Bryan Park (Richmond, Va)

Bryan ParkOver Spring Break we vacationed with friends and family in Virginia. We initially wanted to visit the newly renovated Maymont Park (see my 2012 park review) in Richmond, but opted for the quieter Bryan Park instead. With its granite archways, expansive rolling hills, recreational areas, and natural spots Bryan Park is the perfect crossroads of Virginia’s history and nature!

History of Bryan Park

Bryan Park is located on the Northside of Richmond at 4308 Hermitage Rd between I-95 and US-64. According to Richmondoutside.com, the history of Bryan Park dates back to the late 1700s when the Young family owned the 600 acre Westwood Estate. In 1800, Young’s Spring served as a meeting spot for a planned slaved rebellion (formally known as Gabriel’s Rebellion) that went awry. Rosina Young inherited half of the estate, which is most of Bryan Park today, after her father’s passing in 1832. During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers setup a defense line near the Rosewood farmhouse on the property. Following the war, Rosina (and her daughter) continued to farm Rosewood until her death in 1906. 

With the booming development of Richmond’s Northside at the turn of the century, prominent Richmond businessmen, Lewis Ginter and Joseph Bryan (publisher of Richmond Times at the time), created large residential neighborhoods. After Bryan’s death in 1908, his widow, Belle Stewart Bryan, purchased Rosewood at a public auction. Then, she donated the land to the city as a memorial and for use as a public park. 

Then over the years, the Richmond City Council transformed the farm into a park.  The park’s condition deteriorated over the years until the mid-1990s when concerned citizens organized the Friends of Bryan Park (FoBP) group to improve and preserve the park. Today the park is a joint effort between the City of Richmond Parks & Rec and FoBP.

Our Visit – Playground

For our visit to Bryan Park, we drove through the main Hermitage Rd entrance passing under the massive granite archways. I stayed straight, relying on map memory (not the signage), to park in a small gravel lot near the playgrounds. The kids jumped out and ran across the field to the playground area. 

The playground features fun climbing structures, a large shaded teeter totter, tot swings, regular swings, and a large jungle gym. The jungle gym features a tree-themed design with unique climbing ladders, rock wall, and twisty and straight slides. The kids loved alternating between the twisty slide and climbing areas.

Hiking & Creek

After exhausting the playground, we consulted Google Maps to find a sandy splashing area along Jordan’s Branch. Thinking we had the spot realized, we hopped into our cars and drove up the street closer to Shelter #1. We walked along the left side of Shelter #1 on Young’s Pond Ln and turned left onto a trail opening at the bottom of the small hill. The narrow trail meandered through the woods with the creek to the right. We wanted to find an easy access point to the creek with sandy areas on the opposite side. After 1/2 mile hike through the woods we succumbed to hungry voices and picnicked on the trail. While little people ate lunch, a few of us ran ahead to find the easy creek access. We stopped a little too soon – the easy creek access was less than 50 yards ahead. 

Following our picnic lunch, we headed to the easy access and crossed the shallow parts to the sandy banks. The kids loved splashing in the creek, looking for tadpoles, and walking in the sand. It was a really warm day, so the cool water was very welcoming.

After splashing, we headed back across the bank to brush off dirt and walk back to the cars. Unbeknownst to us, we happened upon a shortcut on the way back and came out at the trailhead on Jordan’s Branch Ln. We quickly walked to the parking lot and then drove to Ardent Craft Ales for some much deserved beer and snacks (New England IPA was my fave).

I always enjoy discovering a new (to me) Richmond park because of its ties to the area’s rich history. Even though Bryan Park was a little overgrown, it’s nice the great citizens of FoBP and community partners support the park’s preservation. Be sure to check out their events page for how to volunteer or attend a program! I’d love to return to the park (sans kids) and follow the self-guided tour map or admire the azaleas in full bloom.

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: park’s rich history, beautiful rolling hills and old trees, unique natural features, variety of recreational activities, fun playground area

Thumbs down: overgrown areas, poor signage

Mingo Creek Trail MP 0 to 2.25

IMG_8407Looking for a fun family bike ride over the holiday weekend? Discover the Mingo Creek Trail of Knightdale where it features flat rides, long causeways and interesting creek life!

