Latta Plantation Nature Center: An Eco-Vacation in Your Own Back Yard

 

By Lisa Moore

Eager to escape the daily grind of the city for some greener pastures, but gas prices are keeping you home? You can both protect and admire the environment with a fun-filled trip for all ages to Latta Plantation Nature Center, located in Huntersville.

A former cotton plantation owned by traveling merchant James Latta in the 1800’s, the center is the gateway to Mecklenburg County’s largest nature preserve. The Latta Plantation Nature Preserve forms a green peninsula that extends into Mountain Island Lake and helps protect the drinking water quality for over 700,000 residents in Mecklenburg and Gaston counties.

The preserve also protects over 1,343 acres of natural communities including upland and bottomland hardwood forests, open fields and streams that are home to bald eagles, wild turkeys, red and gray foxes, minks and red-spotted newts.

Home to 97 species of birds, the National Audubon Society has designated the area as an Important Bird Area due to its diversity of wintering waterfowl and breeding and migratory songbird species. The Piedmont Prairie restoration site protects two federally endangered plants, Schweinitz’s sunflower and Michaux’s sumac, as well as the largest population of puttyroot orchid in Mecklenburg County.

Kevin Metcalf, Northwest Nature Preserve District Manager for the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department, said 
maintaining a healthy environment through conservation and nature preservation is key to maintaining healthy citizens and quality of life for the people of Charlotte.

“Latta Plantation Nature Preserve protects close to seven miles of lake shoreline,” he said. “Natural areas help prevent flooding and purify the water. The forests here also play a role in improving our air quality.”

A range of outdoor activities are available for all adventure levels. Water enthusiasts can canoe, kayak and fish along the banks of Gar Creek and Mountain Island Lake. Hikers and equestrians can take advantage of trails that offer the opportunity to explore a variety of terrain while enjoying scenic views of the lake, forests and streams. Visitors can bring their own horses or take a guided horseback ride from Latta Plantation Equestrian Center.

For those seeking atypical adventures the center provides guided Segway tours. These two-wheeled personal transporters are a fun way to check out the wildlife and natural areas. Geocaching, a high tech treasure hunt using GPS units to find hidden caches, is also available.

Latta Plantation Nature Center features live, native animals, a discovery hall, an outdoor amphitheater and a gift shop. Outside, visitors can experience bird feeding stations, butterfly gardens, a garden pond and demonstration compost area. Educational programs and workshops help all ages discover local biodiversity and natural heritage through hands-on experiences to nature.

Two other unique sites are on the premises as well. Visitors can check out the Carolina Raptor Center, an education and rehabilitation facility dedicated to the conservation of birds of prey and home to the Southeast’s largest eagle aviary. Historic Latta Plantation, a restored 19th century federal-style home and living history farm of James Latta, is open for public tours and interpretive programs.

Metcalf feels that by connecting with the outdoors, people can reconnect with themselves.

“Whether hiking a trail to enjoy nature’s beauty while getting some good exercise, going fishing with your children or grandchildren or seeing a live owl, hawk or eagle up close, spending time at a nature preserve will be full of rewards,” he stated.

Events for October include the Great Outdoors Festival on Oct 4, the 27th Annual Folklife Festival and Craft Show on Oct 11-12, and Howl-o-Ween, an event for dogs and their owners on Oct. 25.  For information visit www.lattaplantation.org.

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