Jack Smith Park (Cary, NC)

Jack Smith Park splash padBack in June, my sister and niece visited the same weekend we planned a trip to Jack Smith Park with our Raleigh Jaycee friends. Jack Smith Park is located at 9725 Penny Rd and opened towards the end of last summer. If you’re looking for a one-stop shop for outdoor fun, this is the park!

Jack Smith Park features a splash pad, multiple playgrounds for all ages, a rock climbing structure, walking trails, and a dog park. We arrived at the park at 10am when the splash pad opened. Luckily, some friends saved a table under the pavilion for our group to stash our gear while out playing. The splash pad features tall buckets that dump, gentle water fountains, circular misting fountains, and maneuverable water guns. Picnic tables with umbrellas, clean restroom facilities, large pavilion, and half-walls for sitting are adjacent to the splash pad. 

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After my kids tired of the splash pad they played on the playground areas and rock climbing structure. The smaller kid playground features several slides, a small rock climbing wall, sails for shade, and a curved climbing ladder. The bigger kid playground features a tall spider web climbing net, challenging curved climbing ladders, gyro spinners, slides, and stepping stones. The regular swings, baby swings, and tire swing are located near the perimeter of the park. When I wasn’t poking my head around parents and play things to keep an eye on the girls, I was pushing the girls on the tire swing. Boy, do they LOVE a tire swing!

And, my oldest daughter loves rock climbing! She’s pretty fearless and persistent, and loves the challenge that rock climbing presents. The park’s rock climbing structure is at the far end of the park. Large natural rocks surround the structure which sits upon a rubbery surface. She tried multiple times to climb the hardest section of the rock before trying her hand at the flatter sides. Though she didn’t climb up very far, she enjoyed climbing alongside the bigger kids.

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The Town of Cary parks always impress me with their attention to landscaping, public art, and availability of public restrooms. Young trees surrounded by half-walls create nice sitting areas for parents. The park features several ornamental grasses, flowering shrubs, and a large open grassy field down from the playground. Many benches and shaded picnic tables also scatter the perimeter. Vollis Simpson’s folksy art sculptures take center stage as you park near the playground. Finally, the restrooms are very clean and roomy, and have water fountains and a nearby hand shower for spraying off the treated water.

Despite being super busy on a weekend morning, I look forward to bringing the girls back here one day. Splash pads offer a quick water alternative to cooling off in the pool. And, with so many other activities at this park, it makes for many fun-filled hours!

Thumbs up: one-stop shop for fun, rock climbing structure, mixing water play with dry activities, outdoor art, natural climbing rocks, nice landscaping, lots of seating options

Thumbs down: very crowded, can be difficult to manage multiple small kids

Sassafras All Children’s Playground at Laurel Hills Park

DSC_0106Writing escaped me this fall and winter. As I tried writing, my head jumbled and I lost my writing motivation. Writing is something that can only get better with practice, and I’m hoping in the early months this year, I’ll become more motivated and write more frequently.

Last fall we visited the newly opened Laurel Hills Sassafras All Children’s Playground in West Raleigh. The playground is located at 3808 Edwards Mill Rd, convenient to Crabtree Valley Mall, I-440 and I-40. If you’re looking for unique climbing structures and play areas to exhaust excite your kids, this is the place! The new playground features over 3.5 acres of multi-level swinging, climbing, running and sliding fun. It features several “tree house” play structures connected by wide, low-grade ramps with lots of climbing and sliding options for getting on and off the playgrounds. My girls loved the more challenging ladders, tree trunk steps, and rope nets – “bring on the heights and danger” is their motto! The connected play structure contains some shorter climbing areas with tunnels, balance beam, and a rolling slide – perfect for toddlers. The smaller tot play area features tethered rope swings and a small climbing sphere.

DSC_0120The far end of the playground contains swings (tot swings, tire swing, regular swings, and handicapped-accessible swings) and basketball court. Tall grasses arranged in a fun maze provide a textured separation from the rest of the playground. The large sandbox area features a handicapped-accessible sand table and wall seating for grown-ups. The girls also loved the zip lines, which feature about 20 yards of fast-flying fun on cables; one zip line contains a bucket seat for added safety.

Park benches installed around the perimeter and interior of the playground provide lots of options to rest and monitor children. With so many features this park can be overwhelming to keep track of multiple children. We still managed to lose track of our kids, despite having Bill with me. An elevated grassy spot helps alleviate those concerns, but with my busy kids we still had trouble. Unfortunately, there’s not an outdoor bathroom facility within eyesight of the playground; however, the community center has several bathrooms and an outdoor facility is located down the paved trail across from the small pond. The main entrance of the playground contains picnic tables and a nearby large pavilion available for rent. 

