If you follow my blog with any regularity, you know that I’ve been trying to make my rounds of all the parks that the city of Raleigh, North Carolina, has to offer. I was off work for some appointments the other day and had a few hours to while away in between. Since I’ve only made modest progress toward my goal of exploring Raleigh’s parks, I decided that it was the perfect time to check another one off of my list: Durant Nature Preserve.
Getting to the park was a cinch–Interstate 540 is only minutes from the park, which is located on 8305 Camp Durant Road. The road itself starts out dirt and gravel, then turns into macadam. (Seems a little backwards, I know.) Much like the other parks I’ve visited so far, I was delighted at how rural the setting seemed. After passing a subdivision, where Camp Durant Road turns from gravel to macadam, the only indication that I was near civilization was the distant noise of traffic along dual-laned Durant Road.
Durant Nature Preserve was the headquarters for the Occoneechee Council of the Boy Scouts until 1979, at which time the City of Raleigh purchased the 237 acres, formerly known as Camp Durant, and turned it into a park. The quiet, woodsy recreation spot was elevated from a mere “park” to a “preserve” in 2010.
Durant Nature Preserve offers fishing, picnicking, five miles of trails (plus access to the Abbott’s Creek connector of the Capital City Greenway), and educational opportunities that range from summer camps and year-round programs to self-guided, “sensory” tours of the gardens and trails.
My visit fell into the self-guided, “sensory” category and began at the preserve’s newest installation, the Sensory and Natural Play Garden. The name pretty much gives it away: this garden is ideal for the kiddos, but it’s also fun for all ages. Partly serious, partly silly, this area includes such features as native plants, ponds, a rock garden, and even a snail crossing.
A rustic bird feeder in the Sensory and Nature Garden at Durant Nature Preserve. (Raleigh, NC)
In the rock garden, a mushroom sprouts up among the art.
I didn’t see any wildlife–not even birds–in the Natural Garden, so I was delighted to spot a yellow-spotted millipede on the sidewalk as I made my way further into the park. I would later see three more millipedes while trekking through the woods.
A yellow-spotted millipede at Durant Nature Preserve in Raleigh, North Carolina.
A particularly informative area of the park is the Interpretive Tree Trail, which begins near the Park Office and winds its way toward (the Nancy Drew-esque) Secret Creek Trail. Plaques along the interpretive path identify native trees and provide interesting facts about them.
Sweet gum trees have fragrant, star-shaped leaves. The sap of these trees were used as chewing gum by Indians and early settlers. (Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC).
The yellow poplar is the tallest deciduous tree in the Southeast. The term deciduous means “falling off at maturity” and refers to trees that lose their leaves seasonally. (Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC)
White oaks like this one at Durant Nature Preserve (Raleigh, NC) can be 60 to 100 feet tall. Their sturdy, beautiful wood make them commercially useful.
The long, spreading branches of the American beech tree makes it attractive for shade. Wildlife eat the beechnuts that grow on these trees. (Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC)
Along the Secret Creek Trail, I saw different types of fungus and had several opportunities to stand out in the middle of the creek on rocks that extended from bank to bank.
Coral fungi along the Sweet Creek Trail at Durant Nature Preserve in Raleigh, NC.
A “sweet view” along the Sweet Creek Trail. There are several places like this one where rocks extend completely across the creek. — Durant Nature Preserve (Raleigh, NC)
I photographed this ebony jewelwing damselfly along the Secret Creek Trail. Unlike a dragonfly which spreads its wings at rest, a damselfly’s wings are folded above the body when at rest. Damselflies aren’t all “damsels” and dames. This one, in fact, is a male. Females usually have a lighter body and a white spot on their wings.
Maps throughout Durant Nature Preserve help park visitors to identify their location and plan their exploration. — Raleigh, NC (iPhone 4S)
Colored wooden circles, like the yellow circle on a tree along the Lakeside Trail (left), denote specific trails. Hiking symbols on trees (right) indicate that the trail is more rugged and ideal for proper hiking. Trail legends (bottom) on maps posted throughout the park provide the length and blaze colors of the various trails. — Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC
Fishing is encouraged on the two fishing docks at Durant Nature Preserve. Pictured here is the smaller dock by the boathouse. Fishing gear can be borrowed from the Park Office. –Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC
Along the Lakeside Trail, I spotted two lizards: this one, which I think is a ground skink, as well as a six-lined racerunner with yellow stripes.
Despite a full overnight charge, my camera battery died…just as nature came alive. Along the Lakeside Trail, I encountered several skittish turtles that quickly slipped into the water, a great blue heron that took off and glided across the lake, and a hawk. I veered onto the Border Trail and made the most of my iPhone’s camera.
I have to admit that the further into the park’s trail system that I ventured, the more unsure I was of my actual location–(and the more I wished I had applied some bug spray, which is another thing entirely). The blaze markers helped with my navigation a bit, but there were several times when I would reach a fork in the trail and had to make a decision. A simple map in hand would have probably made this easier….but what fun would that be!
The more rugged Border Trail at Durant Nature Preserve involves crossing a creek by way of rocks and a large concrete paver. — Raleigh, NC (iPhone 4s)
Shortly after crossing the creek, I found myself on a dirt road that appeared to be an access or service road. It was muddy going because of recent rainfall, but I soon made my way onto another wooded trail. It was here that I encountered a whole mess of deer. The deer are fawning this time of year, and sure enough I saw a mother watching over her little ones as they ate. Although it’s tempting to venture closer, a notice at the Park Office had advised that it’s best not to get too close to them so that the mother will not get spooked and abandon her babies.
A mother deer with her three fawns at Durant Nature Park in Raleigh, NC. (iPhone 4S)
Along the way, I encountered a “waterfall.” The yellow blur at about seven o’clock is a yellow swallowtail butterfly. — Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC. (iPhone 4S)
What’s a park or nature preserve without a turtle log? –Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC (iPhone 4S)
There was so much more to see and do–I had also planned to visit the park’s butterfly and bird garden–but I had gotten a bit too entrenched in the trail system and it was time to head back to civilization. In my estimation, Durant Nature Preserve is a great local destination for all ages. No doubt, each visit will be a slightly different experience but always an entertaining exploration of creation.