Monday, September 6, 2010

Laurel Bluffs Trail along the Eno River (Durham, NC)

Overview: Located in north Durham, the Laurel Bluffs Trail offers a 5 mile out-and-back hike. The trail winds through Piedmont forest along the Eno River, starting at Eno River State Park's Pump Station trail and ending at Guess Road. The trail tightly hugs the river, deviating over ridge tops for only a couple short stretches. Highlights include large (2 - 2.5 ft in diameter) tulip trees and beeches, as well as the ruins of an old hunting lodge and the Guess Mill dam. Hiking on a Sunday morning, we encountered only one runner and one bustling hiker from a nearby neighborhood.

From Laurel Bluffs trail

Directions: The trail can be accessed from Eno River State Park's Pump Station trail (see map). To arrive at the Pump Station trail, take Guess Road north about 0.9 miles from exit 147 off I-85. Turn left at Carver Street, and continue 1.7 miles. Turn right at Rose of Sharon, go 0.6 miles and turn left at Valley Springs Road. Continue on Valley Springs for 0.4 miles, turning left at Rivermont, the first gravel road on the left. Pump Station trail will be half a mile down on the righthand side of the road, immediately before the bridge.

The trail can also be reached by descending a steep set of steps on the west side of Guess Road at the bridge that crosses the Eno River (see satellite image).

Observations & Ponderings: The Laurel Bluffs trail provides a quiet walk back through time, when the Eno River had a bustling mill economy. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, mills along the Eno River ground grain into flour and turned raw timber into usable lumber. According to Duncan Heron (see article here), below Hillsborough, NC there were about 15 mills along Eno River, strategically located in stretches where hard igneous and metamorphic rock jutted out into the river, making it easier to construct a dam and mill.

Jean Anderson (see article here), writing about old Orange County mills, states that mills were "viewed as good investments" and cost between $1,000 and $6,500 to start up. Mills usually took about 10% of the market value of the grain they ground, and Piedmont mills were known to make an annual profit of around $1,000 - $2,000. Despite their profitability, Eno River mills were extremely vulnerable to heavy rains and their associated flooding. According to local lore, Synott's Mill, the first built along the Eno River in 1752, fell victim to a devastating flood.

Anderson goes on to write that mills were once central to 19th century Piedmont society. Local mills provided a place for men to swap stories, politicians to garner support and postal riders brought news from outside the rural Piedmont. Although these mills are no longer crucial to the Piedmont community, they do provide a charming backdrop for considering our rich history, while allowing us to revel in the beauty of our boulder-strewn, forest-fringed Eno River.

Below are photos of the Laurel Bluffs trail (photos by Nicolette Cagle, taken on 5 September 2010):

From Laurel Bluffs trail

Upland stretch of the Laurel Bluffs trail (Photo by N. Cagle, Sep 2010)

From Laurel Bluffs trail

Fish Dam Island along the Laurel Bluffs trail (Photo by N. Cagle, Sep 2010)

From Laurel Bluffs trail

Remnants of the old hunting lodge along the Laurel Bluffs trail (Photo by N. Cagle, Sep 2010)

From Laurel Bluffs trail

Remanants of Guess Mill Dam along Laurel Bluffs trail (Photo by N. Cagle, Sep 2010)

From Laurel Bluffs trail

Old mill stone along Laurel Bluffs trail (Photo by N. Cagle, Sep 2010)

From Laurel Bluffs trail

Spill way of the mill along Laurel Bluffs trail (Photo by N. Cagle, Sep 2010)


neebleneeble said...

I've never taken the LB trail. Paul & I scrambled down the west slope of the Guess Rd bridge w the boys about 15 yrs ago to watch a helicopter rescue some kayakers who got stranded at the old dam during a spring flood. But that's as far as we went. Your post makes me want to try out that trail this fall. Thanks!

neuse river north carolina said...

i've been there on that place. and it was really awesome.. place.

Neuse River North Carolina