Forest Hill Park (Richmond, Va)

forest hill parkLast fall we headed to Richmond for a little man’s 1st birthday party. Before the big party we headed with friends and all our littles to Forest Hill Park in Richmond, Va. Forest Hill Park is located south of the James River at 4021 Forest Hill Ave. It features an amazing farmers market open during the summer and fall months, paved walking trails, playgrounds, a pond, unpaved bike trails through the woods, wide open fields, picnic shelters and tennis courts. If you’re looking for a fun morning outing for the family, this is the place!

Once an estate owned by different families and then an amusement park, the City of Richmond bought the land in 1933 and turned it into the present-day urban park. They preserved some of the old stone buildings including the circa 1840s Stone House and old stone gazebo with fire pits by the pond that once served as a warming hut for ice skaters.

DSC_0163Farmers Market, Trail Walking & Pond

During our visit we parked at the northern entrance along New Kent Ave and first walked through the farmers market. We visited with the woolly sheep, watched a short acrobatic demo, bought coffee and donuts, and admired the local artisan’s goods. We enjoyed our breakfast goodies at the old brick shelter near the entrance and then walked down the adjacent paved loop trail.

The loop trail starts off wide and downhill, and surrounded by dense forest. The beautiful morning sun casted warm glows and soft textures – perfect for documenting our walk with the little babes and friends. The kids enjoyed watching mountain bikers hit the trails in the woods. We walked to the hexagonal stone shelter (formerly a warming hut for ice skaters) near the pond so the kids could feed the ducks. After exhausting our bread supply, we continued walking along the flat trail that soon shifted uphill. Near the top of the hill the trail narrowed as it opened to large rolling fields. We meandered along the trail passing picnickers and large, sparse oak trees until we arrived at the playground.

Playground

DSC_0222The playground features two play structures divided by age group and swings for all ages. The younger child playground contains slides, a spiral ladder, and nearby teeter totters. The older child playground contains steeper slides, arched ladders, double “racing” slides, monkey bars and zipline. The kids loved racing each other down the slides and swinging across the monkey bars. The playground’s hardwood mulch surface lessened the monkey bar falls. The original 1840s Stone House, picnic tables and tennis courts are also just a short walk away. 

After a long time on the playground, we continued on the trail back to the parking lot. Though we walked about 1.5 miles, the full loop trail is about 3.2 miles. The northern section of the trail connects to the Reedy Creek Trail and feeds into the much larger James River Park System. The James River Park System contains acres of shoreline for fishing, biking, running, walking, rafting, and canoeing. I’m excited to explore the river during my next trip to Richmond and see first-hand its importance to the large biking and running community of Richmond.

Thumbs Up

beautiful scenery, open fields, playground features, variety of vendors at farmer’s market, wide trails, preserved stone buildings

Thumbs Down

lack of restrooms near playground

Biking To & Around North Wake Landfill District Park

IMG_6714If you can’t tell by the themes of some of my latest blog posts, biking has been our family’s new passion.  Having a bike hitch, bike trailer and at least one child biking on her own really opens up the family bike outings to beyond the driveway or cul-de-sac.  Even though Bill is usually the one to strap the bikes onto the hitch and gather all the gear, I’ve made it a point to learn how to do it on my own in hopes that I could take the girls out by myself.  Feeling rather confident about strapping all the bikes onto the hitch, remembering all the gear and snacks, I took the girls for a bike ride on Abbotts Creek Trail one summer morning in August.

For this trip, we parked at our tried and true parking lot at 10888 Bedfordtown Dr in the Bedford neighborhood.  After biking down the access path we turned right on the Neuse River Trail.  We then turned right onto the beginning of Abbotts Creek Trail.  We biked past the blue heron habitat and over a large wooden walkway before coming to Falls River Ave.  There wasn’t any obvious directional signs for how to stay on the greenway, but remember my past time on this trail, we turned left on the sidewalk of Falls River Ave.  After mostly walking our bikes up the hill, we then made another left to stay on Abbotts Creek Trail, which continues to be more hilly than the first portion of the trail.  Ashley walked her bike up several of the hills, but made up for it on the downhill portions of the trail. After about 1/2 mile of riding we turned left into the entrance of the North Wake Landfill District Park and biked/walked up the steep trails to the playground area where the girls ran around and climbed like monkeys for over an hour.

IMG_6703The bike ride back to the car was successful and even a bit adorable as my stop-and-smell-the-flowers daughter took advantage of light greenway traffic with her simultaneous bike ride swaying and singing.  Despite the hot weather, the girls made the trip so much fun and were so patient with me as I carefully installed the bike equipment back onto the car.


