Curtis Park Update

IMG_1553Back in June I headed home for two celebrations: what would’ve been my mom’s 58th birthday and the 40th Anniversary of Curtis Park.  As mentioned in my earlier post on Curtis Park, this is the park where I spent so many summers swimming and creating fun memories with family and friends.  Returning to a childhood place (after a long time has passed) definitely felt weird – the layout of the pool is as I remembered but the people are new (to me).  It was comforting to see a few former co-workers from when I used to work as a teenager and through college summers.  And I got to see an old childhood friend, Heather, who also works with the County of Stafford Parks & Rec.

It was a beautiful day to swim and celebrate the history of this pool!  With little ones we camped out in the large baby pool area, which had some great water features for littles – mushroom water fountain, small water spouts, and climbing dolphins fountains.  The edge of the baby pool has been updated with a brick surround, which was a simple, but classy upgrade.  We arrived right when the pool opened at noon so we immediately grabbed the shady spots in the baby pool area and loved that they provided so many kid-size chairs and picnic tables.

IMG_1555After a lot of time in the baby pool we headed to the big pool where Ashley got to show off her swimming skills to my aunt, who also came in from CA for the big celebrations.  I’m happy to report that the diving boards were available to use so several of us (even my brother) showcased our diving talents.  Several friends from Stafford also joined us and commented several times about how weird it felt to be back at Curtis Park after over a decade had passed.  Off in the grassy areas they set up several craft areas and had a huge water bounce house.  Near the concession area they set up a large grill and offered free meals to the first 100 people through the door.  The whole area was a bustling hub of kids and parents having a great time.

One of my favorite pieces of the day was the sweet poster my childhood friend and Parks & Rec staff member, Heather, made as a tribute to my mom.  It hung right outside the baby pool area and it was neat to see people stop and look at the old photos of her during the 10+ years she worked at Curtis Park.  I loved catching up with old friends and co-workers, seeing how the pool area has evolved over the years, creating new pool memories with my girls and nieces, and feeling the love from my mom who I felt was with us throughout the day.

Thumbs up: renovated bathroom area, fun baby pool area, diving board/deep-end open swim area, family-friendly community, concession area

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Curtis Memorial Park in Stafford, Virginia

IMG_0455After my mom’s sudden passing in March, my sister, brother and I immediately went into triage mode when it came to making sure her staffing business ran as usual and getting her personal affairs in order.  Before her funeral, we needed a break from all the new terminology we learned and responsibilities we acquired, so we set out with all the cousins and my aunt Jeanne to a special hometown park that meant a lot to our mom and was a big piece of our childhood, Curtis Memorial Park, in Stafford, Virginia.

Curtis Memorial Park (aka Curtis Park) is located at 58 Jesse Curtis Ln in the rolling hills of Hartwood’s farm country (more and more of that area is being developed now).  Growing up, we spent a lot of our time here; whether it was attending summer camp or the annual Easter Egg Hunts, taking swimming lessons, being on the swim team, going on spooky Halloween nature walks, having my birthday party, attending my senior year picnic, helping with soccer camp, or working at the front gate, we made a lot of memories with great friends and family.

IMG_0395Curtis Park features an olympic-size outdoor swimming pool with a large baby pool with splash umbrella and zero-depth entry, 18-hole Gauntlet golf course, nature trails, pavilions, sand volleyball, tennis courts, skateboard park, fishing lake, playground, baseball fields and large open fields.  As you drive into the park, you pass a beautiful tree-lined entrance road that leads to open fields adjacent to the tennis courts, skateboard park and playground.  Turn left before the open fields to access the Gauntlet golf course and small to medium-sized pavilions.  The playground features several slides, climbing structures, bridges, teeter totters, tot swings, regular swings and a sliding bar.  It is adjacent to a small pavilion and the tennis courts and backs up to a nearby nature trail.  The girls loved climbing all over the playground and spent a lot of time swinging together!

IMG_0441Past the open field is a large parking lot with access to the pools, nature trails and large pavilion on top of the hill overlooking the pool.  Further down the main road is the large lake for fishing and boating and more nature trails.  The main fishing pier and boat ramp is accessible from the other side of the lake on Stony Hill Rd (you must exit the park). After our playground time we picnicked on top of the hill, which offers the best views of the park. The girls enjoyed chasing each other while taking in the site of the drained pool below.  The Olympic-size pool has depths of 3ft and 4ft in the shallower end to 12ft in the deep end.  The baby pool features a zero-depth entry and splash umbrella.  The deep end has two diving board blocks, but with it being out of season when we visited I’m not sure if they actually allow diving.  I have very vivid memories of jumping off the since removed 3-meter springboard and 5-meter platform boards during off hours.  Being the daughter of the Aquatics Director had its perks!

