For Michelle Patterson, the sight of bright red strawberries popping up in the fields, just waiting to be plucked from the vines — and the little mouths, stained red from
For Michelle Patterson, the sight of bright red strawberries popping up in the fields, just waiting to be plucked from the vines — and the little mouths, stained red from sampling the ripe fruit in the you-pick fields at her Mount Ulla farm — are among the first sweet signs of summer.
Patterson, a fourth-generation farmer at Patterson Farm, knows that most people never see where their food is grown, and she wants to change that. The you-pick strawberries are a great place to start — and serving up hand-scooped strawberry ice cream on a hot summer day doesn’t hurt either.
“We want people to get connected to where their food comes from,” Patterson says. “We’re all about providing experiences and education in a great rural setting.”
Patterson believes the bucolic setting is one of the biggest draws to her farm — and that it’s indicative of the outdoor offerings and beauty to be found in Rowan County as a whole. In this Piedmont county between Charlotte and Greensboro, there’s no shortage of ways to explore and have an original adventure.
We dare you to find a better place to be on a sunny summer afternoon than at High Rock Lake, the second largest lake in North Carolina. Rent a pontoon boat from a local outfitter like Tamarac Marina and cruise around the 15,000-acre reservoir on the Yadkin River with friends and family, or grab a kayak at Row Co River Adventures to explore a few of the out-of-the-way coves.
After a long day on the water, dry off and head to Waters Edge Dock and Grill for a bite. The lakeside restaurant — which frequently hosts live music — serves up crowd-pleasing dishes like coconut shrimp with Thai chili, Pontoon Poppers (jalapeno-stuffed eggrolls with Cheddar cheese, cream cheese, and bacon), and buffalo-chicken-ranch pizza. Sit back and sip the creative drink of the month on the tree-shaded deck, which offers beautiful views of the water, especially at sunset.
It might be called Dan Nicholas Park but it’s so much more than a playground and picnic shelters. East of Salisbury, Dan Nicholas is “a destination park,” says Don Bringle, the director of Parks and Recreation for Rowan County.
The 425-acre outdoor wonderland is the place to spend an afternoon gliding across peaceful waters in a paddle boat, aiming for a hole-in-one at a mini-golf course, cooling off with little ones in the splash pad, riding a train (or a carousel), and watching for bobcats, eagles, and black bears. There are enough activities to fill an entire weekend, which is good news since the park also has 68 campsites and six rustic cabins to accommodate overnight adventures.
For a slice of nature in the heart of downtown Salisbury, check out Bell Tower Green, a three-acre park that opened in 2021 and has fast become a favorite local gathering spot. Walk through the gardens or relax at the water wall. Or kick off your shoes, spread a blanket, and enjoy a picnic on the wide grassy lawn with takeout from Sweet Meadow Cafe, an eclectic, farm-to-fork bistro just down the street.
Throughout the summer, music fills the air when an evening concert series turns the green into an outdoor concert hall.
It’s not summer without baseball. Head to Atrium Health Ballpark to see the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers, the Single-A affiliate for the Chicago White Sox, take the field. Order a hot dog, snap a selfie with the team mascot, Boomer, and cheer on the home team.
If your schedule doesn’t line up with the team’s, don’t fret. Vince Marcucci, the assistant general manager for the Cannon Ballers, believes the stadium is worth visiting even on non-game days. “We have a 20,000-square-foot Kids Zone, which was built around a custom three-story Berliner play structure and an interactive splash pad,” he says. It’s open daily for the community to enjoy whether games are home or away.
Don’t let your outdoor adventures stop when it comes time to grab dinner. Meet for margaritas on the rooftop patio at Go Burrito and take in the views of downtown Salisbury from above, or grab a bite at Sidewalk Deli — a local lunch favorite — where sandwich and salad specials rotate daily. Try the famous meatloaf sandwich, a grilled pimento cheese, or a veggie Reuben, and enjoy it at a table in the sunshine.
Of course, no matter where you go, you’ll need to be sure to order a cold glass of Cheerwine; the fizzy, cherry-flavored drink — a North Carolina icon — has been made in Salisbury since 1917.
Patterson, who serves as the chair for the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce Agriculture Committee, calls the rural setting and strong arts culture the biggest assets in Rowan County, and The Rowan Arts and Ag Farm Tour was created to show off both of them. The 2022 tour is scheduled for June 4 and includes stops at farms — including Patterson, where you can fill up a bucket with sweet, ripe strawberries — as well as a roller mill, greenhouse, vet clinic, and a school garden to showcase the diversity of agriculture across the county.
Featured artists at each stop of the free, self-guided tour will be showing off work like leather and woodworking, tie-dye, painting, and pottery. “It’s a chance to get out and explore the agriculture assets and artists in the county,” Patterson says.
At the North Carolina Transportation Museum in downtown Spencer — known for its many trains — you can learn about the 2,500 or so machinists, foundry workers, boilermakers, and carpenters who originally made their homes in the area — and ride a train around the property, of course. Visit on June 18, when the museum hosts its annual Fire Truck Festival on the grounds to meet firefighters, explore fire trucks and other fire-fighting equipment, and cheer on first responders during a parade.
If there’s any doubt that Rowan County is a community that’s passionate about agriculture, stop at the Salisbury and Rowan County Farmers’ Market; the Saturday morning market is a staple of the local food scene.
“People like supporting local farmers and getting fresh produce at the same time,” says Cody Craddock, an agriculture agent for the Rowan County Extension.
Try a few samples, talk to farmers about how to prepare just-picked produce, and stock up on fresh fruits and veggies, local meat and eggs, fresh-cut flowers, and homemade bread and baked goods.
Back in Mount Ulla, Patterson Farm Market also stocks local produce, along with jams, jellies, sauces, and other specialty items made with fruits and vegetables grown on their farm. And if you’re at Patterson, then you might as well pick a few dozen more strawberries. On a warm evening, take your bucket and eat ’em right there in the Rowan County countryside. The experience is a sure sign that summer has arrived — and it’s sweet.