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

Dowdy Park in Nags Head, NC

DSC_0057In May, we travelled to Nags Head for our annual trip with friends (and family this year, too) to run the Nags Head Preserve Yuengling 5k race. This year the race weekend coincided with the grand opening of Dowdy Park, located at the intersection of S Croatan Hwy & E Bonnett St. Near MP 12, the park sits on land that was once the home of Dowdy Amusement Park. Over the years, I remember driving by the abandoned theme park wishing someone would do something to clean up that area. It’s wonderful to see how land once used for fun and recreation has come full circle.

As a Raleigh resident, we are spoiled with parks and playgrounds around every corner. Though Nags Head has beautiful natural recreational areas (the beach, the dunes, the nature preserve), to say it needs more playgrounds is an understatement. Dowdy Park’s grand opening celebration and Artrageous Kids Festival was bustling with families, echoing the excitement for more outdoor parks.

DSC_0056Dowdy Park features several play areas where kids can jump, run, swing, climb and slide until their hearts are content! The older kid playground has wide wheelchair-accessible ramps to musical and periscope play items. The ramp connects to stairs for climbing higher along a net bridge or to the ground via a rock wall. The other side of the net bridge features challenging ladders, a climbing tree stump and a fast, twisty slide. A colorful climbing hill with curved bars, musical instruments, balance beams, surfboards, bench swing, and merry-go-round are also located nearby. With the large festival and park attendance, it was overwhelming to keep track of multiple kids bouncing between so many activities.

DSC_0074The smaller kid playground features short steps up to ramps connected to a double slide. All the kids thoroughly enjoyed the nearby rolling slide. They loved making rattling noises as they slid down the bumpy slide. Across from the small kid playground is a wheelchair-accessible ride. It allows folks in wheelchairs to reverse their chair onto a ramp and swing. And, a playground near the beach wouldn’t be complete without a little sand – just follow the sea turtle flipper prints! Short pier pilings line the sandbox area, which has a large climbing sea turtle in the middle.

DSC_0079Also near this area are hopscotch and twister games, checkers tables, another climbing hill, picnic tables and benches. On this particular day vendors lined the perimeter of the open green space area. Park-goers filled the open green space area watching the performances under the covered pavilion. Throughout the park you’ll find pieces of art, such as the nautilus stamps shells, temporary art pole exhibit, and wooden paintings. Even though Dare County is mostly known for its beaches, I’ve always been impressed with the local art scene. We’ve enjoyed local art galleries, shopping and art walks when they’ve overlapped with our vacation times.

Currently, small dunes, a split-rail fence and 20 yards of undeveloped park land separate busy the US-158 and sandbox area. According to the Town of Nags Head, phase 2 of development starts this fall for a garden, multi-use courts, restrooms and bocce ball court. It’ll be interesting to see how this area evolves over the years. And, I look forward to returning on a day that isn’t quite so busy.

Thumbs up: unique play areas, incorporating beach details into the park, accommodations for all ages and abilities, fun climbing hills and slides

Thumbs down: lack of shade

Durham Central Park

IMG_6488Part of my summer bucket list for the past few years included a trip to the Durham Farmers’ Market.  Unfortunately, we never made time to visit Durham during the summer (unless it was for a Bulls game) until this summer.  A few weeks ago we had an atypically quiet weekend at home so we decided to head out to the Durham Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning.  Little did we know the farmers’ market is just one piece of a very fun and popular urban park, Durham Central Park.

Durham Farmers’ Market is located at the pavilion in Durham Central Park at 501 Foster St in downtown Durham.  After hunting around for a parking spot (there’s a lot of nearby construction), we parked in what seemed like a valid spot at a local business that is closed on Saturdays.  We then walked the few blocks to the farmers’ market to find a mecca of food, art, and fun!  The main farmers’ market area is located under the covered pavilion, but there are also dozens of pop-up tents and food trucks nearby.  We strolled by all the pop-up tents in the lawn area, which featured mostly artists selling handmade jewelry, doggie products, art, iron-made products and much more.  Then we walked through the main area, sampling fresh fruits, cheeses, and veggies and looking at the local art.  We bought some amazing corn, tomatoes, edamame, and fresh blackberries.