While the kids were busy picnicking I ventured over to the nearby grave site of the Curtis family where about a dozen family members are buried.  According to the Stafford Parks & Rec website, the Curtis family donated land from their farm to the county to be used for recreational purposes.  The park opened in 1975 and is getting ready to have a big 40th anniversary celebration this weekend on June 20th.  We’re excited to come back for the big celebration and swim in the pool I grew up in!

My mom worked tirelessly to implement new amenities and improvements to the pool and programs, which created positive publicity in the local media.  Here are just a few of the fun ideas she implemented over the years:

  • She updated the baby pool to include zero-depth entry and water splash umbrellacurtispark 8
  • In 1990, she brought a 3-meter inflatable slide to the deep end, which was a huge hit with patrons but a big pain to her staff.
  • With scorching temperatures in 1991, she dropped in five 300-pound blocks of ice to try to cool things off.
  • In 1992, she organized meet and greets at the pool with local swimming and diving Olympians, Jeff Rouse and Mark Lenzi.  She went on to organize Olympic watching parties at the pool so folks could cheer on the local Olympians as they went for the gold (see local news stories from July and Aug 1992)!

My mom worked as the Aquatics Director of Stafford County from 1981-1993, where she managed the area pools and Aqua Po Beach, but was most proud of teaching swimming lessons to the area’s youth.  She met life-long friends and gave several teenagers their first jobs as lifeguards; we were honored to see some of those same teenagers and former coworkers again at her funeral service.  I am forever grateful for the memories I have at this park and can’t wait to come back this weekend for the 40th anniversary celebration, which happens to coincide with my mom’s birthday.

Thumbs up: beautiful pool and picnic settings, fun nature trails, one park with EVERYTHING

Thumbs down: I remember little shade around the pool

Optimist Pool


It’s been a hot summer and the best way to cool off from the hot Raleigh heat is by hitting the pools! Most recently, we spent a lot of time at Optimist Pool while Ashley had preschool level 1 swimming lessons. I was on the fence about whether I felt she could handle lessons by herself (without me in the water), but ultimately I decided to go for it since she’s finished other preschool and recreational activities on her own. And, my decision proved to be the right one…she barely even looked back at me when the first class began.  On this particular pool trip we stayed after swimming lessons to swim in the baby pool and have a picnic.

Optimist Pool is in North Raleigh at 5900 Whittier Dr.  The main pool is a covered year-round Olympic-size pool with depths from 3’6″ to 5’6″ with several lap lanes and wide step entrances at both ends of the pool.  Ashley’s swimming lessons were mostly held in the shallower end of the pool on the wide steps with a few trips with life jackets on to the deeper end.  The instructor was super personable and even made time to chat with the parents after each class about each child’s progress.  The main pool building also contains several chairs and bleachers surrounding the pool and a small lounge area separated by glass.  The bathroom facilities were very nice with updated showers, lockers and bathroom areas.

IMG_6710The large baby pool and diving well areas are located outside and run on a seasonal availability.  The baby pool area is fenced in with a large rectangular pool with depths from 10″ to 18″ in the middle.  There are several deck chairs, a little grass seating, and a portable tent for some added shade.  Various floats and pool toys are allowed in the baby pool area.  Claire thoroughly enjoyed swimming in her shady float while Ashley continuously threw her body into the water.  The diving well features low and high diving boards with deck chairs and bleacher seating on the pool deck.  There are several picnic tables located between the outside and indoor pool areas.  With a toddler and a baby I found it most helpful to bring the single BOB stroller inside the pool area, which helped contain Claire and also provided more storage for all our crap.

By the way, I’m writing this post from my sister’s house in VA.  I’ve brought the girls down here for a few days to help house sit and take care of her dogs while my sister and bro-in-law await for baby Ava to be born…I’m so excited I could bust!


  • The City of Raleigh has great small group swimming lessons, but if you’re looking for some private lessons check out what my friend Elaine, a former collegiate swimmer, has to offer at Miss Elaine’s Swim Lessons.
  • For more information about the other facilities at Optimist, read my previous posts.
  • For more information about other pool reviews, read my previous posts.
  • Visit the City of Raleigh website for more information about pool hours of operation.

