A Walkabout In Durant Nature Preserve

Durant Nature Preserve, Raleigh, NC

*We have added Durant Nature Preserve to our list of Best Local Hikes in the Triangle Area. Though modest in size and surrounded by development, this fine park surpassed our expectations greatly.

Sylvia and Brian enjoy their local adventures which keep them ready for the bigger adventures. We are always in search of a new microadventure close to our home in the Raleigh/Durham area.

With a couple of hours to spare on a weekend evening, we thought we’d take our expanded family (ourselves, future Sled Dog Captain / Cash Hound Fitz Roy, and our borrowed children Emily and Sayuri) out to local Durant Nature Preserve, just a few miles form the house.

We’d been to DNP one time before some years ago, and were not expecting much. We’d found the facilities crude at that time, and there was really only one true trail and that was marked for mountain biking. We thought it might be good enough for just an hour or two, give us some exercise and zip on home.

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Durant Nature Preserve has much more to offer than we first thought, including two very large ponds.

We were quite surprised, though, with the extent of the trail system of this small park. In fact, we had no idea when we left, but we did not give ourselves nearly enough time to explore the park…We had ourselves what we call a ‘walkabout,’ which in plain English is when you walk about twice as much as you figured.

We did not manage to see it all, but what we saw was surprisingly good for an ‘urban’ park of just 237 acres in size.

Formerly the Occoneechee Council of Boy Scouts’ Camp Durant, the Preserve was purchased by the city of Raleigh in 1979,  but not fully opened until 2010. Like many parcels of land the city had the foresight to invest in, this one is just now starting to be managed in a way where it will pay great dividends in recreational value for the entire community.

Though it is surrounded on all sides by development or industrial sites, lies close to a major highway and a rail line, and connects to no other significant natural corridors, the park has a surprisingly remote and placid feel to it. It may not be wilderness but it feels more remote than it actual is.

We arrived in the late afternoon with about two hours of daylight left, thinking that would be plenty. We were the only car in the parking area.

Like nearby Blue Jay Park, DNP has an elaborate educational center (Campbell Lodge, currently undergoing renovations.) We’re not sure when this opened but neither of us recall it being there last time we visited.

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The signs promise hiking, biking and (apparently) Alpine scenery. In fact we saw only other hikers, and very few of them.

We set off to explore the Border Trail, which as the name implies meanders around the parks periphery and is marked as a mountain bike trail. However it is wide enough for hikers and bikes to pass at almost all points, and besides, there didn’t figure to be much more bike traffic in what remained of that day anyway.

The trail winds through pleasant woods for what seems like a long distance, although it is unlikely the hiker is ever more than a half mile from the parking area as the crow flies. This is a very well made and eye pleasing trail that walkers of any ability could easily manage.

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After a few zigs and zags the trail climbs a slope and arrives at a surprisingly large pond. This is actually one of TWO ponds at the preserve…the other is even larger.

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The smaller of the two ponds at DNP

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Great Blue Heron

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At the pond we left the Border Trail, following the Beaver Pond Trail for a while before rejoining the Beaver Trail. We saw no Beavers here, but there was a Great Blue Heron fishing.

After the junction the Border Trail angles away from the pond and crosses some area of old field succession before reaching a stream crossing.

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Inscription on this memorial stone reads, “I’m the color of leaves when autumn is around / and the pure white snow that blankets the ground
I’m the beautiful flowers of which you’re so fond / the clear cool water in a quiet pond.”

The trails are well marked, and trail maps are situated at numerous junctions. There is very little possibility of getting lost here.

It was somewhere around here that Sylvia and Brian realized that they were not likely to have sufficient daylight to complete the entire loop, which is about three miles.

We ended up at a junction which we later learned is on the Order of the Arrow Trail, where a short dead end side path diverges. Brian, lacking a proper map, was unable to orient himself (IE, he became “misplaced.”) We did not know it at the time but all we had to do was continue on for a few hundred yards, turn right and we’d be back to the pond, but we only learned this later.

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Fitz has it under control at the moment
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Brian bets you’ll never guess where he picked up this hat. 
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The forest is reclaiming these old fields and homestead sites.

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Fitz surveys the stream looking for s snack

With daylight slipping away, we decided to backtrack. As the light went, the friendly forest creatures began to emerge. First was a toad, which barely escaped the jaws of Fitz Roy. Not long after this, a deer crossed our paths, which activated Fitz Roy’s “strong prey drive” as deer are want to do. It took several moments to calm him as the deer scampered off into the woods. Just after this, we encountered all six of the hikers we would see this day – three dogs and three humans, all at the same exact location. This again got Fitz a bit riled up.

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The last rays of daylight slip through the trees…
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The dam is in sight!

Despite these encounters soon we were back at the junction with the Beaver Pong Trail.

Here Brian again attempted one of his infamous “improvisations.’ Studying a posted map, he saw that a trail ran along the lake that would take us directly back to the parking area. As the shadows had deepened, this trail promised to be more open allowing us to see a bit better, plus enjoy the views of the lake.

This was a sound plan, but alas Brian chose a trail that put us on the North (wrong) side of the lake. This nearly caused us to have a second encounter with one of the parties of walkers with dogs AND another (or maybe the same) deer. But Sylvia, the Dog Whisperer, skillfully avoided both.

More ominous was a sign we had seen at the trailhead warning of construction and closures at the dam at one end of the pond. We could see this dam in the distance and see as well that if we could not cross it, it would be a long backtrack with the sun having already set.

This trail led us past the old boy scout camp, which has been merged into the facilities of the Preserve. There’s a camping area, playground, picnic shelter, public restrooms, a soccer field, an amphitheater and even a boathouse.

We reached the dam to find the way blocked by a gate…but a small trail led around this and back up onto the dam. Success! The parking lot was just ahead of us. We finished the hike at 8:45 PM, in near darkness, and just fifteen minutes before the park closed.

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We reach the car with minutes to spare!

After this we sped to Chick Fil-A for a well-deserved shake break.

We continue to be impressed with what the City of Raleigh is doing to expand its parks and recreation system with real sustainable areas that are harmonious with nature. We are likewise impressed with Durant Nature Preserve and did not even visit the north end of it. Accessed off Durant Road, the North Entrance area has an information center, a bird garden, a butterfly garden, and a small nature trail. We could definitely come back for another microadventure and see the rest of the park. And we’ll definitely do so soon! But this time we’ll bring a map and give ourselves some extra time.

We would recommend Durant Nature Preserve to anyone who needs a break from the busy routine of the Triangle Area. We saw a bunch of stuff and who knows what you’ll see!

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