We moved to Raleigh on the 4th of July, and we've only gotten to explore a handful of new recreational places. Jason's been to Umstead State Park, we ran once at Lake Benson, and today, we visited the Garner Recreational Park. I had some concerns about moving from Knoxville--where the parks were plentiful and maintained--to a more sub/urbanized area. Our tiny old house on Hillside was perfectly situated between two parks: Hastie Natural Area (3.2 miles of top-notch off-road singletrack, slick rocks, and some short but steep climbs) and Ijams Nature Center (probably 2 miles of rolling, not-technical single and double track). I could be at the trailhead of either park in under 4 minutes. Trail running and mountain biking had become an antidote to the shifting stacks of paper. And there was something cathartic about doing it in the Tennessee summer.
Raleigh has parks. Lots of them! But we live in Garner, about 6 miles from the city center and maybe 20 minutes from the biggies. We set out to find a park that was both trail running and bike friendly. (They are not all so oriented, not by a MILE.)
Garner Rec Park is just that: an all-purpose recreational facility. There are tennis courts (lighted!), two baseball diamonds, the requisite playground, bathrooms and showers, and a neatly kept parking area. While the greenspaces are bordered on every side by high-traffic roads, it was possible to get submerged enough to pretend to isolated. (We passed people only at the trailhead, two men on bikes who confirmed that Umstead is the place to go but that GRA is pretty okay for local stuff.) The trails were unmarked, a major flaw, as new trails seem to be cut pretty often. The city website lists only 2 miles of trails, but we counted about 5 miles, and I don't think we hit every offshoot. The trails aren't well-maintained, or if they are, the litter-getters aren't doing such a great job. (Who litters in a PARK?)
Points lost for the lack of signage and the litter are gained back with unexpectedly technical trails. MTBers have obviously been there, because trails are cut to take advantage of natural features and to increase interest. The trailworkers have also been careful to cut work-arounds for most of the "difficult" features. Some trails were rooty ("Ankle Twisters"; see, this is where not naming each trail hurts), and I can imagine they'd be tough in the rain. (But GRP warns those on bikes to not ride the trails when they're wet, which is probably why they're in better shape than most, see also: Haw Ridge.) What I didn't expect was the complete lack of rocks and the omnipresence of pinecones. Never underestimate the trickiness of running on a trail with pinecones.
I liked GRP, and I'm sure I'll be back. Door-to-door travel is something like 10 minutes, which is acceptable. I can string together 5-mile loops, and it's shaded enough to be comfortable. I'm sketched out by the lack of signage, so I won't be running there alone until it's fixed (Jason's already working on emailing the city about volunteering to do this) or until I know the trails well enough to not get lost. It's more of a running-place than a biking-place because it's on the small side, but I think it would suffice for a short, close-to-home ride. (There isn't much elevation change, but it would offer some skills training.) I am grateful to have this little park so close to my new home!