Summer 2017 Bucket List Follow-up

Phew! Where did the Fall season go?! It’s almost December, but the recent warmer afternoon weather makes me reminisce about our amazing summer adventures with family and friends. Even though we didn’t cross off everything from our 2017 Bucket List, we explored so many new (to us) places in the mountains and at the beach.

We kept the weekdays simple, yet fun, with pool time and swim team with friends, and spent the weekends mostly traveling around NC and VA. We had lots of ups – amazing travels meeting up with friends and family, fresh seafood, gorgeous waterfalls; but, we also had some downs – getting lost down a one-way road with the Winnie, late night kiddo fevers in the Winnie, Winnie electrical outages in hot July, and the Hatteras Island evacuation. So, when things got out of our control, we tried to stay positive and improvise knowing that things will come full circle, which they eventually did! We somehow turned Winnie around at the end of Little Buck Creek Rd, fevers magically disappeared, my sister saved our food (and sanity) during the great electrical outage, and we moved our family vacation to beautiful Emerald Isle at the last minute.

As a summertime bonus, we survived a major kitchen renovation that is finally concluding, we celebrated what would have been my mom’s 60th birthday, Claire turned 4 years old, we celebrated Labor Day weekend with a crab feast and lots of Hokie buds and their littles, and we witnessed a total solar eclipse. I don’t know how we’ll top the mix of relaxation and travel from this past summer!

  1. Enjoy a low country boil (with the in-laws over Memorial Day weekend)
  2. Survive having two kids on summer swim team (it was touch-and-go at some points)
  3. See some waterfalls (Tom’s Creek & Roaring Fork Falls in western NC, Catawba Falls in Pisgah National Forest)
  4. Swim at a lake (Jordan Lake & Falls Lake Recreation Areas)
  5. Discover new & easy campfire recipes (garlic broccoli and potato pockets, french bread pizzas, rocky road dessert)
  6. Go blueberry picking (the farm was closed so we discovered nearby Kelly Rd Park instead)
  7. Discover new hiking trails on our travels (Hughlett Point Nature Preserve in Kilmarnock, Va, Emerald Isle Woods Park)
  8. Catch fireflies (Jordan Lake campsite and backyard)
  9. Try a new ice cream place (Sweet Spot in Emerald Isle, Fudge Factor in Beaufort)
  10. Visit a new museum (Museum of NC Minerals on Blue Ridge Parkway, Swannanoa Valley Museum in Black Mtn, NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort)
  11. Perfect my mojito making (muddle 8 sprigs of mint with slice of lime cut into quarters and spoonful of sugar, add 2 Tbsp simple syrup, add 1.5 oz of white rum, fill glass 3/4 full of ice, add enough club soda or La Croix to cover ice)
  12. Start composting (Bill put the nix to this idea)
  13. Have a water balloon fight (backyard sister fun)
  14. Read a long book together as a family (Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame)
  15. Enjoy Winnebago camping as a family (5 trips under our belt this summer)
  16. Visit a new brewery (Deep River Brewing Co in Clayton, Sierra Nevada & Wicked Weed in Asheville)

Top 5 Raleigh Parks for Partial Solar Eclipse Viewing

Months ago we planned one last Winnie mountain trip before the end of summer. We purposefully planned it to coincide with the solar eclipse so we could get close to being in the path of totality (words I never thought I’d hear myself saying). Not knowing the solar eclipse would become so popular we’re glad we booked our campsite so far in advance!

We’re heading to the small town of Whittier, NC for camping, hiking and playing. On Monday we plan to drive an hour south to Andrews, NC for their big eclipse festival. If we stayed in Raleigh, we’d plan a picnic get-together with friends at a local park. Triangle residents can expect to see a partial solar eclipse beginning around 1:16pm, peaking at 2:44pm and ending at 4:06pm. 

Here are my suggestions for the Top 5 Raleigh Parks for viewing the solar eclipse:

  1. North Wake District Landfill Park
  2. Dorothea Dix Park’s Big Field – GPS coordinates for accessing big field: 35.766883, -78.663255
  3. Spring Forest Road Park
  4. Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve Park
  5. Annie Wilkerson Nature Preserve Park 

Be sure to bring your eclipse-approved safety glasses or go old school and make your own pinhole camera from supplies you have at home. Happy Viewing!

Kelly Rd Park (Apex, NC)

Sometimes, the best laid plans go amiss. After realizing the blueberry farm we were meeting friends at was closed to allow for more ripening, we adjusted our plans and rendezvoused at nearby Kelly Rd Park. I’ve been wanting to visit Kelly Rd Park for years, given that it’s one of the last wooden playgrounds (see Raleigh’s former All Children’s Playground) in the area. Exploring this park with friends made for a perfect morning for kiddos and mamas to catch up with each other.

The Town of Apex’s Kelly Rd Park is located at 1609 Kelly Rd in western Wake County just outside I-540. Kelly Rd Park features multiple playgrounds for all ages, swings, picnic shelters, baseball fields, and tennis courts. With 7 girls under the age of 7, we spent all of our time exploring the massive wooden playground areas also known as KidsTowne.

DSC_0132As you enter the KidsTowne playground area, the memorial honoring Kathy Carlisle Smith immediately catches your attention. The Town of Apex remembered Ms. Smith for her dedication to the Greater Apex area and making the KidsTowne playground a reality. KidsTowne has two playgrounds for the different age groups. The playgrounds have fencing all around except for the main entrance area in the middle. 

The smaller age playground features tot swings, one-level climbing areas, balance beams, bouncy bridges, and fun wooden paintings. A long bench sits nearby, perfect for watching the littles climb around.

DSC_0162The older age playground features an enormous wooden playground with multi-level, interconnected bridges, tunnels, slides, and towers. It resembles a fairy castle because of its purple and green stained wood, fire poles, decorative paintings, play boats, and towers. Regular swings and a tire swing sit behind the playground. The girls loved climbing the ropes and monkey bars, playing hide and seek, jumping on bridges, and finding shade. They also spent a ton of time flying high on the tire swing.

Though no one picked blueberries that day, we chatted about our kindergarten graduates and personal highlights, and made fun summer memories!

Thumbs up: unique wooden play structure, plenty of seating areas, fun climbing and swinging spots

Thumbs down: lack of shade

Jack Smith Park (Cary, NC)

Jack Smith Park splash padBack in June, my sister and niece visited the same weekend we planned a trip to Jack Smith Park with our Raleigh Jaycee friends. Jack Smith Park is located at 9725 Penny Rd and opened towards the end of last summer. If you’re looking for a one-stop shop for outdoor fun, this is the park!

Jack Smith Park features a splash pad, multiple playgrounds for all ages, a rock climbing structure, walking trails, and a dog park. We arrived at the park at 10am when the splash pad opened. Luckily, some friends saved a table under the pavilion for our group to stash our gear while out playing. The splash pad features tall buckets that dump, gentle water fountains, circular misting fountains, and maneuverable water guns. Picnic tables with umbrellas, clean restroom facilities, large pavilion, and half-walls for sitting are adjacent to the splash pad. 

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After my kids tired of the splash pad they played on the playground areas and rock climbing structure. The smaller kid playground features several slides, a small rock climbing wall, sails for shade, and a curved climbing ladder. The bigger kid playground features a tall spider web climbing net, challenging curved climbing ladders, gyro spinners, slides, and stepping stones. The regular swings, baby swings, and tire swing are located near the perimeter of the park. When I wasn’t poking my head around parents and play things to keep an eye on the girls, I was pushing the girls on the tire swing. Boy, do they LOVE a tire swing!

And, my oldest daughter loves rock climbing! She’s pretty fearless and persistent, and loves the challenge that rock climbing presents. The park’s rock climbing structure is at the far end of the park. Large natural rocks surround the structure which sits upon a rubbery surface. She tried multiple times to climb the hardest section of the rock before trying her hand at the flatter sides. Though she didn’t climb up very far, she enjoyed climbing alongside the bigger kids.

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The Town of Cary parks always impress me with their attention to landscaping, public art, and availability of public restrooms. Young trees surrounded by half-walls create nice sitting areas for parents. The park features several ornamental grasses, flowering shrubs, and a large open grassy field down from the playground. Many benches and shaded picnic tables also scatter the perimeter. Vollis Simpson’s folksy art sculptures take center stage as you park near the playground. Finally, the restrooms are very clean and roomy, and have water fountains and a nearby hand shower for spraying off the treated water.

