Get away without leaving home

June 10, 2013 

I was wondering where I could go to get a quick break from my busy week. A place that would take my mind off my “to do” list.

I soon realized I did not have to go far, just a turn off York Road and I was in McDowell Nature Preserve in Steele Creek. It immediately felt like I was miles from home.

My first stop was the Nature Center. I picked up a map, which is a must for anyone not familiar with the park.

Before I set off on my walk, I poked around the center. There are living displays of turtles, snakes and crayfish, plus a small gift shop with picture books, walking sticks and carved pens. A group of preschoolers were listening to a story about Ants on Parade before they went outside to see those ants.

The preserve hosts a lot of events during the year. The summer calendar is packed with weeklong camping events, and single-day and evening activities, such as Nature at Night Hayride, Family Fort Building, Lake Wylie Kayak Tours (rentals available), Astronomy, Family Campfires, and Fishin’ on Fridays (gear available). Many events are free while others have a nominal fee. Knowing this, there really is no reason kids and kidlike adults can’t be out doing something every day of the week.

After I oriented myself, I left the center for a short walk on the Sierra Trail. There are seven miles of clearly marked trails, plus connector trails. McDowell Nature Preserve, the oldest in Mecklenburg County, has left 90 percent undeveloped and protects mostly forested, rolling terrain. Plus, there are two prairie restoration sites, a destination of the Prairie Hayride.

It did not take long to lose myself in the woods, and this was on the shortest trail. With more than 1,100 acres of forested terrain, I can see how it’s possible to walk all the trails without having to double back too much.

After I warmed up on the Sierra, I walked down the drive to the Four Seasons Trail. There is a small parking area. The nice thing about this trail, especially on the damp, muddy day I was at the park, is it is paved. It’s just about a quarter-mile long and offers benches, a ramp for access to the Piedmont stream, which considering our most recent rains, was running well. I took a seat by the stream and breathed in the scent of damp earth. This was just the antidote I needed. Quiet and beautiful.

Since I was visiting mid-week, it also was just me and the birdsong.

After a bit, I decided to walk along Cove Trail. It passes by the picnic pavilions. I could hear school children having laughing. I walked farther along the shore.

I had to stop and listen hard. I recognized the song of a bullfrog, and over that, the distinct call of a Redbellied Woodpecker. If not for the time, I would have traversed the entire eight tenths of a mile path to its end putting me closer to Lake Wylie.

I wanted to see the lake so I drove to Waterfront Deck. I took a tiny detour when I saw the playground. If not for the rain that had started to fall, I would have been on that slide, or trying the rock climbing wall just to see if I could still do it.

I heard a dog barking in the distance, possibly campers walking a trail. McDowell offers 56 campsites to accommodate RVs and tent campers. There also is Rent-A-Tent for first-time campers or those who just want to get away for a night or two without much hassle.

The Waterfront Deck is across the main channel from Lake Wyle Marina. I walked a bit and sat at the covered swing, an Eagle Scout project. It’s the perfect place to sit and contemplate the gift of the lake. I saw geese and wondered about the nesting platforms along the shore. There was a lone speedboat. I can’t say how long I sat looking out over the water. I just knew I was content to be here, knowing I was so close to many things, but feeling so far way.

People were fishing near the gazebo, which would soon be hosting a wedding, according to the rental agreement I saw.

The alarm on my phone went off, reminding me of an appointment. With a sigh of regret, I left for my car. Before I started it, I looked over the map.

I can bring my dogs next time, so long as they are leashed and I’m mindful of their activities, to enjoy my midweek getaway.

Want to go?

Address: 15222 York Road, Charlotte

Phone: 704-588-5224; campground: 704-583-1284

Hours: Park open daily 7 a.m. until sunset; Nature Center hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: Free

Website: parkandrec.com. Look for Nature Preserves, Public Programs and then the E-Parks link to get the summer program guide. Plus, there is a pdf of the preserve’s Map. The preserve also has Facebook.

Susan Doyle is a freelancer living in Rock Hill.

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