Capitol Area Greenway – Report1: The Rocky Branch Trail 1.5 miles
Raleigh Greenway System Rocky Branch Trail
For those visiting Raleigh or are new residents of Raleigh not be aware of the wonderful park system and the “Capitol Area Greenway.”
The “Capitol Area Greenway” is a project in process. Started in March 1974 by the city council of Raleigh it has a master plan to make sure that there is open space for residents throughout the city. It is being built one trail, park and community area at a time.
Today the city boasts more than 50 miles of trails connecting many of the 3000 acres of city park land. Over the next few years I plan to follow all of these trails and share my impressions.
After a good start with the master plan, the parks and trails were damaged badly in 1996 by Hurricane Fran. Although a lot of clearing and rebuilding had to occur the years immediately after the storm the city is well underway on its project to create links between the various greenways. Though many of the trails are not yet connected, those that are create wonderful off road access to many parts of the city, especially for bikers and runners.
Rocky Branch NCSU Trail – Report 1
Parking is available at Pullen Park at 105 Pullen Road. The entry to the trail is located near the little railroad tracks. There is a small train that runs around the park; it is really a little railroad.
Rocky Branch Trail:
Rocky Branch Trail runs from Willington Street south of the city center westward along Western Blvd. Technically the first two or three tenths of a mile is running along Martin Luther King Blvd. before it turns into Western.
The trail technically ends across from Pullen Road, though due to lack of markers it is impossible to tell where the trail ends. The endpoint is important if you are trying to follow the trail to the NCSU Rocky Branch Trail. One end of that trail is right across the street connecting from Pullen Road and going westward along the branch creek.
Though I started at the Pullen end of the trail, I will start my narrative from the Willington Street end.
As with many of the trails in the city this trail is poorly marked. It doesn’t make it a bad trail; in fact it is a marvelous trail. It only means that we have a tough time finding it and in some places it can be difficult to follow.
The trail starts on Wilmington Street near where Branch St exits it. Just opposite City Farm Road. I don’t know of any reasonable public parking at this end.
The first two tenths of a mile run through the woods. The trail takes a little S type jog when you reach Bragg Street. You will know you are getting to Bragg Street because houses will be visible on your right and the surface of the pavement will change briefly as the trail moves into an S shape.
The trail goes up the street and returns to the left back into the green woods. The trail is a wide asphalt trail along here. As I passed through the woods I saw an awful lot of birds for this time of year. I don’t know if the birds are thick like this year round, but once the foliage returns there are few places on this end of the trail where they can easily be seen.
In spite of the location of this trail, this is a very green portion of the greenway.
When I saw the pavement lighten again I knew that I was approaching McDowell and Dawson Streets. These are two large one way streets that are not particularly pedestrian friendly. Fortunately there is a tunnel under the roads that allow the trail to pass beneath the highways.
The Trail that got me this far was also passing along the edge of Mount Hope Cemetery which makes this a particularly quiet part of the city.
Emerging from the tunnel the trail is nice and follows the fence along the border of a new housing complex. Here the previous street, Jamiaca Drive has been closed off.
The trail leads directly to S. Saunders Street. There is some signage here which if you are going westward is okay, though not great. The signage tries to tell me to go left and then right. The difficulty is that on the other side of S. Saunders it is not easy to see where the trail goes in. Coming the other way the signage on Jamaica is invisible from the exit onto S. Saunders. The sign on that side isn’t quite right either.
Once across the street and back on the trail I am on a wonderful stretch of the greenway. This part of the trail follows Western Blvd across the front of the Dorothea Dix Hospital grounds. On one side is the creek and on the other are the wide open green grounds of the hospital. Here I see a lot of birds who want to pose for a nice winter picture.
It is a very pleasant portion of the trail, though this trail has a lot of great portions to offer a variety of hiking, riding, skating and just plain dallying experiences.