Despite being super busy on a weekend morning, I look forward to bringing the girls back here one day. Splash pads offer a quick water alternative to cooling off in the pool. And, with so many other activities at this park, it makes for many fun-filled hours!

Thumbs up: one-stop shop for fun, rock climbing structure, mixing water play with dry activities, outdoor art, natural climbing rocks, nice landscaping, lots of seating options

Thumbs down: very crowded, can be difficult to manage multiple small kids

Upcoming Fall 2017 Dorothea Dix Park Events

Dorothea Dix ParkHave you visited Dorothea Dix Park lately? Located just south of Downtown Raleigh, its rolling hills and grassy open fields are the perfect spot for a picnic, skyline photos (mine are courtesy of the super talented MasonDee Photography), or attending a City of Raleigh event or program.

The City of Raleigh purchased Dorothea Dix Park two years ago from the state of NC to develop a destination park. Though construction is still years away, master planning is underway. I’m super excited to begin my workgroup involvement in the master planning of the park this fall. I know the city will look for lots of public input into the park and now is the time to visit!

Whether you’re looking for child-friendly events, volunteer opportunities, or historical walking tours here are some of their upcoming park events:

  • Sun., Aug 13 from 2-6pm: Recess Raleigh – attend a free annual summer cookout to benefit Helping Hands Mission of Raleigh. Summer cookout features food and drink prepared by Capital Club 16, games, activities, music and art; FREE; all ages; Dix Park Athletic Field
  • Wed., Aug. 16 at 12pm: Urban Design Center Talks: Bold Ideas for Dix – visit the City of Raleigh Museum and listen to a monthly lecture series highlighting bold ideas, issues, and topics important to the development of the new Dorothea Dix Park. Each monthly lecture features a different presenter covering topics such as inclusivity, ecology, access, arts and culture, history, transportation, economic development, and connectivity; FREE and open to the public; registration not required
  • Wed., Aug. 16 at 1pm: Explore Dorothea Dix Park: Water Wonders – meet in the big field and explore activities and games featuring water! Ages 2+; free; pre-registration is required
  • Wed., Aug. 23 from 6-8pm or Tues., Sept 12 from 5:30-7:30pm: Explore Dorothea Dix Park: Guided Walking Tour – go on a 2 hour, 3.5 mile walking tour to learn about the history, current use, and future plans for the Dorothea Dix park; FREE; all ages; pre-registration is required
  • Sat., Sept. 9 from 9am-12pm: Explore Dorothea Dix Park: Volunteer Invasive Species Removal – round up your friends and neighbors and volunteer your time removing invasive plants threatening natural habitats of the park; FREE; ages 16+; volunteers under 18 years old must be accompanied by an adult; registration information via Cervistech
  • Wed., Oct. 18 from 12pm-1:15pm: Trolley Tour of Dorothea Dix Park – go on a 1.5 hour tour of Dorothea Dix Park and learn about the history, current use and future plans for the park; FREE; pre-registration is required

 

 

Tom’s Creek Falls & Roaring Fork Falls

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir

Roaring Fork FallsFor our next Winnie adventure we headed to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains near Marion, NC. We stayed at the Mountain Stream RV Resort off Hwy 80 at 6954 Buck Creek Rd. After making a wrong turn down a one-lane gravel road (Little Buck Creek Rd) we drove a white-knuckling 3 miles to the road’s end. This was not how I expected our first big Winnie adventure to begin. After several deep breaths, I jumped out of the car to instruct Bill on turning around. Easy Peasy!

Nothing will test your marriage’s communication skills like trying to make a 3-point turn with a 20-foot trailer. Cue the Austin Power’s 3-point turn parking scene! Luckily, our family has previous experience driving down harrowing gravel roads (see my Yosemite post), so we tried to remain calm and go back on course!

Mountain Stream RV Resort

DSC_0071The Mountain Stream RV Resort was the perfect spot for camping. They have 40 camp sites situated around a loop gravel road with a grassy median. A cool, clear mountain stream runs behind more than half of the campsites. We stayed in one of their prime spots near the back of the campsite with easy kid-friendly access to the stream. We loved splashing in the water, walking upstream, and sitting at the campsite listening to the babbling stream.

