Friday, April 29, 2011

Urban Parks (Newport News, VA): The Noland Trail

Whenever I travel on business, I always do my homework ahead of time to try to scope out some place to run.  In this case I traveled to Newport News, VA, part of the greater Norfolk area, and had ascertained that there was a 5-mile wooded trail—the Noland Trail--around a lake at the Mariners’ Museum.  This trail was a gift back in 1991 from the Noland family to the Mariners’ Museum.
Well, this site was located only about 3 miles away from the conference hotel, so to the Noland Trail I went after work one day.  I was prepared to almost be condescending about this trail.  After all, one website I was on speculated whether the clockwise direction on the 5 mile loop was tougher than the counterclockwise direction due to the uphills.  I’m thinking, for crying out loud, it’s a LOOP located in a virtually flat geographic area—what hills?
Then when I began running the trail—a nice sandy or gravel 5’ wide path—I noticed that any roots impinging on the trail had been painted orange as warning against tripping.  Again I was inclined to be condescending about the sissy nature of the trail.
But then I took off my grizzled old Ultrarunner persona, quit looking down my nose, and became a grandfather again.  I thought, this urban trail is a real treasure.  It’s a breath of fresh air amidst lots of civilization, roads, and cars.  It’s beautiful!  There were dozens of people on foot, many walking and many running.  It’s extremely family-friendly.  Toddlers walk on this trail; moms and dads push babies in strollers here.  The orange root warnings are not inappropriate.  The hills are gentle but if you’re with little ones, you might well want to consider clockwise vs. counterclockwise (or vice versa).
When I started running the trail, within a mile I had seen a Great Blue Heron, really close.  And seagulls.  And a mama duck trailed by about 8 babies swimming on the lake brought a big smile to my face.  Then, on this easy urban trail with painted roots, I caught a toe and came within a whisker of going down—not once, but twice—within about half a mile.  I will say the hills were not formidable; I ran the entire loop twice, once in each direction, and ran the whole way.  That said, if I were in an actual ultra I probably would have walked some of the hills as the trail rounded various points of the lake.
Oh, and the official motto of the trail, which was inscribed on stones at the various trailheads, was nothing short of awesome:
Today I have grown taller from walking with the trees (Karle Wilson Baker).

If you are in the area, you should make it a point to run this trail.


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