We love finding new (to us) greenway sections to explore, so we headed to Anderson Point Park to access the Mingo Creek Trail. Mingo Creek Trail is part of the Town of Knightdale’s greenway system that connects from the Neuse River Trail. We parked in the large parking lot (just outside the main entrance to Anderson Point Park) and biked north on the Neuse River Trail.

We shortly passed MP 17 for the Neuse River Trail and then turned right, following signs for Mingo Creek Trail. Then, we winded up a paved path before biking across the Neuse River. The trail eventually led to a clearing with residential homes on one side and railroad tracks on the opposite side. Around MP 1, the trail’s gradual hill leveled out to the Princeton Manor neighborhood at the Hodge Rd intersection.

IMG_8426We maneuvered through the neighborhood sidewalks and carefully crossed Hodge Rd to continue on Mingo Creek Trail. Shortly after, we biked along the half-mile causeway, which was sandwiched between marshy areas and residential homes. We stopped on the causeway to watch the turtle and duck families sunning in the water. A great heron (or egret) also caught our eye.

Eventually we biked under the I-540 bridge and turned around at the Lynnwood Rd Connector at MP 2.25. Knowing we’d have a 2.25-mile return trip, we enjoyed a picnic on the side of the trail before calling it a successful ride. I hope to bring the girls back to finish biking this trail over the summer where it ends at Mingo Creek Park.

Thumbs up: easy to read Town of Knightdale greenway map with incremental markings and mileage table, connection to the larger Neuse River Trail for longer rides, interesting wildlife viewing in marsh, great family bike ride, sunny bridges and causeways make for great photo ops

Thumbs down: lack of signs made maneuvering through neighborhood near Hodge Rd confusing

Umstead Park: Oak Rock Trail

In January we headed with friends to Umstead Park to explore the super kid-friendly Oak Rock Trail, which is only 1/2 mile long. This is a great hike for young families or large groups with young kids. The trail has easy access to clean restrooms and picnic tables, and shallow stream access for water fun in the warmer months. It’s also part of the Kids in Parks TRACK Trails program that provides self-guided brochures for outdoor adventures.

We accessed Umstead Park from the Highway 70/Glenwood Ave entrance at 8801 Glenwood Ave. Recalling the mobile map, we drove past the Visitor Center and then parked in the first parking lot on the left. Unfortunately there weren’t signs from the main road directing you to the trail. After parking, we walked straight, following the signs for Oak Rock Trail and Kids in Parks.

Since it was wintertime, the leaves covered the ground making it a little tricky to notice tree roots. Luckily, the girls heeded our suggestion for walking slowly. We zig-zagged over the small creek several times, throwing sticks and stones into the water and looking for tadpoles. The girls also enjoyed hopping on large stones to cross the streams.

Even though the trail is short, we spent extra time listening and looking for birds, picking up leaves, and finding moss. The girls enjoyed looking at the tangled tree roots coming out of the ground near the creek and the fallen trees along the way. At the end of the trail we enjoyed a picnic lunch while the girls traversed a large fallen tree. The nearby restrooms were clean and easily accessible. 

Thumbs up: easy family hike, great for young kids, self-guided scavenger hunt brochure, plenty of picnic tables, creek for splashing

Thumbs down: poor signage to trail from main park road

Historic Murphys Park (Murphys, Ca)

IMG_6879And so begins my multi-part series on public parks we explored in Northern Ca.  At the end of the summer we took the girls on a huge adventure to visit my aunt and uncle in Northern California.  It’s unfortunate we waited so many years before visiting them – we made amazing memories this trip and I’m so glad we shared it with our kids.

My aunt and uncle live in the small town of Sonora, Ca., and one morning they drove us over the dramatically high New Melones Reservoir bridge into Calaveras County and the small town of Murphys, Ca. to explore the small city park and have lunch downtown.  Historic Murphys Park is located at 505 Algiers Street in Downtown Murphys, a mid-1800s gold mining town turned charming Main Street with upscale retail shops, an inn, yummy restaurants and bars, and 20+ local winery tasting rooms.  Here’s a side note about Murphys: the town narrowly escaped the too-close-to-home Butte Fire, a fast moving wildfire that spread during the 2015 California wildfire season.

img_1773Murphys Park is a true community park – built by the people, for the people.  The all-volunteer, non-profit Murphys Community Club opened the park in 1948 and maintains the park for the public through membership dues, donations, and use fees for special events.  Upon entering the park your eyes are immediately drawn to the white wooden gazebo – perfect for photo ops, picnics, and outdoor music.  I was shocked to see rotisserie spits, presumably for hosting the exciting summer concerts that were advertised on big banners throughout the park. The shallow Murphys Creek runs through the park creating a relaxing and water recreational aspect. We splashed in the creek to cool off and enjoyed watching other park-goers gently tube the creek. Picnic tables and benches also align both banks of the creek.

