Photo used courtesy of http://kitchenchapelhill.com/.
Take a trip to Johnston Mill Nature Preserve this weekend, winding your way around streams, woods, and ruins over two centuries old. After exploring the miles of trails at the 296 acre preserve, hop in the car for a short ten minute drive to Kitchen Beer and Wine, a farm-to-table favorite in Chapel Hill.
10 a.m. Arrive at the Johnston Mill Nature Preserve. If you want to use your phone or handy-dandy GPS, plug in 6012 Turkey Farm Rd, Chapel Hill. If you would rather chuck your phone out the window than listen to the navigation genie, take NC 86 north from I-40 (exit 266). Turn right on Mt. Sinai Rd and drive 1.1 miles before reaching the parking area on the right, just before the New Hope Creek Bridge.
Set off on Robin’s Trail, a 1.5 mile path crossing and following the gurgling New Hope Creek. Near the parking area stands the remnants of the walls of the Johnston Mill, and late fall and winter are the perfect times of year to really see the stone that once made up the foundation of the mill. Hikers are surrounded by a mixed hardwood forest with beach, hickory, tulip poplar, and sweetgum. The trail passes through a power-line cut with thickets that offer shelter for migratory birds, and this open area is a good place to look for butterflies and soaring hawks.
10:30 a.m. Though Robin’s Trail continues across the preserve to the alternate parking area, take a right on the Old Field Bluff trail to continue surveying the rest of Johnston Mill. Circling the edges of the preserve, the 1.7 miles of the Old Field Bluff Trail pass through a stand of trees blown down by Hurricane Fran in 1996 that today make up the perfect habitat for all species of woodpeckers. As the path loops back towards Robin’s Trail, you will find yourself high above the floodplain in a cathedral-like stand of mature hardwood trees, likely the oldest stand at Johnston Mill. Smooth-barked American beech is dominant, as it favors these cool, moist, north-facing slopes on the south side of Old Field Creek. Follow the Beech Loop trail back to Robin’s Trail, returning to the parking area.
12:30 p.m. Drive ten minutes to the Kitchen Beer and Wine restaurant, located at 764 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Chapel Hill, for a delicious lunch ($8-$15). Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, this French bistro-style restaurant offers a small menu and intimate atmosphere (don’t worry, casual dress is the norm).
Kitchen Beer and Wine offers seasonal dishes that vary with available local produce and products. While most of the menu may change on a month to month basis, their mussels and signature French fries are year-round staples. The owners write on their homepage that “they have always kept to their philosophy of superior ingredients, simple preparations, and friendly, efficient services.” If you’re thinking about a late afternoon walk, they are also open for dinner all nights except Monday, beginning at 5 p.m. Kitchen Beer and Wine is the perfect place to warm up, order some fries, and click through your photos from the Johnston Mill Nature Preserve.
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