University City

Reedy Creek Park and Nature Preserve offer fun, history in University City

As the Charlotte area has grown to encompass about a million people, it has developed many opportunities for residents to interact with nature: Mecklenburg County has eight greenways, 210 parks and 12 nature preserves.

A University City opportunity is Reedy Creek Park and Nature Preserve, at 2900 Rocky River Road near Grier Road, off East W.T. Harris Boulevard.

Among its more obvious amenities, the park and preserve are home to two historic houses.

The city bought the land in 1981 and created Reedy Creek Park. After the merger of the city and county park and recreation departments in 1991, ownership was transferred to Mecklenburg County.

In 1992, Reedy Creek Nature Center (originally Reedy Creek Environmental Center) was built. With the adoption of the county’s Nature Preserve Master Plan in 1997, the area was divided into Reedy Creek Park and Reedy Creek Nature Preserve.

Reedy Creek Park’s 114 acres provide many opportunities for recreation. The park has 10 picnic shelters with grills, and many picnic tables.

The park also has a soccer field, a softball field, two volleyball courts and a basketball court.

Other amenities include two playgrounds, an 18-hole disc golf course, a fishing pier, an off-leash dog park and a rustic cabin with a fireplace and grill behind it.

The adjacent Reedy Creek Nature Preserve protects 737 acres of natural, wooded habitat. Visitors will find more than 10 miles of hiking trails, providing opportunities to traverse various terrains, catch views of several small ponds and explore forests, fields and streams.

The headwaters and two tributaries of Reedy Creek are located in the preserve.

Also protected by the preserve is the South Fork of Reedy Creek Natural Heritage Site, an area containing a collection of plant species more typical of the state’s mountain region than of the Charlotte area.

The preserve is a wonderful place to observe wildlife. According to preserve naturalist Laura Domingo, one might see barred owls, migratory birds in the spring and fall, Mallard ducks, deer, and the catfish that are stocked in two of the ponds.

The Nature Center, also in the Nature Preserve, boasts an exhibit hall, gift shop, bird-viewing area, live animals, a backyard habitat garden and a natural play area.

Also at the preserve is the Dr. James F. Mathews Center for Biodiversity Studies, where scientists are busy studying the plants and animals of the Piedmont.

The Nature Center is a gateway to the natural areas of Mecklenburg County, its various habitats, the animals that live there and the environmental issues the county faces, said Domingo.

“Most important,” she said, is the fact the preserve offers the opportunity to “get out and enjoy nature.”

Another place to explore within Reedy Creek Park and Nature Preserve is the Robinson Rock House ruin.

According to information published in a brochure about the site by Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, the stone house was built around 1800 by Robert Robinson, on 212 acres he had bought in 1767. The land was part of an original grant of 100,000 acres given to Englishman John Selwyn by King George II for his services to the crown.

The house and land changed hands many times over the years. The house last was occupied in 1899 by George Jordan and his family; it was rediscovered in 1982 by students from a class at UNC Charlotte. The students cleaned up the site and developed maps to assist future archeologists.

In 1989, plans were made to protect the rock house and nearby archeological sites, including several smaller tenant houses and cabins.

The buildings, usually consisting only of one room, sometimes had to accommodate many people. To earn their keep, families who lived there worked local cotton fields, according to the Park and Recreation brochure.

Another house, built by J.E. Norkett around 1921, is located off the trail to the Rock House but has no direct access. The 1 1/2-story house is best described as a folk Gothic Revival. It had a large front and back porch and a big kitchen extension.

The roof of the Norkett house originally wood shingles; the shingles were replaced by tin in the l950s. Henry Robinson, a farmer from Tennessee, was the final resident of the house, living there until 1954.

Domingo said the park and preserve will celebrate International Migratory Bird Day 10 a.m.-2 p.m. May 10. There will be bird hikes and educational discovery tables with information inside and outside the Nature Center.