In the center of the trail passing in front of Dix Hospital I come to Boylan Avenue. Though the road is wide it is not heavily traveled, at least not on a Saturday, I always like roads where I do not have to fear for my life.
As I continued toward Pullen Park I was struck by the awesome sight of a large blue tree. I think it might be a sycamore as they have some blue coloration though most of the ones I have seen look like they are wearing camouflage. This tree was just as blue as Paul Bunyan’s ox. I was terribly pleased as I love to be surprised with the things that nature can do to surprise and enthrall us.
The trail disappeared back into the woods just after the big blue tree. I guess it sort of marks where the open field ends. Back in the woods it was difficult not to feel that I was surrounded by nature. Here on a city trail it is nice to be surrounded by greenery, knowing that no more then a sort distance away there are real landmarks. When I go on deep woods trails I have a tendency to daydream and loose track of where I am or how long I have gone in a given direction. Greenway Trails seem a bit safer, though I always encourage people to travel with other people whenever possible.
Though it seems like more distance, the wooded trail comes back to Western Blvd. after perhaps ten or fifteen minutes. The trail returns in order to go under a Southern Railroad bridge.
For a short distance the greenway takes on a sidewalk nature. I pass under the railroad bridge and cross Hunt Drive. At this point the trail shifts left (south) and returns to a nice comfortable green environment.
For the next quarter mile or so the trail stays in the wood. It is separated from the Western Blvd by the creek and by some dense vegetation. This is another nicely wooded part of the trail that was most enjoyable.
Following this portion the trail again is interrupted by civilization. Bilyeu Street interrupts the trail in a very solid manner. Although there is one of those tiny little four inch signs showing the trail continues, it is not clear whether I am to go up Western or up Bilyeu. Why they can’t put a map at each end of the trail like they do in North Raleigh I can’t understand.
Western Avenue doesn’t even have a sidewalk; not even for the folks that need to get to the bus stop a hundred or so feet from anywhere. They do have a bus stop, just no way to get to it without getting your feet wet or walking in traffic.
Bilyeu Street doesn’t have a sidewalk either. Dang, how is anyone supposed to know where to go to complete the trail?
I go up Bilyeu Street anyway. There it is; well hidden from the lower trail end; there is another one of those teeny tiny signs pointing into the woods.
I follow the trail which quickly splits. The tiny green sign was the last sign I saw on this trail. I take the left path as it looks more like it might be the right choice.
It is a nice walk through old forest for two or so tenths of a mile. It ended in a dead end. It didn’t have a sign saying dead end. Just a yellow center post and a large chain link fence. To the left of the end is another trail going down into the woods. There were no markings so I suppose I was supposed to know that the other unmarked trail was the right one.
I returned to where the trail split and went right towards Western Blvd. There the trail drops onto a sidewalk which I followed until I reached Pullen Road.
Although there is no signage I believe this to be the true trail start point at Pullen Park. The reason I believe this is that the NCSU Rocky Branch Trail ends just across the street on Pullen Road. Although I could be wrong given the poor signage, the maps all show the two trails coming together.
This trail, although one of the older trails, in its present state is not the best choice due largely to lack of appropriate signage. The trail from Bilyeu to Wilmington is in excellent condition. Places that can cause difficulties due to poor signage are Bilyeu Street to Pullen Road; and South Saunders to Jamaica Drive.
Runners: Trail is a good choice when combined with other trails for distance. There are no hills to speak of except the not really a trail dead end which is a hill.
Older and Younger walkers: Excellent trail with a reasonable number of benches. Note signage and parking can create difficulties.
Hikers: This is a nice trail. Three miles round trip and connects easily to NCSU trail if you use Pullen Road as one end.
Bikers: Good trail with some stopping for at road crossings.
Birders: Lots of birds seem to have found a home on this trail.
Except for concerns on signage most of this trail is an excellent well maintained trail from Bilyeu to Wilmington. The connector from Pullen Road to Bilyeu is there though not as a marked trail.