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Protected in the summer of 2016, The Rocks Nature Preserve is ECWA’s newest open to the public nature preserve. Located near Broad St. and Stadium Dr. this small, 1.8-acre piece of land protects one of the prettiest stretches of Ellerbe Creek. Named after its unique geology, The Rocks is special among ECWA nature preserves.

The Rocks features a nice, short loop trail that takes you around the property and gives great views of Ellerbe Creek. A second trail takes you down to the creek itself, allowing you to explore this rocky section of creek. The Rocks is accessible by foot and bike via the Stadium Drive Trail. A bike rack is located next to the preserve kiosk. A trail connects The Rocks to the Stadium Drive bicycle and walking trail via a public right-of-way access. The nearest parking to the preserve is located at Rock Quarry City Park. From there you may walk, run, or bike 0.6 miles along the Stadium Drive Trail. In 2018, the City of Durham will complete the West Ellerbe Creek Trail, which will extend from its existing location in Indian Trail Park and ECWA’s 17-Acre Wood Preserve to the Stadium Drive Trail nearby. This makes The Rocks a perfect stopping point for bikers or destination for walkers.

The Rocks montage

The Rocks is named after the ancient magma intrusions that lie underneath it, often called “Diabase.” Diabase magma intrusions are areas where magma rose to the surface and cooled to form rock. Most of the land surrounding Ellerbe Creek is sedimentary siltstone or sandstone formed by layers of sediment deposited more than 200 million years ago. Natural erosion by the stream and weather erodes away the softer sediments, exposing the harder diabase. The Rocks is one of a handful places where you can visit Diabase, and the only ECWA preserve with Diabase.

In 2013, the Birminghams, the family that developed many of the area neighborhoods, sold the property to ECWA Board of Directors President Steve Cohn, who generously bought the property to hold onto until ECWA acquired the necessary funds to purchase. Funding to acquire The Rocks was provided by the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative, the Clean Water Management Fund, and the Durham Open Space and Trails Matching Grants Program.

ECWA is working to restore the native habitat of The Rocks by eradicating the invasive exotic plants that are currently trying to take hold. However, this little preserve also hosts a surprising amount of native plant diversity. You will find many loblolly pine, river birch, southern red oak, paw paw, and many more species of trees. If you look down while you walk along the trails you will discover some beautiful herbaceous plants as well; cranefly orchids can be seen scattered throughout the preserve as well as the brilliant red flowers of the trumpet honeysuckle. Under the leaf litter in the late spring you will also find the strange red and brown jug-shaped flowers of the heartleaf plant. A section of open land near the kiosk will be the site of a prairie restoration project. Many different species of native grasses and prairie wildflowers have already been planted there to help attract bees, birds, and other local wildlife.

The Rocks sign
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Google Map of The Rocks Nature Preserve