Jack Smith Park (Cary, NC)

Jack Smith Park splash padBack in June, my sister and niece visited the same weekend we planned a trip to Jack Smith Park with our Raleigh Jaycee friends. Jack Smith Park is located at 9725 Penny Rd and opened towards the end of last summer. If you’re looking for a one-stop shop for outdoor fun, this is the park!

Jack Smith Park features a splash pad, multiple playgrounds for all ages, a rock climbing structure, walking trails, and a dog park. We arrived at the park at 10am when the splash pad opened. Luckily, some friends saved a table under the pavilion for our group to stash our gear while out playing. The splash pad features tall buckets that dump, gentle water fountains, circular misting fountains, and maneuverable water guns. Picnic tables with umbrellas, clean restroom facilities, large pavilion, and half-walls for sitting are adjacent to the splash pad. 

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After my kids tired of the splash pad they played on the playground areas and rock climbing structure. The smaller kid playground features several slides, a small rock climbing wall, sails for shade, and a curved climbing ladder. The bigger kid playground features a tall spider web climbing net, challenging curved climbing ladders, gyro spinners, slides, and stepping stones. The regular swings, baby swings, and tire swing are located near the perimeter of the park. When I wasn’t poking my head around parents and play things to keep an eye on the girls, I was pushing the girls on the tire swing. Boy, do they LOVE a tire swing!

And, my oldest daughter loves rock climbing! She’s pretty fearless and persistent, and loves the challenge that rock climbing presents. The park’s rock climbing structure is at the far end of the park. Large natural rocks surround the structure which sits upon a rubbery surface. She tried multiple times to climb the hardest section of the rock before trying her hand at the flatter sides. Though she didn’t climb up very far, she enjoyed climbing alongside the bigger kids.

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The Town of Cary parks always impress me with their attention to landscaping, public art, and availability of public restrooms. Young trees surrounded by half-walls create nice sitting areas for parents. The park features several ornamental grasses, flowering shrubs, and a large open grassy field down from the playground. Many benches and shaded picnic tables also scatter the perimeter. Vollis Simpson’s folksy art sculptures take center stage as you park near the playground. Finally, the restrooms are very clean and roomy, and have water fountains and a nearby hand shower for spraying off the treated water.

Despite being super busy on a weekend morning, I look forward to bringing the girls back here one day. Splash pads offer a quick water alternative to cooling off in the pool. And, with so many other activities at this park, it makes for many fun-filled hours!

Thumbs up: one-stop shop for fun, rock climbing structure, mixing water play with dry activities, outdoor art, natural climbing rocks, nice landscaping, lots of seating options

Thumbs down: very crowded, can be difficult to manage multiple small kids

Update: Historic Yates Mill County Park Programs

Historic Yates Mill County Park ProgramsOver Memorial Day weekend, my in-laws visited from Maryland. Wanting to find something new to explore that is appropriate for both older and younger people, I researched the upcoming Wake County Parks & Recreation events. I found a fun event at Historic Yates Mill County Park called “Messing About with Boats” that featured a reading from The Wind in the Willows and boat-making craft. The event was super affordable at $2/person, only 1.5 hours long and for ages 6+. I formally registered everyone except Claire (who’s only 3) knowing that she would enjoy the story and “help” the adults with their crafts. The entire program exceeded my expectations!

DSC_0117The instructor started the class with a coloring activity as the participants arrived. We colored paper animal masks of characters Badger, Toad and Otter from the book. Then, we constructed our masks with either popsicle sticks or string. After the coloring activity, the instructor presented material about the mill’s history and different types of energy. She catered the presentation to all age groups and made it especially interactive for the young ones. Next, the instructor walked us through creating a boat from an Altoid box and powered by stored-up rubber band energy. She related the craft to the energy lesson and also read from The Wind in the Willows story.

DSC_0126After everyone finished making their boats, we headed outside to the docks to launch our boats. Sure enough, our wound-up rubber bands caused the plastic paddles to propel the boats a few feet into the water. The instructor came prepared with a net to scoop up the boats so the kids could try again. The entire program was a perfect combination of creating, science, and hands-on experimenting for this age group.

After the program finished, our family enjoyed a picnic lunch near the water. Ashley found a quiet spot on the dock to read while Claire continued to perfect her boat launch. Then, we walked a short ways to the old mill and snapped pictures of the dam. Finally, we headed back towards the main building and crossed the bridge over the pond admiring how many turtles we could spot.

While we’ve been to Historic Yates Mill County Park several times in the past, I’d never registered for one of their programs. The morning’s activities were perfect for our mix of little ones and grandparents. Each Wake County Park features a monthly newsletter that you can subscribe to for staying in the loop about upcoming programs. I look forward to finding another great event to attend soon!

