Raleigh Nature

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

October 4, 2012

Milburnie Dam Removal Moves Forward – Raleigh Nature Approves

The Milburnie Dam on the Neuse River, just upstream of Business 64, is historic, interesting, even fun – but also unhelpful environmentally and surprisingly dangerous.  Having followed the long-planned and much discussed project as an environmental ed. teacher, explored the fascinating history of the structure and its predecessors, and recalled the family trips to the place, I am now ready to see it removed.

The dam was originally built of timbers in 1855 and served a papermaking mill.  in 1900 the current rock structure was built and was used for a gristmill and later for electricity generation.  Dam removal will serve several good environmental purposes: restore natural (shallow, high-oxygen) water flow above dam, promote shallow water species, including threatened and endangered ones, to utilize that stretch, and restore 15 miles of riverine habitat to migrating fish such as striped bass and American shad.  These are excellent outcomes and in and of themselves probably outweigh the loss of black water boating and the probable draining of about 11 acres of wetland currently associated with the dammed water levels, which acres will be offset by Restoration Systems.

Neuse River above Milburnie Dam – a bucolic but unnatural linear lake

But the real clincher is the removal of an inviting, but dangerous and deadly “swimming” area below the dam.  The leading picture (click to enlarge) shows this pool.  It looks quiet, it is shallow at the shore – but if you approach the side of the pool nearest the main outflow of the dam, a powerful undercurrent puts you at real risk of drowning – at least 11 reported in media through the years and probably more.  The YouTube video posted by Restoration Systems explains it all.

I look forward to canoeing this area without needing to portage the dam and I also look forward to watching the restoration efforts above the dam, both by the company and by Nature itself.  The mitigation credits might seem to make the project purely commercial, but another way to look at it is using the laws to finance this expensive project.  Careful work will be needed to avoid dumping pent-up sediment downstream, and above-dam residents will doubtless miss their linear lake but overall the project is  well worthwhile.  If you agree, you can sign their petition here.

Links

Google map of the area

Neuse Riverkeeper analysis of pros/cons

1997 pro-dam article

Facebook pro-dam page

2010 N&O article on dam removal proposal

N&O article about shad migration and the dam

2011 N&O article on revised proposal

2012 North Raleigh News pro-removal article

Charlotte Observer article on dam drownings

YouTube – dog retrieving right out to danger spot

artistic photo of dam with historical caption

Duke University article about removal benefits

Restoration Systems Milburnie Dam page

new video from RS explaining project

August 31, 2012

Buckeye’s Intermittent Closings Remind Us of Its Value

Buckeye Trail, which tracks Crabtree Creek through the largest natural area inside the beltline, runs 3 miles from due east of Raleigh at Milburnie and New Bern to Raleigh Boulevard in Northeast Raleigh. There it meets Raleigh Swamp, the neighborly name for the large shallow body of open water bisected by Raleigh Boulevard just north of Crabtree Boulevard.

But this section will be slightly iffy for the next 12 months as crews work on renovating the sewer lines that also track the creek, usually right next to the greenway. I was startled to see the sign, then realized the closings were going to be based on immediate project need, and that people were utilizing the trail as usual that very morning.  I thoughtfully and slowly biked the entire length, stopping to check on some late summer blooms and the condition of the Rocky Overhang, my sentimental favorite spot from childhood jaunts to Crabtree from Gatewood, my east Raleigh neighborhood.  Raleigh Nature has looked several times at this oldest leg of the Raleigh greenway, but a brief catalog of its wonders seems in order.

First, the old landfill meadow at the Milburnie entrance is apparently not going to get mowed anymore – there are trees of several years age filling up the back third.  The rest is filled with microstegium, stilt grass or bamboo grass: by any name, as nefarious an invasive species as kudzu ever was.  Perhaps the landfill monitoring period is over, perhaps they will bushwack these trees eventually.  Minus the stiltgrass, it was a rich meadow. Two pairs of comparison pictures below (click to enlarge).

                                    

Just past this meadow is a large stand of young beeches standing in a floodplain.  As you leave them and approach Crabtree, the sewer line cuts under the greenway on its way to Milburnie Road.  This is where the work is starting.  Necessary work, plus they are protecting the terrain by mulching with what they grind – at least for now. I actually like the new openings and hiking possibilities created by these cuts. Until the poison ivy gets established.

