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

Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve

IMG_2812One Sunday morning at the end of October I took the girls to the newly opened Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve.  The park is located at 2900 Horse Shoe Farm Rd in Northeast Raleigh and contains about 146 acres of property on an oxbow of the Neuse River.  The city purchased the property in 1994 as a future park site, and it is now being developed in multiple stages.  According to the city’s website, Phase I development included improvements to the entrance drive and dam, parking, signage, soft surface walking trails, connection to Neuse River Greenway, picnic shelter and restroom facility. Future phases include developing an educational center, playground, amphitheater, and canoe launch while promoting sustainability and enhancing the land’s natural characteristics.  We’ve been keeping an eye on this park ever since we explored the nearby Neuse River Trail so it’s nice to connect to a nature preserve along the greenway!

IMG_2819After parking in the main parking lot, we headed toward the large pavilion and then to the large open space to run and kick the ball around.  Down from the large pavilion is an old red farm house  and white picket fence leading to a rustic barn, all perfect for an outdoor photo op (which we witnessed while there).  In looking at future phases, the farm house looks to be used for the education/art center.

Hoping to take advantage of energetic little ones we kicked the ball across the field to the other side of the tree line in hopes of finding the nature trail.  Luckily I looked at the park’s website before coming out to the park to know a 0.5 mile natural walking trail runs along the tree line in a horseshoe shape.  There were no signs within the park indicating such trail exists, but that’s probably because of the park’s infancy.  So we headed to the tree line where you can barely make out the river through the woods and started our short walk.  The girls really got into collecting berries and learning about plants in nature this fall so they really enjoyed this walk.  Along our way we saw lots of berries, colorful leaves, tall and fuzzy grasslands, pine cones, moss, and sticks.  The main parking lot and large open fields aren’t visible from a few sections of the path, but for the most part you can see the whole park from anywhere.  The path horseshoed around toward the old farm house and barn where we saw a one year old’s cake smashing photo session going on, which was a lot of fun!  The photo op motivated me take a few pics of the girls under the beautiful maple trees, which were just starting to show their color.  I had to bribe them with the promise of chocolate once we got home!

IMG_2843After our walk we rested under the pavilion with snacks and water and then used the compost restroom facilities before heading home.  I look forward to coming back to this park over the years to see new developments and to hopefully better time the changing of the colors of the leaves.  Check out their list of upcoming park programs including a New Year’s Day 2016 Hike!

Thumbs up: connection to the greenway, open land for endless running and playing, easy 0.5 mile nature trail, future park developments, photo opportunities, compost restrooms, native landscaping

Thumbs down: lack of signage about nature trail inside park

Historic Oak View Park – Hunnicut Trail

IMG_1849Sunday mornings in Raleigh with little ones require creativity!  The few indoor play places that are open are usually crowded so that’s when we escape to the outdoors.  One summer Sunday morning we decided to re-visit Historic Oak View Park in search of their vegetable garden and newer nature walking trails.

As (bad) luck would have it, we parked on the side of the parking lot that is not adjacent to the hiking trails so we set off on the only trail we saw – the paved trail near the pear trees.  It took us behind the nearby office buildings and towards the front of the park where we saw grape vines before crossing the main entrance road and following the main trail through the pecan grove and by the tenant house under construction and the main house.  Even though we hadn’t planned to follow the brick path through the main part of the park, it was nice to revisit familiar buildings, see the progress on the tenant house renovation, and admire the newer copper drain pipes on the main house.  Unfortunately we couldn’t access any of the buildings because they were either under construction or didn’t open until 1pm on Sundays.  The areas near the vegetable garden were also blocked off because of the nearby construction on the cotton gin building.  When we arrived back to the car we luckily spotted the nature trails we originally set out for.  After a quick toddler potty break down the street (restrooms in park aren’t open until 1pm) we came back to the nature trails.

IMG_1845We headed down the main trail path, which has a small gravel base, making it doable with a Bob stroller.  After a short 100yd walk we came to the small pond, amphitheater, and gazebo.  After playing in the gazebo we walked around the Hunnicut Trail, which is a 0.4 mile loop through the woods.  It was a nicely shaded and flat gravel path making it an easy walk for little ones. The forest was alive with noises from hundreds of insects and birds.  We passed an old vehicle gate, presumably evidence of the old working farm’s history.  After we returned to the main path we walked over the old stone bridge, which led to the back of the nearby office park.  A short while later we walked back up the path towards the parking lot.  We look forward to returning to Historic Oak View Park this fall to see the progress on the renovations and to explore the other short nature trail, Jones Creek Trail (0.7 miles).

More Resources:

Thumbs up: short, flat and shady nature walking trails for toddlers, photo ops near gazebo

Thumbs down: poor signage about trail location

First Day Hike 2015 – Falls Lake Rolling View

IMG_5058On New Year’s Day 2015 we visited the Rolling View section of Falls Lake State Park to participate in the NC State Parks First Day Hike.  The First Day Hikes are organized hikes designed to encourage folks and little ones to get exercise and explore nature in the great outdoors.  We decided on the Rolling View hike because there were several scheduled on the hour, leading me to believe the hike would be a short one – perfect for a restless toddler in a backpack.  After a 35 minute drive northwest to the Rolling View entrance of Falls Lake in Durham, we followed the main road to the back of the park before turning left into the large parking lot.  This part of the park is also where the recreational swimming area, playground, and picnic shelter 12 are located.