After splashing in the creek the girls played in the playground area. The smaller-age playground contains a slide, interactive spin toys, and climbing stairs.  The playground for older children features several tall slides, monkey bars, climbing ladders and walls, tunnels and shade sails. Two tot swings, two traditional swings and picnic tables are adjacent to the playgrounds.  Family names are carved into the nearby fence pickets, probably signifying park donors.

IMG_6924After exploring the park we visited retails shops in downtown Murphys and ate a yummy lunch at Firewoods. Before leaving Murphys, we visited the tasting room of Villa Vallecito Vineyards, which is owned by dear friends of my aunt and uncle.  The vineyard is a 20 minute drive from Murphys and features amazing views of the rolling hills and overlooks the New Melones Reservoir.  The owners treated us to the most delicious wines and snacks and gave the girls the most sincere hospitality. You can even rent the casita at the top of their property. If you’re heading to the Northern California area, include Murphys on your stop for wine, food, and community feeling – I can’t wait to come back with my wine glass in hand!

More Resources:

Thumbs up: small-town feel, seating options, splashing in the creek, Villa Vallecito Vineyards wines and property views,

Thumbs down: nothing to report

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

Umstead Park – Company Mill Trail

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If you combine a preschooler, some hiking and a little water play you’re guaranteed to have some fun! A little while ago, Ashley and I enjoyed some mommy and me time during her first “big girl” hike where she wasn’t riding in a backpack and we had an amazing time.  I have such great childhood memories of my aunt taking my brother, sister and me hiking in the Shenandoah National Park just outside Charlottesville – we hiked, splashed in the streams and ate yummy treats along the way!  Ashley would’ve loved some Oreos (like my aunt always had on hand for us), but unfortunately for her, all she got was banana chips and apples on our hike!

IMG_6206So, for our hike we headed out to the Company Mill Trail in Umstead Park.   The Company Mill Trail is a looped trail of 5.8 total miles, but we only hiked a two mile trip that consisted of one mile down to the water/old mill and one mile back.  The entrance to the trail is located in the back left corner of the main parking lot of the Harrison Ave entrance to Umstead.  As you head toward the trail head you’ll pass several picnic tables and a large pavilion, which would be a great spot for a large group cookout followed by a short hike. This trail is very shaded and moderate in difficulty with lots of tree roots and a few narrow or steep parts, so Ashley held my hand while we hiked. Her preschooler legs go faster than her brain can account for so I wanted to prevent as many scrapes and bruises as I could.

IMG_6233So we set off and hiked for a mile until we came to the creek.  Before heading across the bridge we walked down some steep rocks and had a snack along the creek’s edge near the remnants of the old mill wall.  According to an information board near the parking lot, Company Mill was built in 1810 by Anderson Page and was used for grinding wheat and corn.  It was also a popular spot to have fish fries, weddings, and social gatherings before being washed away by a flood in the 1930s.  There are several flat spots below the old wall and near the water that are great for stopping.  A friendly photographer took our picture for us and then warned us of some water snakes he saw (luckily we didn’t see any).  After our snack we headed across the bridge and turned right to join the few crowds on the large rocks near the opposite side of the creek bank.  Ashley loved scooting down to the water and got tickled when I told her she could take her shoes and socks off and soak her piggies in the water.  This child was in heaven!  And, after a short while later we hiked the one mile route back to our car.  She was pretty exhausted for the last half of the hike home, but stayed in good spirits and finished on her own…I was so proud of her!

So, if you’re looking for a short yet fun hiking trail to conquer with little ones the Company Mill Trail in Umstead Park is an excellent option.

Resources: Great Outdoor Provision’s description of Company Mill Trail

Thumbs up: creek for splashing, views from bridge, shady, family friendly hiking option

Thumbs down: signage from parking lot to trail head

MacDonald Woods Park in Cary

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We had a jam-packed spring break staycation this year with trips to local parks, dance class, and a visit to Fearrington.  The beautiful weather stayed around all week and one day we met some dear friends in Cary at MacDonald Woods Park.