Fast forward to a few weeks ago when we headed back to the landfill park (9300 Deponie Dr, just off Durant Rd) with our bikes, but this time we drove in and parked at the playground and rode our bikes around the road surrounding the big hill.  The road around the hill has been updated from a two-lane car road to a two-lane road with one dedicated bike/pedestrian lane and a one-way car lane.  The road is about 1 1/2 miles long and a short median separates the bike/pedestrian lane from the car lane and has several pedestrian crossing areas.

DSC_0220We biked to the bottom of the trail that leads to the top of the landfill, parked our bikes and walked to the top.  I’m the only one in our family who has ever been to the top of the landfill, so I was excited to share the views with everyone.  The little ones took turns exclaiming their discomfort for walking up the hill, but it’s such a short walk (less than 1/4 mile) that they pushed through it.

Even though it was a cloudy morning, we could still see some downtown Raleigh buildings.  The beautiful blue sky poked through, which gave great contrast to the super lush grass on top of the mountain.  The girls loved being up so high and enjoyed playing photographer with my new big camera. We had the top of the hill to ourselves that morning, making it a really fun family outing!

With the girls being a bit older now, we really were able to utilize this park for all its assets – greenway access, advanced climbing features on playground, and large open spaces.  I look forward to bringing them back when they’re much older to explore the mountain bike skills course. It’s hard to imagine this place was once a fully functioning landfill.

Thumbs up: park located along the greenway, great playground areas with variety of features, separated two-lane road around landfill hill, clean and fully functioning restrooms

Thumbs down: poor signage along Abbotts Creek Trail at Falls River Ave

Neuse River Trail Beach – MP 4.5

IMG_6510Last summer Bill and I biked by this “beachy” section of the Neuse River Trail and vowed we’d make it back with the kids on a bike ride someday.  That someday was this summer, with Ashley leading the pack on her big girl bike and Claire chomping on snacks in the bike trailer.    The Neuse River Trail is our favorite spot for family bike rides with young kids because the trail is relatively flat and wide with several parking spots along the way making it easy to break your ride into small chunks.

For this bike ride we parked at the trail parking lot in the Bedford neighborhood at 10888 Bedfordtown Dr, biked down the access path and turned right onto the Neuse River Trail heading south.  We followed the greenway for about 2 miles before coming to milepost 4.5 where there’s an oxbow in the river that has created a wider sandy spot along the river bank.  Note: if you don’t want to bike/run the 2 miles, you can park closer to the oxbow at 6100 Thornton Rd and bike/run 1/2 mile. We parked and locked our bikes in a grassy spot off the greenway and walked down to the beachy area with our picnic supplies and towels (everyone already had
bathing suits on).
splashing in the neuse river beachIt hadn’t rained recently so the beachy area was actually wider and longer than I’ve seen it at other times and the river flowed slowly.  The water was pretty warm except in the middle of the river, which was over our heads in several spots.  We didn’t bring life jackets with us and the water wasn’t very clear so the girls mostly played near the shore line looking for tadpoles, playing in the sand/mud, or splashing in the water with the other young family that was there.  While we were there a few paddle boarders passed by including a father and young daughter out for a ride (next summer’s bucket list goal).

After playing in the water for awhile we enjoyed our picnic lunch on the beach before heading back to the car.  The bike ride north was a bit more uphill than the ride out, but the girls kept their cool and did great.  I look forward to returning to this secret spot again next summer!

Helpful Hints:

  • Wear shoes good for getting wet in the river
  • Bring life jackets for little ones
  • Be conscious of recent rains before coming out; river levels may be too high to safely play
  • Bring towels and small sand buckets
  • Parking options: 10888 Bedfordtown Dr (2 miles away) or 6100 Thornton Rd (1/2 mile away)

Thumbs up: fun bike ride/swimming activity, exploring the shore line for tadpoles and fish, lots of shady spots, very private area where you can’t see the beach from the greenway

Thumbs down: water was murky so be careful when swimming

Celebrating a 5-year Old & the Top 5 Bike Riding Parks for Preschoolers

IMG_4304And, just like that, I have a 5-year old daughter!  Lately, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the past 5 years and this birthday is hard to accept.  This birthday means the kindergarten milestone is just around the corner in August and it’ll be her first birthday I can’t share with my mom.  My baby is really growing up and it’s hard to put into words what this birthday means other than I’m just so proud of the smart, independent, fun, and crazy lego-building-tutu-wearing-acrobatic girl she has become.

