Update: Western Regional Park in Howard County, MD

IMG_3222Over Thanksgiving we headed back to Western Regional Park in Howard County, MD to explore the playground that was under construction the first time we visited.  The playground did not disappoint – the girls spent at least an hour running up and down the playground and playing hide and seek with new park friends.

The playground at this rural park is fenced in with a rubberized surface and has a little bit of everything – swings for all ages, climbing walls, balance beams, slides, tunnels, and plenty of benches.  The younger age playground boasts several straight and winding slides, steps with helpful railings, a bouncy bridge, and challenging climbing spots for younger ones. Tots swings and a short climbing wall are also nearby.

The playground for older ages has similar features, but at higher and more challenging levels for the big kids.  There are several balance beams, tall slides, climbing walls, a very tall climbing ladder, tunnels, and long walkways – great for running.  There is also a tall, volcano-shaped climbing wall nearby, perfect for hide and seek games.  This park is great for having multiple younger-aged children as you have good sightline of the whole fenced-in playground.

After exploring the playground area be sure to check out the rest of the park with its soccer fields, spider-web climbing structures, walking trails, and more!

Thumbs up: lots to do, good sightline of playground making it easy to keep track of multiple kids, variety of climbing features

Thumbs down: in windy weather, you’ll catch some interesting smells from nearby farms

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

North Wake Landfill District Park

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A playground at the landfill…say what?!  Yes, the North Wake landfill closed in 2008 and local residents worked with the county to repurpose the closed landfill into a park which now features paved trails, mountain biking trails, a large playground area, pavilion, and access to Abbotts Creek Trail (part of Neuse River Greenway).  North Wake Landfill District Park is located at 9300 Deponie Drive off Durant Rd in north Raleigh.  When you first turn off from Durant Rd, it’ll feel like the landfill is still open because you have to wind through some of the old parts of the dump, but follow the signs for the park.

We spent most of our time exploring the playground area and paved trails that access the nearby greenway. While the playground area has many unique features, I strongly disliked the layout where it is adjacent to a steep hill that my adventurous 3-year old decided to conquer at great speeds, despite strict instruction NOT to do so. So, after recovering from a near heart attack when she sprinted down the steep hill (and received a short timeout) we had a nice time exploring the play areas.

The playground has two areas – one for ages 2-5 and one for ages 5-12. In my opinion this park is definitely more of a “big kid” park. The younger playground area has several climbing structures that are more appropriate for an older and more confident 2-year old. It also has a few slides, two tot swings, and a music feature but it’s a taller playground with little room for playing on.

img_5596The bigger kid playground is any young climber’s dream.  There are huge spider web ropes that connect to the playground along with a sideways rock wall.  The playground also has several monkey bars, slides, twisty ladders, climbing stepping stones and more!

Both playground areas are covered in a thick wood chip surface and are adjacent to several picnic tables, the public restrooms and water fountains.  Also nearby is the large Sycamore pavilion with seating for up to 100, according to the Wake County website.

Descend along the paved trail from the playground to reach access to the western side of Abbotts Creek Trail.  Inside the park there are also several mountain biking trails, a mountain biking skills area, and paved walking trails.  I’d like to come back and walk or bike the short Top of the Hill trail, which takes you 469ft above sea level for great views of the surrounding area.  There is little shade at this park, so plan accordingly!

For more information about this park, visit the Wake County Parks website.  I found the park brochure with map to be very helpful.

Thumbs up: repurposing a landfill into a useable recreation space, variety of climbing activities for older kids, proximity and plethora of picnic areas

Thumbs down: steep hill near playground area, lack of park map inside park (didn’t know about most of the walking or bike trails until going online after getting home)

North Cary Park & Black Creek Greenway

img_5029This past winter has been one of the longest I’ve seen since moving to Raleigh over 11 years ago so when the temps hovered above 45 degrees in January we headed to North Cary Park with a friend and her girls for a short run and playground time.  North Cary Park is located at 1100 Norwell Blvd in Cary off of Cary Pkwy.  It’s a very large park situated along the northern end of Black Creek Greenway.  Before having kids we used to bike through Umstead Park on the Reedy Creek Trail and connect to Black Creek Greenway at Lake Crabtree.  This was a fun way to extend our mileage and explore the Town of Cary greenway system.

But, back to our recent trip.  After arriving at North Cary Park we winded through the park’s slightly confusing trails and eventually met up with Black Creek Greenway where we headed south.  The trail itself is a paved 7.1 total miles and winds between various neighborhoods and the creek.  We passed several bikers and runners along the way so we felt very safe.  We ran until the 2.25 mile mark of the greenway and then headed back.  The creek will make for some fun water playtime in the warm summer months.

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After running, we had some sweet, patient toddlers who needed to get exercise on the playground.  This playground area has a large sandbox area, several slides built into the small hills, a rock climbing area, tot swings, regular swings, a jungle gym for ages 5-12, and a small rubberized area great for the crawlers and early walkers.  With the dense landscaping and so many park features that are spread out, it made it harder for us to keep track of the toddlers while also tending to the babies.  After lots of toddler wrangling we were able to enjoy some time in the sandbox area, which has several benches along the perimeter.  Claire even enjoyed her first tot swing and Ashley was able to practice her potty training at the nearby restrooms, complete with a toddler-height sink.