Thumbs up: City of Raleigh swimming lessons, large baby pool area, clean bathrooms, helpful lifeguards/superb swimming instructor (Kenny), seating options

Thumbs down: nothing to report


Optimist Park: Tutus & Picnics

Stretching her ballerina toes after class

Awhile back a dear friend of mine and I signed our girls up for a preschool dance class at Optimist Park through the City of Raleigh.  It ended up being the perfect Monday morning activity, which led into extended play time and lunch at the playground.  It was the first activity (other than regular preschool) where the girls were on their own, so it was fun to have a buddy to learn some new skills with (we still talk about plies over here)!

Optimist Park is located in North Raleigh in a subdivision off Six Forks Rd at 5900 Whittier Dr.  It’s an older park with a community center, playground, seasonal and year-round pools, tennis courts, baseball fields, and greenway access for Mine Creek Trail, Snelling Branch Trail and Shelley Lake.

A glimpse into the dance class

Dance class was held in the community center in a room that did not have easy access for parents to view their kids “dancing”.  So, to sneak peeks we’d have to poke our heads in and try not to disturb their learning.  Once dance class ended we headed over to the playground for some more play time and a picnic.

Again, Optimist is an older park so the playground has a more classic look with brown and orange painted metal.  The playground area is covered in a sandy surface and has a large jungle gym for the 5-12 age group that our 3 year olds and even 15 month old enjoyed.  There are several slides, a tunnel, and a few climbing ladders.  In the same area are

the springy cars and 4-person teeter totter.  The playground sits adjacent to a creek that has a short fence, which no one really explored even the 15 month old, but do take caution.  Benches are scattered throughout and the picnic tables and swing set are nearby.  This area is pretty shady, even with the few leaves on the trees.  If you follow the paved trail, you’ll come to eight lighted tennis courts that are adjacent to the student parking lot at Sanderson High.

From the dance floor to the sandbox

While Optimist Park might not be a destination spot, it sure made for a great post-dance class play time and picnic spot!

Years ago Ashley and I ran the Snelling Branch Trail from Optimist Park and I never posted about it! To get to the greenway access, you’ll want to start in the smaller parking lot off Northclift Dr that is behind the Sanderson High baseball field.  Follow the signs and run behind the baseball field and you’ll come to North Hills Dr, which you’ll cross over.  Continue a little further and you’ll come to the Shelley Lake Trail where you can turn left to go south and see Shelley Lake very quickly or turn right to go north and discover the Mine Creek Trails or northern end of Shelley Lake loop.  We turned right and then made another right onto Mine Creek Trail where we crossed over North Hills Dr again, went under a tunnel for Lynn Rd, and eventually turned around near the intersection of Longstreet and Bent Creek Dr.  There’s a flowing creek along the way and we even passed a random playground.  According to the City of Raleigh website there’s a current project to extend East Fork Mine Creek Trail to Honeycutt Park.  That’ll be a good reason to get back here soon for more current pictures!

Thumbs up: quiet/not crowded, great picnic spots, fun beginner dance class, convenience of having park features close in proximity, greenway access

Thumbs down: older facilities, lack of true dance studio for watching kiddos

Photos from the Greenway exploration in Feb 2012:

Millbrook Pool

This summer we spent several evenings cooling off at our neighborhood pool and eating dinner poolside (what a great excuse for not cooking at home).  On one particular weeknight we walked over and then realized we forgot the pool had closed early because of a swim meet (ay dios mio)!  Needing a quick solution to a 2yr old desperately longing for some pool time, we decided to walk back home and head to Millbrook Pool, the city pool about 5 minutes away.  Even though the weather was looking rather threatening, we decided to chance it anyway.

Millbrook Pool is located at 1905 Spring Forest Rd in North Raleigh and is part of the Millbrook Exchange Park complex that includes a tennis facility, off-leash dog park, playground, community center, and senior center.  Millbrook has a main pool with lap swimming and open swim areas that is covered year-round.  During the summer season they open several garage-style doors to allow folks to easily get to the outdoor swimming areas.  Millbrook also has an outdoor baby pool and splash garden area that are only open during the summer.  The baby pool area is a large rectangle (no zero-depth entry) that is 18 inches deep in the middle.  It is fenced it with both concrete and grassy areas, but they do not allow picnicking in this area.  You can bring inflatable rings, noodles and other pool toys into the baby pool.  There are several picnic tables outside the baby pool that are both covered and uncovered, but it was still a pain with a little one that we couldn’t just eat in the grassy area.  The splash garden area is always a big hit with toddlers, but unfortunately the only entrance to that area is from outside the baby pool area.  It would be much more convenient to have another entrance directly from the baby pool area.