Speaking of acrobatics, Ashley has fallen in love with bike riding.  We went the balance bike to two-wheel bike route and it really worked for her.  She was highly motivated to keep up with the bigger girls on our street and loves to ride in the nearby culdesac.  With intentions of taking her on the greenway soon, we’ve been exploring different parks in the area to get her more comfortable with riding (and most importantly, braking)!  Here are our top 5 favorite local parks for bike riding:

  1. IMG_3813Isabella Cannon Park (central Raleigh, ITB) – has a great 1/4 mile loop with nearby playground for younger ones to enjoy; I feel safe letting her ride by herself on the loop because I’m close enough to run to her on foot if she falls while also keeping an eye on Claire at the playground
  2. Anderson Point Park (east Raleigh) – has a mix of flat and gentle hills in a 2/3 mile paved loop; great biking spot to teach them about being alert and staying on the right side of the trail because there is steady bike/foot traffic; provides a great family bike ride option where you can pull younger children in the bike trailer and/or connect to the nearby Neuse River and Crabtree Creek greenways
  3. E. Carroll Joyner Park (Wake Forest) – fun advanced spot for little bike riders!  This park has lots of gentle rolling hills and open trails offering clear views of the traffic ahead.  With nearly three miles of paved trails, there are different loops of varying distances and scenery to practice riding and enjoy.  The trail that follows the perimeter of the park crosses the main entrance road into the park, allowing for good practice at stop signs.  Pack a picnic lunch and kite and enjoy the park all day.
  4. Brier Creek Park (northwest Raleigh) – has two connected flat paved loops (1/3 mile total) surrounding open fields and toddler playground area; kids have easy views of the traffic in front of them, but paths are narrow; bathrooms are nearby for pit stops
  5. Walnut Street Park (Cary) – has a twisty 0.4 mile paved trail that loops through wetlands, sparse forest, open fields, and two playground areas; with the high popularity of this park, this could be a good place to practice bike safety skills

East Fork Mine Creek Trail: MP 1 to 2.5

IMG_3485When the weather hovered in the high-70s on Christmas Eve, my family headed to a newly opened section of greenway for some exercise before filling up on holiday libations and rich foods.  East Fork Mine Creek is a 2.5 mile north-south paved trail that runs along Mine Creek near Lynn Rd to the north side of Strickland Rd.  We drove to one of the entrances of the trail near the intersection of Newton Rd and Sandy Creek Rd and parked in the shopping center across the street (note: take note of “no parking” signs; we arrived before the shops opened so we thought we’d be fine with parking in the center).

After crossing Newton Rd and heading north on the trail we quickly passed mile marker 1.  With the recent rains the paved trail was pretty wet with debris and the nearby Mine Creek flowed quickly.  This section of the trail runs behind a residential area of houses and apartments.  We also passed by a large section of tall bamboo on the side of the trail opposite the creek.

IMG_3489We continued north on the trail until we came to Old Deer Trail, a neighborhood street in the Summerfield subdivision.  We crossed over Old Deer Trail and followed the Capital Area Greenway signs as we winded our way through this cute, low-traffic neighborhood.  We passed a few other bikers and walkers along the way before coming to Strickland Rd.  We crossed Running Cedar Trail, heading east on Strickland Rd where we also passed West Millbrook Middle School and mile marker 2.5, the end of East Fork Mine Creek Rd.  At this point of the trail there is a well marked pedestrian crossing area designated for crossing over busy Strickland Rd.  My aunt and I opted to head back to the car while the rest of the group crossed Strickland Rd to extend their run on the connecting Honeycutt Creek Trail (more on this hilly trail in a future post).

A morning run on this section of East Fork Mine Creek was the perfect pre-Christmas exercise to involve all ages.  This section of the trail is pretty flat and offers lots of creek views, houses and people for little ones to view.

Thumbs up: flat trail, creek/residential views, safety, well-marked pedestrian crossing at Strickland Rd

Thumbs down: designated trail parking near Newton Rd

Crabtree Creek Trail: MP 0 to 4.75

IMG_3014Back in November we took advantage of my aunt visiting and went on a greenway biking day date!  We biked along Crabtree Creek Trail from milepost 0 to 4.75, completing the final segment of this greenway that we had left to explore.  We parked at Anderson Point Park and biked past the traffic circle near the park’s main entrance to the Crabtree Creek Trail greenway entrance and headed west (note: there are also signs for Neuse River Trail).

This portion of the greenway was pretty flat, but offered a lot to look at along the way.  We biked almost 5 miles and crossed several bridges and went under several overpasses on this trail segment.  From Anderson Point Park, we headed west where we biked under Rogers Ln and US-64, S New Hope Rd, I-440, New Bern Ave and then followed the sidewalk along Milburnie Rd before connecting up with more of the greenway.  After Milburnie Rd, the trail was covered in leaves and got rather hilly.  We saw some pretty water views from the high banks of Marsh Creek but also saw less desirable views of the abandoned nightclub, Envy.