Despite some big thunderstorms that came through during the weekend, we really enjoyed our time in the Winnie. The girls made friends with the neighbors, rode bikes around the gravel loop, and played in the stream. During the daytime downpours, the girls also had downtime playing cards and watching movies. We tried to go fishing, but big floods from past years pretty much wiped out the fish habitats.

We grilled yummy steak tips, broccoli, and potato wedges one night and chicken quesadillas the other night in honor of Bill’s birthday weekend. For Father’s Day breakfast, I made homemade biscuits with my new pie irons. Though they didn’t rise completely, they still tasted delicious smothered with steak, eggs and cheese. The girls gobbled down the Bisquick Shake ‘N Pour pancakes. When we weren’t eating, sleeping or playing at the campsite, we were hiking.

Tom’s Creek Falls

DSC_0115We spent all day Saturday hiking waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest and exploring interesting places off the Blue Ridge Parkway. First, we explored the Tom’s Creek Falls, located about 20 minutes northeast of our campsite. Tom’s Creek Falls trailhead is about 1.3 miles from the intersection of US-221 and Huskins Branch Rd. This trail is about 1-mile roundtrip hike with wide gravel paths, lush green forest, and spots along the way for splashing in the creek. It’s an easy, shaded hike with gentle switchbacks towards the top. It even has benches near a clearing to rest. Along the way we spotted a lot of mica (from old mining days), ferns, and mountain laurel.

We climbed to the overlook area and then followed a narrow path to the right to access the water. Wanting to get a closer look at the falls, both girls scurried up the rocks (with our help) to the bottom of the falls, reaching an elevation of approximately 1800 ft. The water flows at three different levels before dumping into Tom’s Creek. We loved splashing in the water and being so close to the falls. 

Roaring Fork Falls

07402233-DCCE-443C-B72F-47997007596EAfter leaving Tom’s Creek Falls, we drove about 45 minutes northwest to the Roaring Fork Falls trailhead. Roaring Fork Falls trailhead is located near the intersection of S Toe River Rd and State Hwy 80. Follow the signs for about 1/2 mile until the road dead ends into a small parking lot.

Roaring Fork Falls is a 1.5 mile out and back trail, despite the “Falls .5 miles” sign near the parking lot. With the forecast calling for heavy rains, we booked it up this trail. The trail begins on an old logging road in a heavily wooded forest. The trail is slightly uphill and mostly shaded with pockets of sunlight throughout. After crossing a small wooden bridge, we climbed over roots and small stones to reach the falls. The falls cascaded down several levels creating the large roaring effect.

Ashley and Bill climbed down to the bottom of the falls while Claire and I waited on the trail. The heavy rain caused the rocks to become very slick, so we stayed safe on the trail. After a quick dip in the water, they carefully climbed back to the trail and we all rushed to the car. The rain started pouring heavier on our hike back to the car, but carrying Claire on my shoulders kept my back dry! 

The girls changed into dry clothes at the car and we enjoyed a much-deserved picnic lunch. After lunch, we hopped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and visited the NC Minerals Museum (MP 331) and Linville Caverns. After driving at least 100 miles around mountains all day, we returned to our campsite hungry for food and thankful for nature. Watching, touching and listening to the waterfalls made us appreciate the mountains even more.

Hike Info

Thumbs up: little traffic along hikes, beautiful views, exciting waterfalls, easy family hikes, comfortable campsites

Thumbs down: no cell phone reception (although I’d put this in the thumbs up column)

Currituck Beach Lighthouse

DSC_0015After school let out for the summer we headed with friends to Duck, NC for the weekend. The Town of Duck is located on the northern section of the Outer Banks mainland, not far (physically) from the Virginia border. We wanted to take advantage of staying in the northern Outer Banks, so we explored the Currituck Beach Lighthouse one morning.

Ever since watching Pete’s Dragon as a child, lighthouses and light keepers always fascinated me. After reading “The Light Between Oceans” my fascination only grew stronger. Maybe I love the simplicity of their lifestyle or their strong connection to the water and ships they protect. Whatever the reason for my fascination, I’m thankful for being able to explore these historical landmarks.

