19 June 2013

Swift Creek Nature Preserve (and Crowder Park)

Yesterday (17 June) I developed terrible cabin fever. I'd spent all day at the apartment waiting for a phone call that never came. Even two glasses of wine (Hinnant Family Vineyards' Norton 2008) couldn't help. I decided I needed to get out of the house, and was just about to leave for Eno River State Park when apartment maintenance showed up to fix the fridge (water has been dripping from the freezer into the fridge since before I moved in). I was the only one home so I had to stay; twenty minutes later it became apparent we needed an entirely "new" fridge. (You must use air quotes when describing the fridge. It is not the same fridge we had before, but it is by no means new. However, it works, which is all that matters.) Thank goodness my roommates finally came home (they were at, like, class or something. Productive people make me feel bad), but by the time I was able to go for my hike, it did not make sense to drive all the way to Eno River any more.

Instead, I discovered the Triangle Land Conservancy, and their Swift Creek Bluffs Preserve. Swift Creek Bluffs is in Cary off Holly Springs Rd, a short jaunt from Raleigh. But you'd never know it was there; it's not advertised, there's very little signage, and your GPS will not lead you to the parking lot (don't turn on Birkhead, the parking area is actually next to the pumping station just before Birkhead). But the difficulty of getting there means you'll have the place mostly to yourself, and that's often why we wander off into the woods anyway. Right?

This tree is not right.The first thing you see starting on the trail out of the parking lot is this seriously messed up pine tree. I have no idea what caused that; the scars go most of the way up the trunk. This is maybe 20 feet from your car. By this point if you haven't already found and started using a spider stick you need to do so. Seriously. Remember how I said you'd be the only one there? Yeah, possibly the only one in several days. You want a spider stick.

You should not walk under this.  I risk my life as a faithful reporter. Another 20 feet along the trail and you come to the first junction... and just down the junction you see this. The rest of this tree is scattered around the grounds. Several others are downed across the trail. The trail is actually closed here and you really should not cross the "closed" sign. This is a crappy phonecam shot but believe me this tree is freakin' huge.  This preserve was flat destroyed by Andrea.Really. Don't do it.

Okay, fine, so you're going to go where you shouldn't, huh? You just have to follow every single trail in the park? Who does that? I mean, apart from me. First, let me suggest to you that Swift Creek Bluffs won't be in such disarray for all that long; I'm sure they have a work day planned, and I've emailed Triangle Land to ask when that might be so I can go help out. Believe me, the lower part of the trail (through the "Chestnut Oak Swamp") is really in bad shape. It's possible that Tropical Storm Andrea did this much damage, but that seems unlikely; the size and number of trees that are downed throughout the preserve Hooray for poison ivy!  It's easy to see why this tree hasn't been moved yet.makes me guess that after Andrea's rain, one of the storms later in the week probably produced a microburst or mini tornado. You've got to go to really get an idea of the amount of damage. And if that's not enough to dissuade you from crossing the Do Not Cross barriers, examine this downed tree. That's a maple tree. But that maple tree had a very healthy poison ivy plant climbing up it, and all those leaves you see are ivy, not maple. You cannot climb over this tree. You cannot walk around it. You cannot avoid it in any way. So when you come across this tree you will get poison ivy oil on you. (Immunity to urushiol is my superpower, so I was okay.)

Along the closed trails I did come across this wonderful hickory. Shaggy barkHickories are even harder to differentiate than oaks are; they all look the same for like the first 100 years, and they grow so slowly and live so long. And their wood makes such wonderful cabinets. Anyway, this here is a shagbark hickory, and for the first time in my life I have seen why, in person.

The lower part of the trail, which is a nice hike (the parts of it that are not blocked by downed trees), runs alongside Swift Creek.I don't know what these trees are.  This is incredibly frustrating. There is a large population of these trees along the creek. I have no idea what these are. I swear they look like magnolias of some kind, but none of them have any sort of flower or seed that I could see. They're vaguely tropical-looking. I like them but they frustrate me.

Whatever these trees are, the most common tree in the entire park is the stately American Beech. Swift Creek not living up to its name.This is very much a beech forest with other trees; there are easily more beeches in the Swift Creek Preserve than any other single tree. But that's not the whole story. The preserve is called Swift Creek Bluffs. So far we've only walked along the creek.

Frequent readers (I know there are none of those, but I have hopes that will change) will note that Swift Creek is the creek that runs through Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve also in Cary. Indeed, if you look on a map you'll note Hemlock Bluffs and Swift Creek are practically next to one another. And the key feature of Swift Creek Bluffs is indeed a high bluff, not unlike the bluffs at Hemlock Bluffs. I wondered if perhaps there'd be a hemlock or two hanging out up there.There sure was.  This tree is the only hemlock I saw, but it's almost easier to get a picture of this one than of any of the trees at Hemlock Bluffs.

There's a long stairway up to the top of the bluff, and then the trail wends along the top for a ways. But it isn't a loop. If you want to make it into a loop you have to take a little side trip onto the Birkhaven greenway trail, which takes you down to a golf course before you can re-enter the preserve. But that's cool. I stumbled around on the bluff for a while and then came back down the stairs and went through a swamp again for a bit and went back to the car.

Swift Creek Bluffs has some nice trails and is certainly an asset to the area, but until the park's been cleaned up and the rest of the trails are open you should probably visit another park instead. If and when you do decide to hike Swift Creek Bluffs, if it's summertime, don't forget the bug spray and the spider stick.
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I wasn't quite ready to go back to the apartment after hiking Swift Creek Bluffs. So I turned the car south to Ten-Ten Rd. and stopped at Crowder District Park, a Wake County park in Apex. It's a nice little park but not exactly a big place for hiking. You can come here and take a nice walk on paved trails. The boardwalk across the pond is nice. In the evening, the turtles congregate, looking for handouts. It's a little weird, actually; there are dozens of them and they congregate like ducks expecting you to throw them crusts of bread. Like slow, partially submerged ducks.

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