Raleigh Nature

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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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

February 13, 2010

Snowy Tree Blocks Buckeye Greenway

Downed Tree on Buckeye Trail in East Raleigh Blocks Snowy Greenway

High winds on top of rains toppled quite a few trees in the area, including this pair of medium specimens lying across the Buckeye Trail greenway at the bottom of Suicide Hill, as it was labeled by the cross country runners who used the greenway before its recent upgrade.  Lowered grade, I should say, since the cruelest, steepest stretch was lengthened and terraced to bring this oldest section of greenway into national codes.  Suicide Hill climbs a rugged quartz and sandstone outcrop that forms the Rocky Overhang, one of the seminal pillars of this blog, as it represents my favorite Crabtree hangout.

Raleigh Nature’s  “scoop” on this downed tree is wonderfully fitting as I get back to basics after a bit of hiatus. Enamored of the Ken Burns series, engulfed by teaching responsibilities, and constantly lured by my current intellectual fling, Ray Johnson/Black Mountain/mail art, I have wintered in the blog a bit, but could not resist the lovely, harmless 3 inch fluff that ended on a Saturday morning.  So I took off for my favorite sight-seeing greenway, Buckeye Trail from Milburnie Road. At the edge of Rollingwood, Crabtree has carved out a tall bluff (at least for this part of Raleigh) and under this 40 foot hump the creek has gouged a fishing hole complete with overhanging boulder shelves from which to cast.  Drowning worms  and hauling up the occasional catfish or bream at the Rocky Overhang is a family tradition for me as child and parent.  Heck, I took dates there, I loved the place so much. I was slightly horrified the day soon after Hurricane Floyd came through to see that a very large sycamore tree across the creek had fallen directly onto the Rocky Overhang, and for several years it was too tangled to get down there.  The kids and I mourned but also learned some valuable lessons about how Crabtree changes over time.  Now that tree has finally eased its way mostly into the fishing hole (after forming a hideous litter trap for more than a year on the way in) and the boulders have cleared somewhat.  In the spring, we’ll take a look, but for now here are more snowy scenes from Buckeye Trail, a gall tale, and a link to the photo album from my snow walk.

 

The baby beeches we have admired before looked nice mixed into the snowy pines.  Below is the scene at the beginning of Buckeye, where Longview Branch parallels Milburnie as it slides into Crabtree.

 

Below is a  ditched brook that brings water from the slopes of Rollingwood under the greenway and into Longview Branch just before it reaches the creek.

Just off  Milburnie is the old landfill that now forms a rich meadow, a favorite browsing place of the numerous deer living in Crabtree’s floodplains in East Raleigh. 

Below are some deer and coon tracks in the February snow.

The stump of a large oak I miss very much looked just as sad in the beautiful snow.  This tree had the largest gall I ever saw – a triple-grapefruit sized lump that housed the larvae of box elder beetles.  Greenway maintenence brought it down – I doubt the gall was a factor, but I’ve wondered.

the oak gall

Photo Album of my snow walk

 

December 8, 2009

Lassiter Mill Shows Crabtree at Strength

 

 The previous post talked about Crabtree Creek’s tendency to flood – last week again brought heavy rains over the Crabtree watershed that brought the creek up to the edge of  its large channels.  This also sends an impressive load of water over Lassiter Mill Dam, as seen above.  I shot a video clip of the rushing water from below the tailrace, as linked below.

video- Lassiter Mill dam at high water

What happens at Lassiter Mill vividily and intensely demonstrates what happens lots of places more gradually – the deposition of new soil by spreading flood waters.  This is an essential part of the natural systems of the Piedmont, and our flood control measures prevent the process from periodically enriching the soil with a layer of mud and silt – though the process continues to work just fine in the “waste” lowlands that remain in Raleigh.  An astounding number of these lowlands have become major thoroughfares – roads built relatively later in Raleigh’s long history, on land left undeveloped due to the floodplain.  The Beltline follows the low contours of Walnut Creek, House Creek, Crabtree Creek, Big Branch, Marsh Creek and then Walnut Creek quite precisely as it curves from Cary’s Buck Jones to Glenwood, over the crest of North Hills, and around southeast to Poole Rd and then Lake Wheeler Road.  The water is piped and rushed away from underneath these elevated roadways, carrying its minerals with it.

The suburbs and businesses near these roads certainly don’t need the sediments!  But the stuff has to go somewhere, and these days there is a lot of stuff.  When streams are buffered by a healthy band of water-loving trees and shrubs, erosion material is reduced greatly. In central Raleigh, Crabtree is clogged with lots of dislodged soil, construction materials and unnaturally exposed red clay.   But the deposition process is a vital one, and it gets exaggerated at Lassiter Mill, where the water brings its load of suspended minerals hurtling over the dam and then slows and spreads its course below.  As it slows, it drops much of its sediment load.  The area below Lassiter Mill changes yearly as the creek alternately erodes and builds up materials.  Check out the new load of sand deposited by the recent high waters.

There are several caveats and complications to consider.  This is a large load of sand!  Eight or nine inches at a dose, and not the silt and mud that the plants would prefer. But nature adapts, and the Lassiter “beach” is fun to browse, with a wide variety of weeds incubated from the loads of  soil and debris.  The silt and sand that currently washes down Crabtree is terribly unhealthy for the filtering mussels and other delicate aquatic life.  The red clay that paints Crabtree brown is such a strong pigment that Crabtree often changes the color of the Neuse where it conjoins.

Crabtree builds itself “shoulders”  as it repeatedly overflows, dropping the heaviest particles first as the water disperse into the floodplain.  This is why Crabtree presents such a tall ditched appearance as above at Hodge Road.  The plants arrange themselves in an orderly sequence beside or on top of these embankments according to their tolerance for flooding.

