Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Latta Plantation Nature Preserve: Treasure Tree and Beechwood Trails (Blog Hike #341)

Trails: Treasure Tree and Beechwood Trails
Hike Location: Latta Plantation Nature Preserve
Geographic Location: southwest of HuntersvilleNC (35.35255, -80.91599)
Length: 1.8 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: April 2011
Overview: A double loop hike through almost every type of Piedmont forest.

Directions to the trailhead: On the northwest side of Charlotte, take I-485 to WT Harris Blvd. (exit 22).  Exit and go west on WT Harris Blvd.  Take WT Harris Blvd. to its end at Mt. Holly-Huntersville Rd. and turn left.  Take Mt. Holly-Huntersville Rd. 1.2 miles to Beatties Ford Rd. and turn right.  Take Beatties Ford Rd. 1.5 miles to Sample Rd. and turn left.  Sample Rd. dead-ends at the preserve entrance.  Stop at the Nature Center to pick up a trail map, then drive past the Latta Equestrian Center to the gravel horse trailer parking on the right.  Park in the horse trailer parking, taking care not to block any gates or trucks hauling horse trailers.

The hike: At 1345 acres, Latta Plantation Nature Preserve is the largest preserve in Mecklenburg County.  The preserve is named for James Latta who built and farmed the plantation that now bears his name.  Mr. Latta’s home, located near the main picnic area and trailhead for the next hike, is open for tours on Tuesday through Sunday.  No trails lead to the home, so you will have to make a special stop or walk a short distance along the park road if you wish to see the plantation home.  Unfortunately, the warm late spring afternoon on which I visited this preserve was a Monday, so I did not get to tour the home.
            The park has a large equestrian center, and all but 5 of the park’s 12 trails are open to both horses and hikers.  Unfortunately, many of the 7 multi-use trails follow power-line corridors, and all of them receive heavy horse traffic.  Therefore, hikers will have the most pleasant hiking experience by sticking to the park’s 5 hiking-only trails.
            Of the 5 hiking-only trails, my favorites are the two described here due to the maturity of the forest they traverse.  The trails form distinct loops that could be hiked separately, but they share a common parking area and hence combine nicely into a single hike.  On the down side, the common parking area is the large, gravel horse trailer parking lot.  As you might expect, this parking area has all the charm and smell of a horse trailer parking area, but this detraction only encourages you to leave the parking area for the trail more quickly.
Trailhead: Treasure Tree Trail
            For no reason, I chose to hike the Treasure Tree Trail first.  The Treasure Tree Trail starts at a wooden shelter at the back left (northwest) corner of the parking area.  The Treasure Tree Trail is marked with red circles bearing the universal hiking symbol, and numbered posts correspond to a trail guide available at the Nature Center.  The dirt path descends slightly to reach the fork that forms the loop portion of this trail.  To follow the trail guide in ascending order, this description will turn left here and use the right trail as the return route.
            Almost immediately you cross a horse trail under a powerline.  The park map calls this the Shady Trail, but it features little shade based on what I saw.  The Treasure Tree Trail curves right to parallel the horse trail.  The largest trees in this forest are tulip poplars, but the “treasure tree” that gives this trail its name is an unusually shaped sourwood you will encounter about half way around this loop.  Keep an eye out and see if you can spot it.
A large tulip poplar
            After crossing the Shady Trail for the second and final time, the trail reaches its farthest point and takes a sharp right turn.  Another horse trail can be seen through the trees to the left, but this trail stays in the tall, mature forest.  At 0.5 miles, the trail briefly joins a horse trail before turning right to reenter the woods.  Blazes and red arrows keep you on the right path.  At 0.65 miles, you close the loop, and a left turn and short uphill hike will return you to the parking lot.
            To begin the Beechwood Trail, walk across the horse trailer parking lot and angle left to find the signed trailhead at a wooden fence.  The Beechwood Trail is marked with green triangles bearing the universal hiking symbol.  The dirt trail descends moderately but only for a short distance to reach the start of the loop.  For no reason, I again turned left here and hiked the loop clockwise.
Hiking the Beechwood Trail
            The trail treads along the rim of a steep but shallow ravine to your right.  A few large and interesting-shaped boulders appear in the ravine below you.  At 0.3 miles, the trail descends gradually and crosses a small creek just before it empties into Mountain Island Lake.  Unfortunately, dense forest precludes any lake views.
Boulders in ravine
            Now on the other side of the ravine, the trail climbs moderately to again reach the rim.  Songbirds entertained me with music as I hiked, and a toad jumped off the trail in front of me.  As the trail’s name suggests, the largest trees on this trail are beech trees, easily identified by their white peely bark.
            The trail dips to cross a couple of feeder streams that head into the ravine.  The areas around these dips are steep, but they do not last for long.  At 0.9 miles, you reach a wooden sign that says “Parking Lot,” marking the close of the loop.  A left turn and short uphill walk will return you to the parking lot to complete the hike.

1 comment: