Update: Durant Nature Preserve Park

Durant Nature Preserve ParkWith mild weather in the forecast and more nature parks on our mind, we headed to Durant Nature Preserve Park (8305 Camp Durant Rd
in North Raleigh) to attend the Wee Walkers program with friends, play in the natural playground, and explore the butterfly and bird garden.  We’ve attended the Wee Walkers program several times over the years and the girls (and I) always have a great time.  The program is a fun way to get out and explore nature with a knowledgeable guide, the program is FREE and doesn’t require registration (although it helps for their planning purposes), and you learn about and see different animals and parts of the park each trip.

This Wee Walkers program focused on birds and we hiked along the White House Road trail that meanders through the shaded forest on the northern side of the park.  Staff Ranger Jack kept us moving at a steady pace for such a large group while pointing out several flora and fauna along the way: skinks, bluebirds, lots of centipedes, frogs, centipedes, robins, spiders and more.  He spotted eggs in one of the bluebird houses, which was a big hit for all the parents and kids, and he also talked about some of the migratory birds that we’d find in the park.

After the hiking program, the girls played in the natural play area that sits near the painted shed in the north entrance parking lot.  The natural play area features a rock garden, small fish pond surrounded by native plants, fairy house building, bird houses, sandbox, and fort building supplies.  The girls have had so much fun playing in Raleigh’s natural play areas lately that we’ve tried to incorporate several of them in our own backyard with fairy garden building, dinosaur fossils and other small treasures hidden in a dirt box, and a painted rock garden.

IMG_5419Once the girls finished in the natural play area, we walked across the parking lot and open field area to the bird and butterfly garden.  The butterfly garden has a short trail surrounded by natural butterfly habitats of lilac, Queen Anne’s Lace, daylilies, eastern blue star and more.  The butterfly garden leads into the shaded bird garden that features a mulched trail with several feeders, bird houses, and informational guides.  We heard and saw a lot of birds flying in and around the gardens, but my bird identification skills are pretty pathetic – maybe some adult birding classes are in my future!

On our way back to our car we spotted a large doe along the perimeter of the park, so you never know what you’ll see at the park.  The next Wee Walkers program is Thursday, July 7 at 10am and maybe we’ll see you there!

Additional Resources

Thumbs up: guided Wee Walkers program, natural play area, bird and butterfly garden, shaded trails for hot summer days

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Update: Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Preserve Park

Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Preserve ParkOn a cloudy summer day we headed to Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Preserve Park to explore the nature playground and do some light hiking.  It’d been awhile since we’d last visited this park, and now that both girls are becoming more able to hike short distances on their own without losing their minds, it’s been more fun to take them along.  This park is especially great for little ones because all of the hiking trails are short (less than 1 mile each) and several are shaded!

Annie Louise Wilkerson Park is located north of I-540 at 5229 Awls Haven Dr just off Raven Ridge Rd. Upon arriving, we visited the main park office to check out the Explorer Backpacks they lend out to children.  Both girls were super pumped about having their own hiking backpacks to use on the trails.  The friendly park staff showed us everything in the backpacks, which included binoculars, compass, nature journal (to take home), bug collection jars, park maps, and laminated animal/insect ID cards.  After suiting up with the backpacks, we visited with the park turtles outside the park office and then headed towards the pond to walk the 1/2 mile turtle pond trail.  We followed the mowed path and turned left on the trail to head clockwise around the pond.  Along the way, we walked closer to the pond to spot the turtles and have a snack on the bench.  The girls also spent some time drawing in their nature journals. After a quick stop we continued on the loop trail, which meanders through full-sun meadows around the pond.  The girls enjoyed seeing the wildflowers along the way and were impressed that the grasses on both sides of the trail are almost as tall as they are!

IMG_5356After our short hike we walked through Dr. Wilkerson’s former home, which has been renovated into an Education Center for the purpose of being a nature park research center.  The front room is a mini museum of Dr. Wilkerson, highlighting her career and time she spent on the farm.  We didn’t visit the other parts of the center, but the COR website notes it has science labs, classrooms, and kitchen area.  The girls also enjoyed playing with the working old well pump outside the center.

Then we headed back towards the front of the park and played in the natural play area, adjacent to the bathrooms and pavilion.  The full-sun play area features a teepee, natural twig tunnel, stump stepping area, and tall grasses.  Just down from the full-sun play area is a continuation of the natural play area in the wooded area featuring a large sand box, bamboo sticks for building, bamboo chin-up bar, sticks and dirt for miles, fairy house supplies, and short fairy and troll trails through the woods.  The girls went nuts for the fairy and troll trails and loved walking the trails and trying to find the next “fairy or troll” character or house along the way.  The trails are short, narrow paths through the lush green forest.  After walking the trails the girls proceeded to make fairy houses on their own for over an hour. It was one blissful hour where a 5 year old and an almost 3 year old played together and on their own with ZERO fighting.  I felt like I hit the jackpot! I just sat back on the bench or in the sandbox and watched their little minds work – asking each other for help, digging through sand and dirt to find fairy house supplies, exploring the trails for ideas.  They created and it was so much fun to watch.

We had so much fun creating fairy houses at the park that we also went to Michaels craft store to buy our own supplies and purchased the Fairy Gardening: Create Your Own Magical Miniature Garden for decorating ideas. We spent the next day at home building and designing our own fairy gardens, which was a lot of fun! Visiting Annie Louise Wilkerson Park really helped transition us from preschool to summer and I’ll always remember the fun memories we made that morning at the park!  We didn’t even have time to explore the free activities inside the park office, which we’ll plan to do for another day!

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: short hiking trails great for preschoolers, friendly park staff, shaded nature playground, convenient outdoor bathrooms, Explorer Backpack lending program, enchanting fairy/troll trails and houses

Thumbs down: shorter weekend park hours

Robertson Millpond Preserve

Robertson Millpond PreserveOne Sunday at the end of April we headed out to Wake County’s newest park, Robertson Millpond Preserve for some fishing.  Not knowing what to expect from this new park, we quickly discovered that Robertson Millpond Preserve is a local natural refuge for recreation and relaxation.   Its main attraction is the blackwater cypress-gum swamp, making you feel transported to the lowcountry!

Robertson Millpond Preserve is an 85-acre park located 25 minutes outside of Raleigh at 6333 Robertson Pond Road in Wendell, NC.  The millpond dam was created in the 1820s when the Avera family owned and operated a 600-acre farm and gristmill on the property.  They lived in a federal-style home, which they re-located to a new site on Robertson Pond Rd that still exists today.  The Robertson family, for which the pond and road are named for, bought the land in the late 1800s/early 1900s and probably operated the mill until the 1940s.  After the mill stopped operating in the 1950s, recreational fishing and boating became the focal point.  Decades later, the mill was removed, and in 2013 the land was purchased through the Wake County Open Space Program and the park opened in late October 2015.

IMG_4859This particular Sunday we enjoyed the park all to ourselves for several hours.  We explored the boat ramp (only non-motorized boats are allowed) down to the pond where we heard and saw a variety of birds and insects.  Sitting on the boat dock, we gawked over the large cypress trees that envelope the pond.  The park staff have installed numbered buoys in the water to created a 1/2 mile paddling trail through the pond.  Since our visit, Paddle Creek has started offering hourly kayak rentals on Saturdays only at the pond.

Then we walked over to the small shore area to set up for fishing.  Before heading out that morning, the girls and I collected live worms from our backyard for bait, but our bait didn’t stand a chance.  Bill and the girls had a few nibbles and saw some tadpoles, but this morning was more about just having fun, which everyone did!  After fishing we walked closer to the dam, which is about 20 yards wide and sits in front of Robertson Pond Road.  You can’t get very close to the dam, but the sounds are amazing and future projects include adding a short boardwalk and an interpretive display near the mill’s old foundation.

In addition to the pond’s recreational activities, the park also features a picnic shelter, open space area and nonpotable water station for cleaning your boat.  After this past weekend’s canoeing and kayaking adventures down the New River in West Jefferson, NC, I can’t wait to return on a Saturday and take the girls kayaking!

Additional Resources

Thumbs up: gorgeous views, boating options, preservation of pond and history of area, on-site station for cleaning your boat

Thumbs down: lack of weekday hours

Campfires & Fireflies in the Parks

campfire
S’mores with cousins last summer

Several of my summer memories growing up involved sitting around campfires and chasing down fireflies in the backyard.  Here are some great upcoming programs going on in the Greater Triangle area and beyond that involve either a campfire or firefly fun!  Bring your family, neighbors and friends and explore the outdoors at night!

Firefly Watch at Prairie Ridge Ecostation (Saturday, June 4, 8-9:30pm) – Collect and observe fireflies while learning more about the dwindling firefly population, ages 8+, FREE but pre-registration is required – please contact Chris Goforth at chris.goforth@naturalsciences.org or 919.707.8882.

Crowder by Night at Crowder District Park (Friday, June 10, 7-8pm) – explore the park by night with campfire s’mores, animal observations, and nature stories, Wake County course #5693, $3/person or $5/family, all ages

Fun with Fireflies at Durant Nature Preserve (Friday, June 10, 8-9pm) – Make a firefly catcher and see the fireflies up close, ages 5+, City of Raleigh course #188956, $2, adult must register and accompany children

Centennial Campfire Celebration at Chimney Rock State Park (Saturday, June 11, 12-1:30pm) – Celebrate National Get Outdoors Day with a campfire, hotdogs, and some Cherokee Native American stories, cost is the admission into the state park

Campfire Cooking at Goose Creek State Park (Friday, June 17 at 5pm) – Savor a meal cooked over the campfire, call to pre-register (252) 923-2191, meet at Campground Amphitheater, all ages

Yates by Night: Summer Tales at Historic Yates Mill County Park (Friday, June 17, 7:30-9pm) –  Hear some tall tales then share a few stories of your own while roasting s’mores around the campfire, Wake County course #5736, ages 6+, $3/person or $5/family

Firefly Hike at Pilot Mountain State Park (Saturday, June 11 or June 18 9-10pm) – Meet at the campground amphitheater for an easy walk around the amphitheater to look for and learn about the unique natural history of fireflies, meet at Family Campground area

Storytime by the Campfire at Falls Lake State Recreation Park (Saturday, June 25 at 7pm) – Join a park ranger for a reading of Dr. Seuss’ classic, “The Lorax”, discuss what it means to be a steward and roast marshmallows, meet at Holly Point Amphitheater

2016 Summer Bucket List

IMG_5057Our neighborhood pool opened, another year of preschool finished up (including Claire’s first year and Ashley’s final year) and we had kindergarten orientation this week! Phew…it’s been a busy week, but that also means it’s time to switch gears and think summer activities!  While we were able to cross a lot off our bucket list goals from last summer, we have some of the same goals and some lofty new goals this summer.  With help from little ones, here’s my mostly kiddo-friendly summer bucket list for 2016.

  1. Visit the library
  2. Build a backyard water wall (Bill will looooove this)
  3. Visit a recreational lake
  4. Visit a farm
  5. Enjoy a bushel of crabs
  6. Visit the rivah
  7. Go to the beach
  8. Use my smoker
  9. Make pizza with ingredients from our pizza garden
  10. Explore a new brewery
  11. Visit the Durham farmer’s market
  12. Take a boat ride
  13. Visit CA
  14. Go to Frankie’s Fun Park
  15. Make ice cream sandwich brownies
  16. Wash the car
  17. Have a water balloon fight
  18. Watch an outdoor movie
  19. Go backyard camping
  20. Stay in our pjs at least until noon
  21. Go to Blacksburg
  22. Read books in the backyard
  23. Play with the sprinkler in the backyard
  24. Have a backyard breakfast picnic
  25. Paint on the easel outside
  26. Make garden tiles
  27. Catch lightning bugs

Next fall brings a new chapter in our lives with all-day kindergarten, so I’m looking forward to making great summer memories and having photos to cherish, so #bringonsummer!

