It’s no secret that the past several months have been filled with a variety of bizarre attempts for people to socialize safely. There have been phases of socially distanced car-trunk circles in empty parking lots, and others of Netflix Party. But one way for students to exercise and spend time outdoors is by visiting one of the many trails, parks and outdoor facilities in the Chapel Hill area.
Chapel Hill has an abundance of trails filled with scenery that will awaken one's inner adventurer.
Leigh Ann Hammerbacher, the Triangle Land Conservancy’s director of land protection and stewardship, said there are many trails that are easy for UNC students to access. The Johnston Mill Nature Preserve located at 2713 Mt Sinai Rd. is only a 14-minute drive from campus.
“Several of our nature preserves are close to the University, the closest being Johnston Mill Nature Preserve, which has several miles of hiking trails, two different parking lot access points, and runs along the New Hope Creek," Hammerbacher said. "It’s a great shady spot to check out some of our local flora and fauna.”
Hammerbacher also noted that the nature preserves have been taking precautions to keep visitors safe.
“All of our preserves have stayed open during the pandemic. We have posted signage encouraging everyone to follow state regulations and remain 6 feet apart,” Hammerbacher said.
Here are some more parks and trails that are easy to access for UNC students.
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area
Address: 625 Virginia Cates Rd., Hillsborough, North Carolina 27278
This park is less than 25 minutes from campus by car. The park has 3 miles of trails that lead to a high viewpoint and is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The park superintendent, Kimberly Radewicz, said that she has been impressed by the large increase in turn out over the past few months.
Radewicz said the park reopened on May 8. Since then, the Occoneechee and Eno River state parks have seen anywhere from 45 to 65 percent increase in visitation since the same time last year.
“What I’d recommend for anyone who is interested in coming out to the park is to get here early," Radewicz said. "Especially on the weekends, a lot of my parking here starts to fill up at 10 a.m. I’d recommend people come earlier in the morning on the weekends or much later in the afternoon."
Cedar Falls Park
Address: 501 Weaver Dairy Rd., Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514
Other parks in the area have a variety of facilities, some with even more features than just trails. Cedar Falls Park is good for a variety of levels. In addition to a 1.5 mile nature walk, Cedar Falls Park in Chapel Hill has athletic fields, baseball fields, tennis courts and a picnic shelter.
Carolina North Forest
Address: Carolina North Forest, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599
This park offers the opportunity for students to experience nature on UNC’s own campus, with its 750 acres of woodlands. The Crow Branch Overlook Loop is an easier 3.2-mile trail featuring a lake, while the Wormhole and Pumpkin loop trails are popular 4.6-mile moderate trails.
Mason Farm Biological Reserve
Address: Mason Farm Biological Reserve, Chapel Hill, NC 27517
This is another nature preserve that houses the Hackberry-Warbler Trail and the Big Oak Woods Trail, each looping through local wooded areas. The terrain is wide and flat, which makes it good for those who are just getting started as hikers.
UNC Outdoor Education Center
Address: 410A Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514
In addition to long-existing trails and parks, UNC students and Chapel Hill residents can experience nature on trails created by the group Trail Science.
For the past two years, Trail Science has been hand-crafting trails in the Chapel Hill area. So far, they have completed six miles of multi-use trails, some at the UNC Outdoor Education Center. The trails accommodate mountain bikers, hikers, runners and even dog-walkers.
Trail Science founder Chris Francis said he has seen an increase of people spending time outdoors since the beginning of the pandemic, which he believes to be one of the positive byproducts.
“We enjoy the ambiance of being in the woods and if you’re just using hand tools you can still hear the birds and your buddies talking, or maybe you’re playing some good music. We see it kind of as functional artwork,” Francis said. “What better way to socialize than socially distance in the woods. It’s a safe place to still have some form of human interaction.”
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