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

Falls Lake Hike Day Hike A: Raven Ridge Rd towards Dam

img_4946Every New Year’s Day, NC hosts First Day Hikes all over their state parks to promote a healthy start to the year. Even though the organized First Day Hikes didn’t exactly work with our kiddo schedules we drove up for a short hike of our own near Falls Lake.

Falls Lake is a state recreation area just 10 miles north of Raleigh with 7 individual parks, a 12,000-acre lake and 26,000 acres of woodlands.  For our hike, we chose one of the southeastern fingers to explore.  The portion of the trail we hiked is from Day Hike A (from Shinleaf Rec Area to Falls Lake Dam) of the Mountains to Sea Trail.  Mark Edelstein provides a very detailed description of the hiking trails through Falls Lake, which I used to help navigate the area.  We hiked a portion of this trail heading west to east.

img_4947To find the gravel pull-off parking area (noted at the 3.5mi mark in Section 1) we drove north on Falls of Neuse Rd and turned left on Raven Ridge Rd and parked along the side of the road shortly after passing Annie Wilkerson Nature Park.  After getting everyone strapped in their gear, we set off by following the small sign pointing east towards Falls Lake Dam, which is 3.5 miles away.

This is a very moderate hike with small hills and a fairly wide trail throughout.  It is a heavily wooded area, giving a lot of shade to the trail.  Most of this section also closely follows much of the lake, so there are several lake inhabitants and small waterfalls to discover along the way (great for puddle stomping during summer time).  We also passed a trail entrance into Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Park, which happened to be closed for the New Year holiday, but would be fun to incorporate into a short hike.

We only hiked about 2.4 total miles that day and didn’t make it to Falls Lake Dam, but I’m looking forward to starting at the dam and heading west on our next hike through Falls Lake.

Resources:

  • list of day hikes through Falls Lake as compiled by the Mountains to Sea Trail campaign
  • Detailed hiking descriptions from Falls Lake Dam to Raven Ridge Rd
  • Falls Lake map (although not detailed enough for hiking trails)

Thumbs up: views along stream, clear hiking signage along trail, great shade

Thumbs down: planning a hike in Falls Lake using NC Parks online resources (use the Mountains to Sea Trail site instead)

Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve Park

img_1720If you’re looking for a place to go hiking in Raleigh and have exhausted your options at Umstead Park, you should definitely make your way into North Raleigh to Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve Park.  Being the only visitors at the park a few months ago, we visited the main office and spoke to the very friendly and knowledgeable staff about the history of the park.  It was lovely to hear her speak about Dr. Annie’s will to leave the land as a nature preserve park.  The park office was converted from an old residence on the property and there are future plans to convert Dr. Annie’s old standing residence into indoor classrooms.

After visiting the park office, we headed off on the Hidden Rocks trail (1 mile long), which is known for having several crops of hidden rocks throughout.  The trail is about 2ft wide in most places and an easy path to walk, but there are a few narrow and slippery spots throughout.  This trail passes through open fields, forests of hardwoods.  As this park is still taking shape, the signs aren’t completely finished yet, so be sure to pay close attention to where you are going.  After Hidden Rocks trail, we walked the Pond Loop, which is about 1/2 mile long and crosses over one of the ponds on the property.  This particular day was absolutely gorgeous and the reflections off the pond were crystal clear.  On our next trip here, we’ll be sure to bring our hiking backpack instead of the Bob stroller that we used.  I’m sure we looked ridiculous with our stroller!

Being that this is a nature preserve park, you won’t find any of the regular playground equipment you’re accustomed to at other parks.  However, that did not prevent Ashley from having an amazing time in the natural play area; complete with stumps, teepees, tall grasses, and large logs, there are a lot of options for kids to have some imaginative play.

Near the natural play area is also a large pavilion used for educational programs and the public restrooms.  For more information about the Dr. Annie park, visit the City of Raleigh website.

Thumbs up: hiking trails, play area, park office, views of the open fields, photo ops, picnic spots

Thumbs down: signage through hiking trail