Take a Child Outside Week: Sept 24-30, 2015

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Seeing a turtle along the Wee Walkers Nature Hike

Cooler temps and lower humidity means that Fall is on it’s way and it couldn’t be a better time to participate in Take a Child Outside Week (TACO), held September 24-30, 2015. 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:

City of Raleigh Parks – has several organized events throughout different parks where you can learn about the native animals and plants in our area, enjoy a family campout, hike a nature trail, feast on s’mores and a story around the campfire, and many more events; several events are FREE or have small fees; to see the complete list visit the City of Raleigh’s TACO website; as a hint, the Wee Walkers program at Durant Nature Preserve Park is a great organized nature hike for young ones

Wake County Parks – their list of TACO organized events includes nature hikes, a twilight bike ride, nature play day, junior meteorology experiments, tree and spider identification activities and a storytelling festival; several events are FREE or have small fees; to learn more check out the events on Wake County Parks TACO website

JC Raulston Arboretum – join the plant experts at the Arboretum for a variety of nature crafts, scavenger hunts; several events are FREE or have small fees; learn more about the TACO events at JC Raulston Arboretum calendar

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Eno River State Park

NC Museum of History – although not a specific TACO event, join the museum’s garden staff for Saturday’s in the Garden, an informal tour of the History of the Harvest exhibit along Bicentennial Plaza; FREE; Saturday, Sept. 26 from 1:30-2:30pm; for more info visit event details 

Prairie Ridge Ecostation – listen to a story and take a nature hike, explore the nature play area (bring bug spray), discover the nature garden, or explore the nature trails; for more ideas, visit the Prairie Ridge Ecostation website

Eno River State Park – take a walk with a ranger to search for salamanders and amphibians, go canoeing, learn about Occoneechee Mountain’s geologic wonders; for more details visit the NC Parks TACO website and select “Eno River”

William Umstead Park – learn about insects and butterflies, discover animals native to the park, watch the Amphibian movie, take a short (0.6mile) nature photo hike, go fresh water fishing on Big Lake; for more details visit the NC Parks TACO website and select “William Umstead Park”

Falls Lake State Park – go on a spider safari complete with campfire story and s’mores, take your child fishing; for more details visit the NC Parks TACO website and select “Falls Lake State Park”

NC Art Museum – visit the Museum Park to explore the Park Art including a new “Park Pictures” exhibit; my personal fave is hiking the unpaved trail to discover the Cloud Chamber (aka Hobbit House) exhibit

NC Environmental Education – listen to nature stories, go on hikes, visit with native animals and more; check out the NC Environmental Educations’s complete list of TACO events in the Greater Raleigh area and beyond

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!

Hobbit House & More at NCMA Museum Park

IMG_7013A few weeks ago, Bill planned a fun Sunday outing to explore the outdoor Cloud Chamber for the Trees & Sky exhibit (aka Hobbit House) at the NC Museum of Art’s Museum Park.  Between trips with out of town guests and regular Stroller Strides workouts, we’ve been to this museum a TON, but never to see the Cloud Chamber exhibit or hike the corresponding unpaved trails.

We parked in the large parking lot off Blue Ridge Rd and headed down the paved trail towards the infamous Gyre exhibit (the three huge concrete ellipses).  After passing the Gyre and Chairs in the Trees exhibits, we made a right onto the Blue Loop and then a left onto the unpaved trail that starts by the Crossroads/Trickster I exhibit.  The unpaved trail starts out as gravel, but then we made a slight right towards the Cloud Chamber and the path became grassy and then a very narrow dirt trail in the wooded section.  We made the mistake of bringing a BOB Revolution SE Stroller and should’ve brought a carrier for Claire and let Ashley walk.  Having two adults made it easier to maneuver the stroller over the bridges, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

IMG_7015So, after a short walk through the wooded section we found the Cloud Chamber house, which looks like a replica of Bilbo Baggins’ house.  It’s a short, circular house built into the side of the hill with large stones, some criss-crossed logs, and a green plant-based roof.  It has a concrete floor and a heavy wooden door and the house’s neat feature is that it acts as a camera obscura.  After entering the house, close the door and wait for your eyes to adjust to the darkness and you’ll see faint views of the sky as light is projected through an opening in the roof onto the floor of the house.  Bill took Ashley into the house by themselves but didn’t stay long and then I went in by myself and witnessed puffs of sky inverted on the floor…it was neat to be able to look “down” onto the sky!  And, I don’t think we’ll ever forget our trip to the Hobbit House with Ashley asking where are the “wobbits” every minute; poor girl was expecting to see some real life hobbits.

