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

Rockwood Park in Chesterfield, VA

IMG_1594If you live around the Richmond, VA area you have to check out Rockwood Park in Chesterfield County.  While visiting Tech buddies in Richmond at the end of June we set out for Rockwood Park Nature Center’s annual Honeybee Festival and everyone (kids and adults) fell in love with this park!

Rockwood Park is located at 3401 Courthouse Road in Chesterfield County near the intersection of Hull Street Rd.  While the festival vendors were setting up outside, we stepped inside the park’s nature center and got to see a whole lot of slithering, crawling, squirming and buzzing animals.  The kids got to see several types of snakes (including a copperhead and corn snake), turtles (including a gigantic snapping turtle), bull frogs, a large iguana, and a live bee exhibit.  All of the permanent exhibits were at levels great for little ones to see all the action.  With the Honeybee Festival going on outside there was a very knowledgeable and friendly bee expert who described bee keeping to us and pointed out the queen bee in the hive exhibit.  This center also has a great reading nook with nature books and kid-size table with coloring activities.

IMG_1604After spending at least 30 minutes in the center, we headed outside to enjoy the bee festival activities.  The friendly staff helped the kids make pipe cleaner bee crafts and plant flowers.  Then they enjoyed listening to bee themed stories and having bees painted on their hands.  After exhausting the storyteller’s books we headed out across the field to explore the playground area.

IMG_0113The playground area is made for kids mostly 5 years and up, but that didn’t stop these almost 2-year olds and 4-year old from playing.   The playground has a small slide for younger kids that is connected to higher play areas by monkey bars.  There are several more climbing areas connected by ladders with access to twisty and straight slides.  With the recent rains the kids happily discovered the large mud puddle at the bottom of the twisty slide.  Tot swings and regular swings are nearby and several benches and picnic tables are also located in the playground area.  The entire area is mostly shaded by tall, mature trees and there are several more amenities (such as a dog park, pickleball courts, baseball fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, pavilions) adjacent to the playground.  As someone who has spent a lot of time visiting family and friends in Chesterfield, I am excited to explore more parks in this area.

For a complete list of the amenities at Rockwood Park, see the County of Chesterfield website.

Thumbs up: live animals at nature center, friendly staff, variety of activities for young kids, shady playground area

Thumbs down: poor drainage near playground

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

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

Lions Park

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Despite Lions Park being located in a transitional east Raleigh neighborhood, we found it safe, full of friendly people, and lots of fun!  Lions Park is located at 516 Dennis Ave in the east Raleigh Woodcrest neighborhood.  This park has several entrances, which provides easier access and parking to whichever activity you’re looking to try; and this park has a lot going on.  Besides the main playground area, there are four baseball fields, two full-size basketball courts, a dirt BMX track, a community center, eight tennis courts, and a large pavilion for rental.  While we didn’t have much time to capture the details about everything we did spend a lot of time on the playground.

The playground area at Lions Park is easiest to access from the Dennis Ave entrance that spills into a large parking lot area near the community center.  This park has two playground areas for the different age groups 2-5 and 5-12, which are both have a rubberized surface.  The 5-12 age group playground is one of the largest I’ve seen in Raleigh.  It has multiple levels of playing with several slides, climbing structures, monkey bars, tethered rope swings, and bucket chairs for spinning.  Ashley spent most of her time on this playground and even tried the curved ladder structure by herself for the first time (eeks)!  Even though she’s much younger than the recommended age for this playground I felt comfortable with her exploring on her own since there were very few high openings within the structure.  The big kid swing set and sandbox are also located nearby.

img_5324The 2-5 age group playground is a short walk from the bigger playground.  It has a fun climbing wall, a few slides, twisty toys, the dreaded butterfly shaped ladder which is too young for a 2-year old in my opinion, a seesaw, tot swings,  and bongos.

After a short jaunt on the tot playground we sat down for a picnic lunch.  Even though the playground areas are newer, the picnic spots and pavilion are showing their age (and a mossy roof).  Nonetheless, we found a sunny spot (it was January) in the moderately wooded pavilion area.  Adjacent to the pavilion are horseshoe pits, which had also seen better days.

Despite this park’s older age and its location, it has pockets of great features such as the playground, BMX track, and tennis courts. We even recently went to a birthday party here and it was super convenient to have the pavilion next to the playground.  I look forward to going back for a visit where we can scope out the BMX track, which should provide fun entertainment for Ashley and maybe get her excited to practice on her balance bike some more!

For more information about Lions Park, visit City of Raleigh website.

