Bryan Park (Richmond, Va)

Bryan ParkOver Spring Break we vacationed with friends and family in Virginia. We initially wanted to visit the newly renovated Maymont Park (see my 2012 park review) in Richmond, but opted for the quieter Bryan Park instead. With its granite archways, expansive rolling hills, recreational areas, and natural spots Bryan Park is the perfect crossroads of Virginia’s history and nature!

History of Bryan Park

Bryan Park is located on the Northside of Richmond at 4308 Hermitage Rd between I-95 and US-64. According to Richmondoutside.com, the history of Bryan Park dates back to the late 1700s when the Young family owned the 600 acre Westwood Estate. In 1800, Young’s Spring served as a meeting spot for a planned slaved rebellion (formally known as Gabriel’s Rebellion) that went awry. Rosina Young inherited half of the estate, which is most of Bryan Park today, after her father’s passing in 1832. During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers setup a defense line near the Rosewood farmhouse on the property. Following the war, Rosina (and her daughter) continued to farm Rosewood until her death in 1906. 

With the booming development of Richmond’s Northside at the turn of the century, prominent Richmond businessmen, Lewis Ginter and Joseph Bryan (publisher of Richmond Times at the time), created large residential neighborhoods. After Bryan’s death in 1908, his widow, Belle Stewart Bryan, purchased Rosewood at a public auction. Then, she donated the land to the city as a memorial and for use as a public park. 

Then over the years, the Richmond City Council transformed the farm into a park.  The park’s condition deteriorated over the years until the mid-1990s when concerned citizens organized the Friends of Bryan Park (FoBP) group to improve and preserve the park. Today the park is a joint effort between the City of Richmond Parks & Rec and FoBP.

Our Visit – Playground

For our visit to Bryan Park, we drove through the main Hermitage Rd entrance passing under the massive granite archways. I stayed straight, relying on map memory (not the signage), to park in a small gravel lot near the playgrounds. The kids jumped out and ran across the field to the playground area. 

The playground features fun climbing structures, a large shaded teeter totter, tot swings, regular swings, and a large jungle gym. The jungle gym features a tree-themed design with unique climbing ladders, rock wall, and twisty and straight slides. The kids loved alternating between the twisty slide and climbing areas.

Hiking & Creek

After exhausting the playground, we consulted Google Maps to find a sandy splashing area along Jordan’s Branch. Thinking we had the spot realized, we hopped into our cars and drove up the street closer to Shelter #1. We walked along the left side of Shelter #1 on Young’s Pond Ln and turned left onto a trail opening at the bottom of the small hill. The narrow trail meandered through the woods with the creek to the right. We wanted to find an easy access point to the creek with sandy areas on the opposite side. After 1/2 mile hike through the woods we succumbed to hungry voices and picnicked on the trail. While little people ate lunch, a few of us ran ahead to find the easy creek access. We stopped a little too soon – the easy creek access was less than 50 yards ahead. 

Following our picnic lunch, we headed to the easy access and crossed the shallow parts to the sandy banks. The kids loved splashing in the creek, looking for tadpoles, and walking in the sand. It was a really warm day, so the cool water was very welcoming.

After splashing, we headed back across the bank to brush off dirt and walk back to the cars. Unbeknownst to us, we happened upon a shortcut on the way back and came out at the trailhead on Jordan’s Branch Ln. We quickly walked to the parking lot and then drove to Ardent Craft Ales for some much deserved beer and snacks (New England IPA was my fave).

I always enjoy discovering a new (to me) Richmond park because of its ties to the area’s rich history. Even though Bryan Park was a little overgrown, it’s nice the great citizens of FoBP and community partners support the park’s preservation. Be sure to check out their events page for how to volunteer or attend a program! I’d love to return to the park (sans kids) and follow the self-guided tour map or admire the azaleas in full bloom.

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: park’s rich history, beautiful rolling hills and old trees, unique natural features, variety of recreational activities, fun playground area

Thumbs down: overgrown areas, poor signage

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

Robert Godbold Park in Cary, NC

IMG_9902.jpgOne sunny morning this winter we headed out to Cary for haircuts followed by a visit to the nearby Robert Godbold Park.  I’m always impressed by the Town of Cary parks and despite being an older park it packed the fun.

Robert Godbold Park is located at 2050 NW Maynard Rd between Harrison Ave and Chapel Hill Rd in Cary.  It has several pockets of parking lots to choose from depending on what activity you’re looking for – basketball, tennis, playground/picnic, dog park, or skateboarding.  We headed over to the playground, which has one large jungle gym over mulched surface.  The jungle gym was safe enough for both ages (18months, almost 4yrs) to use – it has shorter steps to the smaller slides that are connected via a tunnel and more steps to the larger slide.  The playground also has several climbing structures, a fireman pole, and monkey bars.  Two tot swings, two regular swings, a small sandbox, and public restrooms are also located in or near the partially fenced-in playground area.  Six tennis courts with picnic tables and a gazebo are within eyeshot of the playground too.

