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

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

Curtis Memorial Park in Stafford, Virginia

IMG_0455After my mom’s sudden passing in March, my sister, brother and I immediately went into triage mode when it came to making sure her staffing business ran as usual and getting her personal affairs in order.  Before her funeral, we needed a break from all the new terminology we learned and responsibilities we acquired, so we set out with all the cousins and my aunt Jeanne to a special hometown park that meant a lot to our mom and was a big piece of our childhood, Curtis Memorial Park, in Stafford, Virginia.

Curtis Memorial Park (aka Curtis Park) is located at 58 Jesse Curtis Ln in the rolling hills of Hartwood’s farm country (more and more of that area is being developed now).  Growing up, we spent a lot of our time here; whether it was attending summer camp or the annual Easter Egg Hunts, taking swimming lessons, being on the swim team, going on spooky Halloween nature walks, having my birthday party, attending my senior year picnic, helping with soccer camp, or working at the front gate, we made a lot of memories with great friends and family.

IMG_0395Curtis Park features an olympic-size outdoor swimming pool with a large baby pool with splash umbrella and zero-depth entry, 18-hole Gauntlet golf course, nature trails, pavilions, sand volleyball, tennis courts, skateboard park, fishing lake, playground, baseball fields and large open fields.  As you drive into the park, you pass a beautiful tree-lined entrance road that leads to open fields adjacent to the tennis courts, skateboard park and playground.  Turn left before the open fields to access the Gauntlet golf course and small to medium-sized pavilions.  The playground features several slides, climbing structures, bridges, teeter totters, tot swings, regular swings and a sliding bar.  It is adjacent to a small pavilion and the tennis courts and backs up to a nearby nature trail.  The girls loved climbing all over the playground and spent a lot of time swinging together!

IMG_0441Past the open field is a large parking lot with access to the pools, nature trails and large pavilion on top of the hill overlooking the pool.  Further down the main road is the large lake for fishing and boating and more nature trails.  The main fishing pier and boat ramp is accessible from the other side of the lake on Stony Hill Rd (you must exit the park). After our playground time we picnicked on top of the hill, which offers the best views of the park. The girls enjoyed chasing each other while taking in the site of the drained pool below.  The Olympic-size pool has depths of 3ft and 4ft in the shallower end to 12ft in the deep end.  The baby pool features a zero-depth entry and splash umbrella.  The deep end has two diving board blocks, but with it being out of season when we visited I’m not sure if they actually allow diving.  I have very vivid memories of jumping off the since removed 3-meter springboard and 5-meter platform boards during off hours.  Being the daughter of the Aquatics Director had its perks!

While the kids were busy picnicking I ventured over to the nearby grave site of the Curtis family where about a dozen family members are buried.  According to the Stafford Parks & Rec website, the Curtis family donated land from their farm to the county to be used for recreational purposes.  The park opened in 1975 and is getting ready to have a big 40th anniversary celebration this weekend on June 20th.  We’re excited to come back for the big celebration and swim in the pool I grew up in!

My mom worked tirelessly to implement new amenities and improvements to the pool and programs, which created positive publicity in the local media.  Here are just a few of the fun ideas she implemented over the years:

  • She updated the baby pool to include zero-depth entry and water splash umbrellacurtispark 8
  • In 1990, she brought a 3-meter inflatable slide to the deep end, which was a huge hit with patrons but a big pain to her staff.
  • With scorching temperatures in 1991, she dropped in five 300-pound blocks of ice to try to cool things off.
  • In 1992, she organized meet and greets at the pool with local swimming and diving Olympians, Jeff Rouse and Mark Lenzi.  She went on to organize Olympic watching parties at the pool so folks could cheer on the local Olympians as they went for the gold (see local news stories from July and Aug 1992)!

My mom worked as the Aquatics Director of Stafford County from 1981-1993, where she managed the area pools and Aqua Po Beach, but was most proud of teaching swimming lessons to the area’s youth.  She met life-long friends and gave several teenagers their first jobs as lifeguards; we were honored to see some of those same teenagers and former coworkers again at her funeral service.  I am forever grateful for the memories I have at this park and can’t wait to come back this weekend for the 40th anniversary celebration, which happens to coincide with my mom’s birthday.

