2017 First Day Hikes

2017 First Day HikesLace up your hiking boots and head outside on New Year’s Day for an organized hike in a local park.  Every state park in NC (city parks are catching on, too) organizes 2017 First Day Hikes to encourage fitness and reconnecting with nature in the new year. Last year we visited Murrells Inlet, SC for the first time, but this year we’re staying close to home and hope to discover something new (weather forecast at publication: a little chilly and dry)! 

List of organized First Day Hikes at parks and greenways within an hour of Raleigh:

  • Durant Nature Preserve – enjoy a family-friendly guided nature walk (at least 1 mile) followed by hot chocolate and discussions with staff about what you saw; 2-4pm; start location: 8305 Camp Durant Rd (north entrance); pre-registration is suggested but not required; prepare for natural surface walking; non stroller-friendly; event information
  • Walnut Creek Wetland Center – enjoy a family-friendly guided nature walk (at least 1 mile) followed by hot chocolate and discussions with staff about what you saw; 2-4pm; start location: 950 Peterson St; pre-registration is suggested but not required; wheelchair and stroller-friendly; event information
  • IMG_5058Falls Lake State Recreation Area – scavenger hunt with hike along Rolling View Track Trail (0.75 miles); start times at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm; pre-registration is required; prepare for natural surface walking; event information; my 2015 First Day Hike review
  • Jordan Lake State Recreation Area – 2.7 mile hike of Blue Loop along New Hope Overlook trail; start location: New Hope Overlook by boat ramps; 9am start time; event information; my 2012 review of New Hope Overlook trail
  • img_4160Umstead State Park – 1.3 mile hike along Pott’s Branch Trail; start location: small parking lot by Pott’s Branch trailhead (Hwy 70/Glenwood Ave); 9am start time; event information; my 2014 review of Pott’s Branch Trail
  • Eno River State Park – options of 2 mile or 4 mile hikes; start location: Fews Ford Access; 2pm start time; arrive early as this is a popular event and parking can be hard to find; event information
  • Raven Rock State Park – 2.5 mile easy hike along Raven Rock Loop Trail to the park’s centerpiece, Raven Rock; start location: picnic shelter at Raven Rock Loop trailhead; 2pm start time; event information
  • Kerr Lake State Recreation Area – 1 mile nature hike; start location: park office (6254 Satterwhite Point Rd); 1:30pm start time; event information
  • First Walk Cary at Morris Branch Greenway – bring the family for a walk along Cary’s Morris Branch Greenway; parking location: 115 Allforth Pl and follow signs for walk start; 10am start time; stroller-friendly; event information 

If the above times or distances don’t work with your schedule, visit a park and explore on your own. Check out my list of previously reviewed trails in the area.

Dorothea Dix Park

View of downtown from Dorothea Dix ParkWhile reading this past weekend’s N&O article about the guided tours at Dorothea Dix Park, I was reminded that I never wrote about our visit to this soon-to-be developed park from earlier this year.  Dorothea Dix Park is over 300 acres of land sandwiched between the State Farmers Market and Western Blvd.  The City of Raleigh bought the land from the state last year after several year’s effort with plans to eventually make it a destination park.

The land housed Dorothea Dix Hospital for the mentally ill from 1856 until 2012.  The hospital was named for Dorothea Lynde Dix, a Maine native who tirelessly advocated for greater care and reform for mentally ill patients.  She also served as superintendent of Army nurses for the Union in the Civil War.  Today, much of the property is under lease, and many buildings are occupied by the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

IMG_3794We originally visited Dorothea Dix Park in late January after reading about the thousands of pink flags Matt Tomasulo (of Walk [Your City]) and other volunteers planted (read more about that here), creating small trails throughout the park to encourage folks to get out and explore the city’s newly acquired land.  Even though the flags have since been taken down, it gave us a means to get out and explore the area by foot.

