Williamson Preserve open with 7 miles of trail

September 20, 2020


Triangle Land Conservancy is thrilled to finally open Bailey and Sarah Williamson Farm & Nature Preserve, where 405 acres of forests and fields are home to 7 miles of walking and biking trails, two farmers (with another to start soon!), and a new office for TLC staff and farmers.

Autumn Copeland, a Raleigh artist, painted two scenes from Williamson Preserve.

Williamson Preserve fulfills all four of the benefits of conservation TLC seeks to achieve for the community: protecting natural habitats, safeguarding clean water, supporting local farms and food, and connecting people with nature. It is TLC’s first public preserve to host both trails and farmers in partnership with several organizations.

The opening of this preserve also marks a new chapter in the long history of this land. Throughout U.S. history and in the conservation movement, the history of land and the Black, Brown, and Indigenous people who lived and worked there has often been erased. Thanks to grants from the Triangle Community Foundation and The Jandy Ammons Foundation, TLC has worked for more than a year with the UNC Community Histories Workshop to begin to share a fuller story of this land. Before you head off on the trails, you’ll have an opportunity to read about this history on kiosks at the preserve or on our website (both of which we’ll be updating periodically).

Like all land in the U.S., Indigenous communities once lived, farmed, fished, hunted, and passed through the preserve and surrounding area. Throughout the American South, after colonists and their descendants took land from Indigenous people, white families established plantation agriculture — this preserve was once part of a 3,000-acre plantation, where enslaved Black people were forced to work. After the Civil War, the land remained a farm, eventually transitioning from cotton to tobacco. Over time, Black families bought land and established their own farms in the area, some of which are still operating today, while many others lived as tenants on white-owned land. In the last few decades, this region has become one of the last rural areas in the ever-growing Wake County.

In 2013, TLC acquired the land from Bailey and Sarah Williamson’s daughters, Betty Brandt Williamson and Sally Greaser, who donated more than 60% of its value in order to ensure the farmland, water, and forests their parents loved were protected forever. Funding from Wake County, the NC Land and Water Fund, individuals who generously donated to TLC’s Our Water, Our Land campaign, Johnston County, and the Environmental Enhancement Grant Program made the purchase of this nature preserve possible.

Now, this land helps protect streams that flow into the Neuse River, ensuring clean drinking water for people who live east of the Triangle. Farmers on this land use regenerative practices, which help build healthy soils, protect waterways, increase biodiversity, improve animal and crop health, and increase overall farm resilience.

Students from Triangle Bikeworks biked out at Williamson Preserve during filming for a promotional video. Photo: Land, Ltd.

Starting today, the story of this land will include you. We plan to build 5 more miles of trail in the coming months, and we’re excited to welcome people to walk and bike through the preserve. We hope you’ll enjoy your visits, and that you’ll continue to come back as we learn and share more about the preserve’s history, bring more farmers on to the land, and eventually host guided hikes and offer local food at the preserve.

What to know before your visit:

Trails can be accessed via the Neuse River Greenway or at the parking lot at 4429 Mial Plantation Road, and hours are dawn to dusk.

After rain, check the trail status before you go. The preserve is often closed after rain to protect the trails and prevent run-off into streams. For now, trail status will be updated at trianglemtb.com, at torc-nc.org, and on TLC’s Facebook page.

Most trails at Williamson Preserve go in one direction. Sunday-Wednesday, walkers turn right at trail intersections, and bikers and runners turn left. Thursday-Saturday, walkers turn left, and bikers and runners turn right.

Dogs must be on leash at all times for the safety of other visitors, wildlife, and livestock. Do not interact with wildlife or livestock, and do not touch or approach any farm equipment.

Please take all trash, including dog poop bags, with you when you leave.

Full rules and a map are online at triangleland.org/williamson.

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