A couple days ago, I went hiking at the Hillsborough Riverwalk in Hillsborough, North Carolina. It was an easy hike, but there were numerous beautiful views of the landscape that demanded a photographic record, leading to this post.
The most common access point for the Hillsborough Riverwalk is the public parking deck adjacent to Weaver St. Market near downtown Hillsborough. This location is directly in the middle of the of the above photo and represents the center of the figure-8 double loop that I took on Friday, October 25th, 2019.
Finding a parking place on the third level of the free public parking deck, I got out of my car, walked to the edge of the deck, and took the following photo of the footbridge that crosses the Eno River from the north side to the south.
After descending the staircase from the parking deck, I crossed the bridge, reached the south bank of the Eno, and started hiking west. After a quarter mile, I reached a bend in the Riverwalk where a social trail branches to the right. Taking this, I quickly descended a steep embankment and came to the edge of the Eno River, where I balanced precariously on the river bank and took another photo.
Ascending the river bank, I rejoined the Riverwalk and continued hiking west. There were oak, maple, and beech trees in abundance along this stretch of the Riverwalk, all of which are usually vibrant in their fall foliage. Yet what was most striking was how muted the colors were, giving yet another indication of the worsening effects of climate change — which should really be called climate collapse.
Then I reached another footbridge over the Eno River and proceeded to cross it. In the middle of it, however, I turned south and noticed an old railway trestle. Finding the best possible position to align the trestle with the convergence of two sycamore trees over the Eno River, I took another photo.
Resuming my hike, I made my way down a covered walkway that goes under the same railway trestle I had just photographed. When I was directly underneath the trestle bridge, I stopped and took another photo.
Passing down the rest of the covered walkway, I reached solid ground and continued southwest. (The Hillsborough Riverwalk bends toward the south at this point.) After passing the community garden at Gold Park, I walked across another elevated walkway that skirts the edge of the bottomland near the Eno. Once again, what was most striking along this stretch of trail was how muted the colors were, despite this being the end of October.
Then the elevated walkway ended, and I returned to solid ground. Proceeding further, I reached the south edge of an old cloth mill — which has been turned into a school recently — and continued past what used to be the east end of the Hillsborough Riverwalk, passing a line of maple trees that provided the most vibrant color on my hike. (An extension was recently opened, adding another tenth of a mile to the Riverwalk.)
In short time, I came to the east end of the Hillsborough Riverwalk. Before the very end of it, though, I noticed something: a social trail bending to the south where there seemed to be a clearing of some sort.
Descending a steep embankment carved into the roots of an old red oak, I reached one of the most otherworldly places I’ve found in all my numerous hikes along the Eno River. It was like a cross between a fishing hole and a sacred grove, carved out by a drainage ditch from the old cloth mill and surrounded by a massive red oak to the north, a gnarly old beech tree to the west, and another massive red oak to the west.
In the presence of these old trees, these elders of the forest, it really felt like I had entered another time and place, even though the busy Eno Mountain Road passes over the Eno River no more than seventy feet to the east. (You can see Eno Mountain Road in my photo, above and beyond the dam in the foreground.)
Then I made my way out of the fishing hole, turned around, and retraced my steps down the Hillsborough Riverwalk, headed east now. After a quarter mile, I reached the community garden at Gold Park, which I had passed earlier. Most of the garden had gone into dormancy, but there were still patches of flowering plants that grabbed my attention.
The first plant I approached was an American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), which is in fact edible by humans in small amounts. It’s frequently used in teas and jellies, and has a reputation as a natural mosquito repellent, thanks to a phytochemical called callicarpenal.
The next plant I approached was a purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), still blooming despite the fact that it’s nearly the end of October. Apart from being drop-dead gorgeous, purple coneflower has a reputation for being a good immune stimulant, increasing white blood cell count, and acting as an indirect antibiotic.
Resuming my hike, I quickly came to the fork in the Riverwalk where the railway trestle crosses the Eno. An elderly couple were approaching it, so I centered my frame, waited for the perfect timing, and took the following photo.
After the railway trestle, I retraced a half mile of the Hillsborough Riverwalk until I reached another elevated walkway and noticed the concrete moorings of the Exchange Bridge in the distance. As I passed underneath them, the even larger concrete mooring of the Interstate Bridge came into view, rising forty feet over my head and reverberating with the inundation of traffic from I-85.
Passing under the bridge, I came to River Park, which lies on the south side of the Orange County Courthouse. Then I followed a realignment of the Hillsborough Riverwalk, rounded a bend in the trail, and came to one of my favorite sights, the reconstructed Occaneechi Village. I could easily write another blog post solely about this (and probably will in the future), but I really should finish this post before it becomes an encyclopedia entry.
Resuming my hike, I continued to the east for another quarter of a mile before coming to a clearing where a second community garden — this one primarily a food garden — had been well-maintained through most of the summer. Probably as a result of the drought, the food garden had been abandoned and allowed to grow wild, leading to a proliferation of untended, immature corn in the surrounding field.
After the renegade cornfield, I came to the west end of the Hillsborough Riverwalk, where it segues into the Occoneechee Speedway, a historic race track that’s been converted to hiking trails and park land.
Standing there at the west end of the Hillsborough Riverwalk, gazing through a predominantly green canopy that should be much more variegated by this time of year, I was forced to confront another reality. This reality is one that no one wants to consider in our world of sugar-coated misanthropy. But it’s one we must confront if our species is to survive beyond this century.
And that reality is climate collapse, so amply demonstrated by rising temperatures, increasing prevalence of drought, disrupted migration, altered succession of vegetative growth, virulent subtropical diseases, and mass extinction.
Wondering how much longer any of us will be able to enjoy the changing colors of fall in a world where both polar ice caps have melted — which they will do much sooner than scientists would like us to believe — I turned around and headed home.