IMG_6484After exploring the main area, we walked across the street to the mini food truck rodeo area, where we bought some fresh tea and loco-pop popsicles.  There were tons of vendors at the market selling clothing, unique handmade items, cold drinks, household items and more.  After window shopping we walked across the bridge at the intersection of Foster and Hunt St where it dumped us out into the large lawn area, also part of Durham Central Park.  We walked up the hill to scope out the skateboard park, which is also located across from a police station.  After watching the skaters for awhile we headed back down the hill past the Leaf open-air performance area to the fabulous playground area, Mt. Merrill.

IMG_6504The playground features amphitheater-style rock climbing, two slides, climbing net, and some shade sails.  I especially loved the cute bird cut-outs perched on top of the poles.  There are also some benches sprinkled along the nearby sidewalk and some shady spots in front of the playground by the wooded area.  We grabbed a few of those shady spots and had a quick picnic with our edamame and blackberries. The girls loved jumping back and forth between having a snack and playing on the playground.  It was neat and unusual to see large boulders used as a climbing element in a playground.

Not wanting our fun morning in Durham to end, we headed back to our car and drove the short distance to Fullsteam Brewery for some yummy summer beers and lunch from the rotating food truck.  A heavy rainstorm popped up while we were there so we enjoyed our lunch to the tune of loud rain pinging off the metal warehouse roof.  In reading up about Durham Central Park since visiting, it seems like there’s some momentum for making improvements and continual development.  I look forward to visiting again in the future and seeing how the park shapes up over the years!

More Resources:

Thumbs up: playground’s close proximity to fun and food, climbing boulders on playground, diverse mix of artisans and farmers at market,

Thumbs down: I don’t recall seeing informational plaques about Durham Central Park while there, needs more picnic tables/benches

Mini Post: Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet

IMG_3704After our visit to Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, we headed across the street (literally) to Brookgreen Gardens to spend time at the zoo, storybook playhouses and nature playground.  Brookgreen Gardens is located at 1931 Brookgreen Drive off US-17 and features thousands of acres of gardens and sculptures, a low country zoo, beautiful light displays in the evenings at Christmastime, educational programs and much more.

We didn’t have time to visit the gardens, but spent about an hour walking the 1-mile+ loop and visiting the animals through the zoo.  We saw domesticated animals such as cows, horses, turkeys and several native animals such as alligators, bald eagles, foxes, otters.  The aviary features a boardwalk elevated over a swamp where you walk through the birds’ habitat to see several different types of birds including herons and egrets.

After seeing the animals we walked over to the Storybook Playhouse area where the kids explored every inch of the storybook-themed houses for Cinderella’s Castle, Hansel & Gretel’s gingerbread house, Snow White’s cottage, Dr. Seuss, and Rapunzel’s tower.  Then the kiddos climbed, jumped and banged around the nearby nature playground.  They seemed to mostly enjoy making music with the pots and pans secured to the wall.

Brookgreen Gardens is an enormous place; we hardly dusted the surface of this Lowcountry garden and zoo.  In looking at their website, they have lots of cool exhibits and events scheduled for their 85th anniversary this year, including LEGO sculptures on display at the zoo.

Thumbs up: variety of activities, native animals, aviary exhibit

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Halifax Park & Community Center Update

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The gorgeous fall weather this season prompted several repeat visits to our favorite parks, Halifax Park & Community Center being one of them.  Thanks to a comment from one of my blog readers, this park underwent a few updates since my Aug 2014 review that elicit photo and amenity listing updates.

Halifax Park & Community Center is located at 1015 Halifax St near the Seaboard Station area.  I was pleasantly surprised to see some much needed picnic tables near the community center where the girls and I were able to enjoy our picnic lunch.  Another interesting addition to the park is an interactive art piece called “Hoops Playing Hoops” by artist Chris Fennell of Birmingham, AL.  It’s a tall group of basketball hoops connected by steel pipes that make them seem like they’re playing basketball together.  Once you make a basket in one of the hoops, the ball will travel down the ramp to another hoop.  The girls had so much fun watching me make attempt after attempt to score a basket – it’s much harder than it looks.

IMG_8367There’s also a separate smaller basketball art sculpture for the younger kids.  The girls had such fun shooting baskets and watching the ball spiral down the ramp.  If you forget your basketball or don’t have one, the friendly staff at the community center will let your borrow their ball.

If you haven’t visited this park yet, just do it!  There’s plenty for kids of all ages to do and the convenience of the community center is invaluable!