Dorothea Dix Park

View of downtown from Dorothea Dix ParkWhile reading this past weekend’s N&O article about the guided tours at Dorothea Dix Park, I was reminded that I never wrote about our visit to this soon-to-be developed park from earlier this year.  Dorothea Dix Park is over 300 acres of land sandwiched between the State Farmers Market and Western Blvd.  The City of Raleigh bought the land from the state last year after several year’s effort with plans to eventually make it a destination park.

The land housed Dorothea Dix Hospital for the mentally ill from 1856 until 2012.  The hospital was named for Dorothea Lynde Dix, a Maine native who tirelessly advocated for greater care and reform for mentally ill patients.  She also served as superintendent of Army nurses for the Union in the Civil War.  Today, much of the property is under lease, and many buildings are occupied by the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

IMG_3794We originally visited Dorothea Dix Park in late January after reading about the thousands of pink flags Matt Tomasulo (of Walk [Your City]) and other volunteers planted (read more about that here), creating small trails throughout the park to encourage folks to get out and explore the city’s newly acquired land.  Even though the flags have since been taken down, it gave us a means to get out and explore the area by foot.

We parked in a small parking lot near the intersection of Smithwick Dr and Umstead Dr and walked across the street using the little pink flags as our guide.  We mostly explored the area bordered by S Boylan Ave, Umstead Dr and Rocky Branch Trail which features century-old oak trees, rolling hills, and flatter land by Rocky Branch Trail.  The rolling hills provide amazing views of downtown Raleigh and interesting tests of little ones’ gross motor skills.  The girls had a great time flying down the hills and slowly coming back up.  We also flew our kites and drew with sidewalk chalk in the sparsely wooded area in front of Picot Dr.  We watched as another park patron was racing his drone around a self-made course through the trees.

IMG_3806According to the N&O’s article, the City of Raleigh is in the very early stages of park planning where they are now accepting applications for a committee of members to help design and engage the public in the park’s planning. The City of Raleigh is also offering free guided tours of the park (looks like they’re sold out) and is partnering with the Dix Park Conservancy to offer programs throughout the summer.

Even if you can’t make it to a guided tour or program, get out and explore the park on your own – bring a picnic, fly a kite, or kick a ball around. The park is open daily from dawn to dusk and there aren’t any public restrooms. The park’s potential is the perfect crossroads of nature, city and history – it’ll be interesting to see how things develop over the years!

Additional Resources

Thumbs up: beautiful rolling hills, views into downtown Raleigh, history of land, great picnic spots, destination park potential

Thumbs down: too early to tell 😉

Pilot Mountain State Park: Ivy Bluffs Trail

Ivy Bluffs trail in Pilot Mountain State ParkOn day 2 of our Pilot Mountain State Park adventures, we headed to the Ivy Bluffs section of the park to check out the sites along the Yadkin River.  The Ivy Bluffs access point is located along the southern part of the Yadkin River in Yadkin County (northern side of river is in Surry County) off Shoals Rd at coordinates 36.25315, -80.50842.  This section is about 20 miles from the main mountain but offers some gorgeous views of the Yadkin River.

We arrived early on a cold Saturday morning and had the trail to ourselves.  There is a looped parking lot with a helpful map of the river/trail near the trailhead.  We started on the 1.3 mile moderate Ivy Bluffs trail, which began on a steady 1/4 mile decline down to the river level.  Along the way we saw gorgeous views of the wide, but fast-flowing Yadkin River through the barren trees from the bluffs.  The cliffs were high but nowhere as dramatic as the ones around Jomeokee Trail. When the trail flattened out near the river we passed a canoe put-in and large camping area complete with picnic tables and designated camping spots.  We continued on the trail, which parallels the river for 1/2 mile and circles back around near the large camping area.  Before looping around we stopped near a sandy spot by the water for a short picnic break.  After we got going again, we spotted several animal footprints and checked out the rocks and moss along the backside of the looped trail.

IMG_4189This trail is about 1.3 miles in total length and is marked as being moderate.  The only moderate part of the hike was heading up the bluffs on the way back.  The parts along the river were flat and quiet, the only sounds coming from the river and wee ones.  In the future when the kids are much bigger I’d love to explore this area further by canoe and camping!