The indoor pool at Millbrook typically has 6 lanes dedicated to lap swimming with a depth from 4ft to 5 1/2ft.  The open swim area is a depth from 3 1/2ft to 4ft.  Again, there are several rules for swimming in the open swim area.  We were whistled at several times for various things – trying to borrow a noodle and using the kick board in the open swim area.  Needless to say we spent most of our time in the baby pool, but Ashley had recently discovered kick boards at our neighborhood pool and just had to get her exercise in.  Being about 39 weeks preggo, I enjoyed watching them swim together from the side of the pool!

Check out the City of Raleigh website for the pool’s hours of operation and fees.

Thumbs up: large baby pool area, indoor swimming option for non-summer months

Thumbs down: not being able to eat in the baby pool area, no direct entrance to splash ground area from baby pool, picnic areas had LOTS of flies

Buffaloe Rd Aquatic Center

img_3259A few months ago we headed to the Buffaloe Road Aquatic Center for a birthday party of one of Ashley’s friends.  I’ve been wanting to take Ashley here all winter and couldn’t wait to take her and celebrate with friends.  Having not been in an indoor pool much this winter, I knew Ashley would act like a maniac and she did not disappoint!

The aquatic center is located near the back of the Buffaloe Road Athletic Park at 5908 Buffaloe Rd in northeast Raleigh.  There was plenty of parking on this cold January day with several oversized spots for large buses.  After arriving in the lobby area, we went to the new changing rooms, which had plenty of space for getting littles one changed.  The family bathrooms (two of them!) were also very spacious with showers and oversized benches, perfect for keeping bags and clothes from getting wet.  Lockers are located outside the changing room areas on the pool deck.

The pool contains several different areas with something for everyone: zero-depth entry tot area with slide, water buckets and sprayers; open play area with water basketball; lazy river with water vortex; three-story water slide (height req = 42 in); lap swimming/water volleyball area.  For a 22 month old, Ashley’s favorite places to play were on the tot slide, walking along the bench in the open play area, and playing with the water basketball (even though she was way too short to make the basket).  Being a maniac on outdoor playground slides, she easily transitioned her “no fear” mentality to the water tot slide and even screamed to try the big slide.  The big slide does not allow children to ride with parents and all riders must be at least 42 inches high.  Feeling the need to experience the big slide, I rode it and was surprised at how fast I went.  I realized how it justified the height requirement and was secretly glad Ashley couldn’t ride it yet.

After some water play time, all the kids gathered in the party room area to celebrate Kennedy’s 3rd birthday.  The private party area has several tables, chairs, and a sink for use.  As you can see in the pictures, all the kids had a great time scarfing down the cupcakes.

Thumbs up: unique water play areas, tot area, lazy river

Thumbs down: trying to reason with your 22 month old why she can’t go down the big slide 🙁

Lake Johnson Pool

img_2143This post originally appeared on where you learn more about how to live, work and play in the Creative District.

Are you looking for a fun way to cool off this summer in the Creative District?  Then head to Lake Johnson Pool where you can catch a tan, swim some laps, or let the little ones burn off some energy.

Lake Johnson Pool is located at 1416 Athens Dr, adjacent to Athens Drive High School.  Turn down the side street opposite Athena Woods Dr and continue until you see the pool sign on the left.  There is a smaller parking lot near the pool gate entrance and an overflow parking lot not too far away.  The building with the main entrance contains the locker rooms, vending machines, guard office, and a small shelter area.

After walking through the main building you have your choice of three different swim areas: wading pool, open swim and lap lane pool, and splash garden.  The wading pool is a separately fenced-in area with a water depth of 10-in to 18-in and a large spray fountain at one end.  There is a small canopy for shade near the gate and a large amount of deck space between the pool and fence.  With the pool just opening the weekend before and the lack of summer heat thus far, the water was chilly, but refreshing.

The splash garden is a separately fenced-in area that has a concrete deck with several fun water features.  It has several small fountains, two fire hoses, a spray fountain, and a water bucket feature.  There’s a small grassy area nearby for watching the little ones play.

The large pool area has an open swim area and a few lap lanes.  The water depth starts at 4 ft and goes up to 5 ft 6 in.  There’s a grassy area surrounding most of the pool with piles of plastic deck chairs for patrons to set out as needed.  Picnic tables are sparse, but there’s quite a bit of grassy area to spread out blankets and towels.  Also sprinkled around the pool are flower gardens, trees, and wind chimes.