While we’ll all miss the old all-wooden castle playground at Laurel Hills, the unique play areas of the new playground provide thrilling play for all ages and abilities. With the recent warm February weather, I’m excited to visit the playground again, knowing we probably overlooked some play spots during our first visit.

Thumbs up: thrilling slides, uncommon play features such as zip lines, variety of swings for all ages and abilities, unique sand box equipment, rubberized surface, landscaping

Thumbs down: bathrooms aren’t within eyesight, it’s difficult to keep track of multiple children

Abbotts Creek Park

IMG_3448Before Christmas we headed to the newly opened Abbotts Creek Park, which is adjacent to Abbotts Creek Community Center and Abbotts Creek Elementary School.  Abbotts Creek Park is located in northeast Raleigh at 9950 Durant Rd, just down the road from North Wake Landfill.

The playground area is fenced-in and has brightly colored play features similar to the playgrounds at Greystone Community Center, Hill Street Park, and Powell Drive Park.  The smaller age playground features a slide, climbing ropes, and a planet-like climb-through structure.  Just a few steps away is the older age playground which features several connected rope climbing structures, climb-through rings, bouncy stepping stones, a tall slide, and a spinner.  The park also has a few benches, tot swings, regular swings, and shade canopies.

IMG_3445Outside the playground is a large concrete area with a large painted circle (presumably for playground games), four 100-yd dash lanes, a large grassy area, and rear access to the community center and elementary school play areas around the corner.  The outside spaces have lots of room to hopefully add picnic tables in the future.

We spent over an hour on the playground where the girls imagined treasure hunts, pretended the rubberized surface was hot lava, and hid in the castle (aka the top of the tall slide).  We couldn’t visit the community center because it was closed while we were there, but according to the City of Raleigh website it features a, “two story community center houses a gymnasium with a real wood floor, fitness room, multipurpose classrooms, a fitness studio, lockers and dressing rooms, and office areas.”  Even though it’s a small playground area, there’s a lot to do; but if you run out of fun here be sure to visit Durant Nature Preserve or North Wake Landfill District Park down the street.

Thumbs up: shade tarps for hot days, easy access, brightly colored play structure with interesting rope climbing features

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Powell Drive Park Update

IMG_2142Before preschool started, we headed to Powell Drive Park to check out the playground renovations finished earlier this year.  I first visited Powell Drive Park about 4 years ago and remembered this park for being an easy one for parking and playing, which was exactly what my dear friend and new mama (third time around), Katie, needed on this hot August morning.

Powell Drive Park is located at 740 Powell Drive in a southwest Raleigh neighborhood.  The same old community building exists, but the layout of the playground and sidewalks around the park are new.  The new partially fenced-in playground area features a rubberized base with tot swings, regular swings, oval swing, ages 2-5 playground and ages 5-12 playground.

IMG_2152The ages 2-5 playground features bright neon colors with two small ladders, musical drums, slide, tunnel, water/sand table and stepping stones.  The playground’s height is short, making it the perfect size for early explorers.  Nearby is the ages 5-12 playground with a large spider web rope climbing ladder, curved metal ladder, and tall slide.  The big girls loved climbing to the top of the spider web rope and everyone squealed in delight while being pushed on the large, oval swing.  The old tennis courts and basketball courts are adjacent to the playground area.  There are some large shade trees near the tot swings, but little shade around the ages 2-5 playground.  A few benches surround the perimeter of the play area and several moms with small babes had the right idea by bringing a breakfast picnic to the park!

After exploring the playground we took a short walk by the pond to the small pavilion with picnic tables.  Everyone enjoyed a picnic lunch and then the bigger girls headed off to the large open field for running and hide and seek.

Overall, it was a simple morning for entertaining little ones while the mamas got some chatting done.  The big downside to the morning was having to make do with “natural” bathroom areas when nature calls for little ones.  The neighborhood center isn’t open on a regular basis, so I had to schlep both girls to hidden areas when they needed to use the bathroom.  I love the City of Raleigh parks and we frequent them a ton, but they have to make some improvements with the access to public restrooms.  I’m not asking for anything fancy, even a pay-by-use porta-potty or these nice public Portland loos (suggested by friend, Carter) will do.

Thumbs up: bright playground colors and design, unique oval swing, easy access to park, pond/picnic/playground features all nearby

Thumbs down: access to bathrooms

Hill Street Park

IMG_8997We took advantage of another clear, sunny day this winter and stumbled upon Hill Street Park in east Raleigh.  Never having been there before we set off with hopes of having a picnic after burning some energy on the playground and that’s exactly what we did!

