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

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

Biking To & Around North Wake Landfill District Park

IMG_6714If you can’t tell by the themes of some of my latest blog posts, biking has been our family’s new passion.  Having a bike hitch, bike trailer and at least one child biking on her own really opens up the family bike outings to beyond the driveway or cul-de-sac.  Even though Bill is usually the one to strap the bikes onto the hitch and gather all the gear, I’ve made it a point to learn how to do it on my own in hopes that I could take the girls out by myself.  Feeling rather confident about strapping all the bikes onto the hitch, remembering all the gear and snacks, I took the girls for a bike ride on Abbotts Creek Trail one summer morning in August.

For this trip, we parked at our tried and true parking lot at 10888 Bedfordtown Dr in the Bedford neighborhood.  After biking down the access path we turned right on the Neuse River Trail.  We then turned right onto the beginning of Abbotts Creek Trail.  We biked past the blue heron habitat and over a large wooden walkway before coming to Falls River Ave.  There wasn’t any obvious directional signs for how to stay on the greenway, but remember my past time on this trail, we turned left on the sidewalk of Falls River Ave.  After mostly walking our bikes up the hill, we then made another left to stay on Abbotts Creek Trail, which continues to be more hilly than the first portion of the trail.  Ashley walked her bike up several of the hills, but made up for it on the downhill portions of the trail. After about 1/2 mile of riding we turned left into the entrance of the North Wake Landfill District Park and biked/walked up the steep trails to the playground area where the girls ran around and climbed like monkeys for over an hour.

IMG_6703The bike ride back to the car was successful and even a bit adorable as my stop-and-smell-the-flowers daughter took advantage of light greenway traffic with her simultaneous bike ride swaying and singing.  Despite the hot weather, the girls made the trip so much fun and were so patient with me as I carefully installed the bike equipment back onto the car.


Fast forward to a few weeks ago when we headed back to the landfill park (9300 Deponie Dr, just off Durant Rd) with our bikes, but this time we drove in and parked at the playground and rode our bikes around the road surrounding the big hill.  The road around the hill has been updated from a two-lane car road to a two-lane road with one dedicated bike/pedestrian lane and a one-way car lane.  The road is about 1 1/2 miles long and a short median separates the bike/pedestrian lane from the car lane and has several pedestrian crossing areas.

DSC_0220We biked to the bottom of the trail that leads to the top of the landfill, parked our bikes and walked to the top.  I’m the only one in our family who has ever been to the top of the landfill, so I was excited to share the views with everyone.  The little ones took turns exclaiming their discomfort for walking up the hill, but it’s such a short walk (less than 1/4 mile) that they pushed through it.

Even though it was a cloudy morning, we could still see some downtown Raleigh buildings.  The beautiful blue sky poked through, which gave great contrast to the super lush grass on top of the mountain.  The girls loved being up so high and enjoyed playing photographer with my new big camera. We had the top of the hill to ourselves that morning, making it a really fun family outing!

With the girls being a bit older now, we really were able to utilize this park for all its assets – greenway access, advanced climbing features on playground, and large open spaces.  I look forward to bringing them back when they’re much older to explore the mountain bike skills course. It’s hard to imagine this place was once a fully functioning landfill.

Thumbs up: park located along the greenway, great playground areas with variety of features, separated two-lane road around landfill hill, clean and fully functioning restrooms

Thumbs down: poor signage along Abbotts Creek Trail at Falls River Ave

Durham Central Park

IMG_6488Part of my summer bucket list for the past few years included a trip to the Durham Farmers’ Market.  Unfortunately, we never made time to visit Durham during the summer (unless it was for a Bulls game) until this summer.  A few weeks ago we had an atypically quiet weekend at home so we decided to head out to the Durham Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning.  Little did we know the farmers’ market is just one piece of a very fun and popular urban park, Durham Central Park.

Durham Farmers’ Market is located at the pavilion in Durham Central Park at 501 Foster St in downtown Durham.  After hunting around for a parking spot (there’s a lot of nearby construction), we parked in what seemed like a valid spot at a local business that is closed on Saturdays.  We then walked the few blocks to the farmers’ market to find a mecca of food, art, and fun!  The main farmers’ market area is located under the covered pavilion, but there are also dozens of pop-up tents and food trucks nearby.  We strolled by all the pop-up tents in the lawn area, which featured mostly artists selling handmade jewelry, doggie products, art, iron-made products and much more.  Then we walked through the main area, sampling fresh fruits, cheeses, and veggies and looking at the local art.  We bought some amazing corn, tomatoes, edamame, and fresh blackberries.

IMG_6484After exploring the main area, we walked across the street to the mini food truck rodeo area, where we bought some fresh tea and loco-pop popsicles.  There were tons of vendors at the market selling clothing, unique handmade items, cold drinks, household items and more.  After window shopping we walked across the bridge at the intersection of Foster and Hunt St where it dumped us out into the large lawn area, also part of Durham Central Park.  We walked up the hill to scope out the skateboard park, which is also located across from a police station.  After watching the skaters for awhile we headed back down the hill past the Leaf open-air performance area to the fabulous playground area, Mt. Merrill.

IMG_6504The playground features amphitheater-style rock climbing, two slides, climbing net, and some shade sails.  I especially loved the cute bird cut-outs perched on top of the poles.  There are also some benches sprinkled along the nearby sidewalk and some shady spots in front of the playground by the wooded area.  We grabbed a few of those shady spots and had a quick picnic with our edamame and blackberries. The girls loved jumping back and forth between having a snack and playing on the playground.  It was neat and unusual to see large boulders used as a climbing element in a playground.

Not wanting our fun morning in Durham to end, we headed back to our car and drove the short distance to Fullsteam Brewery for some yummy summer beers and lunch from the rotating food truck.  A heavy rainstorm popped up while we were there so we enjoyed our lunch to the tune of loud rain pinging off the metal warehouse roof.  In reading up about Durham Central Park since visiting, it seems like there’s some momentum for making improvements and continual development.  I look forward to visiting again in the future and seeing how the park shapes up over the years!

More Resources:

Thumbs up: playground’s close proximity to fun and food, climbing boulders on playground, diverse mix of artisans and farmers at market,

Thumbs down: I don’t recall seeing informational plaques about Durham Central Park while there, needs more picnic tables/benches

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