Step onto one of the trails through the Hollow Rock Nature Park off Erwin Road and you might feel a million miles from Chapel Hill or Durham.
While the crowds that gather for the park’s grand opening at 9:30 a.m. Saturday may seem an alien incursion in such a natural, tranquil sanctuary, the same locale was a bustling center of activity hundreds, even thousands of years ago.
“This was a historic crossroads for the Europeans who settled there and built Patterson Mill and, later, the Hollow Rock Store,” Orange County Land Conservation Manager Rich Shaw said, “But there was also a lot of Native American presence there, too.”
Located at 629 Erwin Road, along the border of Orange and Durham counties, the 75-acre preserve serves as a northern access point and a major trail head to the New Hope Creek open-space corridor.
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The park’s trail system will link to public trails in Duke Forest, located adjacent to the Hollow Rock site.
Hollow Rock is situated within seven miles of Chapel Hill and six miles of downtown Durham, and Saturday’s opening reflects the fruition of a joint effort by the City of Durham, Durham County, Orange County and Chapel Hill.
Durham County Open Space Land Manager Brendan Moore said the grand opening has been a long time coming.
“I think they did the master plan for it in 2009,” Moore said. “I want to say they bought the land in 2006. It goes back to the 1991 New Hope Corridor Master Plan though. It was identified then as a desirable location due to its proximity to the road and to Duke Forest.”
“In 2001, the Triangle Land Conservancy started to buy land there in anticipation of an access to the longer New Hope Trail,” Shaw added. “From 2001 to 2011, we were acquiring more land along New Hope Creek.”
“A huge number of people have devoted time, planning, and raised money,” Moore said, “So it’s a nice culmination to all that work.”
All four jurisdictions participated in the purchase of the property, and private donations added more than $225,000. Funding for Phase One park construction was augmented by a $200,000 N.C. Recreational Trails Program grant.
Site amenities include natural surface trails, an open meadow with picnic tables, parking and restroom (temporarily a port-a-john), and the Hanging Rock overlook above New Hope Creek, a Durham Parks statement read.
Moore said the quiet trails at the park traverse some of the area’s early roads-most-traveled.
“There was the old road from Oxford to Chapel Hill which is now Erwin Road,” Shaw said. “Then there was the old Cross Creek Road from Hillsborough to Fayetteville, which ran through there. We’ve also done archeological surveys of the site, and we definitely have evidence of this being fertile ground along New Hope Creek.
“For now, it’s pretty quiet – a contemplative place – but between Native Americans and an early European presence, this sleepy little crossroad belies the former significance of the site.”
Moore pointed out that the park has only seen its first phase of development.
“We’ll be adding amenities over the next couple years as the budget allows,” he said. “We have a master plan that calls for a lot more amenities, but this is what falls under our (initial) grant.”
“We’re hoping to convert one of the old barns on the property as an outdoor education classroom,” Moore added. “We want to put in an accessible loop trail, so that people who want to leave the parking lot on a hard-packed or paved trail can get to some of the observation decks.
“We also want to put in an interpretive signage trail out to explain more the historical, cultural, archeological, environmental, geological aspects of the property, because they’re pretty neat.”
The original Hollow Rock Store, used for years as a pottery studio, may also find its way back onto the property.
“Friends of the Hollow Rock Store are actually bringing the store back,” Shaw said. “That’s the store that was actually removed back in the 1970s.”
“It’s been in somebody’s back yard,” Moore added, “and they’ve been raising money to renovate it and move it to the park.”
Even with future development, Shaw promised that the property will still offer a peaceful retreat.
“This is Phase One, and Phase Two will have more amenities, but not a lot,” Shaw said.
“This will still be a quiet place.”
And perhaps it will offer a natural, serene getaway at first blush, those listening carefully may just hear the trails echo with the bustle and traffic of centuries past.
Hollow Rock Nature Park
Grand Opening: Saturday, June 5, 2 p.m.
Where: 629 Erwin Road
Parking: a shuttle will operate from Forest View Elementary School to Hollow Rock
More information: please contact Brendan Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org.