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

Update: Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Preserve Park

Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Preserve ParkOn a cloudy summer day we headed to Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Preserve Park to explore the nature playground and do some light hiking.  It’d been awhile since we’d last visited this park, and now that both girls are becoming more able to hike short distances on their own without losing their minds, it’s been more fun to take them along.  This park is especially great for little ones because all of the hiking trails are short (less than 1 mile each) and several are shaded!

Annie Louise Wilkerson Park is located north of I-540 at 5229 Awls Haven Dr just off Raven Ridge Rd. Upon arriving, we visited the main park office to check out the Explorer Backpacks they lend out to children.  Both girls were super pumped about having their own hiking backpacks to use on the trails.  The friendly park staff showed us everything in the backpacks, which included binoculars, compass, nature journal (to take home), bug collection jars, park maps, and laminated animal/insect ID cards.  After suiting up with the backpacks, we visited with the park turtles outside the park office and then headed towards the pond to walk the 1/2 mile turtle pond trail.  We followed the mowed path and turned left on the trail to head clockwise around the pond.  Along the way, we walked closer to the pond to spot the turtles and have a snack on the bench.  The girls also spent some time drawing in their nature journals. After a quick stop we continued on the loop trail, which meanders through full-sun meadows around the pond.  The girls enjoyed seeing the wildflowers along the way and were impressed that the grasses on both sides of the trail are almost as tall as they are!

IMG_5356After our short hike we walked through Dr. Wilkerson’s former home, which has been renovated into an Education Center for the purpose of being a nature park research center.  The front room is a mini museum of Dr. Wilkerson, highlighting her career and time she spent on the farm.  We didn’t visit the other parts of the center, but the COR website notes it has science labs, classrooms, and kitchen area.  The girls also enjoyed playing with the working old well pump outside the center.

Then we headed back towards the front of the park and played in the natural play area, adjacent to the bathrooms and pavilion.  The full-sun play area features a teepee, natural twig tunnel, stump stepping area, and tall grasses.  Just down from the full-sun play area is a continuation of the natural play area in the wooded area featuring a large sand box, bamboo sticks for building, bamboo chin-up bar, sticks and dirt for miles, fairy house supplies, and short fairy and troll trails through the woods.  The girls went nuts for the fairy and troll trails and loved walking the trails and trying to find the next “fairy or troll” character or house along the way.  The trails are short, narrow paths through the lush green forest.  After walking the trails the girls proceeded to make fairy houses on their own for over an hour. It was one blissful hour where a 5 year old and an almost 3 year old played together and on their own with ZERO fighting.  I felt like I hit the jackpot! I just sat back on the bench or in the sandbox and watched their little minds work – asking each other for help, digging through sand and dirt to find fairy house supplies, exploring the trails for ideas.  They created and it was so much fun to watch.

We had so much fun creating fairy houses at the park that we also went to Michaels craft store to buy our own supplies and purchased the Fairy Gardening: Create Your Own Magical Miniature Garden for decorating ideas. We spent the next day at home building and designing our own fairy gardens, which was a lot of fun! Visiting Annie Louise Wilkerson Park really helped transition us from preschool to summer and I’ll always remember the fun memories we made that morning at the park!  We didn’t even have time to explore the free activities inside the park office, which we’ll plan to do for another day!

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: short hiking trails great for preschoolers, friendly park staff, shaded nature playground, convenient outdoor bathrooms, Explorer Backpack lending program, enchanting fairy/troll trails and houses

Thumbs down: shorter weekend park hours

Campfires & Fireflies in the Parks

campfire
S’mores with cousins last summer

Several of my summer memories growing up involved sitting around campfires and chasing down fireflies in the backyard.  Here are some great upcoming programs going on in the Greater Triangle area and beyond that involve either a campfire or firefly fun!  Bring your family, neighbors and friends and explore the outdoors at night!

Firefly Watch at Prairie Ridge Ecostation (Saturday, June 4, 8-9:30pm) – Collect and observe fireflies while learning more about the dwindling firefly population, ages 8+, FREE but pre-registration is required – please contact Chris Goforth at chris.goforth@naturalsciences.org or 919.707.8882.

