Update: Durant Nature Preserve Park

Durant Nature Preserve ParkWith mild weather in the forecast and more nature parks on our mind, we headed to Durant Nature Preserve Park (8305 Camp Durant Rd
in North Raleigh) to attend the Wee Walkers program with friends, play in the natural playground, and explore the butterfly and bird garden.  We’ve attended the Wee Walkers program several times over the years and the girls (and I) always have a great time.  The program is a fun way to get out and explore nature with a knowledgeable guide, the program is FREE and doesn’t require registration (although it helps for their planning purposes), and you learn about and see different animals and parts of the park each trip.

This Wee Walkers program focused on birds and we hiked along the White House Road trail that meanders through the shaded forest on the northern side of the park.  Staff Ranger Jack kept us moving at a steady pace for such a large group while pointing out several flora and fauna along the way: skinks, bluebirds, lots of centipedes, frogs, centipedes, robins, spiders and more.  He spotted eggs in one of the bluebird houses, which was a big hit for all the parents and kids, and he also talked about some of the migratory birds that we’d find in the park.

After the hiking program, the girls played in the natural play area that sits near the painted shed in the north entrance parking lot.  The natural play area features a rock garden, small fish pond surrounded by native plants, fairy house building, bird houses, sandbox, and fort building supplies.  The girls have had so much fun playing in Raleigh’s natural play areas lately that we’ve tried to incorporate several of them in our own backyard with fairy garden building, dinosaur fossils and other small treasures hidden in a dirt box, and a painted rock garden.

IMG_5419Once the girls finished in the natural play area, we walked across the parking lot and open field area to the bird and butterfly garden.  The butterfly garden has a short trail surrounded by natural butterfly habitats of lilac, Queen Anne’s Lace, daylilies, eastern blue star and more.  The butterfly garden leads into the shaded bird garden that features a mulched trail with several feeders, bird houses, and informational guides.  We heard and saw a lot of birds flying in and around the gardens, but my bird identification skills are pretty pathetic – maybe some adult birding classes are in my future!

On our way back to our car we spotted a large doe along the perimeter of the park, so you never know what you’ll see at the park.  The next Wee Walkers program is Thursday, July 7 at 10am and maybe we’ll see you there!

Additional Resources

Thumbs up: guided Wee Walkers program, natural play area, bird and butterfly garden, shaded trails for hot summer days

Thumbs down: nothing to report

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

Maymont Park

A few weeks ago we headed to Richmond to visit our college friends, Kelly and Drew.  On Saturday, while the boys were out exploring the local watering holes, the girls made a trip to Maymont Park.  Being a Virginia native and having lots of family in the Richmond area, I was floored when I heard Richmond has wild animals…in the city!  There is so much to do here, but we focused on feeding the animals at the petting zoo and visiting the Virginia wildlife in the animal exhibits.

Maymont is 100 acres of rolling hills, gardens, animals, and historical buildings to explore.  According to their website, a wealthy Richmond couple, James and Sallie Dooley, left their gorgeous estate to the City of Richmond as a special place for people to enjoy.  The park officially opened to the public in March 1926.  As I mentioned, we only had time to experience the animals at the park, but there is the mansion, carriage house, numerous gardens, and even a mausoleum to explore.

We entered at the Spottswood Entrance, which is at the corner of Spottswood Rd and Shirley Ln.  This is the entrance closest to the Children’s Farm with paved trails to the wildlife exhibits.  Here is a map of Maymont, which is helpful in deciding where to park based on which exhibits you want to experience.

After parking the car, we immediately headed for the Children’s Farm.  It’s a self-guided exhibit and they suggest a $2 per person donation.  We saw peacocks walking around, lots of sheep, wild looking bird-like animals in the barn, bunnies, goats, donkeys, pigs, etc.  All of the animals were extremely friendly and welcomed our yummy treats!

Once we finished with the petting zoo, we continued down the paved trail to the wildlife exhibits.  Here we saw a hawk, white-tailed deer, a gray fox (sadly circling the perimeter of his habitat), vultures, owls, a bald eagle, a black bear, and buffalo.  The poor bald eagle had an injured wing and the black bear enjoyed his high-security home (in response to the 2006 incident where two black bears bit a small child).   Even though this isn’t the same eagle as is in Maymont, here is a cool live eagle-cam on two eagles and their newly hatched chicks along the James River.

Meandering through the trail, you’ll cross a small stream several times and see signs for the butterfly trail.  This was the beginning of March, so several of the daffodils were in bloom. The trails through the park are also great for running on, as we saw lots of people jogging that day.  In the far distance you can see the mansion and other buildings.  Several of these can be rented for events, whether for a wedding, corporate event, or birthday party.

So, next time we’re in town we’ll totally check out the other features of the park and maybe even do a guided tour of a mansion.  If you have kids and are looking for something fun and cheap to do, definitely check out Maymont and all it has to offer.

Thumbs up: proximity of wildlife in city, petting zoo, rolling hills landscape, buffalo exhibit,

Thumbs down: gray fox exhibit, black bear exhibit