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The Heritage Trail

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The Heritage Trail was developed to support the mission of the Union County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Association (UCEMGVA) and a partnership for the creation of a sustainable community through education and implementation. It is an extension of the UCEMGVA Cottage Garden and Woodland Garden paths and connects with the Union County Parks and Recreation Jessie Helms park trail system.  It is now an official part of the Carolina Thread Trail. This allows Union County residents an opportunity to walk through a wooded environment and learn about our native Piedmont plants and wildlife.    

The trail traverses through the wooded area adjacent to our teaching gardens and continues through the woods with several access points and rest areas. The area contains a dry creek bed and an intermittent creek with bridges and foot crossings.

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The Heritage Trail was developed with two objectives:

  • Educate the public about plants native to the southern Piedmont woodlands.

  • Connect with the Union County Thread Trail to maximize recreational and transportation resources. This objective has been achieved.


There are several planted beds that contain native plants located at the entrances to the trail and by the large bridge near the entrance. We are currently in the process of improving our identification system, which will facilitate the public's knowledge and identification of  plants found growing in our local forests.

There are opportunities for a picnic at the trail entrance, as well as down the trail in a more private setting. There are benches near the entrances as well as near the large bridge just inside the trail. Restrooms are located inside the nearby Agricultural and Conference Center. There are no hours and the trail is accessible to the general public. Awareness of local hunting practices is recommended and avoid hiking in the early hours during hunting season.

History of the Heritage Trail:

The idea for developing a walking trail, behind our Master Gardeners' Teaching Gardens, was discussed in 2013. The area was marked with yellow tape, hugging the garden hillside. Carrying the idea further, Master Gardeners Karen Schweiker, Brenda Merrefield, Vikki Tessar, and Carol Larrimore met in 2014, named the trail and decided on a native plant education focus. 

Native Plant Society member and owner of Carolina Heritage Nursery, Lisa Thompkins, walked the trail with us, providing her expertise regarding plant needs, identifying plants on the trail, noting water flow, sun/shade lighting, invasive plants and recommending future plants. Master Gardeners mapped out the initial trail, put down cardboard and mulch, identified a bed at the beginning of the trail and native plants.

Dr. Larry Mellichamp, former UNCC botany professor, noted author, and developer of the UNCC botanical gardens, visited the trail and assisted with plant identification and recommendations. Plant donations were received from Pat Kitto and Karen Schweiker, Master Gardeners. Eagle Scout Alec Guara, for his Eagle Scout project, improved and lengthened the trail and provided two benches.

In 2015, we began a partnership with Troop #1 of First Presbyterian Church of Monroe. The group, led by Troop Master Mac Macfarland, took on the development of the trail as their service project, devoting 4-5 hours of work 1 to 2  Saturdays each month. The group broadened and flattened the trail, set down rail borders, re-directed water flow, began initial work on a bridge across the dry stream bed, removed invasive plants, planted the first group of native plants and routed the trail around the hill back to the Jessie Helms bridge. 

Union County Parks and Recreation liaison, Jarrod Steele, and former Union County Agricultural Extension Office forestry agent, Bill Smith, advised and supported the trail development, and confirmed property access for the endeavor. Mr. Smith helped clear a fallen cedar tree and arranged for removal of another. Mr. Steele facilitated the coordination of the Heritage Trail and county trail connection.

Vanessa Gorr Covington, Carolina Thread Trail Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator, agreed to verbally support the trail endeavor and seek its inclusion in the Carolina Thread Trail in Union County. Eagle Scout Garrett Bowen helped extend the trail across the dry gulch along the opposite hillside for his Eagle project. 

Eagle Scout Jacob Kegley, as his Eagle Scout project, developed several plant beds along the trail, including the one at the entrance, and placed two benches decorated with tile mosaics near the beds. 

Union County Extension Agent Debbie Dillion facilitated the official opening of the Heritage Trail on 4/9/16 at the Union County Heritage Festival.

The Heritage Trail continued to reap the benefits of Eagle Scout projects from Troop 1 of the First Presbyterian Church and Troops 226 and 316. The arched bridge at the lower entrance near the commercial bridge, along with the adjacent plant bed and bench were provided  by Eagle Scout Brody Buckman. Tanner Bales' Eagle Scout project provided a "Meditation Station" which includes two benches, plant beds and a mailbox containing a notebook for the recording of musings. The compost bins at the edge of our Woodland Gardens were the result of Paul Suggs' Eagle Scout project. Trevor Pistone made it possible for us to cross the deep part of the dry stream and continue the trail development with the installation of the large bridge and provided a marble-topped bench with his Eagle Scout project. Michael Shea replaced the bridge connecting the trail, Cottage Garden and Woodland Garden. James Shea corrected water flow problems with river rock and planted sedge in the water catchment area by the Woodland Garden and the trail for his Eagle Scout project. Logan High's group installed the steps going past the bridge up the hill and continued the trail into the woods. This project also included the installation of  French drains to manage water flow. For his Eagle Scout project, Garrett Pilotta cleared the area at the back of the Cottage Garden at the trail entrance and installed a handicapped-accessible picnic table. The picnic table and meeting area in the woods was cleared and installed with Christopher Smith's Eagle scout project. The trail was made further accessible by Rodrick Maindron's project of installing steps and French drain at the entrance at the back of the Cottage Garden. Roman Durant is in the planning stages of his Woodland Garden ampitheater Eagle Scout project.

The Union County Parks and Recreation widened, cleared and extended the path, connecting it to their path to the Jessie Helms park. 

The Wingate University LaCrosse team and student volunteers cleared a path for gravel to connect the arched foot bridge to the paved road for easier and more visible access, as well as assisting with weeding and planting.  

The Southern Piedmont Native Plant Society certified the Heritage Trail as a native plant site and the group provided a scholarship for information on the Heritage Trail to be exhibited at their Native Plant Conference. 

The Heritage Trail has proven to be an excellent opportunity for our Master Gardener Volunteers to network and build relationships with other Union County groups. We hope the trail will be an ongoing project with a broad scope and welcome all that would like to be a part of this endeavor.​ Upcoming plans for the trail include adding  an improved plant identification system, providing a loop of the trail paralleling the grass field and improving our plant list. To that end we always welcome donations of plants native to the Southern Piedmont Woodlands.

Plant Donations:
If you would like to donate to this project, the list below contains beneficial woodland plants that are native to the Piedmont region of North Carolina. To offer plant donations, please contact the Growline.

  • Native Azalea/Rhododendrum

  • Black Cohosh 

  • Crested Iris

  • Green and Gold Chrysogonum virginianum

  • Jack in the Pulpit

  • Kalmia

  • Ebony Spleenwort

  • May Apple

  • Native Ginger

  • Native Heuchera

  • New Jersey Tea

  • Ninebark

  • Oak Leaf Hydrangea 

  • Red Bay Magnolia Tree

  • Red Buckeye

  • Sassafras

  • Snowbell, Styrax americanus

  • Spice Bush

  • Swamp Serviceberry

  • Sweet Spire

  • Tiarella 'Foam Flower

  • Trout Lily

  • Tulip Poplar

  • Ilex Verticillata

  • Viburnum

  • Violet

  • Wax Myrtle

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