Crowder by Night at Crowder District Park (Friday, June 10, 7-8pm) – explore the park by night with campfire s’mores, animal observations, and nature stories, Wake County course #5693, $3/person or $5/family, all ages

Fun with Fireflies at Durant Nature Preserve (Friday, June 10, 8-9pm) – Make a firefly catcher and see the fireflies up close, ages 5+, City of Raleigh course #188956, $2, adult must register and accompany children

Centennial Campfire Celebration at Chimney Rock State Park (Saturday, June 11, 12-1:30pm) – Celebrate National Get Outdoors Day with a campfire, hotdogs, and some Cherokee Native American stories, cost is the admission into the state park

Campfire Cooking at Goose Creek State Park (Friday, June 17 at 5pm) – Savor a meal cooked over the campfire, call to pre-register (252) 923-2191, meet at Campground Amphitheater, all ages

Yates by Night: Summer Tales at Historic Yates Mill County Park (Friday, June 17, 7:30-9pm) –  Hear some tall tales then share a few stories of your own while roasting s’mores around the campfire, Wake County course #5736, ages 6+, $3/person or $5/family

Firefly Hike at Pilot Mountain State Park (Saturday, June 11 or June 18 9-10pm) – Meet at the campground amphitheater for an easy walk around the amphitheater to look for and learn about the unique natural history of fireflies, meet at Family Campground area

Storytime by the Campfire at Falls Lake State Recreation Park (Saturday, June 25 at 7pm) – Join a park ranger for a reading of Dr. Seuss’ classic, “The Lorax”, discuss what it means to be a steward and roast marshmallows, meet at Holly Point Amphitheater

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

Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, SC

IMG_3652Over New Years we spent time with dear friends at their parent’s new home in Murrells Inlet, SC. I’ve known Jennie since 6th grade and Bill and Jennie’s husband, Gary, became fast friends over a decade ago when we first met Gary. With growing families and distance (they’ve been in Columbus, OH) our time spent together has been few and far between. Lucky for us they are moving to the Greater Raleigh area this Spring so our families will get more time together, which is great news for us and our kids, as they’ve all become fast friends too!

IMG_3662The weather was unusually warm around New Years so shortly after arriving we took advantage of the remaining sun and made the short drive to Huntington Beach State Park, located at 16418 Ocean Hwy in Murrells Inlet. This park is named after Anna Hyatt & Archer Huntington who lived on the land and the adjacent Brookhaven Gardens (more on this in an upcoming mini-post).  After paying a small daily per person fee at the gate, we followed the road over the saltwater marshes to the main parking lot area near the Education Center (more on this below). This state park offers amazing beach access, an Education Center with live animals, fishing, hiking, camping and much more. With it being close to sunset we headed straight for the beach with kites. We parked in the large lot in the back of the park and within a short 50-yd walk we were on the beach. The beaches at this park are pristine and expansive, about 3 miles long and offer lots of space to plop down beach chairs, fly kites, or go for walks. The kids loved chasing each other around, running into the calm surf, and taking turns with the kites.  Before leaving we washed our feet off on in the convenient outside showers.  The 1930s Moorish-style winter home the Huntingtons lived in, Atalaya, is still standing near the back parking lot and offers regular tours.  Maybe we’ll catch a tour next time we’re in town!

IMG_3688The next day we returned to the park to explore the Education Center, which is only open during daytime hours and offers daily feeding times where you can watch and learn how they feed several of the animals.  With about two dozen animals to look at and learn about, we spent well over an hour in the center.  They have a touch-tank with a horseshoe crab and stingray, a star fish, baby alligator, terrapins, snakes, turtles, and some hands-on exhibits about the nearby environment.  The tanks are at perfect heights for little ones to get in on the action. After we exhausted the Education Center, the kids enjoyed a snack on the outdoor benches and we ran along the boardwalk overlooking the saltwater marshes.  We learned about the numerous inhabitants – spider crabs, stone crabs, snapping shrimp, oysters, alligators, and lots of birds.  Even though we didn’t see any of the 50-100 alligators living in the park we saw several oysters and lots of birds up close!

Speaking of oysters, this town is the place to enjoy oysters.  Both nights we visited we went to fabulous restaurants and had some of the freshest seafood.  Murrells Inlet is a jewel of a small town with a happening Marsh Walk area of live music, bars and restaurants.  Located about 15 minutes south of Myrtle Beach, it seems worlds away from the busy beaches to the north.

More resources

Thumbs up: beautiful beaches, super kid-friendly Education Center and variety of animals to see, easy access to beach area

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Blue Jay Point County Park

IMG_2125Blue Jay Point County Park is an outdoor mecca for people of all ages!  We visited Blue Jay Point County Park about a month ago after hearing so much great news about the new Go Ape Zip Line & Tree Adventure course.  Even though this park visit was more for the little ones, I can’t wait to head back here for some adult time on the adventure course.

Blue Jay Point County Park is a peninsula located at 3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd in North Raleigh.  It is surrounded on three sides by Falls Lake and just south of the intersection of NC-98 and Six Forks Rd.

We first drove to the back of the park and scoped out the playground area, which was huge!  The ages 5-12 playground has at least 8 slides in total, long ramps for running up and down, monkey bars, climbing ladders, tunnels and more.  The ages 2-5 playground has several shorter slides, an arched climbing ladder, and nearby teeter totters and standing sand tables.  There is a restroom area, small covered pavilion, benches and picnic tables near the playground.  Most of the playground area is in full sun, but we were able to score a little shade on the benches under the trees.