IMG_3008We biked until about mile marker 4.75 where we turned around at an abandoned commercial building with a gantry crane to ensure we returned to the park before sunset (note: just past this spot is Lockwood Park).  The ride back was as refreshing and quiet as the ride in, covering more wooded areas than residential areas.  We passed a few runners and bikers along the way, but this section of the trail definitely felt less travelled compared to others.  After our bike ride, we quickly came home to change and then hopped back into the car for part 2 of our date at the new Cinebistro movie theater in Cary where we saw The Martian…a relaxing end to a fun date!

Thumbs up: road signage at highway overpasses, quiet/relaxing ride

Thumbs down: lack of signage about upcoming parks/playgrounds along bike route

Neuse River Trail – MP 22 to 23.75 & Sunflowers Field

IMG_1945Near the end of July we ventured to the southern section of the Neuse River Trail in hopes of finding the beautiful field of sunflowers that were in bloom (from a hot tip by TriangleExplorer).  We’ve run or biked a large portion of the Upper Neuse River Trail, but haven’t done much exploring along the Lower Neuse River Trail so it seemed like the great thing to do before the sunflowers lose their blooms.

We parked in the small greenway parking lot near the intersection of La Costa Way & Auburn Knightdale Rd in southern Wake County.  After parking we walked down the short access road to the compass in the greenway and turned right to head south.  We quickly passed mile marker 22 and even though it was a weeknight we saw a good amount of foot traffic.  We ran over some small bridges, ran parallel to acres of old farm land that separate the greenway by rolling white picket fences, and ran under the Battle Bridge Rd tunnel before coming to the field of sunflowers around milepost 23.5.  There is little shade along this greenway so we were hot and sweaty from pushing the double stroller and happy to walk up the hill towards the sunflower fields.  Unfortunately, my timing was off so we missed the sunflowers at their peak and saw mostly wilted sunflowers that were losing their seeds.  The 50 acres of sunflower fields are used as an application site for biosolids from the nearby Neuse River Wastewater Treatment Plant.  The sunflowers are eventually harvested and seeds are used to produce biodiesel.  Read here to learn more about the sunflower fields.

IMG_1935We continued south along the greenway and caught a closer glimpse of a few sunflowers still in bloom.  We turned around when we reached mile post 23.75 near the intersection of Brown Field Rd.

It was a hot and humid July night for a run, so we took our time on the run back and enjoyed some much deserved Bad Daddy burgers and beers on our way home through downtown Raleigh.  I can’t wait to catch the sunflower fields in their peak next summer (calendar has been updated).

Hot tips for next year:

Thumbs up: scenery of sunflower fields, beautiful open farm land

Thumbs down: hot, sunny trail in summertime

Biking the Neuse River Trail – MP 2.75 to 8

IMG_1430On the heels of family visiting at the end of May, my aunt offered to watch the girls while Bill and I headed out for a date night.  Instead of gorging ourselves at a new restaurant, we decided to dust off our bikes and chomp away at another segment of the Neuse River Trail between the Bedford neighborhood and US-401 (followed by beers at a new brewery, Compass Rose Brewery).

For our bike ride we parked in the trail parking lot at 10888 Bedfordtown Dr in the Bedford neighborhood in North Raleigh.  We followed the access road to the trail, turned right to head south, went over a small bridge and then bared to the left to stay on the main trail.  This part of the Neuse River Trail is mostly flat and shaded with several bridges (including covered ones) to pass over and under.  We passed several folks biking and running on the trail and even more folks canoeing and tubing down the river.  Here are a few highlights along our route:

  • IMG_1394milepost 3.5 – look over the river to spot old gas or electricity lines running across an old steel bridge
  • milepost 4.5 – access to oxbow in the river due to years of erosion and sand deposition creating a really sweet swimming hole with sandy beach.  The water flows very slowly in this spot and we saw a few younger kids fishing.  I’d love to bike with the girls down here and bring a picnic and bathing suits.
  • milepost 5 – large bridge access to (presumably future) Wake Forest trails
  • milepost 6.5 – access to WRAL soccer park
  • milepost 7.5 – access to Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve (still under construction, set to open August 2015)
  • milepost 8 – suspension bridge near US-401

For two people who hadn’t ridden bikes in at least 4 years, this was the perfect ride to ease back into things.  Overall the ride was a little over 11 miles total (out and back) and provided a lot of great scenery and ideas of future outings for swimming, biking and maybe even some tubing!