Sewer work at eastern end of Buckeye Trail

I can understand the need for the work.  Above is a section of sewer line inundated by winter floods, seen from the elevated greenway by the pump station at the dead end of Crabtree Boulevard.  This flooding is natural and used to happen with more regularity before the construction of flood controls upstream.

My first nature stop on the bike found me stumped.  I knew I had encountered the triangular, papery fruits and their name, but couldn’t put the two together.  A field guide finally revealed it as American Bladdernut.  Right beside it, pictured below, was a plant I did remember – nettle, whose thin hairy needles inject a stinging but mild toxin that can serve as relief from arthritis, a fact I learned from long-time NC Wildlife photographer Ted Dossett, who used to walk Buckeye almost daily.

Further upstream, the creek takes a big turn, away from Yonkers and toward Milburnie, creating The Point, a triangular beach looking across at the eastern edge of the Marsh Creek marsh.  This broad wetland stretches for about a mile below Yonkers Road and the Beltline. This is a great spot to see the larger birds.  Buckeye is “the birdiest greenway trail” according to the Wake birders’ guide.   As I headed upstream toward Rollingwood, I stopped at a very special place where a big beech uses a rock formation to hang right over the water.  Its roots create undercaves that we used for caching supplies back in grade school – toilet paper, BBs, and matches.  If we left anything long, it would wash away in high water.  The spot beside the beech is pictured below in very low water.

Crabtree on east Buckeye Trail

I continued my ride, briefly surveying the Rocky Overhang, still draped by a large fallen Sycamore that came down across the creek after Floyd in 1999.  Fallen trees are a big part of changes in the creek bed, and the sycamores are notorious for taking up doomed positions on the creek bank.  Sometimes they lean precariously for years, and I will never forget the Buckeye walk when a really large, vine encrusted hickory decided to slowly but powerfully lay itself down into the creek as I walked past.  It was an amazing sound – non-violent but death-dealing forces of gravity and release.

Glimpse of the rocky overhang on Buckeye

Halfway up the trail is the park at the bottom of Rollingwood, where the greenway leaves the creekside and edges the neighborhood. The creek formerly split, creating an “island” which edged the greenway, but that streambed is dry now.  Shrubs and young trees cover the large sandy beach that existed at the head of this island in my childhood.  Unforgettable memories of camping on that beach (even then the water flow was seasonable), drawing a large square in the sand, and boxing with gloves!  It was my first and only experience with that.  The stalwart group of boys with whom I had ingratiated myself screamed and exhorted like we were Lords of the Flies.  We walked the creekside ( no greenway on those days) all the way up to Downtown (Capital) Boulevard to go get milkshakes late that night.  Fun times.

Now the creek goes straight past the former island, and the sand piles up just short of the former split.  Above is Sandy Beach, a favorite spot of my own children (though I never allowed them to camp there).  From here up to Raleigh Boulevard is a straight stretch that is close but not connected to my old gatewood neighborhood at the ends of King Charles and Marlborough.  Those streets took major damage from our April tornado disaster, and the damage shows from and includes the greenway.

                     

This stretch is now VERY sunny and the flowers will make use of that.  A selection is below.  Be sure to visit Buckeye soon!

Jerusalem Artichoke, which has an edible root

December 30, 2010

Best Views, Best Intentions, 2010

Glory in the Morning. all pictures by John Dancy-Jones
 All pictures click to enlarge

It has been a slow year at Raleigh Nature, squeezed by my Meniere’s Syndrome, classroom teaching, other online interests, and gardening.  Here are some nice images from 2010, some with notes on the separate posts I would  liked to have written with them.  Thanks for checking in and we’ll keep plugging.  Have a great one!

snowy trees on White Oak Road, December 2010

 The snowy holidays were great fun and a white Christmas seemed like an enticing treat from the Climate Change Coming. We are still working on raising food year round at the Person Street urban homestead and the chickens have been a spectacular success and my best excuse for not being out in Raleigh nature.