We parked in a small parking lot near the intersection of Smithwick Dr and Umstead Dr and walked across the street using the little pink flags as our guide.  We mostly explored the area bordered by S Boylan Ave, Umstead Dr and Rocky Branch Trail which features century-old oak trees, rolling hills, and flatter land by Rocky Branch Trail.  The rolling hills provide amazing views of downtown Raleigh and interesting tests of little ones’ gross motor skills.  The girls had a great time flying down the hills and slowly coming back up.  We also flew our kites and drew with sidewalk chalk in the sparsely wooded area in front of Picot Dr.  We watched as another park patron was racing his drone around a self-made course through the trees.

IMG_3806According to the N&O’s article, the City of Raleigh is in the very early stages of park planning where they are now accepting applications for a committee of members to help design and engage the public in the park’s planning. The City of Raleigh is also offering free guided tours of the park (looks like they’re sold out) and is partnering with the Dix Park Conservancy to offer programs throughout the summer.

Even if you can’t make it to a guided tour or program, get out and explore the park on your own – bring a picnic, fly a kite, or kick a ball around. The park is open daily from dawn to dusk and there aren’t any public restrooms. The park’s potential is the perfect crossroads of nature, city and history – it’ll be interesting to see how things develop over the years!

Additional Resources

Thumbs up: beautiful rolling hills, views into downtown Raleigh, history of land, great picnic spots, destination park potential

Thumbs down: too early to tell 😉

Take a Child Outside Week: Sept 24-30, 2015

Seeing a turtle along the Wee Walkers Nature Hike

Cooler temps and lower humidity means that Fall is on it’s way and it couldn’t be a better time to participate in Take a Child Outside Week (TACO), held September 24-30, 2015. Take a Child Outside Week is an national initiative through the NC Museum of Natural Sciences with partner organizations throughout the country.  The program emphasizes outdoor nature activities with children to increase their awareness and appreciation of the environment.  Here are several outdoor activities at local parks to highlight this program:

City of Raleigh Parks – has several organized events throughout different parks where you can learn about the native animals and plants in our area, enjoy a family campout, hike a nature trail, feast on s’mores and a story around the campfire, and many more events; several events are FREE or have small fees; to see the complete list visit the City of Raleigh’s TACO website; as a hint, the Wee Walkers program at Durant Nature Preserve Park is a great organized nature hike for young ones

Wake County Parks – their list of TACO organized events includes nature hikes, a twilight bike ride, nature play day, junior meteorology experiments, tree and spider identification activities and a storytelling festival; several events are FREE or have small fees; to learn more check out the events on Wake County Parks TACO website

JC Raulston Arboretum – join the plant experts at the Arboretum for a variety of nature crafts, scavenger hunts; several events are FREE or have small fees; learn more about the TACO events at JC Raulston Arboretum calendar

Eno River State Park

NC Museum of History – although not a specific TACO event, join the museum’s garden staff for Saturday’s in the Garden, an informal tour of the History of the Harvest exhibit along Bicentennial Plaza; FREE; Saturday, Sept. 26 from 1:30-2:30pm; for more info visit event details 

Prairie Ridge Ecostation – listen to a story and take a nature hike, explore the nature play area (bring bug spray), discover the nature garden, or explore the nature trails; for more ideas, visit the Prairie Ridge Ecostation website

Eno River State Park – take a walk with a ranger to search for salamanders and amphibians, go canoeing, learn about Occoneechee Mountain’s geologic wonders; for more details visit the NC Parks TACO website and select “Eno River”

William Umstead Park – learn about insects and butterflies, discover animals native to the park, watch the Amphibian movie, take a short (0.6mile) nature photo hike, go fresh water fishing on Big Lake; for more details visit the NC Parks TACO website and select “William Umstead Park”

Falls Lake State Park – go on a spider safari complete with campfire story and s’mores, take your child fishing; for more details visit the NC Parks TACO website and select “Falls Lake State Park”

NC Art Museum – visit the Museum Park to explore the Park Art including a new “Park Pictures” exhibit; my personal fave is hiking the unpaved trail to discover the Cloud Chamber (aka Hobbit House) exhibit

NC Environmental Education – listen to nature stories, go on hikes, visit with native animals and more; check out the NC Environmental Educations’s complete list of TACO events in the Greater Raleigh area and beyond

If you can’t make it to any of these organized events, check out TACO’s list of suggested activities and head to the nearest park or greenway and just explore!