IMG_2124After some playground time, we headed towards the covered pavilion where the Laurel Loop nature trail begins.  This was such an ideal walk for young kids – it is a well maintained unpaved trail with lots of shade, has several benches and picnic tables throughout, is only 0.2 miles, allows for a short walk by adjacent Falls Lake, and loops you back to the playground area.  All of the girls from ages 18 months to 4 years old loved exploring this trail, especially finding the dozens of caterpillars along the trail.

After our hike, we got back in our cars and headed to the front of the park to explore the main building’s Nature Discovery Room.  After recently visiting Rockwood Nature Center in Richmond, VA where we saw several live animals, the girls seemed disappointed they didn’t have any live creepy, crawly native animals to gawk at.  However, they did enjoy learning about the water cycle at Falls Lake and playing with some of the interactive tree and plant exhibits.

IMG_2139We then headed outside to the nearby fenced-in garden area for a much deserved picnic lunch.  After our lunch we walked all throughout the gardens learning about the different herbs, flowers and vegetables they’ve planted.  The biggest highlight for me was the “pizza garden” where they planted lots of basil and tomatoes.  The biggest highlight for the girls was spotting butterflies and checking out the resident turtles and water snake in the small pond area.

Even though we spent about 3 hours at Blue Jay County Park, I feel as if we barely scratched the surface of this park.  With so many nature and hiking trails (some that connect to Mountains-to-Sea trail), a natural play area, a tree-top adventure course, lots of open space, and tons of educational programs I can’t wait to come back very soon!

Thumbs up: nature trails with varying lengths for all ages, gardens, playground area, proximity to Falls Lake, so many outdoor activities to do

Thumbs down: signage around park

Durant Nature Preserve

IMG_8283In early Fall we headed out to Durant Nature Preserve with some friends to enjoy their weekly Wee Walkers program (Thursdays from 10-11am).  Having never visited Durant Nature Preserve before I’m glad I attended an organized program that guides you and the kiddos on a short walk through the park because this nature park is huge!  Durant Nature Preserve is located at 8305 Camp Durant Rd in North Raleigh (north entrance is located off Camp Durant Rd and south entrance is located off Spottswood St).  According to the COR’s website, this park was originally known as Camp Durant and was the headquarters for the Occoneechee Council of the Boy Scouts until 1979 when the City of Raleigh purchased the land from the scouts and turned it into a nature park.  We parked in the parking lot near the park office at the north entrance.  Once everyone arrived (about 10-15 moms/kids total), we set off on our nature walk with our super friendly and knowledgeable guide.  For those with babies or early walkers, I’d recommend wearing the babes in a carrier as most of the trails are unpaved.

IMG_8271We hiked along the eastern side of the park following the Pine Ridge Connector, Pine Ridge Trail and Lakeside unpaved trails.  Our guide stopped several times along the trail to point out a variety of flora and fauna.  We saw a little bit of everything: wasp nests, leaf poppers, water striders, water frogs, mushrooms, mosquito fish, poplar tulip leaves, muscadine grapes, dogwood berries and a real turtle!  The kids (ranging in ages from under 1 to 5 years old) were most impressed by the turtle walking along the trail, but it’s been fun to see how Ashley gets excited when she sees dogwood berries in the backyard!  The neat part about the Wee Walkers program is that each program is different because it’s based on what’s going on in nature that week and it’s FREE…what a deal!

After the Wee Walkers program we explored the playground area and had a picnic lunch.  The nearby shelters were very muddy due to the recent heavy rains, but we made do.  The playground is for ages 2-12 and has a few slides, monkey bars, climbing ladders, a large sandbox with teeter totters and diggers, two tot swings, and two regular swings.  Also close to the playground area is sand volleyball, basketball and the public restrooms.

This post simply scratches the surface of all there is to explore at Durant Nature Preserve.  If you want more than just hiking, this seems to be a great park for camping, biking, birding and so much more.  I look forward to coming back again soon!

More Resources:

Thumbs up: Wee Walkers program, variety of hiking trails

Thumbs down: signage throughout park (we got lost heading back to our cars)

Walnut Creek Wetland Center

img_3191We are always on the lookout for something fun and different to do outside the house especially in the early evenings after nap time. When we attended the Neuse River trail expansion grand opening some folks from the Walnut Creek Wetland Center were there explaining their programs.  I remember them saying their center was open late each weekday, so we finally found some time with our good friends to get out and explore the center.

Walnut Creek Wetland Center is located at 950 Peterson St in downtown Raleigh. Upon arriving at the center, I immediately noticed this center was not in the best area of town.  The center itself is very nice, but all the surrounding parts were less than delightful – there was trash scattered on the nearby trails, apartments across the street seemed sketchy, and nearby fields were neglected.  After getting past that we went inside to explore the center and the girls had a blast.

