Discovering the Campus-to-Garden Trail

map of campus to garden trail

Now that there is safe passage for pedestrians at the Old Mason Farm Rd./Fordham Blvd. intersection in Chapel Hill, we invite you to experience the Campus-to-Garden Trail through our Coker Pinetum. What, you might ask, is the Coker Pinetum? A pinetum, by definition, is a collection of pines or conifers that is used for their scientific study. This particular pinetum came to the Botanical Garden as a deeded gift from the estate of UNC botany professor William C. Coker, who used it for teaching and as a living laboratory. It is a surprisingly hidden 25 wooded acres sandwiched between Manning Drive and Laurel Hill Road.

Hardwoods now dominate this tract, but some of the shortleaf pines are original campus trees and retain “cat-faces”—resin-tapping scars. According to the 1946 deed, the described property shall be used “only for a Botanical Garden and Park area.” Thus, the Pine- tum was part of the larger plan of Professor Coker, and his student Henry R. Totten, for our now blossoming botanical garden.

The most enduring feature of the Pinetum is Meeting-of- the-Waters Creek, so named by Coker, which tumbles downhill through the Pinetum, passes unnoticed beneath 15/501 near Manning Drive, and courses through the Piedmont Nature Tails to its confluence with Morgan Creek. Meeting-of-the-Waters Creek originates somewhere near the Carolina Inn. From there it is con- tained within a cavernous subterranean culvert through campus, pops out for a short stretch near the Bell Tower, and then again is buried beneath Kenan and Boshamer Stadiums on its way to liberation in the Pinetum.
Two trails diverge in the wooded Pinetum: the OWASA ease- ment, which is very pleasant and can accommodate people and mountain bikes, and the nature trail, which is the one less traveled. The OWASA easement is maintained by the Orange Water and Sewer Authority, and the nature trail is cared for by Garden staff and a handful of diligent Green Dragon Volunteers—namely, Marcella Grendler, Larry Howard, Holly McKinny, Eleanor Rutledge, Chris McKeever, and Bill Kaiser. These individuals, along with all of our other volunteers, epitomize volunteerism and are in many ways the Garden’s backbone. The Pinetum nature trail has also benefited from three separate Eagle Scout projects that created a beautiful bridge, benches, and many trail improvements.

The prime directive of all Green Dragons is invasive plant removal. Beginning in about 1999, Marcella Grendler decided that she was fed up with the Chinese privet understory and set forth on a removal campaign. Since then, a remarkable transformation has befallen the Pinetum, where native plants now thrive.

Access to the Pinetum at the Garden end is at the terminus of Fern Lane for the OWASA trail; the nature trail begins across from the Fern Ln/Iris Ln intersection. Access to the campus end of both trails is at the bottom of the Boshamer Stadium parking lot drive off of Ridge Road—but you need a UNC permit to park there. Rather than risk parking at Boshamer Stadium, start your walk on campus at the Coker Arboretum/Battle Park using the following directions:

  • From Coker Arboretum, take a short sidewalk-stroll east to Forest Theatre and on to the Battle Park trails, ultimately taking the Deer Track Trail to the Sisters’ Corner on Gimghoul Rd.
  • Follow the sidewalk to Country Club Rd.; take a left and follow Country Club across Raleigh Rd. to Ridge Rd.
  • Take Ridge Rd. to the Boshamer Stadium parking lot and findthe trailhead to either the OWASA trail or Nature Trail.
  • Both trails end on Fern Ln., which you must follow to the pe- destrian crossing at Old Mason Farm Rd., and then over to the Botanical Garden entrance.

So slow down, rediscover Chapel Hill with your feet, practice orienteering, experience urban natural areas, listen to Meeting-of-the-Waters Creek, carefully cross a busy highway, and enjoy what’s happening at the Garden proper! If you’re not tuckered-out, trace your way back up through the Pinetum on the trail you didn’t take down. OR – look for an additional adventure and take the fare-free HU bus back to campus from the Garden’s entrance.