A new Piedmont prairie? Nature reclaims a crumbling old coliseum parking lot

Goldenrod dominating concrete rubble. Photo: Meredith Hebden

 Hear Meredith Hebden discuss her work at Science Cafe, 5:30 p.m. April 12, UNC Charlotte Center City.

By Meredith Hebden

The Charlotte Coliseum on Tyvola Road had just opened to much fanfare when I arrived in Charlotte in September 1988. Yet it became outdated within 13 years and was demolished in 2007. When I went back last fall, 28 years later, almost all traces of it had been obliterated. Office and residential complexes now occupy most of the site, but one parking lot remains. And nature is taking it back.

Amid piles of rubble and trash, native and non-native wildflowers, which at first glance might be considered weeds, are taking back the land. At this point no real soil nourishes them; any crack will do. One plant becomes four, which become 20, and so forth. Over several generations their roots will crack the asphalt barrier, and over centuries the decayed foliage and wind-blown silt will create new soil. Left undisturbed, a new Piedmont prairie of grasses, wildflowers and shrubs will be born.

In the waning days of fall, bees and other pollinators were prolific, and pollen was abundant on goldenrods and asters. Deer snorted and ran away in the margins of forest bordering development and this asphalt island. Raccoons had left their handprints in the mud.

Two different soundtracks were playing: Squirrels chattered from the trees at the human invading their space. Birds seeking a meal of insects or seed scattered when I approached. But the hum of surrounding traffic was never far off.

Our current pace of habitat destruction is disheartening. Empty shells of earlier decades’ “latest, greatest” stand abandoned. Bigger, better, faster, more.

Yet here was a small reassurance that the natural world will survive us.

Meredith Hebden is the manager for Van Landingham Glen at the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens, and is a botanic/floral art photographer. See her work until May 26 at the Projective Eye Gallery at UNC Charlotte Center City.

Late-flowering boneset in asphalt “lava field.” Photo: Meredith Hebden