Another nod to Olmsted, Sandhills Greenways have 19th century roots and offer inspired walks in the woods
By Ray Owen
The greenway concept is nothing new. Its roots are in the European palace gardens, boulevards and thoroughfares that inspired landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and others to create systems of pedestrian trails in the late 19th century.
At the turn of the 20th century, John Tyrant Patrick, founder of Southern Pines and Pinebluff, designed public parkways throughout the original blocks of the towns and landscape designer Warren Manning created nearly 200 miles of marked bridle paths that went through Aberdeen, Pinehurst, Southern Pines, and Taylortown.
Over time, our ever-growing community absorbed these early trails, most deeded to private property owners, others integrated into our contemporary municipal greenways, threading through our towns and countryside like a giant circulation system.
In 1990, Southern Pines began creating an expansive trail system and Pinehurst began creating its greenways in 2003. The trails serve as buffers between developments, protect wildlife, preserve natural streams and water courses, and help improvement air quality.
Many local neighborhoods have easy access to trails that link parks, places on interest and even Sandhills Community College. Walking, jogging, cycling, and pets on a leash are permitted on the walkways, with ample parking a various locations throughout the system.
Pinehurst has about 7.6 miles of trails used by local residents and the surrounding region. Rassie Wicker Park's trails encompass the 33-acre Village Arboretum featuring an urban forest of longleaf pines, 17 varieties of magnolias and 40 varieties of flowering trees. Village plans call for an expand of their greenways to promote active living and greater connectivity.
Southern Pines offers around 10 miles pedestrian and biking trails, nearly three times the national standards. The greenways include David R. White Greenway, Forest Creek, Longleaf, Mill Creek, Nick’s Creek, Reservoir Park, Tall Timbers, Tanglewood, and Tyler's Ridge. Many miles of community walkways connect with the network, including sidewalks throughout the town and Whitehall Trail off Pee Dee Road that intersects Reservoir Park Greenway.
The setting for the Sandhills greenways is the longleaf pine ecosystem, one of the richest habitats in North America, its forest floor one of the most diverse of its kind in the world. A fire driven ecology, fire is to longleaf like rain is to a rain forest and these woods adapted long ago to periodic burning and their survival depends upon it.
The original forests were maintained by natural fires, usually caused by lightning. Today, prescribed burns, which simulate natural fires, are set in order to maintain the longleaf pine forest and its associated wildlife community.
More than 160 species of birds can be found along the paths, including the red-cockaded woodpeckers, a federally endangered species. Fox squirrels can occasionally be seen scampering across the way. Other animals encountered include cottontail rabbit, gray fox, opossum, and white-tailed deer.
The Sandhills Natural History Society is a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the natural world. Members share experiences and knowledge through field trips and presentations to foster stewardship within our region. Meetings are usually held at Weymouth Woods Visitor Center on the 4th Monday of each month and the public is welcome. Socializing starts at 7:00 pm followed by a program.
In additions to the Pinehurst and Southern Pines greenways, Aberdeen Lake Park features a two-mile lake trail and All-American Trail and Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve trailheads are located on Ft. Bragg Road in Southern Pines offering miles of nature walks.
Farther afield are the Sandhills Gamelands, managed by North Carolina Wildlife Commission. Straddling Richmond, Scotland, Moore and Hoke counties, its 60,000-acre preserve is known as one of the best examples of the longleaf pine habitat – access points an easy search Google away.