Hill Street Park is located at 2307 Hill St at the bottom of a relatively steep hill.  It has a very colorful community center that is mostly open for after-school programs and an adjacent pavilion with picnic tables and terraced landscaping to the nearby partially fenced-in playground.  The playground area has a playground with slides, climbing ladder, steering wheel and nearby tot swings for the younger kids (ages 2-5).  There is also a large play structure for the older kids (ages 5-12) that features a half-moon rope climbing structure, monkey bars, balance beam, spinning bars, climbing rings, slide and more.  Both kids had a great time playing on both playgrounds and Claire had a fabulous time sitting in the dog-height water fountain bowl.  Claire went down the small slides at least a dozen times and Ashley enjoyed climbing her way through each rope obstacle on the bigger kid playground.  The bigger kid playground reminds me a lot of the indoor play structure at Greystone Community Center on crack.  With so many climbing areas it’s nice any falls will be lessened by the rubberized surface.

IMG_9010After a lot of running around we picnicked on the nearby benches by the playground.  The playground has little morning light so we huddled on a lone sunny bench to stay warm.  We had the park to ourselves this particular weekday morning and look forward to sharing this hidden gem with friends next time!

Thumbs up: unique climbing structures, close proximity of pavilion to playground

Thumbs down: no access to restrooms when community center is closed

Western Regional Park in Howard County, MD

IMG_8379This Fall, we visited Bill’s parents in Howard County, MD and made a morning trip to the nearby Western Regional Park.  Western Regional Park is located at 14800 Carrs Mill Road in Woodbine.  This park is a true symbol of where sports and recreation meet in the countryside.  Nestled among the scenic hills and nearby farms are playgrounds, walking trails, recreation fields, a community center, and lots more!

Upon arriving at the park, we drove to the back of the park near the large spiderweb climbing structure, since this was the highly anticipated play area.  Everyone (including grandparents) had a blast on this climbing area.  It consists of four tall poles connected through a series of spiderweb tightrope material.  Ashley had a blast shimmying around the climbing area and pretending the rubberized ground was “hot lava”.  Also nearby are some climbing rocks and spinning wheels, which we all enjoyed.  Down from the parking lot are smaller football fields, a multipurpose grass field for lacrosse or baseball, and a small pavilion with charcoal grill.

IMG_8396After exhausting our climbing skills, we explored the nearby paved trail in search for the other playground.  At the end of our short walk we saw a large lighted multipurpose artificial turf field with field hockey, soccer and football goals, a large open field, small mobile concessions, fenced-in basketball, community center, baseball fields, a line of porta-johns, tennis courts, and a playground.  Unfortunately the playground was being resurfaced while we were there so it was closed, but looked like it offered a lot for all ages and was fenced in!  The multipurpose field conditions were pristine – the grass was a luscious green color and very well maintained.  Another interesting feature of this park is the natural area preserved next to the sports fields; I imagine the spectators enjoy some depth to the typically flat parks.

Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to explore all of this park, but in looking online there are more than 4 miles of walking trails (including horse trails), a thorough listing of common flora and fauna, and a nearby library.  For more information about this park, including maps and a full list of amenities visit the Howard County website.

Thumbs up: gorgeous condition of fields, natural area near sports fields, spiderweb climbing area, paved sidewalks between amenities

Thumbs down: signage around park

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

Halifax Park & Community Center

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Recently we met up with friends to explore the newly renovated Halifax Park and Community Center.  If anyone remembers the old park, the community center was well beyond its years and the playground was small, sandy and a little sad.  The updated park is full of fun for all kids and feels safer from the nearby road because of the expanded fencing.

Halifax Park & Community Center is located at 1015 Halifax St, just north of Seaboard Station.  It has a small parking lot with additional street parking.  The playground area is 3/4 fenced in with easy access to the adjacent community center; and the community center is top notch!  It has a fitness gym you can join for a small monthly fee, classrooms, a large gym, and very nice restrooms, which are crucial for any parent with small kids.  A trip to the bathroom was a huge highlight for this preschool-age group!

IMG_7098The playground area has two playgrounds – one for ages 2-5 and one for ages 5-12 with a large oak tree and mulched area in between that provided great morning shade for the smaller-age playground.  The smaller-age playground has a rubber surface with two tot swings, ladders, climbing structures, one slide, and some fine motor twisty toys and noise makers.  The age 5-12 playground also has a rubber surface with several climbing structures, rope ladders, monkey bars, a slide without side rails, and two regular swings.  A big hit for the kids was also the stationary board with pretend car gauges and noises.

IMG_7100In addition to the community center and playground, this park also has outdoor full court basketball with nearby benches, a large fenced-in open field for soccer and baseball (and a poor attempt at kite flying), and great views of the freight trains coming and going.  Combine this park visit with a trip to Tyler’s Taproom or Bad Daddy’s in Seaboard Station and you’ve got a pretty fantastic outing!

