The Raleigh Naturalist

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


January 21, 2008

The Volkswagen boulders and winter findings

Filed under: East Raleigh, Greenways & Parks, Nature Lore — Tags: , , , — raleighnaturalist @ 3:47 am

At Buckeye Trail’s beginning there is a strange hill hump meadow thing that looks very out of place.  It is an old rather small landfill that must have served Raleigh a very long time ago, but recently enough to be mowed and monitored as landfills now must be.  It swells at the base of a ridge coming down from Peartree Lane across Milburnie Road into the Crabtree floodplain and diverts the waters coming down from Longview Lake into a deeply carved creek that parallels Milburnie and strikes Crabtree just north of the Bow Tie Club, where a very dubiously placed parking lot has been scraped out right next to the creek and seemingly in the water’s right of way.  Anyway, this landfill meadow hides a local kids’ landmark on its wooded northern slope: two huge boulders that must have been unearthed in the landfill’s operation. I mean huge! You know how big they are? Check the title!

 They sit in the middle of this woods in east Raleigh like alien monoliths. There just are no big rocks in this part of Raleigh – it’s either red clay or sand, but no rocks.  Before the greenway got built, I would go every few winters and make a ritual of being able to locate, once again, these well hidden icons of my childhood woodcraft.  Now, the cross-country trail which begins at the top of the landfill meadow takes me down the ridge to a spot where I can hop off and find them in minutes.   Which is cool, and I still go.  But only in winter.  There are large number of sewer line cuts and various off-trail adventures which poison ivy forbids from me most of the year.  But in the dead of winter, I can explore these spots with impunity – as long as I don’t grab any vines while hopping ditches!


 This stretch of greenway shows Crabtree slowing down and deepening as it winds through the marshy joining with Marsh Creek.  The quiet stretch below is just before turning at Milburnie to slide under New Bern Avenue and curve with the beltline toward the Neuse River junction at Anderson Point.  Another touchstone on this walk (available at all times of year, right next to the greenway) is the largest oak gall of which I know.  These red bugs (and I mean true bugs for those in the know) come swarming out of it dangerously early in the spring some years.

There are all kinds of nifty finds on this easternmost stretch of greenway.  Below are two interesting types of fungi: shelf mushrooms and slime mold.

December 7, 2007

Crabtree at the rocky overhang on Buckeye Trail

 This is the section of Crabtree my friend Bob Bryant and I used to run to straight after school in fifth grade.  We’d carve letters in the big beech that overhung the last big ravine before the creek, and slide down the same bank troughs as the beavers did at night.  This was the sixties and that section of Crabtree marked the city limit.  My Dad had brought me here first, 6 blocks from our house at the east edge of Raleigh, showed me the beeches and the rocky overhang, and promised death if I ever tried to cross the water.  That admonishment lasted quite some time, but became a motivating taboo later.  We played hard down on Crabtree, shot BBs, hauled in catfish and literally dreamed of what lay beyond the muddy banks that were then the city limit of Raleigh. On a nostalgic walk during early college years, I was astonished to see a construction project plowing through our old haunts. They had started work on the Raleigh Greenway.


Buckeye Trail is the oldest section of the greenway, running from Milburnie Road near Wake Med, upstream to Crabtree’s intersection with Capital Boulevard at the old Farmer’s Market.  It is considered the “birdiest” section by the Wake County Birders.  For example, I (no birder myself) have see all three of the woodpeckers likely to be seen – red-breasted, red-headed, and the crow-sized pileated – on this two and one-half mile walk. Below is the eastern beginning of the greenway – an old Raleigh landfill turned into a meadow – great place for seeing deer at dusk.

Create a free website or blog at