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Outdoors in the Carolinas' growing Piedmont: Charlotte's green ways.

It was 1799, and in the midst of the rolling hills of the Piedmont, 12-year-old Conrad Reed found a 17-pound nugget in a stream on his father's farm. The family used it as a doorstop for three years until a jeweler recognized the value of what was a hunk of gold. "Gold fever" took over, making Charlotte, North Carolina, the first gold production region and trade center in the United States.

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Today it continues to be a financial center, with banks dominating the skyline. However, Charlotte is rich in other ways, especially in preserving its environment. AMERICAN FORESTS' 2005 National Conference on Urban Ecosystems, "Nature at Your Service," will be held in Charlotte Nov. 17-18. Below are some suggestions for getting out and seeing just how Charlotte keeps its citizens connected to nature. Grab a buddy and start walking!

WING HAVEN

Make sure the bird book is handy when you visit nationally renowned Wing Haven Gardens and Bird Sanctuary. It takes more than a whopping 3,500 pounds of seed annually to feed the more 142 species of birds there. Admire an assortment of trees and flowers as you wind along the three-acre garden's brick paths, fountains, reflecting pools, and statues.

Wing Haven, created in 1927 by Elizabeth and Edwin Clarkson, is owned by the Wing Haven Foundation, whose members support wildlife education programs and a winter garden lecture series. Its common chastetree (vitex agnus-castus) reigned as national champion from 2000 until 2004. Also look for two Russian olives (elaeagnus), which arch over the garden entrance of St. Theresa's Path and perfume the spring air. Plant choices such as cotoneaster and American elder emphasize suitability as bird food, habitat, or nesting sites.

Elizabeth's dedication and devotion to her birds is felt throughout the garden and is considered part of the Wing Haven experience. "If I speak to him he answers me and sometimes waves his wing at me like he does in greeting a female Blue Bird," Elizabeth wrote in 1940 about her house bird, Tommy.

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For information on Wing Haven Gardens and Bird Sanctuary, 248 Ridgewood Avenue, visit www.winghavengardens.com or call 704/331-0664.

RIBBONWALK

Another favorite among Charlotte's birds is a "treasure tree grove," with old beech trees reaching a 35-inch diameter. Beeches dominate the northeastern corner of Ribbonwalk Urban Forest's Mesic-Mixed Hardwood Forest, but there also are white and northern red oak and tulip poplar.

Woodlands, wetlands, and meadows comprise Ribbonwalk's 192 acres of primarily secondary-growth pine and hardwoods. Included are four walking trails, three large ponds, creeks, acres of forest, and a picnic area. The newest addition is 21 acres of wildflower-covered forest at the northeast corner. Look for plenty of wildlife here, including 60 species of birds, rabbits, raccoons, raptors, salamanders, snakes, toads, turtles, and white-tailed deer.

Ribbonwalk is located at 4601 Nevin Road. For more information, visit www.parkandrec.com. Click on the link for parks then look for the alphabetized listing of parks.

A MULTITUDE OF GREENWAYS

In 1910, Charlotte's original grid street pattern of right angles was lost to a new modern design, but much more was gained. The Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company hired the Olmsted brothers, whose previous work included the White House grounds, to plan the street layout of the 442 treeless acres of Dilworth, south of Charlotte. This now-prestigious community of million-dollar homes once housed industrial workers from Atherton Cotton Mills. Charlotte's civil engineers mapped Dilworth with every feature including each tree's species and size.

The street plan was finished by 1912, but only half the design construction was completed. Still, the Olmsted landscape and street standard influenced suburban development across the city and nation.

Today, the greenways of Mecklenburg County continue the Olmsted brother's environmentally conscious approach to landscape while improving water quality, reducing the impacts of flooding, and providing wildlife habitat. The county has 22 miles of developed and 158 miles of undeveloped greenways, which continue to be built and improved with a Greenway Master Plan, which extends until 2009. For information, go to http://www.parkandrec.com and click on the link for greenways.

The greenways don't only help the neighborhoods, they protect native species. McAlpine Creek Greenway boasts the second highest number of bird species in Mecklenburg County. Also prevalent at McAlpine Creek: beaver, mink, river otters, and a rare, native purple larkspur (Delphinium tricorne).

McAlpine Creek was Charlotte's original Greenway Park and its 8.9 miles of greenway, cross-country and nature trails. In the 1990s, the adjoining Campbell Creek Greenway was the last documented location for queen snakes, which survive in clean and clear rocky streams.

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The Mallard and Clark's Creek Greenway is a haven for butterflies during the late summer and early full. Gulf fritillaries, buckeyes, and monarchs travel through the greenway on their annual trip to their winter grounds in Mexico. The paved greenway stretches 4.3 miles long and features the University Research Trail, stretching 1.2 miles. Beaver, great blue herons, muskrats, fox, red-tailed hawks, and white-tailed deer are also prominent in the area.

