AT THIS TIME THIS NATURE PRESERVE IS CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC
Gar Creek Nature Preserve protects 353 acres along the headwaters of Gar Creek. Gar Creek discharges into Mountain Island Lake just upstream from the drinking water intake that serves roughly one million residents. The preserve also contains a significant 36 acre restored Piedmont Prairie with a native population of the federally endangered Schweinitz's sunflowers (Helianthus schweinitzii).
Location and Directions
Gar Creek Nature Preserve is located in northwest Mecklenburg County. The preserve can be seen on both sides of McCoy Rd., south of Hambright Rd.
From I-77, take exit 18, W.T. Harris Blvd. Proceed 1.7 miles west to Mt. Holly -Huntersville Rd. Turn left and go 1.2 miles to Beatties Ford Rd. Turn right and proceed 0.5 miles to McCoy Rd. Turn right on McCoy and go 0.8 miles. The McCoy Prairie portion of Gar Creek Nature Preserve can be seen on your right.
History and Description
In 1992 a native population of the endangered Schweinitz's Sunflower (Helianthus schweinitzii) was discovered along McCoy Road. This was one of the few known naturally occurring locations for this species, whose entire worldwide population is found at scattered sites within about 70 miles of Charlotte. Mecklenburg County began purchasing land around McCoy Rd. in December, 2000, with additional parcels acquired in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Today, Gar Creek Nature Preserve protects 353 acres and over a mile of Gar Creek – one of the highest quality streams in Mecklenburg County. The preserve also contains the significant 24 acre restored Piedmont Prairie with a native population of Schweinitz's Sunflowers.
In addition to the significant prairie, there are hundreds of acres of forest in the preserve. These forests have been logged in the past and most of this preserve was once farmland.
Education and Programs
Access only by guided walks led by Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation staff.
There are no public amenities.
Flora and Fauna
This preserve consists primarily of upland forest with a significant restored Piedmont Prairie. The Piedmont Prairie restoration can be seen on the east side of McCoy Road. The Schweinitz's sunflowers can be seen blooming from mid September to early October. They are usually the tallest, yellow flowers in the prairie. Within the prairie are some stands of mature shortleaf pines (Pinus echinata).
Around the prairie, look for Red-tailed Hawks soaring or perched on tall trees. In the summer, Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings sing from perches over the prairie. You might also hear Eastern Towhees or Summer Tanagers singing from nearby woodland edges. A few Piedmont Prairie wildflowers here include Schweinitz's sunflower (Helianthus schweinitzii), lance-leaved coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), scaly blazing-star (Liatris squarrosa), grass-leaved blazing-star (Liatris graminifolia), obedient plant (Dracocephalum virginianum) and beargrass yucca (Yucca filamentosa).
As with most of the preserves within Mecklenburg County, the biggest threat to their ecological integrity is the spread of invasive, non-native species. A few of the most potentially harmful invasives at Gar Creek Nature Preserve include kudzu (Pueraria montana), Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), and Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum).
The McCoy Rd. prairie must be actively managed with controlled burns and selective removal of woody plants to ensure the continued existence of Schweinitz's sunflowers and other unique prairie plants.