Thumbs up: age-appropriate programs, instructor’s knowledge and enthusiasm of subject material, 

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Dowdy Park in Nags Head, NC

DSC_0057In May, we travelled to Nags Head for our annual trip with friends (and family this year, too) to run the Nags Head Preserve Yuengling 5k race. This year the race weekend coincided with the grand opening of Dowdy Park, located at the intersection of S Croatan Hwy & E Bonnett St. Near MP 12, the park sits on land that was once the home of Dowdy Amusement Park. Over the years, I remember driving by the abandoned theme park wishing someone would do something to clean up that area. It’s wonderful to see how land once used for fun and recreation has come full circle.

As a Raleigh resident, we are spoiled with parks and playgrounds around every corner. Though Nags Head has beautiful natural recreational areas (the beach, the dunes, the nature preserve), to say it needs more playgrounds is an understatement. Dowdy Park’s grand opening celebration and Artrageous Kids Festival was bustling with families, echoing the excitement for more outdoor parks.

DSC_0056Dowdy Park features several play areas where kids can jump, run, swing, climb and slide until their hearts are content! The older kid playground has wide wheelchair-accessible ramps to musical and periscope play items. The ramp connects to stairs for climbing higher along a net bridge or to the ground via a rock wall. The other side of the net bridge features challenging ladders, a climbing tree stump and a fast, twisty slide. A colorful climbing hill with curved bars, musical instruments, balance beams, surfboards, bench swing, and merry-go-round are also located nearby. With the large festival and park attendance, it was overwhelming to keep track of multiple kids bouncing between so many activities.

DSC_0074The smaller kid playground features short steps up to ramps connected to a double slide. All the kids thoroughly enjoyed the nearby rolling slide. They loved making rattling noises as they slid down the bumpy slide. Across from the small kid playground is a wheelchair-accessible ride. It allows folks in wheelchairs to reverse their chair onto a ramp and swing. And, a playground near the beach wouldn’t be complete without a little sand – just follow the sea turtle flipper prints! Short pier pilings line the sandbox area, which has a large climbing sea turtle in the middle.

DSC_0079Also near this area are hopscotch and twister games, checkers tables, another climbing hill, picnic tables and benches. On this particular day vendors lined the perimeter of the open green space area. Park-goers filled the open green space area watching the performances under the covered pavilion. Throughout the park you’ll find pieces of art, such as the nautilus stamps shells, temporary art pole exhibit, and wooden paintings. Even though Dare County is mostly known for its beaches, I’ve always been impressed with the local art scene. We’ve enjoyed local art galleries, shopping and art walks when they’ve overlapped with our vacation times.

Currently, small dunes, a split-rail fence and 20 yards of undeveloped park land separate busy the US-158 and sandbox area. According to the Town of Nags Head, phase 2 of development starts this fall for a garden, multi-use courts, restrooms and bocce ball court. It’ll be interesting to see how this area evolves over the years. And, I look forward to returning on a day that isn’t quite so busy.

Thumbs up: unique play areas, incorporating beach details into the park, accommodations for all ages and abilities, fun climbing hills and slides

Thumbs down: lack of shade

Umstead Park: Oak Rock Trail

In January we headed with friends to Umstead Park to explore the super kid-friendly Oak Rock Trail, which is only 1/2 mile long. This is a great hike for young families or large groups with young kids. The trail has easy access to clean restrooms and picnic tables, and shallow stream access for water fun in the warmer months. It’s also part of the Kids in Parks TRACK Trails program that provides self-guided brochures for outdoor adventures.

We accessed Umstead Park from the Highway 70/Glenwood Ave entrance at 8801 Glenwood Ave. Recalling the mobile map, we drove past the Visitor Center and then parked in the first parking lot on the left. Unfortunately there weren’t signs from the main road directing you to the trail. After parking, we walked straight, following the signs for Oak Rock Trail and Kids in Parks.

Since it was wintertime, the leaves covered the ground making it a little tricky to notice tree roots. Luckily, the girls heeded our suggestion for walking slowly. We zig-zagged over the small creek several times, throwing sticks and stones into the water and looking for tadpoles. The girls also enjoyed hopping on large stones to cross the streams.

Even though the trail is short, we spent extra time listening and looking for birds, picking up leaves, and finding moss. The girls enjoyed looking at the tangled tree roots coming out of the ground near the creek and the fallen trees along the way. At the end of the trail we enjoyed a picnic lunch while the girls traversed a large fallen tree. The nearby restrooms were clean and easily accessible. 

