Forest Hill Park (Richmond, Va)

forest hill parkLast fall we headed to Richmond for a little man’s 1st birthday party. Before the big party we headed with friends and all our littles to Forest Hill Park in Richmond, Va. Forest Hill Park is located south of the James River at 4021 Forest Hill Ave. It features an amazing farmers market open during the summer and fall months, paved walking trails, playgrounds, a pond, unpaved bike trails through the woods, wide open fields, picnic shelters and tennis courts. If you’re looking for a fun morning outing for the family, this is the place!

Once an estate owned by different families and then an amusement park, the City of Richmond bought the land in 1933 and turned it into the present-day urban park. They preserved some of the old stone buildings including the circa 1840s Stone House and old stone gazebo with fire pits by the pond that once served as a warming hut for ice skaters.

DSC_0163Farmers Market, Trail Walking & Pond

During our visit we parked at the northern entrance along New Kent Ave and first walked through the farmers market. We visited with the woolly sheep, watched a short acrobatic demo, bought coffee and donuts, and admired the local artisan’s goods. We enjoyed our breakfast goodies at the old brick shelter near the entrance and then walked down the adjacent paved loop trail.

The loop trail starts off wide and downhill, and surrounded by dense forest. The beautiful morning sun casted warm glows and soft textures – perfect for documenting our walk with the little babes and friends. The kids enjoyed watching mountain bikers hit the trails in the woods. We walked to the hexagonal stone shelter (formerly a warming hut for ice skaters) near the pond so the kids could feed the ducks. After exhausting our bread supply, we continued walking along the flat trail that soon shifted uphill. Near the top of the hill the trail narrowed as it opened to large rolling fields. We meandered along the trail passing picnickers and large, sparse oak trees until we arrived at the playground.

Playground

DSC_0222The playground features two play structures divided by age group and swings for all ages. The younger child playground contains slides, a spiral ladder, and nearby teeter totters. The older child playground contains steeper slides, arched ladders, double “racing” slides, monkey bars and zipline. The kids loved racing each other down the slides and swinging across the monkey bars. The playground’s hardwood mulch surface lessened the monkey bar falls. The original 1840s Stone House, picnic tables and tennis courts are also just a short walk away. 

After a long time on the playground, we continued on the trail back to the parking lot. Though we walked about 1.5 miles, the full loop trail is about 3.2 miles. The northern section of the trail connects to the Reedy Creek Trail and feeds into the much larger James River Park System. The James River Park System contains acres of shoreline for fishing, biking, running, walking, rafting, and canoeing. I’m excited to explore the river during my next trip to Richmond and see first-hand its importance to the large biking and running community of Richmond.

Thumbs Up

beautiful scenery, open fields, playground features, variety of vendors at farmer’s market, wide trails, preserved stone buildings

Thumbs Down

lack of restrooms near playground

Robertson Millpond Preserve

Robertson Millpond PreserveOne Sunday at the end of April we headed out to Wake County’s newest park, Robertson Millpond Preserve for some fishing.  Not knowing what to expect from this new park, we quickly discovered that Robertson Millpond Preserve is a local natural refuge for recreation and relaxation.   Its main attraction is the blackwater cypress-gum swamp, making you feel transported to the lowcountry!

Robertson Millpond Preserve is an 85-acre park located 25 minutes outside of Raleigh at 6333 Robertson Pond Road in Wendell, NC.  The millpond dam was created in the 1820s when the Avera family owned and operated a 600-acre farm and gristmill on the property.  They lived in a federal-style home, which they re-located to a new site on Robertson Pond Rd that still exists today.  The Robertson family, for which the pond and road are named for, bought the land in the late 1800s/early 1900s and probably operated the mill until the 1940s.  After the mill stopped operating in the 1950s, recreational fishing and boating became the focal point.  Decades later, the mill was removed, and in 2013 the land was purchased through the Wake County Open Space Program and the park opened in late October 2015.

IMG_4859This particular Sunday we enjoyed the park all to ourselves for several hours.  We explored the boat ramp (only non-motorized boats are allowed) down to the pond where we heard and saw a variety of birds and insects.  Sitting on the boat dock, we gawked over the large cypress trees that envelope the pond.  The park staff have installed numbered buoys in the water to created a 1/2 mile paddling trail through the pond.  Since our visit, Paddle Creek has started offering hourly kayak rentals on Saturdays only at the pond.

Then we walked over to the small shore area to set up for fishing.  Before heading out that morning, the girls and I collected live worms from our backyard for bait, but our bait didn’t stand a chance.  Bill and the girls had a few nibbles and saw some tadpoles, but this morning was more about just having fun, which everyone did!  After fishing we walked closer to the dam, which is about 20 yards wide and sits in front of Robertson Pond Road.  You can’t get very close to the dam, but the sounds are amazing and future projects include adding a short boardwalk and an interpretive display near the mill’s old foundation.

In addition to the pond’s recreational activities, the park also features a picnic shelter, open space area and nonpotable water station for cleaning your boat.  After this past weekend’s canoeing and kayaking adventures down the New River in West Jefferson, NC, I can’t wait to return on a Saturday and take the girls kayaking!

Additional Resources

Thumbs up: gorgeous views, boating options, preservation of pond and history of area, on-site station for cleaning your boat

Thumbs down: lack of weekday hours

Abbotts Creek Park

IMG_3448Before Christmas we headed to the newly opened Abbotts Creek Park, which is adjacent to Abbotts Creek Community Center and Abbotts Creek Elementary School.  Abbotts Creek Park is located in northeast Raleigh at 9950 Durant Rd, just down the road from North Wake Landfill.

The playground area is fenced-in and has brightly colored play features similar to the playgrounds at Greystone Community Center, Hill Street Park, and Powell Drive Park.  The smaller age playground features a slide, climbing ropes, and a planet-like climb-through structure.  Just a few steps away is the older age playground which features several connected rope climbing structures, climb-through rings, bouncy stepping stones, a tall slide, and a spinner.  The park also has a few benches, tot swings, regular swings, and shade canopies.

IMG_3445Outside the playground is a large concrete area with a large painted circle (presumably for playground games), four 100-yd dash lanes, a large grassy area, and rear access to the community center and elementary school play areas around the corner.  The outside spaces have lots of room to hopefully add picnic tables in the future.

We spent over an hour on the playground where the girls imagined treasure hunts, pretended the rubberized surface was hot lava, and hid in the castle (aka the top of the tall slide).  We couldn’t visit the community center because it was closed while we were there, but according to the City of Raleigh website it features a, “two story community center houses a gymnasium with a real wood floor, fitness room, multipurpose classrooms, a fitness studio, lockers and dressing rooms, and office areas.”  Even though it’s a small playground area, there’s a lot to do; but if you run out of fun here be sure to visit Durant Nature Preserve or North Wake Landfill District Park down the street.

Thumbs up: shade tarps for hot days, easy access, brightly colored play structure with interesting rope climbing features

Thumbs down: nothing to report

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

Canal Path/Heritage Trail & Old Mill Park in Fredericksburg, VA

IMG_2283Before summer came to an end we headed back up to VA for a final party at my mom’s house before turning it over to new owners.  To counteract the bushel of crabs (and beers) we were going to eat that weekend, we headed into downtown Fredericksburg on Saturday morning for a run and some playground time.

We parked at Old Mill Park (2410 Caroline St) along the Rappahannock River in downtown Fredericksburg.  We walked up towards Caroline St and turned right on the Heritage Trail, heading towards Route 1. Heritage Trail is a 1.6 mile paved path that parallels the Rappahannock River, offering gorgeous views of the flowing river through the city.  We quickly passed under Route 1, then followed along Riverside Dr before turning right along Fall Hill Ave.  We passed by the entrance to Virginia Outdoor Center and then turned left onto Canal Path trail.

