Sunday, August 20, 2006

Take a walk to get to know our town

As published in the Chapel Hill Herald on July 15th, 2006

I'm hopelessly unathletic so I don't go running or to fitness clubs to do rigorous physical activities or anything like that. But I also don't want to turn into a blimp so the compromise is that I walk almost everywhere I go. It's good exercise but also not overly straining.

I try to walk two hours a day, but when I started living on north campus as a sophomore while attending UNC I started veering away from that goal. With all of my classes, dining and other daily activities within a ten-minute walk, I was barely getting any exercise in the course of my everyday life.

My pants weren't fitting very well anymore by about late September of that year, so I started walking just for the sake of walking.

I traipsed through many of the neighborhoods of Chapel Hill, which accomplished three things.

First, I saw far more of the town than most students ever do. We have a definite tendency not to think about anything that isn't on a major drag, and my walking helped keep me from falling into that trap.

Second, it helped shape my political views about the town.

I saw firsthand how beautiful Chapel Hill's neighborhoods were, but I also saw that some of them were at risk of losing their character if the growth around them wasn't managed carefully.

This was during the middle of the 2003 Town Council election where those sorts of issues were in the forefront, and it led me to work for the election of Bill Strom and Sally Greene.

Three years later it seems inevitable that I would have become heavily involved in local politics, but I don't know that it ever would have happened if not for my sojourns to the interior of Chapel Hill.

Third, walking just for the sake of walking, with no particular destination or agenda gave me some rare but much needed time to get away from the hustle and bustle of my daily academic and extracurricular life and just think about things, or if necessary, think about nothing.

I still very much value these walks and the beauty of Chapel Hill. I tend to begin by taking the Bolin Creek Trail from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Community Center Park. I particularly enjoy this stretch of the route shortly after a heavy rain when Bolin Creek becomes the Bolin River.

A major river through downtown is the main thing I think the larger communities of the Triangle are lacking. I'm jealous of Hillsborough and the Eno.

That said, the heavy rains also bring heavy buildups of trash in the creek near Franklin Street, and that's a problem for which I hope a good solution is found sooner than later.

Crossing into Community Center Park you can smell from a distance the scents of its beautiful rose garden.

This is truly one of Chapel Hill's hidden jewels. I recently took a friend there who despite being an alumnus and the son of a longtime faculty member never knew it existed. If you've never been there, you should go check it out.

After that I hook up with the Battle Branch Trail through Battle Park, the place I walked in most regularly when I was living on campus. Half of the park is owned by the town and half by the university.

UNC recently did some sprucing up of its portion, and it looks beautiful. The Town Council has done its part too, warding off efforts by some folks in the community to pave its part of the trail. This is the most pure nature area in central Chapel Hill that I'm aware of. It probably doesn't look much different than it did during the time when its namesake, UNC President Kemp Plummer Battle, fell in love with it a century ago. It has taken strong collaboration between the dominant entities in town to keep it that way, one that can hopefully be replicated on the Horace Williams tract in the future.

After that I head up the trail into the Gimghoul neighborhood, where I would buy a home if I won the Powerball. Otherwise I don't think I'll ever be wealthy enough to live there! For now, though, I enjoy walking through it.

The beautiful and well-known garden of sisters Bernice Wade and Barbara Stiles is everything it's cracked up to be, but it also overshadows the fact that many of their neighbors also have exceptionally well-kept front yards that would brighten the neighborhood on their own.

If I'm walking near dusk I also enjoy the frequent sighting of two deer, most often near Gimghoul Castle.

These are the two most fearless of their species I've ever seen so I wouldn't encourage getting too close. I almost got plowed over by one of them a couple years ago.

The route just described takes about an hour. For that hour of your time you see some of the beautiful hidden secrets of Chapel Hill and can truly escape the stresses of every day life. And hey, it can also keep the weight away!

Tom Jensen is a local political activist and a recent graduate from UNC. Readers can contact him at or c/o The Chapel Hill Herald, 106 Mallette St., Chapel Hill, NC 27516.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home