Thumbs up: easy family hike, great for young kids, self-guided scavenger hunt brochure, plenty of picnic tables, creek for splashing

Thumbs down: poor signage to trail from main park road

Raven Rock Loop Trail at Raven Rock State Park

Raven Rock Loop TrailIn mid-January we headed to Raven Rock State Park for a morning hike and picnic. Raven Rock State Park is located about an hour south of Raleigh along the Cape Fear River in Harnett County. The underlying rocks in the area formed nearly 400 million years ago through heat and pressure. High winds and rushing water gradually shaped the huge crystalline rock where ravens perched. River captains relied on the outcrops until hurricanes permanently damaged the locks and dams in 1859. Railroad transportation soon replaced river travel, and the state established the park in 1969. The old Northington lock and dam are visible from the park.

We parked in the southern section of the park near the Visitor Center at 3009 Raven Rock Rd in Lillington. Newly built in 2010, the Visitor Center is a great first stop before heading to the trails. Inside the center we explored the exhibits with the topography map, animal scat samples, and history of the the dams. The ranger was friendly and helpful when guiding us to the trailhead. After making a last-minute stop in the clean restrooms, we walked along the left side of the road to access the Raven Rock Loop Trail.

The Raven Rock Loop Trail is about 2.6 total miles. We walked clockwise around the loop, so the beginning of the trail was wide and gently sloped. The back half of the trail was slightly steeper, making the girls push harder at the end of our trip. About a mile into the hike, we arrived at the overlook above the Cape Fear River. The overlook provides beautiful views of the river and surrounding forests.

DSC_0086Then, we walked a little further until we arrived at the steep zig-zag stairs leading to the Raven Rock outcrop. We carefully walked down the windy stairs, stepping to the side to allow others to pass us. At the bottom we reached flatter ground with easy access to the river and the enormous Raven Rock outcrops. The girls loved climbing around the huge rocks and over the tree with the tangled web of tree roots. Portions of the rocks were large enough to crawl under and around, making for fun hiding spots. We also enjoyed listening to the trickling springs dripping from the moss-covered rocks overhead. 

DSC_0096After climbing around the main Raven Rock attraction, we ascended up the windy stairs and finished the steeper part of the loop trail. We crossed the stream a few times and enjoyed looking for wild animals through the bare forests. Lastly, when we returned to the trailhead we passed picnic tables, a large pavilion and the entrance for the American Beech Trail featuring the Kids in Parks Track Trail. Though we didn’t have time to hike it, this easy 0.5 mile hike features fun adventures such as Nature Hide ‘n Seek to excite kids about hiking. We also passed signs with information about the canoe-in camping.

Though hiking can be tricky with small kids, the more you hike together the less whiny easier and more fun it can be. For hikes longer than 1 mile, we still bring our hiking backpack for our 3 1/2 year old. We always pack lots of snacks and/or picnic lunch and started letting the girls use our older cameras to capture sights along the way. The girls started melting down towards the end of this trail because we unknowingly saved the steeper portion for the end. Next time, we’ll hike this loop trail in reverse order and visit in warmer months to take advantage of playing in the streams!

Thumbs up: friendly park staff, informative visitor center, steady foot traffic along trail, beautiful views over river, interesting rock outcrops

Thumbs down: nothing to report

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

Sassafras All Children’s Playground at Laurel Hills Park

DSC_0106Writing escaped me this fall and winter. As I tried writing, my head jumbled and I lost my writing motivation. Writing is something that can only get better with practice, and I’m hoping in the early months this year, I’ll become more motivated and write more frequently.

Last fall we visited the newly opened Laurel Hills Sassafras All Children’s Playground in West Raleigh. The playground is located at 3808 Edwards Mill Rd, convenient to Crabtree Valley Mall, I-440 and I-40. If you’re looking for unique climbing structures and play areas to exhaust excite your kids, this is the place! The new playground features over 3.5 acres of multi-level swinging, climbing, running and sliding fun. It features several “tree house” play structures connected by wide, low-grade ramps with lots of climbing and sliding options for getting on and off the playgrounds. My girls loved the more challenging ladders, tree trunk steps, and rope nets – “bring on the heights and danger” is their motto! The connected play structure contains some shorter climbing areas with tunnels, balance beam, and a rolling slide – perfect for toddlers. The smaller tot play area features tethered rope swings and a small climbing sphere.

DSC_0120The far end of the playground contains swings (tot swings, tire swing, regular swings, and handicapped-accessible swings) and basketball court. Tall grasses arranged in a fun maze provide a textured separation from the rest of the playground. The large sandbox area features a handicapped-accessible sand table and wall seating for grown-ups. The girls also loved the zip lines, which feature about 20 yards of fast-flying fun on cables; one zip line contains a bucket seat for added safety.

