Fact Friday 16 - Oh, Sweet Sugar Creek
Happy Friday everyone! If you’ve driven up North Tryon from center city on the way to University City, or if you’ve taken I-85 North or South through the city, then you’ve undoubtedly crossed under or over Sugar Creek Rd. To those of us on the north side of the city, it is a major artery leading to and from the I-85 corridor, as well as connecting West W.T. Harris Boulevard in the north with Eastway Dr. in the east. Well, sadly a key section of Sugar Creek Rd., just outside of NoDa, will close for 3 years (yes, that was my reaction, too! What??) next week to accommodate construction for the LYNX Blue Line Extension that will run between Uptown and UNCC. The most notable part of the project in this area will be the construction of a bridge carrying Sugar Creek Rd. over the existing and future railroad tracks underneath. The closure was supposed to take effect last Monday, but was delayed due to inclement weather. While I’m super excited about the northward extension of the light-rail in the long term, in the short term I’m totally bummed out by this closure. Given its access to I-85, Sugar Creek Rd. is a major part of my daily commute which will now be altered, making it much more difficult for me to drop off and pick up my dry cleaning. What to do? What to do?! All this got me to thinking more about this, dare I say “sweet” road that is so close to my heart and yet I so take for granted. Where did she get her name and what’s the real significance? What I found was nothing short of astounding.
Sugar Creek Rd. gets its name from Little Sugar Creek. That’s right. Sugar Creek is an actual thing, actually 2 things, whose names have historical ties to the region. One is Little Sugar Creek, the other is just Sugar Creek – 2 separate entities that do not intersect and start in different areas of the city. Both get their name from the Sugaree Native American tribe indigenous to the area.
Little Sugar Creek
“Unlike many large cities, Charlotte is not sited on or near a sea, lake, or significant river; its hydro-geography is based on small streams and creeks, Little Sugar Creek being perhaps the most prominent.” When you think of a creek or a stream, you don’t usually associate it with the kind of distance Little Sugar Creek brings to bear. To put this into perspective, let’s talk landmarks. “Little” starts just behind Parks Chevrolet on North Tryon which is just south of the University area, winds south by southwest crossing underneath North Tryon cutting behind Compare Foods just as it crosses underneath Sugar Creek Rd. It continues southward through NoDa and Cordelia Park (the start of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway) as it heads Uptown in front of CPCC (the location of the urban sections of the Greenway and home to the Trail of History), continues south through Freedom Park, merges with Briar Creek near Tyvola Rd. and continues past the Sugar Creek Wastewater Treatment facility at Tyvola Rd., crosses underneath Archdale Dr. and past the Charlotte Tennis Academy and the SouthPark Swim and Tennis Club, behind AMC Carolina Pavilion 22, crosses underneath I-485, goes past Carolina Place Mall, cuts through Pineville and stops just over the NC/SC border.
If you’ve taken a stroll down by the Captain Jack statue near Central Piedmont Community College in Uptown, then you’ve seen Little Sugar Creek up close. The statue, named The Spirit of Mecklenburg, was selected to be the first statue for the Charlotte Trail of History, “a collection of privately-subsidized bronze sculptures memorializing the men and women who shaped and defined the rich history of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.” The Trail was strategically placed in the urban section of the Greenway because it “provides a unique opportunity for increasing community awareness of Mecklenburg County's history and culture.” In the ‘80s and ‘90s, portions of Little Sugar Creek were severely damaged due to flooding and widespread polluting by private enterprise, to the point where it was deemed “the most polluted stream in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.” As a result of major legislative changes in the late ‘90’s banning “straight-piping,” or directly disposing of waste in streams, creeks, and rivers, the city decided to get its act together to preserve one of its historical treasures. The city decided that the effort would not stop simply at restoration, but would also include the installation of 20 miles of trails and paved walkways along the Creek for the citizenry to enjoy. This network of trails is known as the Little Sugar Creek Greenway and “provides both human recreation, wildlife habitat, improve water quality and help control flooding.” The final report for the 1980 master plan, which involved 20 creeks and streams, was based on the graduate thesis from Joan Sigmon, a geography major at UNCC (Go Niners! – shameless plug for my alma mater). Apparently, however, contamination is still an issue today, though on a much smaller scale.
On the west side of the city, just north of Billy Graham Pkwy (near the Billy Graham Library), Irwin Creek and Taggart Creek merge to create Sugar Creek, which is impressive in its own right, but doesn’t cut through the heart of the city and isn’t as long as “Little.” Still, it creates the western-most border of Renaissance Park Golf Course, stretches south and continues towards the I-77/I-485 exchange, curves around Ramblewood Park, cuts underneath I-485 and Westinghouse Blvd., goes past Pineville-Matthews Rd., crosses the NC/SC border and eventually merges into the Catawba River.
For fun: How much do you know about Charlotte’s creeks? Take a quiz from UNCC’s Urban Institute!
For some added fun, use the links I’ve provided to actually trace Little Sugar Creek and Sugar Creek on the map. I found it pretty interesting exactly how much ground they cover, from some of Charlotte’s oldest communities to new. The more we feel a connection to the things around us, the better stewards we are of them. I think this is especially true with our environment. So while I’m sure I’m not the only one that is not looking forward to road closures and perhaps increased traffic in the name of progress, hopefully this post helped highlight how something so “little” can connect us all in a major way. Do with that what you will.
Until next week!
Email me at chris@704Shop.com if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!
Little Sugar Creek south of Sharon Road West near Pineville-Matthews Rd.
Photo: Nancy Pierce
Captain Jack Statue in Charlotte – Photo: Nancy Pierce
Runners, walkers, cyclists, and man’s best friend enjoying the Little Sugar Creek Greenway.