On Saturday I had some spare time and energy after a cut-back long run, so I headed to Fuquay-Varina to explore Carroll Howard Johnson Environmental Education Park and knock out hike #3 of my 52 Hike Challenge. What a strange little park. The parking lot circles around a wide green space with restrooms and an amphitheatre near a sign showing the various trails throughout the park. I took a glance at the map, noted the small trails that looped together - one loop, and then the next, and then another like a chain - and decided to check out all 1.7 miles of trail that I could.
The Heritage Trail meanders along a creek past the backyards of homes with rusty sheds and tractors. The water in the creek bed babbles along pleasantly, but the park has the air of leftover land put to leftover use. There are birdhouses everywhere and wooden bridges with decorative post caps that look a little out of place on a primitive trail. There are mountain rhododendrons growing next to Carolina rose and tall meadow grasses. The Heritage Trail ends at a road by some mangled metal and all the trails seem to double back on themselves. Pretty, but strange.
I passed a guy who was set up in a hammock, just hanging out along the trail. I think he had the best utilization of the park. A teenage couple held hands and strolled along the trail, and they stopped to give me a weird look when they found me crouched and contorted by a moss-covered rock as I tried to take a slow shutter speed photo of a little trickle in the creek bed. A trio of high school girls ran along the trails with no serious intent - they laughed as one girl took her shoes off to cross the creek and slowly loped away. I ran across them again at the parking lot where they were sprawled along the amphitheatre benches, pretending to do crunches but really just gossipping.
It was a lovely day to just lie on a bench and gossip. Puffy clouds flew across the sky so that the same spot was one moment warm and then cool. These are lazy trails that connect in odd places and loop back on themselves, but if you're feeling lazy - maybe when it's 80℉ in February and you don't mind the nonstop car noise while your kid runs the little loop trails and you just take it easy and enjoy the breeze through the holly trees - then it's a pretty pleasant way to spend a very short afternoon.
Get there: The Carroll Howard Johnson Environmental Education Park is located in Fuquay-Varina. Parking is available off Wagstaff Road.
Distance: If you loop all the trails together you can hike about 1.7 miles.
Note: Technically the Heritage Trail should connect to a greenway, so you may be able to add mileage or do some biking if you're in the area. The trails in CHJ Park are primitive so I wouldn't recommend taking your road bike there, but you could road bike on the greenways in the area.
Difficulty: Very Easy
Dog friendly? Yes
Kid friendly? Yes
Have you been to Carroll Howard Johnson Environmental Education Park? Or is this park on your list of places to visit? Let me know in the comments!