While 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.
We 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.
According 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!
- City of Raleigh information about visiting Dorothea Dix Park including where to park and basic park rules
- Park Map
- Get involved by applying for the committee
Thumbs up: beautiful rolling hills, views into downtown Raleigh, history of land, great picnic spots, destination park potential
Thumbs down: too early to tell 😉