More Resources:

Thumbs up: partially fenced-in playground, play areas for all ages, interactive basketball art sculpture, new picnic tables

Thumbs down: nothing new to report

Hobbit House & More at NCMA Museum Park

IMG_7013A few weeks ago, Bill planned a fun Sunday outing to explore the outdoor Cloud Chamber for the Trees & Sky exhibit (aka Hobbit House) at the NC Museum of Art’s Museum Park.  Between trips with out of town guests and regular Stroller Strides workouts, we’ve been to this museum a TON, but never to see the Cloud Chamber exhibit or hike the corresponding unpaved trails.

We parked in the large parking lot off Blue Ridge Rd and headed down the paved trail towards the infamous Gyre exhibit (the three huge concrete ellipses).  After passing the Gyre and Chairs in the Trees exhibits, we made a right onto the Blue Loop and then a left onto the unpaved trail that starts by the Crossroads/Trickster I exhibit.  The unpaved trail starts out as gravel, but then we made a slight right towards the Cloud Chamber and the path became grassy and then a very narrow dirt trail in the wooded section.  We made the mistake of bringing a BOB Revolution SE Stroller and should’ve brought a carrier for Claire and let Ashley walk.  Having two adults made it easier to maneuver the stroller over the bridges, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

IMG_7015So, after a short walk through the wooded section we found the Cloud Chamber house, which looks like a replica of Bilbo Baggins’ house.  It’s a short, circular house built into the side of the hill with large stones, some criss-crossed logs, and a green plant-based roof.  It has a concrete floor and a heavy wooden door and the house’s neat feature is that it acts as a camera obscura.  After entering the house, close the door and wait for your eyes to adjust to the darkness and you’ll see faint views of the sky as light is projected through an opening in the roof onto the floor of the house.  Bill took Ashley into the house by themselves but didn’t stay long and then I went in by myself and witnessed puffs of sky inverted on the floor…it was neat to be able to look “down” onto the sky!  And, I don’t think we’ll ever forget our trip to the Hobbit House with Ashley asking where are the “wobbits” every minute; poor girl was expecting to see some real life hobbits.

IMG_7027We then continued our walk along the loop trail where we also saw the Untitled exhibit by Ledelle Moe, which looked like a small concrete person concrete curled into a ball.  After completing the loop trail we headed back to the gravel path and turned right.  We headed downhill and came across the Whisper Bench exhibit, which was a fun interactive piece of art for Ashley.  It’s two steel benches on opposite sides of the trail that are connected by an underground sound pipe.  Ashley and Bill enjoyed talking back and forth to each other and I loved hearing the toddler giggles!  After the Whisper Bench we continued on the very sunny gravel path that led us uphill and back to the paved trail near Lowe’s Pavilion.  Finally, we stopped for a quick picnic lunch inside the pavilion before heading home for naps.

It was such a fun morning filled with fresh air, science and art and I didn’t have to plan any of it… #besthusbandever!

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: interactive pieces of art, beautiful outdoor setting

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Millbrook Playground

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Millbrook Playground at Millbrook Exchange Park (1905 Spring Forest Rd) was renovated this past summer and we made our way over there to explore the new digs!  Within the park, it’s located between the adult center and the community center near the ball fields.  There’s so much to do at this new park for everyone – a tot jungle gym for the 2-5 age group and a larger (and very tall) jungle gym for the 5-12 age group.  Both jungle gyms have a rubber surface also making this a very crawler-friendly play place for the mobile, but not yet walking littles ones!  There is also a small sandbox with two diggers, two tot swings, and four regular swings, one of which is handicap accessible.

img_3822The 2-5 age group jungle gym has a few slides, some musical instruments, teeter totters, and climbing structures.  It’s on the small side so Ashley quickly got bored of it and ventured over to the 5-12 age group jungle gym.  This play place has different height levels for playing that peak at a very tall height.  There are a few openings that lead down to climbing structures, but for the most part this jungle gym is well enclosed.  Ashley loved the tall slides, but was surprised at how fast she went down them! It also has some smaller slides near the ground, tunnels, monkey bars, swinging bar, a rock climbing wall, and some low height seats.  Once you get over the height of the playground, this is a great place for able kids to play!

img_3826Scattered around the park are several benches and sidewalk games of hopscotch and four square.  We were there in the morning, which didn’t have much shade so plan accordingly based on the time of day and season.  I don’t recall seeing a nearby picnic table, but after walking towards the tennis center we found several in the shade.  The landscaping immediately around the park was less than desired and the grass was pretty high as if it hadn’t been mowed in weeks.

