It takes many years, and funding, to build the greenways that are planned for Mecklenburg County. The county purchased the land for a third greenway in Huntersville, but the funding for construction is not available at this time.
Christa Rogers, natural resources manager for Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation, said the McDowell Creek DIRTway, built in the summer of 2013, opened as a natural surface trail that fall for use by residents while awaiting the funding for the greenway.
The DIRTway extends for 1.5 mile along McDowell Creek, joining the Carrington Ridge, Henderson Park and Gilead Village neighborhoods to the great outdoors. There is on-street parking at two public access points; one on east side at Baylis Drive and another on the west side at Carrington Ridge Drive.
Both accesses are rough trails, bush-hogged and marked by blue paint on trees and fence posts as they pass through the wetlands. The paths are not manicured or maintained, which will require you to cross over small creeks and walk through some muddy areas in the forest setting.
“It’s a recreational trail for people who like to run trails, walk dogs or just enjoy nature,” Rogers said. If you will be going through the west side, Rogers urges visitors to, “wear some waterproof boots,” as it can get “pretty marshy” in that area.
The two rougher sections are joined in the middle by a gravel fitness trail, built by the Henderson Park neighborhood, with the county’s permission, years before the DIRTway was constructed. The fitness trails allow that community access to the other sections of the DIRTway.
Eight fitness stations line the path in the only section where you can see the homes that the trail serves. The DIRTway gives residents a chance to explore nature with very little signs of civilization.
As you walk the primitive areas, you can see animal footprints in the soft mud around the puddles and flooded timbers. Visitors can follow these animal tracks to the creek or explore the surrounding woods and vegetation for the creatures that live there.
Rotting logs along the trail provide habitat for many types of wildlife, including the white-spotted slimy salamander that searches for insects and worms under the logs. Roll one over and take a look – if you see one, don’t touch, as their slime is strong enough to stick your fingers together.
Rogers said that the plan is to extend the DIRTway, construct the paved greenway and eventually connect to the existing Torrence Creek Greenway, which is part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Greenway System and the Carolina Thread Trail.
There is no budget for maintenance or expanding the DIRTway but Rogers said donated materials for footbridges and other amenities are welcome. “Huntersville Park and Recreation has indicated an interest in building a boardwalk for the east section, extending the DIRTway through the wetlands toward Gilead Road, but nothing is planned,” she said.
Walker Branch DIRTway in southwest Charlotte is the only other DIRTway in the greenway system.
“Hopefully we will be making more of these in the future,” Rogers said. “There are plans to construct a another one (in Huntersville) to join the Vermillion neighborhood to the Waymer Park fields.”
Marty Price is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on greenways and the DIRTway in Huntersville: www.huntersville.org/Departments/ParksRecreation/Greenway,TrailBikewaySystem.aspx
For a map of the McDowell Creek DIRTway: http://charmeck.org/mecklenburg/county/ParkandRec/dirtways/Documents/McDowellCreekDIRTwayMap.pdf.
Primal Brewery, 16432 Old Statesville Road, Huntersville, will donate a portion of proceeds from its St. Patrick’s Day party to the greenway, bikeway and DIRTway in town. The party starts 5 p.m. March 17. Details: 704-947-2920 or Primal’s Facebook page.