Thumbs up: playground areas, unique BMX track feature, spinning bucket seats, tot climbing wall, convenient benches scattered throughout playgrounds, wooded playground area would be nice for hotter weather

Thumbs down: condition of pavilion area

Millbrook Playground

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Millbrook Playground at Millbrook Exchange Park (1905 Spring Forest Rd) was renovated this past summer and we made our way over there to explore the new digs!  Within the park, it’s located between the adult center and the community center near the ball fields.  There’s so much to do at this new park for everyone – a tot jungle gym for the 2-5 age group and a larger (and very tall) jungle gym for the 5-12 age group.  Both jungle gyms have a rubber surface also making this a very crawler-friendly play place for the mobile, but not yet walking littles ones!  There is also a small sandbox with two diggers, two tot swings, and four regular swings, one of which is handicap accessible.

img_3822The 2-5 age group jungle gym has a few slides, some musical instruments, teeter totters, and climbing structures.  It’s on the small side so Ashley quickly got bored of it and ventured over to the 5-12 age group jungle gym.  This play place has different height levels for playing that peak at a very tall height.  There are a few openings that lead down to climbing structures, but for the most part this jungle gym is well enclosed.  Ashley loved the tall slides, but was surprised at how fast she went down them! It also has some smaller slides near the ground, tunnels, monkey bars, swinging bar, a rock climbing wall, and some low height seats.  Once you get over the height of the playground, this is a great place for able kids to play!

img_3826Scattered around the park are several benches and sidewalk games of hopscotch and four square.  We were there in the morning, which didn’t have much shade so plan accordingly based on the time of day and season.  I don’t recall seeing a nearby picnic table, but after walking towards the tennis center we found several in the shade.  The landscaping immediately around the park was less than desired and the grass was pretty high as if it hadn’t been mowed in weeks.

img_4117After visiting the playground, we had a quick snack at the picnic tables and then headed towards the tennis center to explore.  It turned out we showed up just in time for the last day of a weekend tennis tournament so we stayed to watch for awhile before heading home. On our way back to the car we spotted some steel art, the Immigrant Gate II by Jim Gallucci.  I was amazed at how extensive the tennis center is – there are 23 tennis courts, several backboards, and a large indoor area with observation deck, conference room, pro shop and locker rooms.  I look forward to getting back into tennis one day 🙂

Thumbs up: variety of play things on 5-12 age group jungle gym, swings, tennis center

Thumbs down:  no picnic tables in immediate playground area, landscaping/field maintenance

Longstreet Dr Playground

img_3737The week after Claire was born we had lots of family helping keep us sane while adjusting to life with two sweet girls.  My sweet mother-in-law, Janet (aka Gaga), came to visit for several days and for one outing we explored Longstreet Dr. Playground, which is less than 10 minutes from our house.  Longstreet Playground is a neighborhood park located off Six Forks Rd, just north of Lynn Rd at 7334 Stuart Dr.

Longstreet Playground was a pleasant surprise of a nearby park!  It’s on the small side, but just perfect when you just want to pull up to the park and be there.  This was especially crucial with having a newborn because I had to truck back to the car a few times to get things I had forgot to bring with me.  The park is fenced-in 3/4 of the way and has one main picnic table, which was great since we packed our lunch (big surprise, I know).  It has two different playground areas – one for the 2-5 ages and one for the 5-12 ages.  The 2-5 age playground has several slides, a low bar for hanging from, and a small climbing structure.  There are some nearby springy rides and a very small sandbox with diggers.

The 5-12 age playground has a climbing wall up to the main play structure, several slides, monkey bars, many climbing structures, and a play steering wheel and drama scene.  At first, I was hesitant to let Ashley climb up the wall to the playground, but she quickly proved to be a pro!  There are a few openings in the playground that lead down to more advanced climbing structures, so I really had to caution Ashley on them.  Next to this play area are the swings – one tot swing and one regular swing.  There are a few benches scattered throughout the playground and the surface is mostly rubber with some concrete sidewalk.

Ashley had a great time exploring this new park while Gaga enjoyed some special time with her girls.

Thumbs up: small park with lots of features

Thumbs down: litter surrounding park

 

Marsh Creek Park

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The day after Claire came home from the hospital, she visited her first park, Marsh Creek Park in east Raleigh.  Marsh Creek Park is located at 3050 N New Hope Rd and is bustling with a variety of activities.  This park is most famous for its outdoor skate park, which was very busy when we arrived.  I became more aware of this park after following Instagram user raleighstatic and his amazing black/white skate park photos.

When we visited the park, we spent most of our time in the back at the playground, which is fenced in!  The playground contains jungle gyms for both age groups 2-5 and 5-12; both of which are great because they aren’t high from the ground and don’t have any large openings.  Ashley quickly zoomed around the slides and ladders at the 2-5 age playground and spent most of her time on the 5-12 age playground where there are larger slides, more complicated ladders, and rings for swinging.  She is totally into gymnastic-like exercises right now, so the rings were a big hit for her as was playing chase with my sister.  The playground area is beautifully landscaped with different trees, bushes, flowers and hardscape and has several benches scattered throughout and a few picnic tables near the entrance.  There’s not much shade at the playground and the surface is a mixture of the cushiony rubber and wood chips with concrete paths throughout, so plan accordingly.  If you’re looking for a shaded picnic spot there are about 10 picnic tables located below the nearby community center.