img_4117After visiting the playground, we had a quick snack at the picnic tables and then headed towards the tennis center to explore.  It turned out we showed up just in time for the last day of a weekend tennis tournament so we stayed to watch for awhile before heading home. On our way back to the car we spotted some steel art, the Immigrant Gate II by Jim Gallucci.  I was amazed at how extensive the tennis center is – there are 23 tennis courts, several backboards, and a large indoor area with observation deck, conference room, pro shop and locker rooms.  I look forward to getting back into tennis one day 🙂

Thumbs up: variety of play things on 5-12 age group jungle gym, swings, tennis center

Thumbs down:  no picnic tables in immediate playground area, landscaping/field maintenance

Museum Park Blue Loop Opening

img_3025About a month ago we attended the Museum Park’s Blue Loop opening at the NC Museum of Art.  It was the perfect spring morning to spend with friends while walking the new trail and enjoying live bluegrass music.  The Blue Loop is a one-mile trail that includes a new cut-through between the pond and Lowe’s Park Pavilion and extends through a wooded section on the southwestern side of Museum Park.  It was made possible by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.

The FREE celebration featured live music from Big Medicine Bluegrass Band and the A&T Drumline, healthy snacks from local food trucks, and a celebratory lap around the Blue Loop.  Special guests included Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, NCMA Director Lawrence Wheeler, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina CEO Brad Wilson.

The NC Museum of Art is located at 2110 Blue Ridge Rd.  View the Museum Park map for a complete look at the Blue Loop.

Thumbs up:  lots of shade and open space, wide paths, rolling hills (perfect for a challenging run/walk)

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Museum Park

The Museum Park is located on the grounds of the NC Museum of Art at 2110 Blue Ridge Rd just outside the beltline.  Part of the trail through the park is shared with the Reedy Creek Trail greenway, which connects Meredith College to Umstead Park and Schenck Forest.  The museum was renovated a few years ago and besides biking the greenway past the museum, I hadn’t really stopped to visit this park.  So, we parked in the museum parking lot and followed the paved trail towards the very easy-to-read information board.

The information board highlights four different walking paths to take and breaks it out by distance, walking time, calories burned, and features you’ll see along the way.  Because it was a very hot Sunday and we had the stroller, we opted for the one-mile Ambler path, which allowed us to explore several works of art on the paved trail close to the museum.  For those planning ahead, here is a map of the park.



Information plaque with details about the park

Paved trail around the park
View of the East building

Here are the works of art we passed along the Ambler path:

Wind Machine by Vollis Simpson
Collapse I by Ledelle Moe
Gyre by Thomas Sayre
Close up of Gyre filled with concrete and covered in dirt residue
Another view of Gyre
Bill & Ashley under the Gyre
The Conversationalist by Chakaia Booker
Lowe's Pavilion by Mike Cindric and Vincent Petrarc
Another view of Lowe's Pavilion, made of steel, wood, aluminum, and concrete

A photographer’s dream shoot, the Museum Park has a gorgeous landscape of rolling hills with a sprinkle of wooded forests between the East Museum Building and the outdoor works of art.

Looking down at the Gyre artwork
Looking back towards the Wind Machine artwork
Greenway to Meredith College
Part of the unpaved trail on the Museum Park grounds
An unpaved pathway through the park
Great shady pathway for a picnic on the bench

Next, we explored one of the newer (to me, at least) features of the park, The Pond area.  With over 20,000 plants installed, this area helps with runoff, water pollution, and settling for sediment.  The terraced landscaping and even spacing of the plants had an Asian design feel to it, but what do I know!  Here’s a list of the various plants installed and some pictures to detail the beauty of this area:

What outdoor museum would be complete without an amphitheater and outdoor movie screen?! The NC Museum of Art holds several outdoor concerts and movies throughout the summer months.  Having finally made it to an outdoor movie last summer to see The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I can attest to how much fun they are.  So, bring a picnic dinner, lawn chairs or blanket, and some cash (for the beer/wine tent) and you’ve got the perfect, cheap summer night planned!  Btw, The Social Network movie is playing tonight at 8:30pm.

Some of the seating areas for outdoor movies
Looking towards the amphitheater

Overall, this park offers much more than any average park.  Whether just passing by on the greenway, planning a trip to the indoor museum, or watching a movie or concert be sure to plan enough time to explore the artwork in the Museum Park.

Thumbs up: picnic spots, rolling hills, outdoor artwork, outdoor movies/concerts, The Pond landscaping, information plaques/maps, parking

Thumbs down: few pockets of shade