Explore the Brumley Nature Preserve

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There’s a lot to think about getting to and walking on the trails of the George and Julia Brumley Family Nature Preserve, a 613-acre tract in Orange County, some 6 miles north of Chapel Hill and 4.5 miles south of Hillsborough.

You can reflect on the fact that, as a local joke goes, any direction you go from the population centers of Orange and Durham County is south—that is, in the South: lightly developed, in places intensely rural. The addresses of the preserve’s two parking lots—3620 Old State Highway 10 for the north lot and 3055 New Hope Church Road for the south lot—are evocative of a simpler time. The roads right around the preserve are picturesque and peaceful, with 35 mph speed limits.

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You can appreciate the stewardship of the Triangle Land Conservancy (TLC), which since 1983 has conserved over 18,000 acres of land and manages seven preserves, including Brumley, that are open to the public all year round.

You can honor the foresight of George Brumley III and Julia Preston Brumley, an Orange County couple who in the 1990s bought land near their New Hope Church Road home to prevent a planned subdivision. A Durham Herald Sun 2017 article described George Brumley, an investment fund manager, as “a conservationist and avid hunter who, along with his wife…believed in leaving the land as you found it and making the world a better place.”

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You can lament the tragic July 2003 private plane crash in Kenya that killed a dozen members of the extended Brumley family: George and Julia; their two adolescent children; George’s parents; two sisters; two brothers-in-law, and an adolescent niece and nephew. The Zeist Foundation, established by George’s father, an Atlanta pediatrician, sold the property in 2010 to TLC, with financing help from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund; the Warner Foundation; the City of Raleigh; the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative, and the Pearson Stewart Land Opportunity Fund. There’s more to the story of the crash victims than there’s space for here. I recommend this New York Times article for more details.

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I came to the Brumley preserve after a conversation with Betsy Bertram, Townsend Bertram and Co., marketing manager, about area trails suitable for hikers with physical limitations. I told Betsy that as someone diagnosed two and a half years ago with a gait disorder similar to Parkinson’s Disease, I’ve been able to remain an active hiker but that I don’t like steep trails or trails with roots and rocks.

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The Brumley North trails fill that bill nicely. The five trail sections together make for an easy 2.9 mile hike. Stony Creek Bluff plus Cemetery Connector is just over a mile and you can mix and match other sections.

The Stony Creek Bluff trailhead has the feeling of an urban park, with a split-rail fence protecting a red mulberry that overhangs the trail.

From the standpoint of easy walking, Brumley South is another matter. Before I get into that, let me say that the multi-use trails shared by bikers and hikers in that part of the preserve are maintained by Triangle MTB, whose Web site, as well as listing recently stolen bikes, has savvy ratings of Brumley South trails written by users.

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A couple of reviews I noticed: “Gotta be respectful to all of the hikers/walkers and probably not a great idea to go on a nice weekend day unless you are really early as it is very popular with non-cyclists as well.” And: “Great ride in the woods for older trailers like myself who have ‘retired' from overly technical rides.” And while one reviewer opined that the trails are a “Yawn fest if you like spending time in the air,”
another thought them “Very well thought out and developed trails. Fast and flowy with some nice whoopdeedos.” So something for everybody, it sounds like.

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That said, the shared trail I walked on a quiet Friday afternoon—Wood Duck Way, a mere 1.2 miles—I would not want to try under crowded conditions. The trail is a two-way single-track with not very conspicuous signage warning riders to expect to encounter hikers and even strollers (one short trail within the trail is called Kids Loop). Notwithstanding the trail reviewer’s appeal for courtesy, the bikers I encountered clearly expected me to step aside.

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Because the trail was lightly traveled, I enjoyed the differences from Brumley North. To sum up, for hikers with physical limitations, Brumley North is definitely the way to go. In Brumley South, pay attention.

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