MacDonald Woods Park was our second choice for a park after we learned that Marla Dorrel Park was closed for renovations; lucky for us, MacDonald Woods Park was a short 2 mile car ride from Marla Dorrel.  MacDonald Woods Park is located at 1601 Seabrook Ave and is connected to Marla Dorrel Park via the Hinshaw Greenway, which is part of the pedestrian bridge that crosses US-64 highway. This park has on-street parking and sits below the road so it seems rather hidden at first, but based on the amount of people it’s a popular spot!

img_6008MacDonald Woods Park has playground areas for the 2-5 and 5-12 age groups with two swings for both groups. The 5-12 age playground is rather large with several ladders and slides, monkey bars, and climbing wall with rope. The loop-shaped ladder was by far a challenging favorite for this duo. The younger playground is very small with only 2 slides, steps and a platform ladder. There are a few bouncy rides and a small low-to-the-ground structure for early walkers. A small elevated sandbox is located between the two playground areas. But, by far, the best feature of this park is the merry-go-round. Yes, that’s right…they have a merry-go-round! Go Cary! Of all the parks we’ve been to this was a first so you can imagine the confusion when the girls first saw it. Having never been on a merry-go-round they watched several groups of people get on and off before getting on with a group of toddler girls. These sweet maniacs quickly caught on as to why you hold on to the bars but also moved into more challenging feats such as dangling their feet over the edge. That proved to be rather anxiety-ridden for us but they had fun and no one went flying off the thing, so it was a success!

After some playground time we had a picnic in the grassy area near the basketball court and then explored the nearby paved trails to the bridge and open grassy field. After some more trail exploring the girls were pretty exhausted so we headed home. I’m not sure if it was the fact that kids were out for Spring Break but I’ve got to think this park is naturally popular with its fun features and entrance to Hinshaw Greenway.

Additional resources: Hinshaw Greenway, MacDonald Woods Park

Thumbs up: merry-go-round, nearby creek to explore, landscaping
Thumbs down: small tot playground, few picnic tables

North Cary Park & Black Creek Greenway

img_5029This past winter has been one of the longest I’ve seen since moving to Raleigh over 11 years ago so when the temps hovered above 45 degrees in January we headed to North Cary Park with a friend and her girls for a short run and playground time.  North Cary Park is located at 1100 Norwell Blvd in Cary off of Cary Pkwy.  It’s a very large park situated along the northern end of Black Creek Greenway.  Before having kids we used to bike through Umstead Park on the Reedy Creek Trail and connect to Black Creek Greenway at Lake Crabtree.  This was a fun way to extend our mileage and explore the Town of Cary greenway system.

But, back to our recent trip.  After arriving at North Cary Park we winded through the park’s slightly confusing trails and eventually met up with Black Creek Greenway where we headed south.  The trail itself is a paved 7.1 total miles and winds between various neighborhoods and the creek.  We passed several bikers and runners along the way so we felt very safe.  We ran until the 2.25 mile mark of the greenway and then headed back.  The creek will make for some fun water playtime in the warm summer months.

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After running, we had some sweet, patient toddlers who needed to get exercise on the playground.  This playground area has a large sandbox area, several slides built into the small hills, a rock climbing area, tot swings, regular swings, a jungle gym for ages 5-12, and a small rubberized area great for the crawlers and early walkers.  With the dense landscaping and so many park features that are spread out, it made it harder for us to keep track of the toddlers while also tending to the babies.  After lots of toddler wrangling we were able to enjoy some time in the sandbox area, which has several benches along the perimeter.  Claire even enjoyed her first tot swing and Ashley was able to practice her potty training at the nearby restrooms, complete with a toddler-height sink.

Other than the playground and greenway, this park also has a large pavilion with a dozen tables overlooking 4 sand volleyball courts named after Julie Robison, 2 basketball courts, and a soccer field.  Benches and picnic tables are scattered throughout the playground area and before heading down to the greenway.  With so many friends with kiddos who train for running races, this is a great place to run solo or with kids combined with a playground visit!

More resources:

Thumbs up: variety of park features, safety of greenway, rubberized option for infants/early walkers, running/playground combo for those with strollers and kids

Thumbs down: confusing signage leading down to greenway trails, playground features being so spread out making it harder to keep an eye on independent toddlers