By Bill Poteat firstname.lastname@example.org
This series of columns is about great places to walk and enjoy the outdoors in Gaston County, and today’s installment will be no exception.
But, it is impossible to write about the 3.2 miles of walking trails on the Common Ground property in Stanley and not write also about the sense of spirituality which enfuses the woods and fields through which the trails wend.
The sun had not yet risen on the early September morning when I met the Rev. Noel Sweezy, pastor of Stanley First United Methodist Church, and “Ranger” Jeanne Young, a retired postal worker who has devoted her retirement years to constructing and maintaining the trail system.'
The Common Ground property is owned by the church, although using the verb “owned” is counter to the vision and mission of what the Stanley FUMC is hoping to accomplish.
“This is a place where people from the entire community can encounter God in creation,” Sweezy said. “This is a sanctuary. Our ministry here is hospitality -- creating space for common ground, for community, for losing barriers and boundaries.”
In addition to the walking trails, the Common Ground campus includes a soccer field, a 0.20-mile walking track, a tiny prayer chapel, an outdoor worship chapel, which Stanley FUMC uses each Sunday morning, and a children’s playground.
LOCATION: The Common Ground property is located at 5481 Hickory Grove Road in Stanley. The primary entrance to the trail system is adjacent to the lower parking lot for the church’s family life center. An archway marks the trail’s beginning, with trail maps available here.
My advice? Pick up a map. On your first visit, you’re likely to need one as there are numerous trail intersections.
HOURS: The trail system is open from dawn to dusk each day. My advice? Get out before sundown as the forest canopy is very thick along much of the trail.
BIKES: The trails are open to mountain bikes. My advice? Be ready for one tough ride. The trails are hilly, rocky, and filled with tree roots.
RESTROOMS: A port-a-potty is available between the family life center and the walking track.
MY VERDICT: This is a super trail system. “Ranger” Jeanne and other volunteers have done a super job of developing and maintaing the trails here.
If you need to rest, there are numerous benches and swings along the way, most of them placed as Boy Scout projects or by other community members.
If you need to leave a prayer, there is a prayer wall where concerns may be written down and left in the woods.
If you feel compelled to say a special “thank you,” a ribbon may be tied along the wall of gratitude.
If you have a veteran who you would like to thank for serving in the military, the name may be painted on a stone and placed at a veterans’ memorial.
If you want to recreate the experience of Zacchaeus, the short fellow who climbed a tree in order to better see Jesus, you may scramble up the Zacchaeus tree.
And finally, if you’re looking to center your life, check out the Prayer Labyrinth, described by Sweezy as a “a traditional, maze-like pattern that winds in and out but leads to the center.”
The labyrinth, as it wound through an open area dotted with wildflowers and small trees, was definitely my favorite spot along the trail.
A second highlight is the Dunsmore Trail which is dedicated to the memory of Clay Dunsmore and Chris Dunsmore, teen brothers, both of whom were Boy Scouts, who perished in an automobile crash in December of 1987.
If you’re looking for a location to walk in the quiet, surrounded by nature’s beauty, Common Ground is a great place to do just that.
And, if you’re wanting to delve a little deeper and are seeking a more spiritual experience, Common Ground offers the perfect sanctuary for that also.
Bill Poteat, who would always rather be outside than in, may be reached at 704-869-1855.