Thumbs up: gorgeous views of river, great trail for hiking with kids, future canoeing/camping opportunities

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Pilot Mountain State Park: Jomeokee Trail

pilot mountain state parkTwo months ago our family headed west to Dobson, NC to visit old neighbors and friends whose son was having a first birthday.  Wanting to extend the trip so we could explore more of the Yadkin Valley area, we made it a three-day trip so we could visit Pilot Mountain State Park, the nearby towns, and vineyards.  Having passed Pilot Mountain dozens of times via US-52 on our way to Blacksburg, VA we had always wanted to explore this area.

We tried our luck with Airbnb and rented Stony Knoll Vineyards Wine Lodge from the Coe family, a really interesting pre-Civil War log cabin that was renovated in 2007 with all the modern necessities.  The cabin sits across the street from Stony Knoll Vineyards, also owned by the Coe family.  The cabin, which has been in the Coe family ever since 1896, was the perfect blend of rustic and coziness for our family. It’s a two-story cabin with a king-size bedroom and loft with twin bed upstairs; full bath, double bed, TV/sitting area and fully-equipped kitchen on the first floor.

Big PinnacleAfter a restful sleep on Thursday night we got up early and headed for Pilot Mountain State Park.  We made a beginner’s mistake by going to the Bean Shoals Access of Pilot Mountain and after a 20 minute detour we found the main entrance to the park (1792 Pilot Knob Park Road) and winded our way up the 2 mile curvy, paved road past the visitor center to the parking lot at the summit.  Pilot Mountain has a uniquely shaped mountaintop, Big Pinnacle, with bare rocks on the steep sides and vegetation covering the top.  This mountain is part of the ancient Sauratown Mountains. Big Pinnacle served as a landmark for Indians and pioneer settlers back in the days.

The parking lot area has several overlooks for catching beautiful views of the valleys below and Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.  It was a super chilly yet sunny morning so we quickly made our way to the trailhead by following the path behind the bathrooms.

Rocks on Big PinnacleJomeokee Trail is a short 0.8 mile looped hike around the base of big pinnacle sitting at 2400 ft elevation.  To the Saura Indians, the earliest known inhabitants of the area, the mountain was known as Jomeokee, the “Great Guide” or “Pilot.” We headed around the trail counterclockwise, climbing up and down rock steps.  There was little up and down terrain on the trail, but the cliff views were impressive to say the least.  The trail can get rather narrow and offers some really up close views of the 200 ft Big Pinnacle.  After making it about halfway around the base, our crew decided to call it a success and head back, given the cliff views were getting a little too hairy and too close for comfort (there are no railings).

So, we walked back down the main path passing the trailhead to Ledge Spring (1.8 miles, strenuous trail) and Little Pinnacle Overlook (0.1 miles, easy trail).  We took the easy, short 0.1 mile walk to the Little Pinnacle Overlook so we could get another great view of Big Pinnacle across the way.  Amazed at the massiveness of Big Pinnacle and the valley below, we took in the sights a few minutes more and then sat on a bench near the kid-friendly TRACK trail for lunch.

The kid-friendly TRACK trail follows the moderate 0.3 mile Sassafras Trail along a fire-based ecosystem with great views of Big Pinnacle.  It leads to an overlook inhabited at the time by hungry-looking vultures that we avoided!  We saw deer and lots of different vegetation along the way.  TRACK trail is part of the Kids in Parks initiative that was started in 2008 as a way to encourage families to get outdoors and explore.  This regional network of trails has proved so successful it’s expanded to 7 states and DC and includes more than just hiking trails.

After a day of hiking we visited the nearby town of Elkin, NC where we walked around the busy main street area and had a delicious dinner and craft beers at 222 Public House.

Stay tuned for my next post highlighting a different section of Pilot Mountain State Park!

