Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation
5841 Brookshire Blvd.
Charlotte, NC 28216
Explore McDowell Nature Center and Preserve
McDowell Nature Center serves as the gateway to the 1108-acre
McDowell Nature Preserve and is the source for educational programs
and information on the preserve's natural communities, flora, and
fauna. The preserve, the oldest in Mecklenburg County, has been left
90% undeveloped and protects mostly forested, rolling terrain along
the banks of Lake Wylie.
Location and Directions
McDowell Nature Center and Nature Preserve is located at 15222 York
Road in southwestern Mecklenburg County.
Traveling South on I-77 from Charlotte
Near the NC/SC border, take Exit 90 onto Carowinds Boulevard. Go
west approximately 3 miles to Highway 49 (York Road). Turn left on
Highway 49 and travel 4 miles. The nature preserve entrance is on
Getting Around Inside the Preserve
McDowell Nature Preserve is a large facility. It is over 1 mile from
the entrance to the waterfront. Visitors can
walk between amenities such as the campground, picnic areas, or
nature center, 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
trails. Campground patrons are particularly encouraged to bring
bicycles to help minimize their vehicle use within the preserve.
History and Description
McDowell Park was the first major park owned and operated by
Mecklenburg County. In 1975, Crescent Land and Timber Corporation
(Crescent Resources), a subsidiary of Duke Power, donated 136 acres
on Lake Wylie to Mecklenburg County. The area had once been part of
Camp Steere, a Boy Scout camp. An additional 10 acres was purchased
from Tom Henderson of Corpus Christi, Texas.
The park first opened
in June of 1976. A Bureau of Outdoor Recreation Grant of $620,000
funded the development of the first facilities within the park,
including McDowell Nature Center. The park was named for John
McDowell, a prominent Commissioner and Chairman of the Mecklenburg
County Park and Recreation Commission from 1966 - 1974.
In the late 1970's and early 1980's, additional acreage was
purchased adjacent to the park and the area was designated the
"Southwest Nature Preserve." Funding for the purchase was
obtained through Land and Water Conservation Funds (LWCF). The
entire property was designated McDowell Nature Preserve following
the approval of the Nature Preserve Master Plan in 1997. Additional
acreage has been added over the past several years bringing the
current total to 1,108 acres.
Most of the property was logged or "high-graded" during
the middle 1900's leaving only immature hardwood trees standing. The
trees that remained make up the mature forest community types found
on the property today.
Its diversity of natural communities includes
upland hardwood forests, open fields, streams, the 9-acre Dodge City
Prairie and the 140-acre McDowell Prairie, now one of the largest
grassland/shrubland communities remaining in Mecklenburg County.
Both of the Piedmont Prairie restoration sites protect the federally
endangered Schweinitz's sunflower.
Traditionally one of the most popular sites in Mecklenburg County,
McDowell Nature Preserve offers a wealth of a outdoor recreation
opportunities. Canoe and kayak enthusiasts will find a landing near
the waterfront area that provides direct access to Lake Wylie.
Anglers ages 16 and older must have a NC State Fishing License.
Numerous fishing opportunities are available.
A playground provides
hours of enjoyment for children. A reservable medium (40 person)
picnic shelter, a reservable picnic pavilion (200 person), a
reservable waterfront deck, along with numerous picnic decks and
tables with grills provide picnic opportunities and nearby restrooms
for families, corporations, or individuals. The waterfront deck is
also a popular destination for weddings.
If all of that is
not enough to take in during one day, you can stay the night at the
preserve's 56-site family campground complete with RV sites, tent
sites, and a Rent-A-Tent program where a 9'x12' tent and two cots
are provided. The campground even has hot showers!
McDowell Nature Center features live, native animals, an exhibit
hall, 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, seasonal
butterfly gardens, garden pond, and a demonstration compost area.
McDowell Nature Preserve has 7 miles of trails offering hikers and
nature enthusiasts the opportunity to explore a variety of terrains
while enjoying scenic views of the lake, forests, and streams. The
Four Seasons Trail, a 1-mile loop located near the nature center, is
paved and handicap accessible.
Mountain bikes are permitted only on
paved roads within the preserve. 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. Download a full-color,
pocketsized trail map.
Flora and Fauna
McDowell Nature Preserve preserves habitat for 119 species of birds,
21 species of mammals, 21 species of reptiles, and 14 species of
amphibians. Among the unusual species that have been found at the
Preserve are: Seminole bat (first record in NC), spotted salamander,
Gulf Coast spiny softshell turtle, and Loggerhead Shrike.
Nature Preserve is also well known for its diversity of spring
ephemeral wildflowers and is among the best areas in Mecklenburg
County to view Pileated Woodpecker. The Preserve protects a
federally endangered plant (Schweinitz's sunflower), a federal
candidate species (Georgia's aster), and one rare plant (prairie
dock) at its two Piedmont Prairie restoration sites.