History

Currituck Beach Lighthouse is located north of Duck in the historic village of Corolla, NC at 1101 Corolla Village Rd. In 1873 construction began on Currituck Beach Lighthouse to fill the gap of coastal darkness between Cape Henry Lighthouse in Virginia Beach and Bodie Island Lighthouse, just south of Nags Head, NC. It stands 162 ft tall overlooking the Currituck Sound and Atlantic Ocean. The lighthouse is unique in that they did not paint the exterior bricks. The lighthouse keepers and their families lived in the adjacent Victorian-style home until the 1930s when the U.S. Coast Guard assumed lighthouse duties. The U.S. Coast Guard automated the beacon, which continues to flash in 20-second intervals to alert ships at sea.

The lighthouse sat abandoned for decades after automating the beacon. In 1980, the non-profit Outer Banks Conservationists began to slowly restore the lighthouse over the next decade. The lighthouse opened to the public in 1990 and one of the keeper’s houses opened later as the gift shop. The main keepers’ house remains closed until restoration efforts finish.

DSC_0054Climbing the Lighthouse

The base and first two landings of the lighthouse feature interesting exhibits about the lighthouse’s history. After paying the $10 admission fee and signing the waiver, I made separate trips with both girls up the winding 220 steps. Small landings between each floor offer chances to catch your breath and let others pass. We climbed slowly, but still reached the top of the lighthouse in a little over 5 minutes. We (so very carefully) walked around the outside of the lighthouse admiring the gorgeous panoramic water views. 

When climbing the lighthouse stairs, small signs display in the windows letting patrons know the height and cardinal direction. The girls enjoyed learning how high up they climbed and looking out the windows. After climbing down the lighthouse we visited the museum gift shop and walked around nearby Historic Corolla Village.

Thumbs up: beautiful views, informative lighthouse museum, friendly volunteer workers

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area: Poplar Point Campground

For our maiden voyage in the Winnie, we headed to Jordan Lake State Recreation Area for a quick 24-hr overnight trip. We wanted to get a small sample of camping while staying close to home. Jordan Lake State Recreation Area is located about 30 minutes west of Raleigh off US-64. Whether you’re going for a short trip or several days, Jordan Lake has lots of outdoor experiences and recreational activities to offer.

Camping

A few weeks before our trip we reserved a campsite online with electric and water hook-ups at Poplar Point Campground. The entrance for Poplar Point Campground is located at 558 Beaver Creek Rd in Apex. Jordan Lake State Recreation Area is enormous with over 1,000 RV and tent campsites scattered over five different areas. We chose Poplar Point Campground because it has many waterfront campsites available with water and electric hook-ups and a recreation beach at Loop E. We reserved spot 58 at Loop H, which is a back-in spot, like most at the park. The NC State Park registration system is very useful. You can search by amenities, whether you need a pull-through spot, and length of site. Similar to hotel room booking systems, it also shows multiple pictures of each campsite.

We arrived early on a Saturday morning and checked-in at the Poplar Point front gate. The ranger confirmed that we could switch our spot for the more popular first-come, first-serve spots at Loop E if we wanted. Loop E features a beach area, playground and more waterfront sites. But, after driving by our site at Loop H, we decided to stick with our original plan. We were anxious to set-up the Winnie and explore the campground. 

IMG_2418Our partially shaded campsite featured a flat gravel pad, picnic table and grill. There’s a short walk to the water, which we were hoping to use for fishing access, but unfortunately there was more poison ivy than we wanted to dodge. We found another access to the water, but the low-lying trees made casting difficult for the girls. Surprisingly, we didn’t have any neighbors during our entire stay. Though the girls were sad because they couldn’t play with new friends, it also meant they could run around like maniacs without worrying about traffic.

We spent about 45 minutes setting up camp by rolling out the rug, organizing the outdoor food station, hooking up the water and electric, and making sure the party lights hung perfectly. This park (and most state parks) features a dump station near the entrance, which we used on the way out to empty our gray and black tanks. For lunch, we quickly cooked hot dogs and grilled deli sandwiches on the griddle before heading to the beach. 

