Penny Bend to E.Geer St. on the MST


I rarely like to redo a major trail. But a section of trail around Falls Lake Recreation Area has been added on since I finished the Mountains-to-Sea Trail last year. So Saturday, Kate Dixon, ED of Friends of the MST, and I walked from Penny Bend Nature Preserve on Old Oxford Rd. to E. Geer St. in Durham – 11 miles and 500 feet of ascent.

We enter the woods after crossing the Eno River on a small, but busy bridge. The woods are filled with ferns and lots of hardwood trees including oaks and sweet gum. The trail is fresh and so new that orange flags are still on the ground. The trail crosses several small, forgotten roads.

The highlight is finding a stash of moonshining paraphernalia at a road crossing. Several large metal barrels and glass mason jars lie helter skelter close to a dirt road. People may have stayed there overnight.MSTPennyBend-artifacts There’s a rusty, open can of canned beef stew. People may have used this site for dumping because an old metal bed frame lies on its side.

But where was the water source? To make moonshine whisky, you’d need clear, flowing water. Before the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Neuse River to create Falls Lake Recreation Area, small streams may have run a lot more freely.

Though the trail gets close to the river, we can’t get a good view but have to see it through trees. A great blue heron rises out of the water and flies in circle high above us, as if to say “I own this place”. The water is still, muddy and full of swamp grass. In the flood plain, several islands of stunted trees have formed. It feels like we’re at the beginning of Falls Lake proper. A great egret sits at the edge of the water. 

MSTPennyBend-KateSeveral railroads cross the trail. The first one is obviously abandoned since it looks like a nursery log, full of plants. See Kate in the railroad tracks.

The Norfolk Southern line has a spur which ends at a finger of the lake. These tracks are clean and look like they’re in working order. But where would they go? Are they a remnant of logging days? I have to keep remembering – 1980s, 1980s. We’re not in the Smokies.

MSTPennyBend-halfaRRWe cross a cleared area where power lines with double posts stand like guards. See the picture above.

Some literature explains that “power line easements create an ‘edge effect’ that attracts animals”. Two large osprey nests sit on top of the structure. An osprey circles his territory, crying out that we should get out and we do.

We reach a confusing intersection of trails. Several trails dart from here and we take them all, but we can’t find white circles on any of them. Reluctantly, we go to the parking area at the intersection of Tom Clark Rd. and Redwood Dr.
Art Kelly’s map, which has been excellent so far, shows a tiny, tiny bit of road walking. It turns out that the road sign has been turned around, adding to our problem. Kate goes one way and I go another. Finally, after walking a couple of hundred feet on Redwood Rd., we find the trail back into the woods. Another 1.4 miles and we’re back on E. Geer St. where Kate left her car this morning.

The old route used to take hikers through the working part of Durham. Last year, I passed by a firefighter academy complete with a burned brick building which they use for practice, the transfer and recycling station and the Durham County Animal Shelter and walked through public housing. I enjoyed seeing the city infrastructure but of course the trail goes into the woods any time there’s an opportunity.

This is my third time at the end of E. Geer St. by the airport. Have I not progressed in life?      

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