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Chinqua-Penn Walking Trail

Point Of Interest


Located near Reidsville in north-central North Carolina, the 1.7-mile Chinqua-Penn Walking Trail is Rockingham County’s premier trail. It is on land formerly part of the Chinqua-Penn Plantation created by industrialist Jefferson Penn and his wife Betsy in the 1920s. Under direction by Dr. Joseph French, the trail was built in 1997 by the present owner, the North Carolina Upper Piedmont Research Station, in partnership with the state’s Adopt-a-Trail program. A key aspect of the station’s agricultural research involves the legacy Black Angus herd founded by the Penns in the 1940s. The cow-calf operation of this herd is a major point of interest along the trail. Beginning at the trailhead parking lot, kiosk, recycling center, and composting toilet, the trail winds downhill between pastures and woods. As hosts of lavish but rustic parties, the Penns entertained friends from Betsy’s native New York in Great Gatsby style. Like their unique home nearby, structures along the trail were built of stone quarried on the farm. Just below the trailhead are the stone remains of the Stew Site where Jeff Penn cooked his famous Brunswick Stew for their guests. Now in ruins are massive stone tables and benches, a chimney and fire pit with rails for moving the huge cast-iron kettle, and an elegant stone Spring House with slate pyramid-shaped roof. The trail meanders back and forth across the stream fed by the spring, passes alongside Turkey Pond, which is frequented by numerous waterfowl, and reaches a stone pump house that served the mansion’s gardens. The more secluded Betsy Pond, skirted by the trail’s boardwalk, is formed by a huge rock dam centered with a dedicatory poem Jeff wrote for his wife. Both the dam and a graceful Summer House, or gazebo, incorporate old millstones as structural and decorative features. The quarry that yielded the stone for the dam and rock garden is hidden by a bamboo thicket. Utilizing former carriage trails that serve as farm roads, the trail climbs through old-growth forest that is recognized as a state-significant natural heritage area, emerging beside fields and pastures. Because of its varied habitat, the Chinqua-Penn Walking Trail is part of the Piedmont section of the North Carolina Birding Trail. Over 150 species of birds have been identified along the trail. Nearly 100 of them are pictured on the website of the Friends of Chinqua-Penn Walking Trail, Birds, mammals, and wildflowers of the trail are featured in the trailhead kiosk. The National Wildlife Federation has named the trail a Certified Wildlife Habitat. The Chinqua-Penn Walking Trail is a key link in the Rockingham County Pathways plan. It has been featured by physicians’ offices and health centers for its health and fitness benefits, and it is used for nature study by Scouts, school groups, youth groups, and campers from the adjacent Betsy-Jeff Penn 4-H Center. Several geocaches are located along the trail. The trail is jointly managed and maintained by the Upper Piedmont Research Station and the Friends of Chinqua-Penn Walking Trail. Other partners include the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA), which serves as the Friends’ fiscal agent, and the Rockingham County Naturalist Club. Grant funding has been awarded by the Reidsville Area Foundation, and staff support by DRBA. Rules and regulations are posted alongside the trail and on the Friends’ website. Because many families and dog owners frequent the trail, it is restricted to pedestrian use, and dogs must be leashed and under control. Law enforcement is provided by the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Department.