Recreation Area

4After lunch we headed to the recreation area to cool off in the beach. The recreation area at Loop E features a large sandy shoreline with designated swimming area. The water was refreshing and the boats racing by made fun waves for the girls. The girls loved catching the waves with their inner tubes and building sand castles on the shore. They enjoyed racing into the water and diving into the calm water. Even though the water was a little murky, they didn’t seem to mind.

The recreation area has a narrow forested area near the parking lot with picnic tables and benches. We spotted several fishermen fishing further down the shoreline. We also saw a pontoon boat selling shave ice and snacks on the shoreline. Even though we just missed the shave ice, we watched the boat motor to the recreation area on the opposite side of the lake.

Unfortunately we left several of our beach essentials (beach chairs, umbrellas, sand toys) at home, placing greater attention on our camping items. We bought inner tubes at the convenience store off US-64, which proved crucial beach toys. Despite not having all our regular beach things, we spent over two hours at the lake beach having a fabulous time.

Dinner Camping

IMG_2425After playing at the beach we headed back to our campsite for showers and dinner prep. The girls helped shuck corn for grilling on the fire pit while I made mac n cheese on the trailer range. We grilled chicken sausages, corn on the cob, hot dogs and cinnamon sugar filled apples for dessert. 

After cleaning up dinner we settled in for puzzles and Uno. I also taught the girls how to play the card game, War, which immediately became their favorite game! Once the sun went down, we chased fireflies around the loop and used our campfire to make s’mores. Then, we read a bit of Wind in the Willows around the campfire before tucking the girls into their bunks.  

Though it took the girls a little longer to fall asleep, they slept soundly until morning. Bill and I enjoyed some music around the campfire while listening to insects chirp near the water. Overall, our first overnight trailer trip was a big success! Camping in the trailer was an exciting, but relaxing experience while Jordan Lake offered lots of fun at a quick drive away. 

Thumbs up: campsite space, large beach recreation area, affordable family camping, 

Thumbs down: poison ivy down to the water near campground

Neuse River Trail MP 26.25 to 27.5 & Town of Clayton Greenways

claytongreenway - 49Over Memorial Day weekend, my sweet in-laws watched the girls while Bill and I enjoyed a biking and beers day date. Wanting to explore a new (to us) portion of the greenway, we headed to the southern portion of the Neuse River Trail near the Wake/Johnston County border. In all, we biked 15-miles (out and back total), crossed two counties, followed a river, detoured around an unpassable bridge, passed a historic bridge, and saw some art before grabbing beers at Deep River Brewing – a pretty awesome afternoon!

We parked in the greenway access parking lot at 6008 Mial Plantation Rd and turned left heading south toward Johnston County. We immediately crossed under Mial Plantation Rd bridge and passed the MP 26.25 sign. The trail is mostly flat with beautiful views of the rural fields separated by white split-rail fence. Shortly after, we biked past the Wake/Johnston Co line at MP 27.5, creating a fun selfie spot. The Town of Clayton maintains the greenway past the Wake County line with a portion of it affiliated with the East Coast Greenway.

Clayton River Walk on the Neuse

claytongreenway - 19Continuing on Clayton’s greenway (technically called Clayton River Walk on the Neuse), we arrived at the Riverwood neighborhood where we found the bridge damaged and unpassable. At the time we didn’t see signage showing a detour route so I jumped onto the Town of Clayton website. I learned that last fall’s Hurricane Matthew caused near record flood levels for the Neuse River and took out the bridge. The town’s website shows a detour route through the Riverwood neighborhood that adds an extra five minutes via biking. The Town of Clayton is currently working with FEMA to replace the bridge, and there is no estimated completion timeframe.

claytongreenway - 33After biking the hilly detour through the neighborhood we met up with the trail and continued south. The trail remains mostly flat and sunny with clear views of the river. We passed a large sandy access spot for the river, complete with benches. Then, we biked under Covered Bridge Rd with a history that dates back to 1863 when it was first commissioned as a ferry replacement. Historians believe the bridge was covered around 1883 and most recently replaced in its current concrete form in 1980.