After our time on the playground we headed out for a short walk up to the skate park in our new (to us) double Bob stroller!  On our way we passed an ice cream truck strategically parked near the large crowd of adults playing soccer.  After a few cold treats we were back on our way to the skate park area.

Other than watching my college roommates play hundreds of hours of Tony Hawk on the Playstation, I know NOTHING about skateboarding.  It is a pretty cool sport to watch even if most of the skateboarders just stand around watching each other.  This skate park has a street flow and bowl element and requires all boarders to wear safety pads and sign a waiver.  Unfortunately I couldn’t capture images quite like raleighstatic, but I did enjoy introducing a new spectator sport to Ashley.

Up from the skate park is a fenced-in inline hockey rink with goals and bleachers and a large shelter with restrooms.  We were all very impressed with the different activities available for the public to use at this park.  Even if you don’t have experience skateboarding, you can still be a wallflower and catch a good show from the sidelines.

Thumbs up: skate park, inline hockey rink, large playground areas, landscaping, shaded picnic areas below community center

Thumbs down: lack of swings in playground area

Honeycutt Park

img_3549The final park we explored as a family of three was Honeycutt Park in North Raleigh.  Knowing that baby #2 was cozy and not giving any hints to arrive anytime soon (still late though), we ventured out to Honeycutt Park on the Sunday morning before baby Claire was born.  This park is located at 1032 Clear Creek Farm Dr just outside 540 near Falls of Neuse Rd.  For a Sunday morning in Raleigh it was par-for-the-course quiet; we had the park to ourselves for at least 30 minutes.

The playground area is completely unshaded, so plan accordingly if you’re trying to avoid the sun.  There are playgrounds for both age groups of 2-5 and 5-12.  The 2-5 age playground has several slides and few challenging climbing structures for the little ones.  It also has a fun “theater” play area under the playground, which can be fun for the young ones.  Ashley quickly ran through all the play areas at this playground and headed to the older kid playground.  The 5-12 age playground also has several slides, one of which includes a trifecta slide where 3 friends can race each other at the same time.  Since I was feeling too large to race, Bill and Ashley enjoyed several runs down the racing slides.  This playground also has several climbing structures too, which include a rock wall, swivel monkey bars, and a rope ladder.

After a lot of playground time we explored the rest of the park.  Adjacent to the playground is a large shelter complete with charcoal grills and restrooms, lit baseball field, basketball court, and sand volleyball court.  Adjacent to the basketball court and parking lot is a large open grassy memorial area surrounded by large rocks and dedicated to Rosalina M Rodriguez.  Then, we walked down the nearby greenway to learn that it is under construction.  The scope of this greenway project is to design and build a 5.6 mile segment of greenway trail, connecting the existing Mine Creek Greenway Corridor to the South Shore Trail on Falls Lake.  For more information about this project visit the City of Raleigh website.

While this was our last park trip as a family of 3, we couldn’t be more excited to share so many future park visits with baby Claire.

Thumbs up: fun playground slides, large shelter, future greenway project

Thumbs down: unsightly utility area, lack of shade around playground

Baileywick Park

img_3239The playground at Baileywick Park was closed this past winter so we finally made a visit in late May.  Baileywick Park is located in Northwest Raleigh at 9501 Baileywick Rd.  Upon entering the park you pass access to the Baileywick greenway trail and eventually come to a large parking lot that provides access to all of the park’s amenities.  We parked near the bathroom facilities and started with a visit to the playground.

The playground consists of an expansive jungle gym for ages 5-12, a smaller jungle gym for ages 2-5, four tot swings, four regular swings, a sand box with diggers, and several teeter totters.  The base of the playground is covered in wood chips and there are several benches scattered around the playground.  The playground for ages 5-12 has several slides that are of medium height, multiple climbing options, monkey bars, bridges and more.  The tot playground has several slides, matching games, and a few different climbing ladders.

Adjacent to the playground is a large open field, restrooms, a large shelter with eight picnic tables, an area shaded with trees (no picnic tables though), a covered bench area, and two lighted baseball fields.  A paved walking trail is also nearby, which leads to another shelter with two picnic tables and an open field.  This park is also equipped with the Big Belly solar trash and recycling compactors, which has provided great savings for the city.  These have been installed in several places throughout Raleigh and it’s great to see them at the parks.  Learn more about the Big Belly solar compactors in this N&O article from earlier this year.

Thumbs up: open fields, numerous benches, several swings, climbing options on large playground, nearby walking trail, landscaping around playground (several hardwoods and crape myrtles)

Thumbs down: full-sun playground area is very hot