IMG_7027We then continued our walk along the loop trail where we also saw the Untitled exhibit by Ledelle Moe, which looked like a small concrete person concrete curled into a ball.  After completing the loop trail we headed back to the gravel path and turned right.  We headed downhill and came across the Whisper Bench exhibit, which was a fun interactive piece of art for Ashley.  It’s two steel benches on opposite sides of the trail that are connected by an underground sound pipe.  Ashley and Bill enjoyed talking back and forth to each other and I loved hearing the toddler giggles!  After the Whisper Bench we continued on the very sunny gravel path that led us uphill and back to the paved trail near Lowe’s Pavilion.  Finally, we stopped for a quick picnic lunch inside the pavilion before heading home for naps.

It was such a fun morning filled with fresh air, science and art and I didn’t have to plan any of it… #besthusbandever!

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: interactive pieces of art, beautiful outdoor setting

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Durham & Raleigh 24 Hours of Kid-less Freedom

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About 6 weeks before Claire was born, we had the ultimate luxury of dropping Ashley off with good friends for a day and overnight visit!  Ashley is about the same age and besties with their little girl so we knew she’d have lots of fun (she’s still talking about seeing Elmo on stage)!

Not having a toddler overnight made our minds crazy with ideas…Projects around the house? Nah, need to chill out! Beach trip?  Nah, I may never come back. Vegas? Nah, too crazy!  So, in the end we decided to enjoy what we have here and stay in the area.  Then came the outpouring of ideas on our shared Google doc.  You mean to tell me we could fill our day with 24 hours of uninterrupted together time that didn’t involve having to go home in the middle of the day for naptime or needing to be home by 7:30pm and then under house arrest until 8am the next morning?  Get out!

img_3319After lots of options we decided to spend our morning in Durham and our afternoon/evening in Raleigh exploring places and doing things we had never done before.  After dropping Ash off with friends we headed out to the Sarah Duke gardens because Bill had never been before.  We walked through the Asian gardens and then made our way around to the new (to me) rose garden.  The morning was beautiful and within 45 minutes we were done…no one had asked for a snack or to be held or to be put down or for a toy, etc, etc, etc.  To kill some more time at the gardens we decided to stray from our original plans and try the ultra nerdy pastime of geocaching.  Bill scouted the Geocaching website and found several in the immediate area of the gardens. Geocaching is like being on a treasure hunt except you use GPS coordinates and helpful online hints to locate the “treasure” that you don’t actually get to keep.  Growing up, my aunt and Mimi frequently sent us on treasure hunts around their houses, so it brought back some fun memories for me.  Being geocaching virgins we decided on one with an easy skill level that had been previously discovered the day before.  After spending way toooo much time looking for this geocache we finally found it hidden under a rock on the northern side of the gardens.  It was a small plastic container with little trinkets (stamps, toys, journal).  We signed our names and dated the log and made mental notes to try this again with Ashley.

img_3336After the gardens, we headed to Bull City Burger and Brewery in Durham.  For Raleigh folks, think Chuck’s except with a larger menu and hand crafted beers.  We both didn’t think the burgers held up to the Chuck’s standards, but agreed the food was still delish, the beers were refreshing (I just had some sips), company was excellent and the patio out back was super relaxing.  Pickle chips and fries are must-have complements to their gut-busting burgers!

After our mega lunch we headed home for some quiet time at our neighborhood pool…in the pool chairs beside the big pool.  We didn’t even glance over at the baby pool to see if our sucker friends were there with their kids.  We just sat and it was marvelous!

Post-pool we went to Glenwood Grill for dinner.  The food was delicious but based on recommendations we thought the restaurant’s atmosphere would been more upscale.  Some patrons were dressed up, but for the most part it was a random collection of people in jeans and flip flops or jumpsuits (not kidding) and then families with toddlers.  We had their pork belly appetizer and scallops and fish dinners, which was all delish!

img_3731After Glenwood Grill we headed south about a mile to Hayes Barton Cafe for dessert.  Bill had a piece of dark chocolate cake and I had the lemon blueberry cake.  These pieces of cake were about $9 each and very dense, but so amazing!  We took to-go boxes home and slowly devoured them for days.

At this point it was about 7:30pm and we couldn’t possibly call it a night.  With amazing weather, we decided this night needed a finale of something outdoors.  After some extensive googling we decided on an outdoor movie at the NC Museum of Art.  After a quick outfit change at home, we grabbed our lawn chairs and blankets and arrived just in time to see “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”  The movie is a must-see with a great cast of British actors (think Downton Abbey explores India). It was a jam-packed night for outdoor movie watching so we ended up sitting on the hill just past the entrance and couldn’t have gotten a better view.

The entire day and night were absolutely wonderful and a great time for reflection on our marriage and growing family.  We felt more united than ever and were so happy to see Ashley the next morning and so anxious to meet little soon-to-be Claire.

Thumbs up: Sarah Duke gardens, Bull City Burgers & Brewery, Hayes Barton Cafe, Glenwood Grill, NC Museum of Art’s outdoor movies

Thumbs down: Almost not being allowed to bring my own non-factory sealed water into the NCMA

Museum Park Blue Loop Opening

img_3025About a month ago we attended the Museum Park’s Blue Loop opening at the NC Museum of Art.  It was the perfect spring morning to spend with friends while walking the new trail and enjoying live bluegrass music.  The Blue Loop is a one-mile trail that includes a new cut-through between the pond and Lowe’s Park Pavilion and extends through a wooded section on the southwestern side of Museum Park.  It was made possible by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.

The FREE celebration featured live music from Big Medicine Bluegrass Band and the A&T Drumline, healthy snacks from local food trucks, and a celebratory lap around the Blue Loop.  Special guests included Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, NCMA Director Lawrence Wheeler, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina CEO Brad Wilson.

The NC Museum of Art is located at 2110 Blue Ridge Rd.  View the Museum Park map for a complete look at the Blue Loop.

Thumbs up:  lots of shade and open space, wide paths, rolling hills (perfect for a challenging run/walk)

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Mother’s Day Ideas in the Raleigh Parks

Mother's Day 2011 at the Rose Garden

This post originally appeared on Southwestraleigh.com where you can learn more about how to live, work, and play in the Creative District.

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, it’s about that time to start planning a special way to celebrate her. And being in the Creative District, we’ve got some fresh and cool ideas on the perfect way to say thanks to mom.

Here are a few Mother’s Day events along with some suggestions of great lunch/park combinations:

  • Mother’s Day Brunch at the Rose Garden – Sunday, May 13; first seating at 10:30am or second seating at 1:30pm; $35 for adults; $12 for children (ages 5-13); children under 5 are free; ticket includes scrumptious brunch buffet, drinks (mimosas served after noon), professional photograph, live guitar music, special gift for mom, special appearance by RLT’s Cinderella; reservations are required and spaces fill quickly
  • Mother’s Day Hike – Sunday, May 13 from 11am-noon; Historic Yates Mill Park; for all ages with accompanying mom; $5/family
  • Ashley and I at the NC Zoo this past weekend...what a difference a year makes!

    Family Fun Saturday: Adventures in Color at the NC Art Museum – Saturday, May 12 at 1pm; NC Art Museum; fun family workshop to discover each other’s creativity; families with children ages 5-11; $3 members/$5 non-members; grab lunch from Whole Foods on Wade Ave and have a picnic in the Museum Park beforehand

  • Lunch in the Gardens – grab lunch from Neomonde on Beryl Rd and head to JC Raulston Arboretum for a picnic among the flowers
  • Brunch at the Park – order brunch-to-go from Flying Biscuit and then walk over to Edna Metz Wells Park for a picnic and nice stroll
  • Hot Dogs & Ice Cream at the Park – for the more casual mom, grab some hot dogs and ice cream from Snoopy’s on Hillsborough St and then walk over to Pollock Place Playground for a picnic and some playground time with the kids

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

Museum Park

The Museum Park is located on the grounds of the NC Museum of Art at 2110 Blue Ridge Rd just outside the beltline.  Part of the trail through the park is shared with the Reedy Creek Trail greenway, which connects Meredith College to Umstead Park and Schenck Forest.  The museum was renovated a few years ago and besides biking the greenway past the museum, I hadn’t really stopped to visit this park.  So, we parked in the museum parking lot and followed the paved trail towards the very easy-to-read information board.

The information board highlights four different walking paths to take and breaks it out by distance, walking time, calories burned, and features you’ll see along the way.  Because it was a very hot Sunday and we had the stroller, we opted for the one-mile Ambler path, which allowed us to explore several works of art on the paved trail close to the museum.  For those planning ahead, here is a map of the park.



Information plaque with details about the park

Paved trail around the park
View of the East building

Here are the works of art we passed along the Ambler path:

Wind Machine by Vollis Simpson
Collapse I by Ledelle Moe
Gyre by Thomas Sayre
Close up of Gyre filled with concrete and covered in dirt residue
Another view of Gyre
Bill & Ashley under the Gyre
The Conversationalist by Chakaia Booker
Lowe's Pavilion by Mike Cindric and Vincent Petrarc
Another view of Lowe's Pavilion, made of steel, wood, aluminum, and concrete

A photographer’s dream shoot, the Museum Park has a gorgeous landscape of rolling hills with a sprinkle of wooded forests between the East Museum Building and the outdoor works of art.

Looking down at the Gyre artwork
Looking back towards the Wind Machine artwork
Greenway to Meredith College
Part of the unpaved trail on the Museum Park grounds
An unpaved pathway through the park
Great shady pathway for a picnic on the bench

Next, we explored one of the newer (to me, at least) features of the park, The Pond area.  With over 20,000 plants installed, this area helps with runoff, water pollution, and settling for sediment.  The terraced landscaping and even spacing of the plants had an Asian design feel to it, but what do I know!  Here’s a list of the various plants installed and some pictures to detail the beauty of this area:

What outdoor museum would be complete without an amphitheater and outdoor movie screen?! The NC Museum of Art holds several outdoor concerts and movies throughout the summer months.  Having finally made it to an outdoor movie last summer to see The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I can attest to how much fun they are.  So, bring a picnic dinner, lawn chairs or blanket, and some cash (for the beer/wine tent) and you’ve got the perfect, cheap summer night planned!  Btw, The Social Network movie is playing tonight at 8:30pm.

Some of the seating areas for outdoor movies
Looking towards the amphitheater

Overall, this park offers much more than any average park.  Whether just passing by on the greenway, planning a trip to the indoor museum, or watching a movie or concert be sure to plan enough time to explore the artwork in the Museum Park.

Thumbs up: picnic spots, rolling hills, outdoor artwork, outdoor movies/concerts, The Pond landscaping, information plaques/maps, parking

Thumbs down: few pockets of shade

Umstead Park – Reedy Creek & Reedy Creek Lake Trails

Two weekends ago we made a short drive to the Umstead Park entrance near the intersection of Reedy Creek Rd and Trenton Rd to try our new BOB stroller. We parked in the grassy median between the paved greenway trail and Reedy Creek Rd since there isn’t an actual parking lot. Be careful to abide by the parking signs.

Once in the park, we decided to head straight and follow the Reedy Creek Trail, which we’ve biked several times in the past. It’s a wide, gravel, mostly shady trail that is great for walking, running, biking, and horse back riding.  It’s a very long trail that eventually goes past the Airport Overlook, crosses I-40 west of Harrison Ave, and connects with the Black Creek Greenway.  Even though we didn’t see any horses that day, we’ve definitely seen them on cooler days.  The new stroller glided over the gravel trail, but we did have to be more careful when going over washout areas.
Along Reedy Creek Trail, you’ll pass access to other popular trails such as the Loblolly Trail (heavily wooded trail for hiking) and Reedy Creek Lake Trail (access to the Harrison Ave entrance of Umstead Park).  Knowing the Reedy Creek Lake Trail is a relatively short walk and passes by Reedy Creek Lake we made a sharp left turn onto Reedy Creek Lake Trail.  You’ll immediately pass by Reedy Creek Lake, which is great for photo ops but swimming is prohibited.  Horses are not allowed any further on this trail either.  Here is a 360 degree video taken along the trail by the lake.

