Tucked out of sight, just off Route 54 near the bustling I-40 interchange between Durham and Chapel Hill (NC) are Leigh Farm Park and the Piedmont Wildlife Center. It’s two for the price of one—except they’re both free!
Leigh Farm Park
Leigh Farm Park is a former Durham farmstead consisting of 80-plus acres, seven of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic structures include the Leigh House, built in 1837, a mid-19th century slave cabin, an early 19th century dairy, a corn crib and smokehouse (both raided in 1865 by Union soldiers), a well house, and a carriage house.
The rest of the property contains a second mid-19th century slave cabin, an early 20th century tobacco barn and pack house, several mid-20th century residences, a speakeasy (moved to the property in the 1950’s), and wooded land that was historically agricultural. To add to the eclectic mix, the visitor’s center at Leigh Farm Park is an old Durham train depot.
Piedmont Wildlife Center (PWC)
Alongside the antebellum Leigh farmstead is the Piedmont Wildlife Center, which seeks to connect people with nature through their three-fold mission to educate the community, conserve nature, and care for injured and sick native wildlife.
During a recent visit, I saw some of the wildlife that have been rescued and nursed back to health. Animals that have been rescued but later determined unable to live successfully in the wild serve as representatives of their species for educational purposes. One such ambassador is Otus, a small Eastern Screech Owl found in 2009 in Wilkes County with an improperly healed wing that makes him unable to fly. Otus was adorable but difficult to photograph.
Athena, a Barred Owl rescued in 2009 in Lincoln County, was found severely injured and required surgery. Despite undergoing months of rehabilitation, flight training, and physical therapy (yes, you read that right), Athena was deemed unable to hunt and survive in the wild.
I heard Bellatrix, a Great Horned Owl, before I saw her. She made a sort of hissing sound, followed by a clicking of her bill. I peered though the wire and came eyeball to eyeball with her.
As I studied Bellatrix, I noticed something fascinating—she had more than one eyelid per eye! She had three, to be exact.
PWC is home to several other animals, including hawks, turtles and snakes.
If two for the price of one isn’t enough to inspire a day out, consider this: on the grounds of Leigh Farm Park is an 18-hole disc golf course operated by Durham Orange Recreational Disc Association. …That’s quite a lot of variety in one place!