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Get outdoors on New Years’s Day

Get outdoors on New Year’s Day

The annual Eno River Association’s New Year’s Day walk is a decades-old tradition. This year, hundreds of folks, young and old, will enjoy another well-organized walk along the river, welcoming the New Year and celebrating that long corridor of preserved wild lands.

For those of you who prefer walks with fewer people, our area has lots of great walking and hiking options. There are many other trails along the Eno, and Duke Forest has so many trails that you can walk a different one each week for three months without repeating your walks (www.dukeforest.edu).

For folks who don’t want to travel more than a few blocks from downtown Carrboro, you can enjoy the Adams Tract, with its trail head in Wilson Park at the end of Williams Street. This town-managed natural area offers several short trails through different forest communities. In reality, the Adams Tract is an unannounced gateway to the extensive and beautiful, rocky Bolin Creek forest corridor. Cross the creek and beyond you will discover trails through hundreds of acres of the University’s Carolina North property, better known as the Horace Williams tract. So you can easily extend a short walk to a half-day leisurely ramble.

Just before Christmas, a small group of us had a fine time discovering a great number of impressive trees just within the 30-acre Adams Tract. Young naturalist 6-year-old Gabe Hart helped the older folks in measuring some of the larger trees using a “tree-hugging” technique. We discovered that you don’t really need justification for hugging a big tree. Just do it in appreciation of the tree; and while you’re at it, look straight up to get a human-humbling perspective.

If you want more of an adventure, you can take a mountain hike just by traveling a few minutes north to Occoneechee Mountain on the edge of Hillsborough. It’s now part of the state park system, and once you make the steep walk up to the looking-off place, you’ll have a being-in-the-mountains sensation.

This is one of my favorite local natural areas and I frequently take out-of-town visitors there to get a flavor of Western North Carolina without the long drive. You may be surprised to discover an extensive shrub layer of the evergreen mountain laurel, Kalmia angustifolia, with a few rhododendron, Rhododendron catabiense, here and there and a groundcover of galax, Galax aphylla, an evergreen-leaved wildflower common throughout the Carolina mountain regions.

Visitors appreciate learning that these isolated pockets of mountain species in our eastern Piedmont are small “relict” plant communities of former Ice Age boreal forests, left in place clinging to coolish, north-facing, rocky creek and river bluffs.

Whether you stay close to home or travel a few miles away, take time at this turning over of the year for a woods walk. And even if you are accompanied by a few other folks, stop and be silent for at least 60 seconds, hear the sounds the forest makes, and let that guide you into the New Year.

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