Looking for a slice of Charlotte life? Try the paved Irwin Creek Greenway, which runs almost two miles through and around uptown, linking neighborhoods to parks for picnicking, soccer playing, and play-grounds. The greenway connects to a city bike route at 4th Street, making it popular with cycling commuters. Watch for a public art display, a long line of namesake trees at Sycamore Street, and a Children's Memorial Walkway and Garden in Frazier Park.

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The McMullen and Lower McAlpine Creek Greenway totals four miles of trail with a picnic area. It includes a boardwalk with wetland observation decks.

Parents looking to engage young nature-seekers should try the Torrence Creek Greenway, nearly a mile and a half of paved trail through a meadow and by unusual--and unusually large--rock formations. Cross-country fitness trails, bike paths, and nature trails also are available at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

LATTA PLANTATION

What greenways do for species in the city and surrounding suburbs, preserves do across thousands of miles in Mecklenburg County. The forests and fields of Latta Plantation Nature Center and Preserve's 1,290 acres are home to 97 species of birds, 17 of mammals, 14 of reptiles, and nine of amphibians, which includes the bald eagle, fox, mink, red-spotted newt, and wild turkey. Be sure to visit the Carolina Raptor Center, an education and rehab facility dedicated to conserving birds of prey and home to the Southeast's largest eagle aviary.

Perhaps not as prominent but just as important are its upland and bottomland hardwood forests, the latter a threatened natural community in North Carolina. In fact, Latta Plantation includes one of only five remaining basic oak-hickory forests, home to a rich diversity of species and one of 43 Natural Heritage Sites in Mecklenburg County. It also includes Mountain Island Lake, which serves as the drinking water source for 600,000 of Mecklenburg and Gaston counties citizens.

The preserve's 1,290 acres extend into Mountain Island Lake, the drinking water source for 600,000 residents of Mecklenburg and Gaston counties. Besides protecting the water quality of the lake, the plantation is home to endangered plants, including the federal candidate species Georgia's aster. Travel the preserve's 16 miles of trails by car, bike, or horseback, and don't miss a tour of the 19th-centural federal-style plantation home. The land was purchased by traveling merchant James Latta in 1799 when it was a cotton plantation. The preserve opened in 1981 with 654 acres. Located at 6211 Sample Road, the Latta Plantation Nature Center and Preserve can be found online at http://www.lattaplantation.org, or by calling 704/875-2312.

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MCDOWELL

The 1,108-acre McDowell Nature Center and Preserve, the county's oldest, protects rolling forested terrain along the banks of Lake Wylie. In the mid-1900s the land was logged, leaving only immature hardwood trees. Today the upland hardwood forests are protected together with fields, streams, the 9-acre Dodge Prairie, and the 140-acre McDowell Prairie.

While hiking, canoeing, kayaking, or eating a picnic lunch, watch for Gulf Coast spiny softshell turtles, loggerhead shrikes, pileated woodpeckers, Seminole bats, and spotted salamanders. There are 119 species of birds, 21 of mammals, 21 of reptiles, and 14 of amphibians found on the preserve.

Stop by the Nature Center for a peek at live animals, exhibit halls, and a Backyard Habitat Garden. Seven miles of hiking trails put you closer to Georgia's aster, Schweinitz's sunflower, and the yellow flower, prairie dock. Camp in the preserve's campground. McDowell Park is located at 15222 York Road. Call 704/588-5224 or go to http://www.charmeck.org/(click on "environment" then on "parks and recreation department's division of natural resources").

REEDY CREEK

The Native American artifacts of the Reedy Creek Nature Preserve date back to the Woodland period of 2000 B.C. to 1000 A.D., known generally for pottery production and graves with elaborate goods inside. The preserve also protects the South Fork of Reedy Creek natural heritage site, an area with a gathering of plant species more typical of the mountain region.

You'll find a mix of pine and hardwood forests, fields, three lakes, and two tributaries of Reedy Creek here. Hikers will enjoy 10 miles of trails, which lead past the ruins of the 1700s home of the Robinson family.

Kentucky warblers, called a "high" priority for conservation, live here--their last potential breeding spot in the county. In all 109 species of birds, 15 of mammals, 20 of reptiles, and 12 of amphibians have been found here. You may hear but never see the melodious, camoflagued gray tree frog, who waits for cool nighttime temperatures before calling for a mate. http://www.charmeck.org/ (click on "environment" then on "parks and recreation department's division of natural resources") or call 704/598-8857.

While attending AMERICAN FORESTS' National Conference on Urban Ecosystems, be sure to explore Charlotte and its gorgeous surrounding wilderness. You probably won't find a priceless nugget, but you will see examples of nature that are worth their weight in gold.

Meghan Amoroso was a summer intern at American Forests.
COPYRIGHT 2005 American Forests
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Author:Amorosa, Meghan
Publication:American Forests
Geographic Code:1U5NC
Date:Sep 22, 2005
Words:1698
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