More Resources

  • Pilot Mountain State Park map
  • History of Pilot Mountain State Park
  • Kids in Parks network of family-friendly adventures

Thumbs up: beautiful views, family-friendly trails, access to overlooks, having public bathrooms at top of mountain, well marked trails and maps

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Mother’s Day 2016

Image-1Celebrate the Mom in your life with an adventure!  Here’s a list of upcoming organized events in the local parks and my personal mix of outdoor outings combined with food and beer (give Mom what she really wants)!  Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there and cheers to making fun memories.

 

Organized Programs

  • Mother’s Day Tea Party at Greystone Recreation Center (Tuesday, May 3 from 10-11am) – Enjoy time with your mom/caregiver at our Mother’s Day Tea Party where children will create a special gift for their mother and enjoy juice and cookies; ages 18-months to 4 years; $7; adult participation required for ages under 4; program barcode #189063
  • Tour Dorothea Dix Park (Wednesday, May 4 at 11:30am) – Enjoy a 1.5 hour walking tour covering the history of the land and the legacy of Dorothea Dix, the current use of the area as the headquarters of the Department of Health and Human Services and the steps the City will take in planning a future park; FREE; pre-registration is required
  • Strawberry Picking with Fit4Mom Midtown Raleigh Stroller Strides (Thursday, May 5 at 3:30pm) – Join a great group of moms and kiddos for strawberry picking, homemade ice cream and more at Porter Farms & Nursery in Willow Springs; sign-up via Meetup
  • Mother’s Day Surprise program at Optimist Park (Friday, May 6 at 12:30pm or Saturday, May 7 at 12:30pm): creative arts-and-craft project or edible creation; ages 3-5; $7; program barcode #188078 or #188079pre-registration is required
  • Birding with Vernon at Lake Crabtree County Park (Saturday, May 7 from 8:30-10am) – Discover different types of birds and their habitats during an easy walk with bird enthusiast, Vernon; meeting at Waterwise Gardens; Free, no preregistration required
  • Family Friendly Tour: Animal Farm at NC Art Museum (Saturday, May 7 at 10:30am or Sunday, May 8 at 10:30am) – take a guided tour looking for farm animals in the galleries; ages 5-11 with adult companion; FREE; plan ahead and bring a picnic lunch or stay for lunch at Iris
  • Mill Heritage and Local History Tour at Historic Yates Mill County Park (Sunday, May 8 from 2-3pm) – Watch a brief slideshow, then explore the inner workings of the mill itself and witness the power of water as it turns the milling machinery; $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Children ages 6 & younger are free; preregistration is encouraged
  • May Flower Folly at Historic Yates Mill County Park (Sunday, May 8 from 3:30-4:30pm) – Celebrate Mother’s Day in nature with a hike around Yates Mill Pond while searching for wildflowers, listening to a few flowery poems, learning about locally flowering plants and hear the latest buzz on local pollinators; for all ages; FREE; online registration
mother's day
My mom and I, summer 1981

Get Out & Explore with Mom

Joslin Garden: 2016 Open Garden Day

Joslin Garden
pic from Joslin Garden in 2012

It’s always fun and interesting to re-visit a place you haven’t been to in awhile and I look forward to exploring Joslin Garden for Open Garden Day this upcoming Saturday.  Joslin Garden is a private residence inside the beltline that features over four wooded acres of rare and native plants.  William and Mary Coker Joslin have gifted their home and garden to the City of Oaks Foundation and City of Raleigh Parks & Rec Dept.  Currently, the garden is open one day a year, but in the future, the garden will be opened year-round.

When I first visited the garden four years ago I was blown away by all the flowers, vegetables and plants, little pathways, streams of flowing water, and cute garden decor.  The gardens felt enchanting, romantic and whimsical.  It’s hard to believe a private garden of this size exists inside the beltline. I was happy to share it with Ashley back then, even if she was only 13 months old at the time and I look forward to re-discovering this secret garden this weekend, hopefully with a little one at my side.

Joslin Garden Open Garden Day Infoimg_1073

  • Saturday, April 23, 2016 from 12pm-5pm
  • 2431 West Lake Drive, park only on one side of West Lake Drive
  • features self-guided tours of private gardens
  • there are no public restrooms
  • event flyer