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GO Gaston! Trail offers reasons to take it slow

By Bill Poteat

My words of advice for enjoying a visit to the Seven Oaks Preserve in southeastern Gaston County?

Slow down!

First, you'll need to slow down as you drive south down New Hope Road toward the trailhead or you'll fly right by the unmarked parking area.

Second, and more importantly, slow down as you walk the trail. The lake, the forests, the wildlife are all best enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

LOCATION: The trailhead for the Seven Oaks Preserve Trail is located at 6900 S. New Hope Road, Belmont. As you head down the road, you will first pass Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden on the right. Shortly after, you will encounter a roundabout where the road intersects with N.C. 273. Stay right on New Hope Road, but slow down. The unmarked parking area is on the right just after a sharp curve. The parking area has 14 marked spaces, including one handicapped-accessible space. What it does not have is any type of restroom facility.

HOURS: Dawn to dusk, seven days a week.

BACKGROUND: The Seven Oaks Preserve contains 75 acres along the shore of Lake Wylie. It was established in 2011 in a cooperative effort by the Carolina Thread Trail, Stowe Botanical Garden, Seven Oaks Farm, the Catawba Lands Conservancy, and the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

The purpose of the preserve is to provide habitat for wildlife along the lake shore, to set up a forested buffer to protect the lake's waters, and to establish a beautiful environment where people can connect with nature.

The Trail: The Seven Oaks Preserve Trail is what veteran hikers would call a "Cadillac Trail."

Is there a sturdily-constructed bridge over each and every stream and gully, no matter how tiny? Yes.

Is the trail so well-marked and blazed that even your Aunt Nellie could not get lost there? Yes.

Are comfortable benches located along the trail at regular intervals, providing spots to drink some water, eat a sandwich, or simply soak in the scenery? Yes.

It's a "Cadillac Trail."

A kiosk at the parking lot has an excellent map detailing the trail's route along the shore. The route is listed as a 5.6-mile out and back hike, but hikers may use the trails of Stowe Botanical Garden to construct a "lollipop" at the trail's north end, which is what I did on my hike.

Leaving the parking lot, the trail descends through a forest of mature hardwoods, first reaching sight of Lake Wyle at about the .40-mile mark. The trail is blazed with the distinctive Carolina Thread Trail symbols nailed to trees every 50 yards or so.

The trail hugs the shoreline for quite a ways, with short "social" trails leading down to the water's edge. Over the course of my hike, I spotted five great blue herons, half a dozen white herons, and a kingfisher. Although both eagles and osprey frequent the lake, I was not lucky enough to view one.

At a little over a mile in, the Seven Oaks Trail goes straight, while the Boulevard Trail goes to the right. I took a right, following Boulevard to the parking area at Daniel Stowe. Simply loop around the edge of the parking lot and you'll find the Worrell Trail on the right which will lead you back to the Seven Oaks Trail.

Where the trails intersect, turn right to follow Seven Oaks to its terminus at a marshy area heavily populated with water fowl, and marked by fencing and benches.

As I sat down to enjoy both the view and some water, two great blues were arguing with each other right in front of me, while several white herons looked on.

It was then that I looked down to see a spider about the size of my ear crawling toward my right foot. Birds are obviously finicky creatures, because when the shrieking, screaming, and crying had ceased, all had vanished from the area.

The walk back toward the trailhead along the lakeshore was extraordinary. I went down nearly all of the "social" trails and was greeted at the end of each with a different view of the lake and a different look at water fowl.

My verdict: This is a great trail. Its grade is gentle, making it a perfect route for families with children or for older folks. The scenery along the lake is outstanding and birders will be in absolute heaven here. Mountain bikers are welcome along the trail but are not permitted on the Stowe Garden trails. Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash. I took about two hours and 45 minutes to complete the hike, but that included lots of stops and lots of wildlife watching.

Two drawbacks: The parking area is small and is likely to be filled on pretty weekend days. Also, the lack of restroom facilities at the trailhead could be an issue. But, all in all, Seven Oaks is a beautiful trail which will only grow more attractive as the weather cools and autumn color paints the forests.

Bill Poteat may be reached at 704-869-1855.

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