Continuing on the trail is a long, steep hill that eventually flattens out.  It’s quite shady and also a gravel path, perfect for using the new stroller.  Eventually you’ll come to the trail head at the paved Reedy Creek Pkwy, which leads to the Harrison Ave entrance of Umstead Park.  Follow Reedy Creek Pkwy where you’ll pass the Park Ranger’s residence and eventually come to the large Harrison Ave parking lot.  We needed to refill our water bottles, so once in the parking lot we stopped at the first shelter on the left, Shelter #2.  We followed the paved sidewalk where we passed several picnic tables, charcoal grills, recycling areas, a water fountain, and a large pavilion for Shelter #2.

After a water refill, we quickly began our hike back to beat the encroaching heat!  This has to be one of my favorite trails in Raleigh.  It’s a great combination of shade, scenery, and steepness.  Even though we walked most of the hike, the steep hills made for an exhausting workout.  To extend your ride/walk further start by parking at the NC Museum of Art and following Reedy Creek Rd across Blue Ridge Rd and Edwards Mill Rd before arriving at Umstead Park.

Distances:

  • 1.1 miles from Reedy Creek Rd entrance to Reedy Creek Lake
  • 1.7 miles from Reedy Creek Rd entrance to Reedy Creek Pkwy
  • 2.4 miles from Reedy Creek Rd entrance to Harrison Ave entrance

Thumbs up: wide, shady trails, helpful maps, scenic views, good combination of steep hills and flat roads, access to other trails, signs and maps

Thumbs down: little parking near Reedy Creek Rd entrance

Reedy Creek Trail: Meredith College to 440 Pedestrian Bridge

For our next greenway trip we visited the portion of Reedy Creek Trail that begins at Meredith College and extends to the I-440 pedestrian bridge. There is not a parking lot on the Meredith College side, but there is plenty of street parking on the nearby neighborhood streets. The intersection is busy so use the crosswalks. We live about 1/2 mile from Meredith College so we walked to the trail and began our journey.

The trail begins near the soccer complex on Meredith’s campus at the intersection of Hillsborough St and Gorman St. It is rather wide and paved so it’s perfect for strolling the babies or hitching them behind a bike. You won’t find any picnic tables or benches along the trail with the exception of a bench when you reach the pedestrian bridge. It’s also a pretty popular trail as it provides access to the NC Art Museum where you can then toggle over to Umstead Park.

The distance from Meredith to the pedestrian bridge is 1.3 miles. There’s not much to look at along the way except for the few glimpses of the college campus to the right. The left side of the trail is heavy brush, which helps conceal the noises from neighboring I-440. After you pass the old soccer field, you’ll go up a steep hill and through a tunnel (Wade Ave is above) and then immediately up another steep hill to the entrance of the pedestrian bridge.  Be careful of the current construction around the tunnel.

Small bits of shade throughout
A small bridge you pass near campus
The old soccer field on campus
A steep hill you cover just before the tunnel
Current construction in the tunnel
Another steep hill up to the bridge (this pic is looking back towards the tunnel)

The pedestrian bridge is an amazing engineering structure that connects the campus to the Museum Park. Construction was completed in 2005. Once you cross the pedestrian bridge you enter the Museum Park preserved by the NC Museum of Art. We had been long enough by this time so we headed back. If you continue on the trail you’ll eventually come to the Art Museum, but we’ll save that portion of the trail for another day.

Arriving at the bridge
One of the few benches along the trail
Ashley before crossing the bridge
Looking out towards I-440
On the other side of the bridge looking into the Museum Park

This would make a great trail to visit for the upcoming weekend!  Happy Fourth of July!

Thumbs up: pedestrian bridge access, wide paved path, views of campus, map of greenway near entrance
Thumbs down: noisiness near I-440, lack of benches along trail