Peabody Park Self-Guided Nature Trail
With art as our school-mistress, then, we shall find a fitting school-room in our Educational Park.
WELCOME TO PEABODY PARK at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Peabody Park was established as the University’s educational park in 1901 by the philanthropist George Foster Peabody, and it has been used by generations of students for education and recreation. This is an online version of the printed Peabody Park trail guide. The numbers below correspond to the numbers on the accompanying trail map. You may browse this trail guide online, or print a copy and take a self-guided tour of the Park. For many more details about Peabody Park’s flora, fauna, and seasons please visit the main Peabody Park website.
Peabody Park is especially valuable as an educational park because it encompasses two very different habitats: a native oak-hickory forest here at the start of the trail, and an open field habitat to the west. The forested section of the Park is typical of what you would have seen for hundreds of miles around had you visited this area centuries ago, and it contains many species of native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. Most of the native wildflowers, including Trout Lilies and Red Trilliums, bloom in the early spring.
Two stream branches flow through the Park woods and two through the Park fields. They are all branches of Greensboro’s Buffalo Creek, which is part of the Cape Fear River system. If you hopped on a leaf and floated downstream you would end up in the Atlantic at Wilmington. Along the stream banks notice the carpet of green liverworts, non-flowering plants related to the mosses. And if you look carefully in the water you may see some small Speckled Killifish, a species found only in central North Carolina and adjacent Virginia.
A mature forest has a canopy—a roof of leaves that shades the forest floor in summer. Severe storms can throw down mature canopy trees and start a race among the young saplings to fill the empty space. The heavy growth in this area comes from several gaps in the canopy created by Hurricane Fran in September 1996 and a derecho with tornadic features in May 2000. The natural repair process that is now underway, if it is not disturbed, will gradually restore the forest to its original condition.
The two stream branches in the woods join here and flow northward toward West Market Street. The native bedrock is visible in the stream bed partly covered by “riprap” (dumped rock left over from construction).
Most of the plants in the Park woods are native, but one invasive exotic species is English Ivy, an evergreen vine that covers the ground in many places and chokes out the native wildflowers. Student volunteers worked to tear up some of this Ivy and so restore the native plants to the Park woods.
The woodland streams exit the Park here and flow north into the City of Greensboro’s Lake Daniel Park. This low area is a good example of a small riverine forest inhabited by Horsetails (a reed-like relative of the ferns), Jewelweed, and ancient American Sycamores.
The hillside east of Phillips-Hawkins Hall is a dry area dominated by American Beech. Also common are Beechdrops, small flowering plants that are not green and make no food of their own, but instead survive as parasites on the roots of the Beech trees. A Civil War bullet was found on this hillside in the 1970s.
The wooded area west of Phillips-Hawkins was cleared in the early 20th century and allowed to regrow. It presents a very different appearance from the old-growth woods, and is made up mainly of young hickories and oaks that in another fifty years will recreate the original canopy.
Here you step from the Park woods into the Park fields. The fields were used for agriculture in the early days of the campus, and the milk in the dining hall came from cows that grazed here. Unlike the Park woods, a large proportion of the plants in the fields are European imports, not native to North Carolina. The basin ahead of you was allowed to fill in as a lake in the 1940s, and then in 1954 the lake was replaced by a golf course.
Here you are standing between the two stream branches of the Park fields. One branch comes from the west toward Aycock Street, and the other comes from the southwest where it has been put under ground below the playing fields. In the spring watch for Mallards courting on these streams and Muskrats building nests. If you are very lucky you may see a Spotted Sandpiper or a Common Snipe feeding in the stream beds.
Because the fields are frequently mowed and receive so much runoff from the surrounding highways, the streams in the fields are subject to flash flooding. Heavy thunderstorms can cause these usually quiet streams to overflow their banks. Look along the bridge railing for debris that will show you how high the water sometimes rises.
The most common trees along the stream are Black Willows, a native species that likes to keep its roots wet and that helps to anchor the bank and prevent erosion. Nest boxes for Eastern Bluebirds were put up in the Park fields by biology students in 1999 with help from the T. Gilbert Pearson Audubon Society.
The larger of the two stream branches in the Park fields enters the campus here from under Aycock Street. Notice the many culverts that bring runoff from the surrounding roadways into the stream. Just across Aycock Street the stream continues through the City of Greensboro’s College Park.
As you come over the crest of this hill you are entering the magnificent Peabody Park amphitheater from the rear of the seating area. The stage is the level area down below. The amphitheater was built in the 1940s as part of the landscaping project that included the old lake. For many years, concerts, pageants, and plays were held in the amphitheater, which is beautifully illuminated on summer evenings by natural light from the west.
This small grove of pine trees was planted on the shore of the old lake in the 1940s. It includes White Pine, Shortleaf Pine, Virginia Pine, Longleaf Pine, and Loblolly Pine.
This solitary Chinese Chestnut is one of four on campus (others are north of Petty and west of Guilford). Its relative, the famous American Chestnut, was exterminated from most of the United States by an introduced fungal disease in the early 20th century.
You are back in the Park woods and almost done with your tour. As you stepped into the woods you may have noticed a drop in temperature and an increase in humidity, both characteristic of a forest environment. North of the foot bridge notice the typical meandering (S-shaped) form that natural streams commonly take, with one bank being undercut by the water and the other bank extending as new sediment is deposited. To return to your starting point just walk up the hill between the high-rise dormitories. Thank you for visiting Peabody Park!
© RJO 1995–2016