Thumbs up: access to swimming hole and several parks along the way, relatively flat and shaded trail, variety of water activities available

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Neuse River Trail: MP 7.25 to 9 & Suspension Bridge

IMG_0632Towards the end of March we headed out to Neuse River Trail to explore the area surrounding Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve, in anticipation of the new park opening sometime this spring/summer.  Using the RGreenway app, we mapped our starting location at the small parking lot at 198 Trailhead Ln outside I-540 and off US-401.  Knowing we wouldn’t pass a playground along our run, we brought the girls’ bikes and scooters to play on after our run.

We walked along the access trail to the main Neuse River Trail and turned left at the compass in the trail to head north towards Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve.  After crossing over a wooden boardwalk we passed milepost 8 1/2.  The vegetation at this point in the year was very sparse, but showing signs of life to come (you’ll see a remarkable difference in a future Neuse River Trail post that I write).  We stopped every once in awhile to point out interesting things in nature to the girls – a rotting fallen tree, a wicked looking pale-as-a-ghost tree across the river, fallen gumballs, and pigeons resting under underpasses.

After running under US-401 we came to another amazing feat of steel, cables, and pillars – a massive suspension bridge spanning across the river with access to Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve.  The other suspension bridge I’ve seen along Neuse River Trail is further south at milepost 13.5.  Even though signs indicate the park is closed for construction we looped around and over the bridge for a closer look.  After a short 1/4 mile run we stopped at the “Greenway Closed” signs on the edge of the park and headed back across the bridge and further north along the greenway.  We crossed over some more bridges before turning around near run-down barns around milepost 7 1/4.

IMG_0661This portion of the greenway continues to be relatively flat and shady.  The areas surrounding the greenway are mostly dense forest to one side with the river to the other.  We saw quite a few fisherman on both banks of the river with most of them concentrated in spots near US-401.  Our run back to the car was much faster than the run out so we took advantage of happy little faces and retrieved a balance bike, scooter and helmets from the car and let the girls ride on the greenway.  It wasn’t a busy morning on the trail, so the girls had a carefree time riding.  Ashley biked south on the greenway all the way to milepost 9 where we crossed over a small bridge with a shallow creek below, perfect for spotting turtles.  Claire enjoyed her first scooter ride where we pushed her from behind as she cruised along.  They were troopers for such a long morning run of about 4 miles and then some bike time.

Upcoming event: Celebrate the completion of the Neuse River Trail on Thursday, June 4 at Anderson Point Park with live bands, food trucks, kids’ games and more

Thumbs up: suspension bridge, wide/flat trail, shady

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Ironwood Trail to Shelley Lake: MP 0 to 2

IMG_0535.jpg
Numerous sewer/drain pipes along the way

Sunday mornings this past spring were also dedicated to exploring new sections (to us) of the greenway.  While we didn’t plan it this way, maybe we felt the need to run off our food and beer overindulgences from Saturdays?  Regardless, we loved getting out for fresh air and exercise with our recent run along Ironwood Trail.

Starting at North Hills Park we set off towards Shelley Lake via Ironwood Trail.  After slowly walking down the steep hill, we followed signs towards Shelley Lake and turned right onto Crabtree Creek Trail.  A very short run later we turned right again towards towards Shelley Lake where Mine Creek and Crabtree Creek intersect.  The greenway parallels Mine Creek, offering close-up views of the rushing water.  We soon crossed over North Hills Drive and ran behind Northbrook Country Club, which sits at ground level with the greenway.  Having been to that pool before, it was neat to see a different perspective of that area.

IMG_0545.jpg
Running under Millbrook Rd

As we continued on our run, the greenway trail got narrower and bumpier; this seems to be a much older section of the greenway that has seen the effects of tree roots under the path.  Passing by the plentiful sewer/drain pipes along the way reminded me of being in a Mario Bros video game.  We crossed over a wooden bridge at one point before running under Millbrook Rd and arriving at the bottom of Shelley Lake.  It was a nicely shaded 2 mile run to Shelley Lake (4 mile out and back total for us) with lots of foot traffic along the route.  Being a north/south greenway connection to Shelley Lake (and the trails surrounding the lake) it allows for those runners or bikers needing a longer run to increase their mileage.  While the signage along the trail indicates we were running on Ironwood Trail, the online COR maps label this same trail as Mine Creek Trail, so that was a bit confusing.

More Resources:

Thumbs up: views of creek, shaded trail, being the north/south connection from North Hills Park to Shelley Lake and beyond

Thumbs down: narrowing path, signage discrepancies between trail/online maps