IMG_2309The Canal Path is a paved 1.8 mile trail that parallels the canal until Princess Anne St where it then connects back with the Heritage Trail making a loop through downtown.  The Canal Path is mostly shaded, making it a great way to escape the summer heat.  We passed behind Mary Washington Hospital, ran under Route 1 again, ran by the Wetlands at Gayles Pond, and passed the Fredericksburg Dog Park on our way back to Old Mill Park.  Both trails display mile markers and informational signs throughout the paths related to historical aboriginal culture, Civil War battle action and current-day wetlands.

After our 3.1 mile loop run we ended back at Old Mill Park, which was a great place for the little ones to get out and stretch their legs.  Old Mill Park has a large playground for ages 2+ nestled under large trees.  It has several slides, climbing structures, built-in games for littles one to manipulate, nearby swings with tot swings, and several teeter totters.  Old Mill Park also has several large open fields (used mostly for soccer), pavilion with picnic tables, restroom facilities and riverfront views.  After all our running around we headed to the nearby Mason Dixon Cafe for brunch and mimosas.  And, no downtown Fredericksburg visit would be complete without walking next door to Carl’s for amazing ice cream!

Additional Resources

Thumbs up: beautiful river views, accessibility to running/walking loop in downtown Fredericksburg,  historical markers of information, picnic spots, playground along running loop, felt very safe with all the foot traffic

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Powell Drive Park Update

IMG_2142Before preschool started, we headed to Powell Drive Park to check out the playground renovations finished earlier this year.  I first visited Powell Drive Park about 4 years ago and remembered this park for being an easy one for parking and playing, which was exactly what my dear friend and new mama (third time around), Katie, needed on this hot August morning.

Powell Drive Park is located at 740 Powell Drive in a southwest Raleigh neighborhood.  The same old community building exists, but the layout of the playground and sidewalks around the park are new.  The new partially fenced-in playground area features a rubberized base with tot swings, regular swings, oval swing, ages 2-5 playground and ages 5-12 playground.

IMG_2152The ages 2-5 playground features bright neon colors with two small ladders, musical drums, slide, tunnel, water/sand table and stepping stones.  The playground’s height is short, making it the perfect size for early explorers.  Nearby is the ages 5-12 playground with a large spider web rope climbing ladder, curved metal ladder, and tall slide.  The big girls loved climbing to the top of the spider web rope and everyone squealed in delight while being pushed on the large, oval swing.  The old tennis courts and basketball courts are adjacent to the playground area.  There are some large shade trees near the tot swings, but little shade around the ages 2-5 playground.  A few benches surround the perimeter of the play area and several moms with small babes had the right idea by bringing a breakfast picnic to the park!

After exploring the playground we took a short walk by the pond to the small pavilion with picnic tables.  Everyone enjoyed a picnic lunch and then the bigger girls headed off to the large open field for running and hide and seek.

Overall, it was a simple morning for entertaining little ones while the mamas got some chatting done.  The big downside to the morning was having to make do with “natural” bathroom areas when nature calls for little ones.  The neighborhood center isn’t open on a regular basis, so I had to schlep both girls to hidden areas when they needed to use the bathroom.  I love the City of Raleigh parks and we frequent them a ton, but they have to make some improvements with the access to public restrooms.  I’m not asking for anything fancy, even a pay-by-use porta-potty or these nice public Portland loos (suggested by friend, Carter) will do.

Thumbs up: bright playground colors and design, unique oval swing, easy access to park, pond/picnic/playground features all nearby

Thumbs down: access to bathrooms

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

Spring Forest Road Park

IMG_5429At the end of May family visited us for the weekend so we headed out on Sunday morning with my aunt, sis-in-law, and niece to explore a new park in northeast Raleigh, Spring Forest Road Park.  I’d been wanting to check this place out ever since I heard earlier this year that it was going to be one of the parks to host the Hot Air Balloon Festival.  With such a massive open area surrounded by a walking trail and shade trees it’s no wonder it was chosen for such a festival.

