Play Local · Uncategorized

21 Days Outdoors – Johnston Mill Nature Preserve

Conventional wisdom advises that habits are ingrained after 21 days of repetition. If that theory holds true, then the eat~play~shop local habit requires time and effort to develop. Each month I’ll share “21 Days” of some event, place or organization in the Triangle, enabling (and I mean that in the most positive sense possible) your inner Localista to come out and join us. This month it’s all about the great outdoors in the Triangle – parks, trails and green spaces under blue skies. So brush up on your trail etiquette, lace up those shoes, slather on the sunscreen and join us for some fresh air and fun times. 

Tucked away in Orange County just north of Chapel Hill is a peaceful nature preserve of which you may not have heard, Johnston Mill Nature Preserve. Nearly 300 acres of mixed hardwood forest along New Hope Creek was purchased through the efforts of the Triangle Land Conservancy in 1999. In 2001 the preserve was opened to the public for hiking recreation. Today, trails measure more than three miles and vary from the relatively easy Robin’s Trail that follows along the creek, to the more challenging Beech Loop and Old Field Bluff trails. 

The preserve was once the home and livelihood of the Johnston family who farmed the land since the first half of the 1700s. Remains of two former grist mills and crumbling stone chimneys from the farmstead can be found along the creek during the winter season, when vegetation recedes to reveal their remnants. In spring the the preserve comes alive with tadpoles and salamanders, as well as wild flowers. In the summer, the mature trees provide a shady canopy from the sun’s glaring rays. You can imagine what colors those same trees display each fall.

There are ample opportunities to enjoy the natural environ within the preserve and a sign at the Beech Loop trail head invites you to take a seat for a moment to listen to songs of birds, the wind as it passes through the leaves and the creek’s gentle gurgle. The preserve trails can be accessed via two small parking areas, one off Mt. Sinai Road and another off Turkey Farm Road (and you can find directions via the TLC website here). There are no restroom facilities at the nature preserve (so make sure you prepare appropriately, especially if you’re bringing the kids along). I wouldn’t consider the trails stroller friendly (and bicycles are not permitted in the preserve either) but a hike along the creek would make a great family outing, either before or after a visit to nearby Maple View Farm‘s country store.

As noted earlier, Johnston Mill Nature Preserve exists because of the Triangle Land Conservancy, the organization’s members and donors. This preserve is just one of seven TLC has conserved in their mission to safeguard clean water and save wildlife habitat. Take a few moments to learn more about TLC and sign up for their email newsletter to keep updated on the latest efforts to save natural spaces in our region. 

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