Here are the operating hours and pool fees for Lake Johnson Pool:


  • Ages 1-12: Resident – $1/Non-Resident – $2
  • Ages 13-54: Resident – $3/Non-Resident – $6
  • Ages 55+: Resident – $2/Non-Resident – $4

Wading & Spray Pool

  • Mon-Fri: 9am-8pm
  • Sat: 10am-8pm
  • Sun: 1-6pm

Open Swim

  • Mon-Fri: 12pm-8pm
  • Sat: 10am-8pm
  • Sun: 1-6pm

Adult Lap Swim

  • Mon-Fri: 8am-8pm
  • Sat: 9am-8pm
  • Sun: 1-6pm

Lake Johnson Pool is open until September 3.  Visit the City of Raleigh website for more information about admission fees/policies and days of operation.

Thumbs up: landscaping inside pool, grassy picnic spots, fenced-in wading pool and splash garden

Thumbs down: locker room areas, lack of picnic tables

Pullen Aquatic Center

This post originally appeared on where you can learn more about how to live, work, and play in the Creative District.

Looking for a place in the Creative District to swim laps, practice your diving skills, or splash with the kiddies in the wintertime?

Visit the indoor facilities at Pullen Aquatic Center. The center is located at 410 Ashe Ave, just North of the newly renovated Pullen Park.

There is a large 50 meter x 25 meter Olympic-size swimming pool, a warm-water teaching pool, overhead balcony for spectators, nearby bleachers, diving boards, and large locker room areas.  The large swimming pool area has about a dozen lap lanes set up with varying availability.  In addition to lap swimming, you can also sign up for water exercises, the swim league, swimming lessons, and more.

The warm-water teaching pool is perfect for taking the kiddies in during the cold winter months.  The shallow area has a gentle incline that eventually reaches to 4ft deep on the far side.  We visited on a popular Friday morning when the warm-water pool opens at 9am for public use.  Rafts aren’t allowed in the pools, but they do have life vests available.

Even though the locker room area and pool deck are showing their age, this is still a great place to play in the wintertime.  Whether swimming for exercise or play, you’ll enjoy your time at Pullen Aquatic Center.  Be sure to check the prices and hours before making your next visit.

Thumbs up: warm-water pool, number of lap lanes available, convenient pool hours

Thumbs down: aging of the locker room area and pool deck

Day Seven: Millbrook Exchange Park

On the seventh day of Raleigh Parks Christmas, Kris gave her husband Bill (that’s me) an assignment: visit the Carolina Pines dog park with the dog and baby while she was doing Raleigh Jaycees board of directors stuff. After some confusion about where the car seat and stroller were, we ended up at a different dog park: Millbrook Exchange.

There’s a lot going on at Millbrook Exchange: a pool, community center, tennis center, dog park, basketball courts, baseball fields, and playground. Today, we just explored the dog park.

There are actually two dog parks here, sharing a common fence: a large area (maybe 2 acres) for large dogs, and a small area (1/4 acre-ish) for small dogs. Ripken plays like a large dog, but he can get crazier than a sack of rabid weasels at the dog park and I’ve got a baby to manage, so we stick to the vacant small dog area.

There are plenty of water bowls, tennis balls, and poop bags; no need to bring your own. Lots of mature hardwoods and pines, too–perfect for shade in the summer or doggie outhouse all year round.

Ripken and Ashley both had a blast, and we left the dog park after dozens of Ripken races up and down the fence

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and horsey rides for Ashley on daddy’s shoulders.

Next, we walked around and photo-documented some of the other facilities, as you can see in the gallery below. But, it was getting close to nap time and we had to split. This one deserves another visit and a feature-length post in the spring.

Thumbs up: Lots of mature trees, tons of facilities, both large and small dog parks.

Thumbs down: Seems like parking might be an issue on nice days; it was 75% full on a damp Saturday morning in December.

Ridge Road Pool

With the summer heat in full gear there’s no better place to cool off than at the pool. This past week we explored Ridge Road Pool at 1709 Ridge Rd in Raleigh. It’s adjacent to Martin Middle School, so as you pass the school, bear right where you’ll find the pool parking lot. The crape myrtles in the parking lot provide shade while you’re relaxing at the pool.

The sidewalk leading down to the pool entrance passes by the nicely terraced landscaping and bike rack areas. Before heading into the pool, you have to stop by the front desk to pay the entrance fee. Since I’m a Raleigh resident and I had a child under 1, we only had to pay $3. Once you pay, you’ll pass the restrooms, the lifeguard office, and the life vest rental office.

Read moreRidge Road Pool