Spring Forest Road Park is located at 4203 Spring Forest Road, east of Capital Blvd, near a fire station, and not far from Triangle Town Center.  After arriving in the parking lot, we took a short walk along the trail to the nearby playground.  The playground is in a very sunny location and has a sandy base.  It has several slides, monkey bars, and climbing areas that are all connected, making this a playground for ages 2-12.  The first few steps lead to a small slide for the younger ages and a big step leads to a jumpy suspension bridge, two twisty slides, a covered “castle” area (deemed so by Ashley), and a curved ladder.  After the girls exhausted my aunt on the playground they settled in with some sand toys that we brought from home.  Being that the sand and playground area was so sunny, we enjoyed a quick snack on the nearby benches before taking a walk around the loop trail.

IMG_5447We passed several small groups of folks walking that morning and noticed signs advertising walking programs held through the City of Raleigh/Wake County on their information boards.  They also advertised several zumba and kickboxing evening classes held here, which sound like a fun place to meet up with neighbors and friends in the evening.  The paved trail is 1/2 mile loop with a few small hills and passes through some shady spots.  The surrounding open space must be one of the largest open fields in the whole park system, especially if it was large enough to house a hot air balloon festival.  We also passed a baseball field before returning to the parking lot where the large pavilion with restrooms and tennis courts with backboards are located.  Several types of flowers were in bloom and the trees were full of leaves throughout the park making you forget it’s just a short distance from busy Capital Blvd.

Thumbs up: large open space, great walking trail, community walking group/activities, landscaping

Thumbs down: very sunny playground area

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

Kelly Glen Park in Apex, NC

IMG_8927This winter we braved a cold, but clear day for new adventures in Apex, NC. After exploring a new (to us) park we heading to downtown Apex for a delicious lunch at Anna’s Pizzeria.  It was the perfect combination of fresh air, exercise and comfort food!

We originally set out to visit the wooden playground at Kelly Road Park, but with the road detour on Olive Chapel Rd/Kelly Rd it looked like the park was going to be closed, so we instead stumbled upon the smaller Kelly Glen Park not too far away.  After some super helpful back and forth tweeting  with the Town of Apex (they even tweeted me a hand sketched map, must’ve known I was not from these parts), we learned that Kelly Road Park was open so we’ll definitely be back to Apex soon!

IMG_8896Kelly Glen Park is located at 1701 Kelly Glen Dr near a neighborhood cul-de-sac just outside I-540 in Apex.  There is a lot of construction along the nearby Kelly Rd bridge so parking is available in the cul-de-sac.  After parking, we followed the short, winding paved path past the pavilion to the playground.  The playground is designed for ages 5-12, but only has one opening at a tall height and Claire did a good job climbing around with my assistance.  The playground has several slides and a tall ladder and features several hand crank-operated marble games.  There is also a pair of nearby low-to-the-ground tot swings that both girls really enjoyed.  Even though Ashley is way TOO big for these swings, she loved running for a “take-off” while sitting in the swing.  Before leaving the park the girls spent quite a bit of time watching the nearby construction from the fence.

After the park we headed back towards Raleigh with a stop in downtown Apex for lunch at Anna’s Pizzeria.  I’ve been wanting to try Anna’s for awhile now and I’m so glad we did.  Despite the busy lunch crowd, we had attentive service and a great lunch of pepperoni pizza and garlic knots.  With so many restaurants and shops in downtown Apex I look forward to returning soon!

Thumbs up: helpful tweets from Town of Apex staff, tot swings, exploring downtown Apex

Thumbs down: in-your-face road closed signs made Kelly Rd Park seem closed even though it wasn’t, noisy construction