Dunn-Erwin Rail Trail
The Dunn-Erwin Rail Trail is a unique path that connects the two downtown areas of the communities while allowing the user to stroll through farmlands, beside cotton fields and across wetlands. The relaxed 5 mile trail of crushed stone is perfect for the casual walker, biker or family and is also used by serious runners because of its length and flat, well maintained surface. Dogs on leashes are welcome, but horses and ATVs are not permitted. The trail is clearly marked and easy to follow, and although the trail does intersect streets on multiple occasions, the crossings are well marked and safe. At multiple points on the path, there are informative signs with a map as well as historical points of interest and attractions along the trail. If you are interested in bringing the family and kids, there is plenty to explore in the two towns once you have traveled the trail. From Noah’s Landing, a 12 acre outdoor animal center, to historic sites likes Averasboro Civil War Battlefield and Museum; there is something to please everyone, young and old.
Directions and Parking
To begin at the Dunn trailhead, you can park at 800 West Harnett Street (Dunn, NC). which is Harnett Primary School. The trail is located behind the school, and the beginning is just 2 blocks away off of N Mckay Avenue between W Vance Street and W Carr Street. Please see our new map .
To begin at the Erwin trailhead, you can park at the intersection of E H Street and S 13th Street (the approximate address is 115 E H Street, Erwin NC). Here you can find a marker, which reads “To the pioneer men and women who labored in the fields and cotton mills and established the town of Duke, which became Erwin on January 1st, 1926. We, their descendants, are beneficiaries of a unique and wonderful life. May their spirit live on forever as we strive to preserve our heritage”. There is another parking opportunity in the middle of the trail as well, located at the intersection of N Powell and Ashe Avenue (Dunn, NC). It is a small lot but has a informational sign and is located a little more than a mile from the Dunn trailhead and about four miles from the Erwin trailhead.
The trail is very well laid out and clearly marked; for the most part, it’s so straight that you can always see at least a hundred yards ahead of you! When you cross a road, there are yellow concrete poles to warn traffic and trail users alike. It is virtually no incline, which makes it a great trail for bikers and young walkers. A sturdy, off road stroller would also be fine.
As you walk the path from Erwin, you get to see a little bit of the old railroad memorabilia, like a replica of a railroad crossing sign with a bench to rest on. You also pass by a few plots of farm land, whether it be collards or soybeans, and when in season, the plants are very impressive. Just be careful to stay on the path and not disturb anyone’s private property! Continue on and you see several historic houses before the land spreads out and turns into country land that has been uninterrupted for many decades. In the middle of the trail, you cross over a patch of wetlands connected to the Black River, filled with cypress trees and other striking plants. If you’re lucky, you might get a glimpse of a heron or duck fishing for its dinner. In contrast to the beautiful nature on the trail, you also get to see a little bit of the lingering industrial plants that fueled the two towns. As of late 2013 plans are moving forward to extend the trail from the Erwin end to the Cape Fear River Park Trail by mid to late 2014. This 1.5 mile extension would give this fine trail a total length of over 7 miles. Please see our new map to see the route over to the Cape Fear River.
last two photos courtesy of Nancy Pierce
One of the benefits of the Dunn-Erwin Trail is that while you are on it, you are not bothered by busy shopping centers and are free to just relax out in nature. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything to do in the towns and surrounding area though! Harnett County, where both towns are located, is a unique combination of charming towns like Dunn and Erwin with more than its fair share of outdoor activities, historical attractions and museums. In addition to the area parks, you can take experience nature by canoeing down the Cape Fear River (check out Cape Fear Canoe Center or Cape Fear Canoe Trails for more information) or exploring the 4,000 acres of Raven Rock State Park. For those interested in the history North Carolina, be sure to stop in at the Averasboro Civil War Battlefield and Museum. located just outside downtown Dunn at 3300 HWY 82, Dunn, NC. The kids (or the kid in you) will love Noah’s Landing. an hands on zoo with a range of unusual domestic and exotic animals for details about visiting.
If you are looking into an overnight stay, there are many hotels in the area to accommodate a small family or a large group. You can choose from the Holiday Inn express (900 East Pearsall Street, Dunn), Jameson Inn (901 Jackson Road, Dunn) or if you are looking for a more intimate experience, you can stay at a Bed and Breakfast, like Simply Devine Bed and Breakfast. Whatever you choose, there are many restaurant and shopping options around you to make your stay as comfortable as possible. A full list of attractions, hotels and restaurants is available at Dunn Tourism .
by Walter R. Turner, Historian at the North Carolina Transportation Museum Foundation
In 1898, the Washington Duke family of Durham, known for its tobacco empire, created the Cape Fear and Northern Railroad for a 20-mile route from Apex (Wake County) to the area that later became Angier (Harnett County) in order to help a relative with a lumber mill project. In 1903, the Dukes extended the railroad 14 miles to Duke, NC, where they established a textile mill. Three years later, the railroad reorganized as the Durham and Southern Railway, which ran from Durham to Duke (name later changed to Erwin) and Dunn. In 1954, the Nello L. Teer Company, a Durham construction company, purchased the railroad in order to have direct access to the main lines of Seaboard at Apex and Atlantic Coast Line at Dunn. The Teer Company sold the Durham and Southern RR to Seaborne Coast Line Railroad in 1976. Seaborne sold the Dunn-Erwin segment to Aberdeen Rockfish Railroad. After the North Carolina Rail-Trails achieved land trust status, the A R and NCRT agreed that the Dunn-Erwin route would become North Carolina’s the first federal railbanking corridor, a plan finalized in 2000. Railbanking kept the status of the rail corridor active for public use. This allowed NCRT to create a popular rail-trail now owned by Harnett County and managed by Dunn-Erwin Trail Authority.