Johnston Mill Nature Preserve
Physical address of entrance 1: 2713 Mt. Sinai Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Link to Google map: http://goo.gl/maps/SKubn
Take NC 86 north from I-40 (exit 266) 1.8 miles.Turn right on Mt. Sinai Road and follow it for 1.1miles.The parking area is on the right just before the New Hope Creek bridge.
Physical address of entrance 2: 6012 Turkey Farm Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Link to Google map: http://goo.gl/maps/wkWea
Take NC 86 north from I-40 (exit 266) 0.1mile.Turn right on Whitfield Road and follow it for 1mile.Turn left on Turkey Farm Road and follow that road for 1.2 miles. The parking area is on the left.
When folks in the western Triangle think about exploring the outdoors, their thoughts typically turn to Eno River State Park, with 3,900 acres along a 12-mile stretch of its namesake river, or Duke Forest, with 7,060 acres of forest spread through Durham, Orange and Alamance counties. With miles of trail and plenty of name recognition, both are popular destinations — especially on spring and fall weekends dominated by 70 degree temperatures and Carolina Blue (“azure,” to our Duke friends) skies.
At the 296-acre Johnston Mill Nature Preserve you’ll find many of the same natural attributes as you will at its bigger, better-known neighbors, minus the crowds.
Take New Hope Creek, a two-mile stretch of which meanders through the northeast portion of the preserve. Like the larger Eno, it has rocky sections reminiscent of a mountain creek as well as placid, reflective stretches. You can enjoy nearly the entire run of New Hope Creek on Robin’s Trail, the waterway’s constant companion.
Duke Forest, with its emphasis on research, results in a range of forest experiences. You’ll find the same at Johnston Mill. Portions of the Old Field Bluff Trail pass through early successional forest only beginning to recover from its recent farmland past. Meanwhile, the Beech Loop Trail begins in a maturing forest of red cedar, black walnut, tulip poplar and sweetgum, then climbs a steep bluff where stout beech more than 150 years old stand tall.
And just as you will along the Eno, once a center of commerce thanks to its numerous mills, you’ll find traces of the land’s human past at Johnston Mill. Man’s mark here dates back thousands of years, to hunter-gatherer days when the New Hope Valley was the local grocery store. More recently, beginning in the first half of the 1700s, the Johnston family farmed the tract. You can still see evidence of their 200-year inhabitance in the faint ruins of two old gristmills along New Hope Creek, and in crumbling stone chimneys and hearths scattered about. (Winter, devoid of vegetation, is an especially good time to go back in time at the preserve.)
Johnston Mill’s roughly three and a half miles of trail is a fraction of what you’ll find at Duke Forest and along the Eno. But you can still cover much the same ground at Johnston Mill. And you can enjoy it in relative peace and quiet.
"All I want is to sit on my porch and see tomorrow what I see today...and I want my grandchildren to see it too."