Park benches installed around the perimeter and interior of the playground provide lots of options to rest and monitor children. With so many features this park can be overwhelming to keep track of multiple children. We still managed to lose track of our kids, despite having Bill with me. An elevated grassy spot helps alleviate those concerns, but with my busy kids we still had trouble. Unfortunately, there’s not an outdoor bathroom facility within eyesight of the playground; however, the community center has several bathrooms and an outdoor facility is located down the paved trail across from the small pond. The main entrance of the playground contains picnic tables and a nearby large pavilion available for rent. 

While we’ll all miss the old all-wooden castle playground at Laurel Hills, the unique play areas of the new playground provide thrilling play for all ages and abilities. With the recent warm February weather, I’m excited to visit the playground again, knowing we probably overlooked some play spots during our first visit.

Thumbs up: thrilling slides, uncommon play features such as zip lines, variety of swings for all ages and abilities, unique sand box equipment, rubberized surface, landscaping

Thumbs down: bathrooms aren’t within eyesight, it’s difficult to keep track of multiple children

Historic Murphys Park (Murphys, Ca)

IMG_6879And so begins my multi-part series on public parks we explored in Northern Ca.  At the end of the summer we took the girls on a huge adventure to visit my aunt and uncle in Northern California.  It’s unfortunate we waited so many years before visiting them – we made amazing memories this trip and I’m so glad we shared it with our kids.

My aunt and uncle live in the small town of Sonora, Ca., and one morning they drove us over the dramatically high New Melones Reservoir bridge into Calaveras County and the small town of Murphys, Ca. to explore the small city park and have lunch downtown.  Historic Murphys Park is located at 505 Algiers Street in Downtown Murphys, a mid-1800s gold mining town turned charming Main Street with upscale retail shops, an inn, yummy restaurants and bars, and 20+ local winery tasting rooms.  Here’s a side note about Murphys: the town narrowly escaped the too-close-to-home Butte Fire, a fast moving wildfire that spread during the 2015 California wildfire season.

img_1773Murphys Park is a true community park – built by the people, for the people.  The all-volunteer, non-profit Murphys Community Club opened the park in 1948 and maintains the park for the public through membership dues, donations, and use fees for special events.  Upon entering the park your eyes are immediately drawn to the white wooden gazebo – perfect for photo ops, picnics, and outdoor music.  I was shocked to see rotisserie spits, presumably for hosting the exciting summer concerts that were advertised on big banners throughout the park. The shallow Murphys Creek runs through the park creating a relaxing and water recreational aspect. We splashed in the creek to cool off and enjoyed watching other park-goers gently tube the creek. Picnic tables and benches also align both banks of the creek.

After splashing in the creek the girls played in the playground area. The smaller-age playground contains a slide, interactive spin toys, and climbing stairs.  The playground for older children features several tall slides, monkey bars, climbing ladders and walls, tunnels and shade sails. Two tot swings, two traditional swings and picnic tables are adjacent to the playgrounds.  Family names are carved into the nearby fence pickets, probably signifying park donors.

IMG_6924After exploring the park we visited retails shops in downtown Murphys and ate a yummy lunch at Firewoods. Before leaving Murphys, we visited the tasting room of Villa Vallecito Vineyards, which is owned by dear friends of my aunt and uncle.  The vineyard is a 20 minute drive from Murphys and features amazing views of the rolling hills and overlooks the New Melones Reservoir.  The owners treated us to the most delicious wines and snacks and gave the girls the most sincere hospitality. You can even rent the casita at the top of their property. If you’re heading to the Northern California area, include Murphys on your stop for wine, food, and community feeling – I can’t wait to come back with my wine glass in hand!

More Resources:

Thumbs up: small-town feel, seating options, splashing in the creek, Villa Vallecito Vineyards wines and property views,

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Marla Dorrel Park (Cary, NC)

IMG_6770Over the past few years I’ve continually heard about the amazing “dragon” park in Cary with great play areas for all kids.  Well, we finally ventured to the super popular Marla Dorrel Park, which features the Kids Together Playground at the end of summer with friends.  With its unique play areas for graduated levels of difficulty, variety of wheelchair-accessible play equipment, nicely landscaped areas, and abundance of seating it makes a great park for everyone!