The next time Crabtree rises over it’s banks, put on your rubber boots and check out the glistening mica-rich silt that covers the greenways before the city sends its scrapers to clear it off to the side, where it enriches the plants as well as any landscaper’s mulch.  You are walking in the stuff that makes our floodplain soils, a rich muck delivered by the yearly floods.

Nature.org floodplain info

BBC floodplain story

 

October 4, 2009

Walnut Creek Wetland Center opening

Walnut Creek Wetland Center_1_1

Numerous city and parks officials joined a large crowd of citizens for the ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of  The Walnut Creek Wetland Center.

Mr West and Dr. Camp listen to Mayor Meeker

Mr West and Dr. Camp listen to Mayor Meeker

Dr. Norman Camp listened to Mayor Charles Meeker, city councilman James West and park officials speak about the new center.  Then the founder of Partners for Environmental Justice , and the man who sheperded this project into being, got up and spoke of the center as a shining new gem in Raleigh’s crown,” as quoted on Raleigh Eco News.

Walnut Creek crowd_1_1

The crowd listened attentively as the benefits for Southeast Raleigh as well as the ecosystem were described and the many supporters and participants were thanked.  Then they were rewarded with a magnificent poem written for the occasion, by Christopher Rowland, a Southeast Raleigh native who wows the crowds at Artspace’s Stammer under the name Langston Fuze.

Chris Rollins reads_1_1

Click here for a 1 minute video clip of the poem 

for the full text of the poem, see the post at

Raleigh Eco News

wetland musicians_1_1

Musicians entertained on the “longest back porch in the Southeast,” and Erin Sterling, architect of record for the project from Frank Harmon Architecture, explained the details of the green design.  The building is 230 feet long and narrow so that all rooms get light from two sides and often three.  It is sloped up to the north and shelters its southern exposure with the long low porch roof.  Raleigh’s final budget did not allow for the planned rainwater cisterns, but they can come later and the gutters now direct into bioretention areas – long rain gardens that surround the space.  The building is on stilts and allows natural water flow under it – important in this floodplain.  Recycled lumber and building materials were used when possible, and native plantings surround the site.

Walnut Creek Wetland center flower bed

Walnut Creek Wetland center flower bed

On the other hand, several of us gazed from the wonderful porch at a huge stand of Microstegia (bamboo or stilt grass) just at the edge of the construction clearing and bemoaned a bit the vast future work entailed in continued future protection of this site and may others in Raleigh.  The educational center will raise awareness of those issues, and provide a much needed amenity and attraction in this part of Raleigh.

Thanks for all your work, Dr. Camp!

Thanks for all your work, Dr. Camp!

The longest porch in the Southeast

The longest porch in the Southeast

Walnut Creek  sign_1_1

August 9, 2009

David Spain, steward of moss

David Spain tends the Urquhart moss garden

David Spain tends the Urquhart moss garden

I recently had an opportunity to document the Southern Living photo shoot of one of Raleigh’s most interesting residential landscapes.  The Southern Living article about the moss garden at the Urquhart residence on Marlowe Drive will come out in about a year – we’ll return to that incredible piece of landscaping, and promote the article, closer to the publication date.  In the meantime, I wanted to introduce Raleigh Nature readers to David Spain, Richard Urquhart’s son-in-law, who has cared for the property since Urquhart’s passing in 2008.  David follows Raleigh Nature and has been very encouraging of my efforts to portray the Lassiter Mill section of Crabtree Creek, which adjoins the Urquhart property.  This post shares some of his photography and offers a sneak peek at the moss garden, which senior writer Steve Bender at Southern Living describes as the finest he’s ever seen.

photograph by David Spain

photograph by David Spain

The landscape of the Urquhart residence is unique in several respects, and David Spain is keenly aware of the ecological and geological wonders of the place.  The property slopes down steeply to the deep stretch of Crabtree Creek just northwest of the dam.  There is a rich stand of mountain laurel on the slope, and above the moss garden and water park of large pools, waterfalls, and huge rocks.  The rocks were unearthed by creek erosion out of the slope, and the Urquhart family has pried them out, hauled them up the hill, and used them to create a magnificent setting for the plants and water.

Urquhart backyard area with landscape boulder

David's newest addition with landscape boulder

David puts into Crabtree in his canoe about as often as I THINK about doing it – which is pretty often- and gets some great pictures, which he has shared and consented to have on the site.  Enjoy some great sights of Raleigh Nature courtesy of David Spain, whose hard work and dedication is maintaining one of the most interesting and valuable residential natural areas in central Raleigh.

 

photograph by David Spain

photograph by David Spain

duck by D.S._1_1

photograph by David Spain

photograph by David Spain

photograph by David Spain

creekside poplar by D.S._1_1

photograph by David Spain

What a brave poplar tree!  David can walk the creekside and offer endless lore and history about the area.  His contributions and friendship have been a big reward for my work on Raleigh Nature.  Below is his picture of the Urquhart front yard.  I’ll share my own photography of the site when it’s time to celebrate the Southern Living shoot, which was arranged by local super-gardener Helen Yoest, whose acquaintance I made at the shoot.  Her Metro feature on the Urquhart garden is a great introduction to the site, and it will be fun to see how Southern Living shows off the garden and David’s meticulous work with the moss.

photograph by David Spain

photograph by David Spain

 

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

A related fun tidbit:  I received a while back the photo below, which depicts what the senders states are gears from Lassiter Mill.  He asked for advice about who might be interested or what might be done with them.  I thought I would post the picture and give my contacts at the Raleigh History Museum and Yates Mill Park a heads-up.  Any ideas?

mill equipment- photo by Jimmy Gordon

mill equipment- photo by Jimmy Gordon

 

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