Thumbs up: beautiful pool and picnic settings, fun nature trails, one park with EVERYTHING

Thumbs down: I remember little shade around the pool

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

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

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

Lake Lynn Playground Update

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I spent some time again this fall running around Lake Lynn with the girls while training for the City of Oaks 10k race.  After a few laps around the lake we spent time at the playground so they could get their own exercise.  We were pleasantly surprised to find a few updates to the playground area.

Lake Lynn Park & Community Center is located in North Raleigh and has two entrances.  If the kids are with me I’ll park at the main entrance near the community center and playground off Ray Rd, but if I’m going there for a solo run I’ll park at the smaller entrance with immediate access to the trails off Lynn Rd.

The tot playground area has a new climbing area with a vertical climbing bridge sandwiched between two rock walls, which was a big hit for Ashley.  The older tot swings and small tot jungle gym and bigger kid playground haven’t changed.  Adjacent to the playground is a new large pavilion with about 12 picnic tables, making it a great spot for group gatherings and birthday parties!  The nearby bocce ball courts also seemed to have gotten a small facelift and there seem to be several more picnic tables scattered around the perimeter of the playground.  There’s a lot of other amenities at this park (baseball fields, tennis courts, batting cages), but having a playground area near a covered picnic spot and restrooms is usually what we’re looking for these days!  Most recently we enjoyed a Halloween party with our Stroller Strides friends where kids of all ages enjoyed the playgrounds and there was easy access to the nearby pavilion and community center.

More Resources:

Thumbs up: proximity of playground area to pavilion/community center

Thumbs down: nothing new to report

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)

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

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For the first time in our 10 years of vacationing in Nags Head, we finally paid a visit to Jockey’s Ridge State Park.  Jockey’s Ridge is the tallest natural sand dune system in the eastern US.  It is located at 300 W. Carolista Dr in Nags Head (MP 12) on the sound side of HWY 158.  Having never been to a desert or sand dune park before, I was blown away by the massiveness of the dunes; if a herd of camels had passed by, I would’ve forgotten we were in NC!

Jockey’s Ridge sand dunes vary in height of 80 to 100 ft and is believed to have been formed when hurricanes or strong northeasters transported sand inland from offshore islands.  The rich history of this area started with the Algonquian Indians and was further explored by European settlers.  Jockey’s Ridge became an official NC state park in 1975 only after the strong efforts of Carolista Baum (read more about the history of Jockey’s Ridge).  Today, the non-profit group Friends of Jockey’s Ridge also provides support and brings awareness to the dunes.

IMG_8054Unfortunately, our visit to Jockey’s Ridge did not go as swimmingly as I would have liked.  As with most things I plan with two small children, my expectations exceed reality and this was one of those examples.  Knowing the sand is at least 10 degrees hotter than the outside temperature we got an early start to our trip and were in the parking lot area by 9:30am.  After a short stop inside the visitor’s center, Bill and I set off with both girls to find the top of the dunes.  We made our way to the end of the wooden walkway near the large group of visitors that were catching their breath from just coming off the dunes.  We followed some of the other visitors along the loosely marked Tracks in the Sand trail.  We made it up a few small hills and discovered several animal tracks, but on our way up the large dune our sweet 3yr old retreated down the hill exclaiming, “My legs are too tired!”  Rather than continue climbing with Claire in the carrier while Bill was 100 yards away on a work conference call (great reception, fyi) I scooped Ashley up and proceeded downhill.  Looking back, maybe this trip was a bit premature for this young group, but a little character building never hurt anyone; and, Ashley loooved recounting the story about how tired her legs were throughout dinner later that night!

I hope to make it back to Jockey’s Ridge for some solo hang gliding during our annual trip in May; the kiddos will have to enjoy my stories and pics instead of another first-hand experience!  I look forward to some family kite flying when everyone is at least 5 years old!

Thumbs up: gorgeous views (I bet they’re even better from the top)

Thumbs down: learning the hard way that my young children do not tolerate sand dunes