IMG_5080Once the families gathered at the trail head, the park rangers explained more about the short .75 mile hike and gave each child a scavenger hunt brochure of things to look for along the way.  Ashley was a little too young for the scavenger hunt, but the older kids had a great time.  They also explained the Kids in Parks Track Trail initiative that several parks are doing throughout the country as a way to encourage kids to experience the outdoors through a network of family-friendly adventures; this trail happens to be one of those adventures!

IMG_5074In the past our hiking experiences with our kids have mostly been self-guided with very basic objectives: 1) survive (Grandfather Mtn Profile Trail & Calloway Peak were the ultimate test), 2) limit the crying (adults included), and 3) have fun (no brainer, that’s why we do it)!  With the Rolling View hike being a guided tour by a park ranger, I wasn’t sure if Ashley was too young to feel engaged, but the park rangers were amazing at interacting with all the kids.  They kept the hike going while pointing out really neat nature things on/off the trail, answering questions, prompting the kids with questions, and giving some history about the park.  We definitely experienced things in nature we wouldn’t have had we been on the hike by ourselves; we saw animal footprints in the puddles and streams, learned about the importance of controlled burns, discovered deer bones, gained appreciation of decaying stumps as a food source, and so much more!

After our short .75 mile hike, which took less than an hour (of which Claire screamed most the way) we headed to the nearby playground.  The playground is designed for those ages 5-12 and has several climbing ladders, swings, a tire swing, and bridge.  It is very close to the swimming recreation area, bathhouse, and picnic tables, making this a great spot for warmer weather.  The recent rains caused the lake water levels to come very to the playground so after our short playtime we headed home for some much needed grub.

Check out the Kids in Parks Track Trail website – the search and filter features make it easy to find outdoor adventures close to home!

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: friendly and knowledgeable park rangers, guided hike, nature experiences for kids

Thumbs down: nothing to report

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

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)

Take a Child Outside Week: Sept 24 – 30, 2014

IMG_2215
Brookhaven Nature Park hike, Fall 2012

With the fall weather on our heels, it couldn’t be a better time to participate in Take a Child Outside Week (TACO), held September 24-30, 2014. Take a Child Outside Week is an national initiative through the NC Museum of Natural Sciences with partner organizations throughout the country.  The program emphasizes outdoor nature activities with children to increase their awareness and appreciation of the environment.  Here are several outdoor activities at local parks to highlight this program:

Umstead Park – various organized events that week including: Animals of Umstead, Hug-a-Tree, Learn to Fish, Millin’ Around, American Beech Hike; for more info search their September calendar

JC Raulston Arboretum – various organized events that week including: Leaf Rubbings, Garden Bingo, Plant Sale, Cloud Watching, Garden Storytime; for more info visit their September calendar 

img_5473
Prairie Ridge Ecostation Nature Play Space

NC Museum of Natural Sciences – a few events that week including Nature Stories and a family-friendly event on Sat, Sept 27 at Prairie Ridge Ecostation; for more info visit the Prairie Ridge Ecostation TACO Events Page

Historic Yates Mill County Park – enjoy several events including Paddle the Pond, Apple Orchards, Mill Tours, Fishing Footprint, and an organized Nature Hike; for more info visit the Yates Mill Events

Blue Jay County Park – free events this week including Hopper Herding and Nature Stories; pre-registration is required; for more info visit the Blue Jay County Park Events

Bill hiking with Jerry at Harris Lake, circa 2008
Pre-kiddo pic of Bill hiking with Jerry at Harris Lake, circa 2008

Lake Crabtree County Park – free scavenger hunt event on Mon, Sept 29 at 6pm; pre-registration is required; for more info visit the Lake Crabtree County Park Events

Harris Lake County Park – various events including Park After Dark and a Drop-in Nature Exploration; for more info visit the Harris Lake County Park Events

American Tobacco Trail – attend the Biking with Bats 3-mile bike ride on Sun, Sept 28 from 6-8pm; for more info visit the ATT Events

 

Durant Nature Park

  • Durant Family Campout (COR Reclink barcode #161109) – Fri, Sept 26 at 6pm; ages 6+; a lakeside campsite will be your home for the night; have an overnight experience including dinner, a night hike, s’mores, a light breakfast and fishing; Adults $15, Youth $10; for more info check the Reclink description or visit the Nature Programs page
  • Wee Walkers (COR Reclink barcode #161125) – Thu, Sept 25 from 10-11am; easy paced hike around the park; free; pre-registration is required; for more info check the Reclink description or visit the Nature Programs page

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

By the way, what TACO activities in the Greater Raleigh area am I missing?  Please let me know in the comments section below.

9/15/2014 Update: Since this post was originally posted, the City of Raleigh has compiled a list of TACO week events happening at various parks around the county.

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

Garner Groundhog Day 2013 @ White Deer Park

img_2612A few months ago we ventured south to Garner, NC to take in our first Groundhog Day celebration!  And, what a unique celebration it was!  I don’t think I’d ever seen so many different and unusual things to do at one town park at the same time.  We did everything from visit with rescued birds, pet reptiles and amphibians, play on the natural playground, watch local mascots compete in a dance competition, and cheer on the release of rehabilitated hawks.  Due to a hungry and restless child and husband we left before Mortimer the Groundhog made his prediction about the spring weather.  Based on the actual weather from the past several weeks, we all know the winter weather stuck around far too long this year!

White Deer Park is located at 2400 Aversboro Rd in Garner.  This park features a nature center, playground, pavilions, large open field, and paved walking trails.  Visit the Town of Garner website for more information about this park.

Thumbs up: unique community event, variety of animals on display, family-friendly event, natural playground area, dancing mascots (best part)

Thumbs down: lack of food/drink vendors

Here are some pictures from our adventures that morning at White Deer Park: