The Mallard Creek and Clark's Creek Greenway in the University area is currently the longest finished greenway in Mecklenburg County.
There are two portions: the gravel portion, called the University Research Trail, is 1.2 miles, the paved portion is 5.9 miles. The greenway has four entrances with limited parking, including one at Mallard Creek Elementary and one at Countryside Montessori School.
According to parkandrec.com, the Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Departmental website, "The western end is a paved trail through many university area neighborhoods. In the middle is a gravel trail through University Research Park.
"The eastern end is a paved trail passing through mature floodplain forest, under I-85 and Highway 29, and on to the Kirk Farm soccer fields near UNC-Charlotte."
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Greenways have similar hours to park hours (daylight hours only) and are planned and managed by the Parks and Recreation Department. According to parks.org, "Greenways are vegetated natural buffers that improve water quality, reduce the impacts of flooding, and provide wildlife habitat. Greenway trails provide recreation, transportation, fitness and economic benefits for all to enjoy."
One of the apparent noneconomic benefits is the variety of wildlife found in them. Mallard Creek greenway parallels Mallard Creek and crosses under Mallard Creek Road.
The creatures found on the greenway include "great blue herons, gray foxes, white-tailed deer and a wide variety of birds, including red-tailed hawks. In the spring and summer you may see beavers and muskrats."
Also according to parkandrec.com, the greenway is an ideal place to view butterflies during their migration in the spring and fall. "Watch for gulf fritillaries, buckeyes and bright orange monarch butterflies migrating south to their wintering grounds in Mexico."
The most interesting items on the greenway however, are the people. Because greenways are essentially trails, most of the people you encounter are running or walking - some with their dogs -and biking, so you get a brief encounter with those you meet.
The encounters are usually friendly, even when you're not expecting it. At the mention of the U.S. National Whitewater Center, a biker stopped recently to talk about her positive experience riding the manmade rapids and biking along the center's trails. Most of the bikers are respectful of the walkers and alert you to their presence of they are riding up behind you.
The Mallard Creek/Clark's Creek Greenway, like most of the county's greenways, abuts some apartment homes and subdivisions, creating more of a neighborhood feel. The friendly people you meet could be your neighbors.
The greenway system espouses the neighborly connectivity and appreciation of nature that it generates in its users. The Parks and Recreation Department creates greenways with a master plan in mind.
In 1980 "an official greenway master plan was developed. The 1980 greenway master plan called for a 73-mile network of trails along 14 creek corridors. The plan envisioned a "green necklace" of creeks [that are] around the county," according to the 2008 Greenway Plan Update.
As of 2008, "the Division [of Parks and Recreation] has designed and constructed over 30 miles of trail within 14 greenway corridors. Over seven miles of trails connect nearby residents from neighborhoods and park facilities to the main trail system.
"Through planning efforts of both greenway staff and Mecklenburg County Real Estate services, over 3,000 acres of floodplain and riparian habitat have been conserved."