IMG_9945.jpgAfter exhausting the playground we walked over to the basketball courts to run around some more.  We had a quick snack on the nearby picnic tables and then ran through the woods a bit before walking to the adjacent skate park to check out all the construction.  The skate park was temporarily closed for renovations, but according to the Sk8-Cary website it might have reopened by now.

After the backhoes, diggers, and small motorized dump trucks lost their appeal we walked over to the dog park to visit with the pups.  This off-leash dog park requires a membership and young kiddos aren’t allowed in so we watched from outside the gate.  The girls also enjoyed the colorfully painted fire hydrants located outside the dog park.

If you’re accessing this park by foot, there’s a pedestrian crosswalk and sidewalks along both sides of NW Maynard Rd.  This park is also located along the Black Creek Greenway with access to the Northwoods Greenway.  In searching online for more information about the park’s namesake, Robert V. Godbold, I learned that he passed away in 2013, but seemed to have lived a full life – owned a general contracting company that built homes throughout the Triangle area, served on the Cary Town Council for 18 years, was a long-time church member, served on the Cary Volunteer Fire Dept for 20 years and was married for 58 years with a large family.  It’s wonderful when the legacy of a community leader like Robert Godbold can live on through the happiness of a park.  Read more about Robert Godbold’s obituary here.

More Resources

Thumbs up: proximity of park’s amenities, safe pedestrian crossing over Maynard Rd

Thumbs down: nothing to report

E. Carroll Joyner Park

IMG_4982With our red wagon and balance bike in hand, we headed out on a clear, sunny winter day to explore E. Carroll Joyner Park in Wake Forest.  E. Carroll Joyner park is located about 20 minutes from Raleigh, just off Rte. 1 at 701 Harris Rd.  Upon arriving into the park you immediately notice the expansive rolling fields and stone ribbon wall.  Follow the main road towards the back of the park where you’ll find the parking lot.

After parking we studied the information board to better understand the park’s layout.  With over 100 acres, this park has a lot to offer: three miles of paved trails, grass amphitheater, a pecan grove, farm buildings, a perennial garden, and a performance garden.  We spent most of our time walking and biking on the paved trails, which proved to be great balance bike practice for Ashley; the rolling trails are wide with gradual declines and park benches and swings along the way for resting.  The trails have great visibility, which is necessary for inexperienced young bikers who swerve all over the trail.

IMG_4994Along our walk/ride we passed several beautiful settings including the refurbished farm buildings.  This park was originally a working farm as recently as the 1940s, owned by the Walker family who grew produce to sell to local merchants.  It was sold to E. Carroll Joyner who raised cattle until the 1990s and then bought by the Town of Wake Forest in 2003 and opened as a public park in 2009.  The original farm buildings include a tobacco barn, log cabin, chicken coop and mule barn.  The girls had a fantastic time exploring the different buildings, especially the chicken coop.  Several of these buildings and the nearby settings also offer great photo opportunities.

After exploring the old buildings we followed the trails south around the pond.  We continued along the greenway past the pond, but after consulting the GPS we turned around since it was going to take much longer to get back to the parking via the greenway.

Before heading to the car we stopped for a short picnic at one of the bench swings and then stopped for a quick bathroom break in the very clean and comfortable public restrooms.  Make this park a must-visit for 2015 – whether walking, biking, running or out for some photography this park is your setting!  It’s also part of the Kids in Parks Track Trails program which encourages kids to have fun outdoor adventures.

Thumbs up: trails, photo ops, farm buildings, gardens, beautiful settings

Thumbs down:  greenway signage

Falls Lake Dam

IMG_4949This fall we wanted to further explore Falls Lake so we set off with intentions to start closer to the dam and finish Day Hike A of the Mountains-to-Sea trail.  Falls Lake Dam is on the eastern side of the lake (see map) and has helped control flooding from the Neuse River ever since its completion in 1981.  Having previously hiked a portion of Falls Lake starting at Raven Ridge Rd we wanted to start closer to the dam in hopes of actually seeing it before the kiddos got too tuckered.

Unfortunately the main entrance gates to Falls Lake park were closed on this Sunday morning so we had to park in the small parking lot near Falls Center Management Rd/Falls of Neuse Rd intersection.  After a long walk into the park on the paved trail that parallels the road, the little ones in the group were restless for any trail hiking so we explored the areas around the dam including the (surprise!) playground instead.