Shortly after passing Covered Bridge Rd, we passed MP 31 and crossed a large pedestrian bridge over the Neuse River. We enjoyed seeing so many benches and picnic tables donated by the Rotary Club of Clayton. About 1/2 mile later, we made a sharp right turn through a construction zone to stay on Clayton’s greenway, officially called Sam’s Branch Greenway at this point. 

Sam’s Branch Greenway

claytongreenway - 39After safely maneuvering through the sand and dirt construction zone, the 1.25-mile paved trail leads away from the river towards North O’Neil St. Along the way we passed beautiful community art displays of hand-painted wooden fish. Then we biked by a public art garden featuring butterfly-shaped bike racks, benches, totem pole and a little free library. The trail also showcases information signs about forest animals in the area before passing a developing neighborhood and ending at a large greenway access parking lot at 1358 N O’Neil St.

Even though N O’Neil St is one of the main arteries leading to downtown Clayton (and Deep River Brewing) we aren’t adventurous enough to bike on main roads yet. So, we turned around and biked the 7.5 mile return trip to Mial Plantation Rd. We noticed better detour signage around the damaged bridge on our way home.

Despite the detour and construction we passed, it’s pretty amazing you can bike nearly 33 miles one-way from Falls Lake Dam to Sam’s Branch Greenway trailhead. With greenway connections to the Town of Knightdale (via Mingo Creek Trail) and future connections to the Town of Wake Forest greenways, people all over the area have so much access to outdoor adventures.

Helpful References

Milepost Points of Reference

  • Falls Lake Dam – MP 0.0
  • Mial Plantation Rd greenway parking – MP 26.25
  • Wake/Johnston County line – MP 27.5
  • Covered Bridge Rd & Clayton River Walk on the Neuse trailhead – MP 31
  • Sam’s Branch Greenway trailhead – MP 32.5

Thumbs up: donated benches and picnic tables sprinkled along the way, public art displays, scenic views along river, greenway access points, jurisdictional connections

Thumbs down: detour signage coming from the north, construction zone near intersection of Clayton River Walk on the Neuse and Sam’s Branch Greenway

Update: Historic Yates Mill County Park Programs

Historic Yates Mill County Park ProgramsOver Memorial Day weekend, my in-laws visited from Maryland. Wanting to find something new to explore that is appropriate for both older and younger people, I researched the upcoming Wake County Parks & Recreation events. I found a fun event at Historic Yates Mill County Park called “Messing About with Boats” that featured a reading from The Wind in the Willows and boat-making craft. The event was super affordable at $2/person, only 1.5 hours long and for ages 6+. I formally registered everyone except Claire (who’s only 3) knowing that she would enjoy the story and “help” the adults with their crafts. The entire program exceeded my expectations!

DSC_0117The instructor started the class with a coloring activity as the participants arrived. We colored paper animal masks of characters Badger, Toad and Otter from the book. Then, we constructed our masks with either popsicle sticks or string. After the coloring activity, the instructor presented material about the mill’s history and different types of energy. She catered the presentation to all age groups and made it especially interactive for the young ones. Next, the instructor walked us through creating a boat from an Altoid box and powered by stored-up rubber band energy. She related the craft to the energy lesson and also read from The Wind in the Willows story.

DSC_0126After everyone finished making their boats, we headed outside to the docks to launch our boats. Sure enough, our wound-up rubber bands caused the plastic paddles to propel the boats a few feet into the water. The instructor came prepared with a net to scoop up the boats so the kids could try again. The entire program was a perfect combination of creating, science, and hands-on experimenting for this age group.

After the program finished, our family enjoyed a picnic lunch near the water. Ashley found a quiet spot on the dock to read while Claire continued to perfect her boat launch. Then, we walked a short ways to the old mill and snapped pictures of the dam. Finally, we headed back towards the main building and crossed the bridge over the pond admiring how many turtles we could spot.

While we’ve been to Historic Yates Mill County Park several times in the past, I’d never registered for one of their programs. The morning’s activities were perfect for our mix of little ones and grandparents. Each Wake County Park features a monthly newsletter that you can subscribe to for staying in the loop about upcoming programs. I look forward to finding another great event to attend soon!

Thumbs up: age-appropriate programs, instructor’s knowledge and enthusiasm of subject material, 

Thumbs down: nothing to report