Living near the city can be loud. Really loud. Even though we can tune the noise out after a while, the constant racket can have serious effects on our health and our environment. That might be why WFAE listener Katrina Lee wrote to FAQ City asking where she might find might Mecklenburg County's quietest outdoor spot.
We picked her question to investigate because of the ever-increasing noise pollution in Mecklenburg County. On any given day, our eardrums are hit with police sirens, leaf blowers and airplanes droning overhead. Who among us hasn't cringed from the roar of a passing motorcycle or garbage truck, or a jackhammer blasting into the pavement?
It's more than a mild annoyance. Studies have shown chronic noise pollution can cause an increased risk of heart disease, hearing loss, poor sleep and worsened mental health. One article in The Washington Post went so far as to call it the "new secondhand smoke."
On the flip side, research shows that listening to nature sounds can make us feel more relaxed and promote a sense of wellbeing. It's just the antidote we need to the anxiety-inducing commotion.
Finding Areas Untouched By City Noise
To be upfront, this public radio station's resources are far too limited to be able to pinpoint the absolute quietest place in Mecklenburg County — there's just too much ground to cover and sound levels can vary greatly depending on the time and the day — but we can do our best to find a spot that could be a good contender.
Ideally, we want a place that's not too crowded, that doesn't have much, if any, noise pollution, and is open to the public. Anthing on private property, including golf courses and graveyards, is going to be off-limits.
A good start is to examine the National Transportation Noise Map. It's put together by the federal government, and it's just like a heat map, but for noise, though it only tracks sound from airplanes, highways and major thoroughfares.
Right away, the map shows the entire western half of Mecklenburg County under a fiery orange glow, representing all the airplanes taking off and landing at the Charlotte airport. That half of the county, including all the areas around the Catawba River up to Huntersville, are going to have lots of noisy planes overhead.
That leaves us searching in areas to the south, the east and the very tip of the county. Parks, greenways and nature preserves in these areas will be our best bet — especially those not too close to major highways or roads.
Cottonballs In Your Ears
This reporter visited a handful of sites that looked like good candidates on paper, including the Sherman Branch Mountain Biking Trails, the Reedy Creek Nature Preserve and the Davidson Nature Preserve on Lake Norman.
Suprisingly, highway and traffic noise was prevalent at all of them. In the case of the Davidson Nature Preserve, noise from nearby Interstate 77 was actually amplified by the open water, which can magnify sound waves.
However, one spot stood out as quieter than the rest: a 200-acre patch of land a few miles east of downtown Davidson that a number of people recommended as a particularly quiet spot. Residents know the park as Fisher Farm.
There are no planes from the Charlotte or the Concord Airports flying overhead, and there's only the faintest hint of traffic from some road in the distance. The ambiance is only made up of chirping birds and a bubbling brook.
Also, it's not too crowded. On a weekday afternoon, there were only two other visitors: Lynn Foley and her basset hound, Tobey.
'It's Going To Be Set Aside For Nature'
The park has been around for coming up on 15 years now, and the people who know about it prize it for its natural, quiet state.
"You can't find places like this anywhere in metropolitan Mecklenburg," says former Davidson Mayor Randy Kincaid, "You can't even find it in a town like Davidson."
Kincaid, who helped establish the park, says the land used to be owned by two brothers, Baxter and John Fisher. Both fought in World War II in the Pacific and later became integral members of the Davidson community before their respective deaths in 2009 and 2015.
They sold their farm to the county around 2006, and the county purchased an additional plot of land a few years later that became the adjacent Abersham Park.
Kincaid says when the town began planning how to turn the farm into a public space, some people wanted to put in a soccer field, but Kincaid, who was mayor at the time, didn't want that.
"I said, 'It's just going to be a passive park,'" he said. "'It's going to be set aside for nature and for people who want to ride bikes.'"
He says he used to have a friend whom he'd go to the park with and just walk.
"And a lot of times we were walking in silence," he said. "There's something about this place that encourages that."
Yet even in the relative stillness, there's still some man-made noise creeping in. While Kincaid was talking, a small private plane could be heard buzzing in the distance. Seems what might be the quietest place in the county still isn't completely free of noise.
But that's the reality we live in, and as the human population grows and natural wilderness shrinks, finding truly quiet places is just going to get harder and harder. That's why it's important for us to take the time now to identify and preserve these places.
Because when the city racket gets too loud, we'll need a place to escape and reconnect with the soothing sound of nature.