IMG_4938The playground is designed for ages 5-12 and includes a few slides, climbing structures, tic-tac-toe, and several nearby picnic tables and benches.  It’s a small playground, but the perfect size for a park with so many more activities.  After taking in the views from the top of the dam, we walked down the unpaved trail adjacent to the playground where we got up close and personal with the beginning of the Neuse River.  The girls enjoyed throwing rocks in the water while we saw fishermen and birds.  There’s also a small parking lot, canoe launch, restrooms, information map, picnic tables, and access to the start of the Neuse River Trail greenway at the bottom of the dam.

Even though we didn’t make it to our planned trail that day, everyone had a fun time whether it was on the playground, along the river bank, or finding furry caterpillars.  I look forward to attempting Day Hike A again sometime soon where we’ll park in the lot closest to the dam!

More Resources:

Thumbs up: views from top of dam, playground, considerable amount of picnic tables

Thumbs down: signage in park, nc state park information online lacks details (no mention of gate closure, playground, parking near dam)

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

Halifax Park & Community Center Update

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The gorgeous fall weather this season prompted several repeat visits to our favorite parks, Halifax Park & Community Center being one of them.  Thanks to a comment from one of my blog readers, this park underwent a few updates since my Aug 2014 review that elicit photo and amenity listing updates.

Halifax Park & Community Center is located at 1015 Halifax St near the Seaboard Station area.  I was pleasantly surprised to see some much needed picnic tables near the community center where the girls and I were able to enjoy our picnic lunch.  Another interesting addition to the park is an interactive art piece called “Hoops Playing Hoops” by artist Chris Fennell of Birmingham, AL.  It’s a tall group of basketball hoops connected by steel pipes that make them seem like they’re playing basketball together.  Once you make a basket in one of the hoops, the ball will travel down the ramp to another hoop.  The girls had so much fun watching me make attempt after attempt to score a basket – it’s much harder than it looks.

IMG_8367There’s also a separate smaller basketball art sculpture for the younger kids.  The girls had such fun shooting baskets and watching the ball spiral down the ramp.  If you forget your basketball or don’t have one, the friendly staff at the community center will let your borrow their ball.

If you haven’t visited this park yet, just do it!  There’s plenty for kids of all ages to do and the convenience of the community center is invaluable!

More Resources:

Thumbs up: partially fenced-in playground, play areas for all ages, interactive basketball art sculpture, new picnic tables

Thumbs down: nothing new to report

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

Bodie Island Light Station

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A month ago while we were in Nags Head on our family vacation, Claire and I headed south to Bodie (pronounced body) Island Light Station.  Bodie Island Light Station consists of a 200-step, 10-story lighthouse and keepers’ quarters turned visitor’s center.  It is run by the National Park Service and is located at 8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Rd in southern Nags Head.  The NPS runs daily tours of the lighthouse, which are getting ready to end (although see the final full moon tour info on Wed., Oct 8).

Bodie Island was a quick 20 minute drive from our beach rental house so Claire and I arrived early in the morning, hoping to beat the crowds and score some climbing tour tickets.  After a quick stop in the visitors’ center, which houses historical information about the lighthouse, we learned they weren’t doing climbing tours due to the high heat index. It turns out according to their safety rules, I wouldn’t have been allowed to climb with Claire in the carrier anyways.  So we explored the grounds on our own starting with a walk along the boardwalk that stretches above the wetlands area.  It was a quick 5 minute walk between high grasses to the perch that overlooks the wetlands, giving breathtaking views.  I’d definitely recommend bringing babies and early walkers in a carrier; the park can accommodate strollers, but with the steady crowds a carrier would be easier.

IMG_0293After walking back we headed over to the lighthouse to talk to the NPS rangers.  We had a great conversation with the young rangers who shared some of their favorite facts about the lighthouse: 1) how the Confederate troops blew up the lighthouse to prevent Union troops from occupying it, 2) that the lighthouse still uses its original Fresnel lens from Paris and 3) how the lighthouse still aids in navigation today given its checkered history.  Despite the high heat index they still allowed visitors to climb a few steps to the first landing.  We explored the old oil storage rooms in the front and then took pictures of the amazing view up the heavy duty spiral staircase before heading out.

Since we visit Nags Head a few times each year, I’m anxious to get back to the lighthouse (without kiddos) to take the climbing tour and capture more amazing photos from inside.

Thumbs up: friendly and knowledgeable staff, beautiful views

Thumbs down: nothing to report, but keep in mind to call ahead of time about the status of climbing tours during the hot summer months