The mission of the center according to the website is to “Promote the importance of wetlands, wildlife habitat, hydrology, and human interactions with the natural environment.”  There are several free educational games, coloring and stamp activities, nature and animal books to read, stuffed animals, and a touch table featuring different wetland animal skeletons, furs, and more.  The staff was very helpful and excited to help show us around the center.  The center incorporates many environmentally friendly features and offers several organized programs for kids of all ages and three rooms available for rental.

After playing inside for at least 30 minutes, we headed outside to the expansive back deck to explore.  Unfortunately we only saw birds, but if you’re looking to relax they also have several rocking chairs overlooking the floodplain.  After a lot of running back and forth on the deck we headed out to the greenway to explore some more.  We exited the building and headed west on Peterson Dr and then headed south on the Walnut Creek Trail towards Walnut Creek.  Again, the greenway was moderately littered and we didn’t get the impression that we were in a floodplain/wetland area.  We continued on the trail and over a boardwalk to the creek and turned around when we reached State St.  Due to the unkept nature of the trail and the lack of “wetlands” conditions we didn’t feel comfortable continuing on.  For future trips, it may be best to register for a scheduled program that explores the wetlands.

For more information, visit the City of Raleigh Walnut Creek Wetland Center website.

Thumbs up: indoor educational programs/activities/displays, being open past 5pm

Thumbs down: condition of trail, lack of wetlands condition, outdoor wetland display was not working, greenway signage

Historic Oak View County Park Egg Hunt & More

About a month ago we visited Historic Oak View County Park for an Easter Egg Hunt with our Stroller Strides friends.  Lucky for the group, the weather held off until after our event and we had a great morning of eating breakfast treats, hunting eggs, feeding goats, and running around like maniacs.  Renting the Bluebird Shelter was a great idea and such a great spot for nearby egg hunting and visiting with the goats.

After the egg hunt, we quickly explored some of the areas that we hadn’t seen much of during our last visit: the large barn, Carya shelter, restoration of the Tenant House, the pecan grove, and the Farm History Center.  The barn has several interactive exhibits for little ones to learn about farm animals and is the home to the Nubian goats.  The Carya shelter has four picnic tables and a nearby charcoal grill.  The Tenant House restoration project began in September 2012 to help tell the history of tenancy and its role in North Carolina’s agricultural past.  The pecan grove was planted in the early 1900s to diversify the crops on the farm and even though it has suffered major damage over the years due to weather it is a beautiful site.  The Farm History Center is a non-historic building at the park that has several NC agricultural exhibits, restrooms, a place to rest, and the super interactive Farmer’s Corner for kids.

Oak View County Park also has a temporary exhibit, “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War” that will be on display until May 26 that I hope to check out.  To see our previous post about Oak View County Park, visit here.  For more information about programs and visiting Oak View County Park, visit the Wake County website.

Thumbs up: rotating exhibits, Farmer’s Corner, visiting with the goats

Thumbs down: lots of geese (and geese poop) near the pond (don’t feed the geese!)

 

Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve Park

img_1720If you’re looking for a place to go hiking in Raleigh and have exhausted your options at Umstead Park, you should definitely make your way into North Raleigh to Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve Park.  Being the only visitors at the park a few months ago, we visited the main office and spoke to the very friendly and knowledgeable staff about the history of the park.  It was lovely to hear her speak about Dr. Annie’s will to leave the land as a nature preserve park.  The park office was converted from an old residence on the property and there are future plans to convert Dr. Annie’s old standing residence into indoor classrooms.

After visiting the park office, we headed off on the Hidden Rocks trail (1 mile long), which is known for having several crops of hidden rocks throughout.  The trail is about 2ft wide in most places and an easy path to walk, but there are a few narrow and slippery spots throughout.  This trail passes through open fields, forests of hardwoods.  As this park is still taking shape, the signs aren’t completely finished yet, so be sure to pay close attention to where you are going.  After Hidden Rocks trail, we walked the Pond Loop, which is about 1/2 mile long and crosses over one of the ponds on the property.  This particular day was absolutely gorgeous and the reflections off the pond were crystal clear.  On our next trip here, we’ll be sure to bring our hiking backpack instead of the Bob stroller that we used.  I’m sure we looked ridiculous with our stroller!

Being that this is a nature preserve park, you won’t find any of the regular playground equipment you’re accustomed to at other parks.  However, that did not prevent Ashley from having an amazing time in the natural play area; complete with stumps, teepees, tall grasses, and large logs, there are a lot of options for kids to have some imaginative play.

Near the natural play area is also a large pavilion used for educational programs and the public restrooms.  For more information about the Dr. Annie park, visit the City of Raleigh website.

Thumbs up: hiking trails, play area, park office, views of the open fields, photo ops, picnic spots

Thumbs down: signage through hiking trail