Esperanza, our combless Aracauna, with her friends, out for a stroll

Fall pond at Oak View Park

I am truly grateful for Get To Know a Park, since I would rather concentrate on out of the way places, but there are still plenty of park rows to hoe.  Besides Oak View, there is a small new one on Honeycutt Road, and little gems like Hymettus Woods at Wade and Dixie.  One of my biggest regrets of 2010 is not getting over to the new section of greenway emerging by the beltline on House Creek, where I have been specifically invited by a reader (lo siento :( ) 

Fall colors at Oak View

boulders in Cemetery Branch at Brookside Drive

Cemetery Branch

 
Crabtree on east Buckeye Trail

There is always a lot of nature lore to explore, and 2010 was no exception.

woad blue mold after heavy rains

Raleigh Swamp mallard hen

sunlit slider on Middle Crabtree

my TFA science classroom's pet box turtle

 

Oakwood hawk with a diappointingly invisible captured squirrel

biggest gall yet!

snapper in the Wilmington creek beside Dorian's apartment

There is a lot I would like to cover from my travels outside Raleigh as well. The Maine post went well, but my mountain traveling has been heavy, and there is always just sooo much to tell.

Boulders on 64 in western NC

rock sculpture at UNC-A's Botanical Garden

ballon from rest stop on 40

Bass Harbor, Maine

There are so many things happening with parks and green amenities in Raleigh.  I had hoped to write about the beginnings of the Neuse River trail, which starts at Fall Dam and eventually hits Anderson Point, the river’s intersection with Crabtree.  This wonderful, under-used park has been the source of many a stimulating walk and deserves multiple posts.  Halfway down that trail (where it joins the existing one) is Raleigh Beach and the Milburnie Dam, which is up for possible removal.  Now THIS topic I would have preferred to address at Raleigh Public Record, and I may yet (the project is on a back-burner currently).

Milburnie Dam

raccon midden at Milburnie Dam (hat for scale)

Happy New Year and here’s hoping again for an invasive species page, a record trees map and more straight street pieces in 2011 – and if we’re lucky, Marsh Creek Part II !           Love,  John

August 9, 2010

Marsh Creek Park – no relation to the creek!

My Google search hits revealed someone looking for Marsh Creek Park, and having featured the creek, I thought we should visit the recently expanded park on New Hope  Road.  The name of the park derives from Marsh Creek Road, which begins just across New Hope and goes straight down to Marsh Creek.  But New Hope Road is a ridge between the Crabtree and Neuse watersheds, and the waterways in the park itself- mostly out of sight without hiking – head north through a large woodlot visible from Southall Road toward the Neuse, just a mile distant.

All pictures click to enlarge

The hot new feature in the park is the skate park, which was featured in a several media articles and is quite popular.  The large recreational center is fairly nondescript, but was constructed with green principles, as described in detail (along with other park amenities) at Get To Know a Park.  Beside the center is a large Piedmont prairie, and the extensive parking areas are adjoined by interesting ecotone areas, though the stilt grass is spreading fast.  The terrain is typical of Piedmont farmland after 50-60 years – upland pines and chestnut oaks with a slope down to loblollies, shrubs, and water.

 

My favorite find at Marsh Creek Park was the rain garden just below the skate park, with a wonderful stand of Joe-Pye-weed, as seen below.  I’ve only seen this handsome plant in the mountains, but it is listed in the Piedmont.  Somebody did a great job with this rain garden.

 To make the park’s name issue a little stranger, there is a really nice marshy area below the lower field, which leads to a very pretty old farm pond. It appears to have a fishing shack on the edge.  The expansion doubled the usable space of the park, but most of the acreage is still heavily wooded and ripe for exploring.  Overall, a versatile park with something for everyone.

photo album of Marsh Creek Park

Google map of Marsh Creek Park

*************************

This section of Raleigh – the ridge of New Hope with the valley of the Neuse to the northeast and Marsh Creek’s drainage to the southwest – is of geologic interest because it is one of the transitions between the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain.  If you take Buffalo Road off New Hope, for example, you immediately start seeing sandy soils.  Just down the road from Marsh Creek Park, Skycrest Drive heads down to good old Raleigh Swamp.  Before it gets there, at the intersection with Trawick, you can find this meadow of wildflowers.  It is being sorely threatened by kudzu vines.  We will keep a closer eye on invasive species in our future nature travels.

The kudzu is right behind the dandelions.

An impressive array of wildflowers fronts the dandelions by a slope.

These blackberry flowers are beside Skycrest. This was in May, but this summer I picked almost ten quarts of these things!  They are everywhere.

Kudzu making its way toward the wildflowers.

Kudzu go’ne eat us all!!

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