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Latta Plantation Nature Center and Preserve - Charlotte and Mecklenburg County Parks

Latta Plantation Nature Center and Preserve - Mecklenburg County Park and Rec

Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department
5841 Brookshire Blvd.
Charlotte, NC 28216

Phone: 704-336-3854

Explore Latta Plantation Nature Center and Preserve

Latta Plantation Nature Center serves as the gateway to the 1,343 acres of Latta Plantation Nature Preserve and is the source for educational programs and information on the preserve's natural communities, flora, and fauna. The preserve, Mecklenburg County's largest, forms a green peninsula extending into Mountain Island Lake and protects a natural heritage site and several endangered plants.

Location and Directions

Latta Plantation Nature Center and Nature Preserve is located at 6211 Sample Road in northwestern Mecklenburg County. 

Traveling North on I-77 from Charlotte
Exit 16B, Sunset Road West, to Beatties Ford Road. Turn right and proceed north for 4.8 miles until you reach Sample Road. Turn left onto Sample Road and continue 1 mile to the preserve entrance.

Traveling South on I-77 from Davidson
Exit 23, Huntersville. Turn right off of the exit onto Gilead Road. Take the third left, McCoy Road. At the stop sign, turn right on Beatties Ford Road. Turn left onto Sample Road and continue 1 mile to the preserve entrance.

Getting Around Inside the Preserve

Latta Plantation Nature Preserve is a large facility. Although all amenities are located off of one main road, it is 1.5 miles from the entrance to the lake. Visitors can walk between amenities such as the Nature Center, picnic area, Carolina Raptor Center and Historic Latta Plantation, but most prefer to drive. 

To help minimize traffic with the preserve, visitors with bicycles are encouraged to utilize them to travel from one amenity to another. Please remember all bikes must remain on paved roads and are not allowed on hiking and horseback trails.

History and Description

In 1981, the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department first opened Latta Plantation Park, a 654-acre "Nature Preserve." After the creation of the Nature Preserve Master Plan in 1997, the name was officially changed to Latta Plantation Nature Preserve. 

In the 1800's, most of the area was a cotton plantation owned by Mr. James Latta, a traveling merchant who first purchased the land in 1799. A portion of the acreage was used as a Boy Scout camp in the 1940's. Military exercises have also been conducted on the property. 

The property was purchased from several different owners including Crescent Resources and The Nature Conservancy. R. H. Johnson Construction once owned the majority of the property. 

Crescent Resources had harvested timber in some areas of what is now preserve property. The 2,810 square foot Latta Plantation Nature Center was first opened in 1982 as the Ranger Interpretive Center. The Center's name changed to Latta Plantation Nature Center in 1998 and the facility underwent its first major renovation in 2002.

Latta Plantation Nature Preserve is the County's largest nature preserve and protects over 1,343 acres of natural communities including the Beatties Ford Basic Forest natural heritage site. The preserve forms a green peninsula extending into Mountain Island Lake, the drinking water source for over 700,000 residents in Mecklenburg and Gaston counties. 

Its diversity of natural communities includes upland and bottomland hardwood forests, open fields, streams, and a Prairie restoration site protecting the federally endangered Schweinitz's sunflower and Michaux's sumac. 

The Preserve is part of the Mountain Island Lake Important Bird Area, designated by the National Audubon Society due to its diversity of wintering waterfowl, breeding and migratory songbird species, and protection of bottomland hardwood forests, a threatened natural community in North Carolina.

Amenities and other Facilities

Latta Plantation Nature Preserve offers endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. Visitors can literally spend the entire day at the preserve. Canoe and kayak enthusiasts will find two landing areas that provide access to Gar Creek and Mountain Island Lake. Numerous fishing opportunities are available. Anglers ages 16 and older must have a NC State Fishing License.

The new picnic area restroom complex.

Latta Plantation Nature Center features live, native animals, a discovery hall, an outdoor amphitheater, and a gift shop. Outside, visitors can stop and observe nature in action at the National Wildlife Federation certified Backyard Habitat Garden which includes bird feeding stations, butterfly gardens, garden pond, and demonstration compost area. Self-interpretive trail guides are available for several nature preserve trails.

Other facilities located in the preserve include:

  • Carolina Raptor Center, an education and rehabilitation facility dedicated to the conservation of birds of prey and home to the Southeast's largest eagle aviary,
  • Latta Plantation Equestrian Center, a facility providing guided horseback rides, pony rides, horse shows, lessons, and tack store,
  • Historic Latta Plantation, a restored 19th century federal-style home and living history farm of James Latta, open to public tours and interpretive programs.

Trails

Latta Plantation Nature Preserve has 16 miles of trails offering hikers, nature enthusiasts, and horseback riders the opportunity to explore a variety of terrain while enjoying scenic views of the lake, forests, and streams. It is the only Mecklenburg County property open to horseback riding. 

Thirteen (13) miles are designated as horseback and hiking trails and three (3) miles are designated as hiking only. Due to the delicate nature of sharing trails with horses, mountain bikes are permitted only on paved roads within the preserve.

Visitors bringing their own horses can park their trailer in a designated horse trailer parking lot and base out of that location to explore the entire preserve. There is a $3/horse equestrian trail user fee payable via a drop box located in the horse trailer parking lot. Proof of 12-month negative Coggins should be available for inspection. 

Visitors without their own horses can take a guided horseback ride from Latta Plantation Equestrian Center. Dogs are welcome on preserve trails, but must remain on a 6-foot or shorter leash at all times. All trails are marked with color symbols. 

Flora and Fauna

In addition to protecting the water quality of Mountain Island Lake, Latta Plantation Nature Preserve preserves habitat for 97 species of birds, 17 species of mammals, 14 species of reptiles, and 9 species of amphibians. 

Among the unusual species that have been found at the Preserve are: Bald Eagle, Wild Turkey, red fox, gray fox, mink, and red-spotted newt. The Preserve also protects two federally endangered plants (Schweinitz's sunflower and Michaux's sumac), a federal candidate species (Georgia's aster), and the largest population of puttyroot orchid in Mecklenburg County.

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