree Trail.  the pictures below ( and all others) click to enlarge.

greenway tunnel at Glen EdenHouse Creek crosses BeltlineHouse Creek greenway NW side of Beltline

The end near Crabtree is quite level (and swampy).  The side trail was an earlier alternate for this reason, I think, but now the trail sports a nice boardwalk over the lowest part as well as some kind of structure I haven’t yet seen finished.

House Creek boardwalk

House Creek Trail structure in progress

House Creek Trail structure in progress

New House creek greenway seen from Blue Ridge Road

New House creek greenway seen from Blue Ridge Road

Blue Ridge road connector

Blue Ridher road connector

This was a fun project to watch because of some engineering challenges and the heavily wooded setting. I will end with some of that.  Happy New Year to the Raleigh greenway system – 78 miles and going strong!

House Creek bank

House Creek bank

House Creek beside Beltlinerasied section of greenway

House Creek Trail construction above Lake Boone

House Creek Trail construction above Lake Boone

Raleigh greenway information

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