More Resources: original Halifax Park blog post

Thumbs up: access to nearby restrooms, large shady oak tree, unique climbing features, landscaping

Thumbs down: small parking lot, no picnic tables

Leesville Community Park

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On a Sunday morning in May we headed out to Leesville Community Park in hopes of finding a fun playground with some open space for flying a kite.  The playground was unlike any others we had ever been to before and we were able to find a small space for kite flying so it was a successful morning!

Leesville Community Park is located at 5105 Country Dr in North Raleigh and has a Wake County Library on the premises.  It has two playgrounds near each other – one for ages 2-5 and one for ages 5-12.  The smaller age playground is covered by a large shade tarp and is a series of one foot tall platforms for playing and climbing on so this playground is best for a steady climber or even a non-walker who likes to just stand and hold onto things.  Ashley had a blast playing with the spinning toys on the younger playground.

The older age playground is a series of metal or rope climbing structures, a very narrow slide, and a stand-up spinning structure.  It had yellow caution tape in a section where the rope ties were broken.  I’m so thankful Bill was with me this morning to assist Ashley as she spider-monkeyed the rope climbs while I could tend to Claire.  I was pretty nervous with Ashley being so high up, but she did great and even made it down the very narrow slide by herself.  However, I wouldn’t take both girls back to this park by myself because Ashley would require so much assistance on the older playground.

IMG_6299After some playground time we busted out our princess kite in the nearby open space.  We had the park to ourselves this morning which proved to be crucial when giving a 3-year old a kite – she ran all over the place instructing her kite to “C’mon on, kite!”  It was super cute watching her fly the kite, until she ran into some small, unnecessary stumps located in the middle of the open space.

After flying kites we explored the shady median between the parking lots, which featured a short dirt pathway with benches that lead to the Carlton family cemetery.  Finally we got some use out of the public restrooms, which were very comfortable for temporary trailer bathrooms.

Thumbs up: bathroom facilities, monkey bars at smaller age playground, library/park combo trip, shade tarp over smaller age playground

Thumbs down: lack of picnic tables, playground features require kids to be very able at climbing, park entrance was hard to spot (we drove right by), small jagged stumps in open field

North Wake Landfill District Park

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A playground at the landfill…say what?!  Yes, the North Wake landfill closed in 2008 and local residents worked with the county to repurpose the closed landfill into a park which now features paved trails, mountain biking trails, a large playground area, pavilion, and access to Abbotts Creek Trail (part of Neuse River Greenway).  North Wake Landfill District Park is located at 9300 Deponie Drive off Durant Rd in north Raleigh.  When you first turn off from Durant Rd, it’ll feel like the landfill is still open because you have to wind through some of the old parts of the dump, but follow the signs for the park.

We spent most of our time exploring the playground area and paved trails that access the nearby greenway. While the playground area has many unique features, I strongly disliked the layout where it is adjacent to a steep hill that my adventurous 3-year old decided to conquer at great speeds, despite strict instruction NOT to do so. So, after recovering from a near heart attack when she sprinted down the steep hill (and received a short timeout) we had a nice time exploring the play areas.

The playground has two areas – one for ages 2-5 and one for ages 5-12. In my opinion this park is definitely more of a “big kid” park. The younger playground area has several climbing structures that are more appropriate for an older and more confident 2-year old. It also has a few slides, two tot swings, and a music feature but it’s a taller playground with little room for playing on.

img_5596The bigger kid playground is any young climber’s dream.  There are huge spider web ropes that connect to the playground along with a sideways rock wall.  The playground also has several monkey bars, slides, twisty ladders, climbing stepping stones and more!

Both playground areas are covered in a thick wood chip surface and are adjacent to several picnic tables, the public restrooms and water fountains.  Also nearby is the large Sycamore pavilion with seating for up to 100, according to the Wake County website.

Descend along the paved trail from the playground to reach access to the western side of Abbotts Creek Trail.  Inside the park there are also several mountain biking trails, a mountain biking skills area, and paved walking trails.  I’d like to come back and walk or bike the short Top of the Hill trail, which takes you 469ft above sea level for great views of the surrounding area.  There is little shade at this park, so plan accordingly!

For more information about this park, visit the Wake County Parks website.  I found the park brochure with map to be very helpful.

Thumbs up: repurposing a landfill into a useable recreation space, variety of climbing activities for older kids, proximity and plethora of picnic areas

Thumbs down: steep hill near playground area, lack of park map inside park (didn’t know about most of the walking or bike trails until going online after getting home)