Marla Dorrel Park is located near Tryon Rd/Cary Pkwy at 111 Thurston Dr in Cary.  It features a basketball court, access to MacDonald Woods Park via Henshaw Greenway, covered pavilion, and the Kids Together Playground, a playground inspired by two girls whose sisters have special needs where kids of all levels of physical and mental ability can enjoy fully-integrated play. There’s a longer walk to the playground from the parking lot than most parks so make sure you have everything you need when get out of the car.  As you walk towards the park your eyes are immediately drawn to the beautiful crape myrtles and flowering plants near the pavilion. The large pavilion provides a great meeting spot for birthday parties and picnics and an easy place to spot the restrooms, which even has shorter toddler-level sinks.  Just past the pavilion is the infamous climbing dragon sculpture, Katal, resting in full sun while the kids run up, down and all over it.  Heading in the other direction, follow the widely paved sidewalks where you’ll pass interactive purple whisper benches on the way to one playground area full of tunnels, arched ladders, fire poles, shade sails, and more.

IMG_6761Beyond this playground is another play structure with graduated levels of difficulty that feature wheelchair ramp access, twisty slides, arched ladders, a fun rolling slide, interactive play items and so much more.  Tot swings, traditional swings and chair swings are also located nearby including a swinging platform with wheelchair accessible ramps.  The playground surface is mostly sand so bring your sand toys or enjoy the diggers; but wide paved sidewalks wind throughout making it easy to access all areas.  They even have wheelchair-accessible sand tables along the pathways!

After exhausting a lot of time on the bigger playgrounds, we visited the partially fenced-in toddler area, which features a playhouse, river of sand, water sources, sand table, and small climbing structures.  While our girls felt they have mostly outgrown this area, the shaded benches made for a nice place to stop for a snack.  And everyone enjoyed walking through the misting fountains.

This park is loaded with a variety of play structures and picnic spots – we played and snacked for over 2 hours.  And, while it may be a super popular park (parking lot was almost full on our way out) it is so big and has so many play areas it doesn’t feel overflowing with people.

Thumbs up: variety of play equipment for all ages/abilities, lots of shade, abundance of swings, well-maintained landscaping, great picnic areas

Thumbs down: lush landscaping can be hard to see over when trying to keep watch on more than one child!

Fuquay-Varina Splash Park

Fuquay-Varina Splash ParkWhen we didn’t travel this summer, we explored lots of different places in Raleigh – the library, nature parks, the pool, and trampoline parks.  After feeling like we exhausted places in Raleigh, we mixed things up and visited different places outside Raleigh.  First on our stop was the Fuquay-Varina Splash Park with dear friends who have girls the same ages as ours.  The splash park is located inside South Park, about 40 minutes south of Raleigh at 900 S Main St.

Splash pads (separate from a pool) are few and far between in Raleigh and can offer a fun alternative to the pool.  Fuquay’s splash park is 6,000 sq ft of fenced-in water happiness for all ages!  Its most popular feature is the large green bucket that fills up and dumps like a big waterfall every few minutes.  Before the bucket nears its tipping point, most of the children line up below to squeal in excitement after the water dumps.  If being drenched isn’t your thing (or your child’s idea of fun), there are smaller water spray features throughout the splash pad including water guns, misting tunnels, gentle short sprays great for early walkers/babies, and taller sprays for bigger kids to run though.

IMG_6454The splash pad costs $2 per child for non-residents (cash only) and is free for Fuquay-Varina residents with a Resident Splash Card.  During the summer, the splash pad opened at 11am so there was quite an initial rush and it was at capacity by the time we got there at 11:15am.  After about 15-20 minutes the attendant called for everyone inside the splash pad to exit while the next group entered.  This juggling of guests continued for a few cycles before the crowds naturally evened out.

 

After spending our time in the splash pad, we headed to the large adjacent pavilion for a picnic lunch.  There is also a nearby playground and swings for all ages, but our girls wanted to quickly eat and head back to the splash pad.  Despite little shade, the playground was wildly popular among other park guests and provided a nice option while waiting to go back into the splash pad area.

After another splash session, we packed things up and headed home with a quick stop in downtown Fuquay-Varina for froyo at Sweet Creations.  It’s been at least four years since I’ve visited Fuquay-Varina and it’s neat to see all the new and established downtown businesses doing so well.  I look forward to exploring the new Fainting Goat Brewing Company during my next trip!

Even though several area pools have closed for the season, the Fuquay-Varina Splash Park is open through September 11 with limited hours.  Despite its shorter hours, the splash park will still make for a nice reprieve especially from the upcoming weekend’s heat.

Thumbs up: large park with fun recreational options, fenced-in splash park area, inexpensive entry fee, well managed crowd control, shaded dry seating areas outside the splash pad, large family-friendly restrooms
Thumbs down: earlier opening time might help with large crowds