Other than the playground and greenway, this park also has a large pavilion with a dozen tables overlooking 4 sand volleyball courts named after Julie Robison, 2 basketball courts, and a soccer field.  Benches and picnic tables are scattered throughout the playground area and before heading down to the greenway.  With so many friends with kiddos who train for running races, this is a great place to run solo or with kids combined with a playground visit!

More resources:

Thumbs up: variety of park features, safety of greenway, rubberized option for infants/early walkers, running/playground combo for those with strollers and kids

Thumbs down: confusing signage leading down to greenway trails, playground features being so spread out making it harder to keep an eye on independent toddlers

Millbrook Playground

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Millbrook Playground at Millbrook Exchange Park (1905 Spring Forest Rd) was renovated this past summer and we made our way over there to explore the new digs!  Within the park, it’s located between the adult center and the community center near the ball fields.  There’s so much to do at this new park for everyone – a tot jungle gym for the 2-5 age group and a larger (and very tall) jungle gym for the 5-12 age group.  Both jungle gyms have a rubber surface also making this a very crawler-friendly play place for the mobile, but not yet walking littles ones!  There is also a small sandbox with two diggers, two tot swings, and four regular swings, one of which is handicap accessible.

img_3822The 2-5 age group jungle gym has a few slides, some musical instruments, teeter totters, and climbing structures.  It’s on the small side so Ashley quickly got bored of it and ventured over to the 5-12 age group jungle gym.  This play place has different height levels for playing that peak at a very tall height.  There are a few openings that lead down to climbing structures, but for the most part this jungle gym is well enclosed.  Ashley loved the tall slides, but was surprised at how fast she went down them! It also has some smaller slides near the ground, tunnels, monkey bars, swinging bar, a rock climbing wall, and some low height seats.  Once you get over the height of the playground, this is a great place for able kids to play!

img_3826Scattered around the park are several benches and sidewalk games of hopscotch and four square.  We were there in the morning, which didn’t have much shade so plan accordingly based on the time of day and season.  I don’t recall seeing a nearby picnic table, but after walking towards the tennis center we found several in the shade.  The landscaping immediately around the park was less than desired and the grass was pretty high as if it hadn’t been mowed in weeks.

img_4117After visiting the playground, we had a quick snack at the picnic tables and then headed towards the tennis center to explore.  It turned out we showed up just in time for the last day of a weekend tennis tournament so we stayed to watch for awhile before heading home. On our way back to the car we spotted some steel art, the Immigrant Gate II by Jim Gallucci.  I was amazed at how extensive the tennis center is – there are 23 tennis courts, several backboards, and a large indoor area with observation deck, conference room, pro shop and locker rooms.  I look forward to getting back into tennis one day 🙂

Thumbs up: variety of play things on 5-12 age group jungle gym, swings, tennis center

Thumbs down:  no picnic tables in immediate playground area, landscaping/field maintenance

Longstreet Dr Playground

img_3737The week after Claire was born we had lots of family helping keep us sane while adjusting to life with two sweet girls.  My sweet mother-in-law, Janet (aka Gaga), came to visit for several days and for one outing we explored Longstreet Dr. Playground, which is less than 10 minutes from our house.  Longstreet Playground is a neighborhood park located off Six Forks Rd, just north of Lynn Rd at 7334 Stuart Dr.

Longstreet Playground was a pleasant surprise of a nearby park!  It’s on the small side, but just perfect when you just want to pull up to the park and be there.  This was especially crucial with having a newborn because I had to truck back to the car a few times to get things I had forgot to bring with me.  The park is fenced-in 3/4 of the way and has one main picnic table, which was great since we packed our lunch (big surprise, I know).  It has two different playground areas – one for the 2-5 ages and one for the 5-12 ages.  The 2-5 age playground has several slides, a low bar for hanging from, and a small climbing structure.  There are some nearby springy rides and a very small sandbox with diggers.

The 5-12 age playground has a climbing wall up to the main play structure, several slides, monkey bars, many climbing structures, and a play steering wheel and drama scene.  At first, I was hesitant to let Ashley climb up the wall to the playground, but she quickly proved to be a pro!  There are a few openings in the playground that lead down to more advanced climbing structures, so I really had to caution Ashley on them.  Next to this play area are the swings – one tot swing and one regular swing.  There are a few benches scattered throughout the playground and the surface is mostly rubber with some concrete sidewalk.

Ashley had a great time exploring this new park while Gaga enjoyed some special time with her girls.

Thumbs up: small park with lots of features

Thumbs down: litter surrounding park

 

Honeycutt Park

img_3549The final park we explored as a family of three was Honeycutt Park in North Raleigh.  Knowing that baby #2 was cozy and not giving any hints to arrive anytime soon (still late though), we ventured out to Honeycutt Park on the Sunday morning before baby Claire was born.  This park is located at 1032 Clear Creek Farm Dr just outside 540 near Falls of Neuse Rd.  For a Sunday morning in Raleigh it was par-for-the-course quiet; we had the park to ourselves for at least 30 minutes.

The playground area is completely unshaded, so plan accordingly if you’re trying to avoid the sun.  There are playgrounds for both age groups of 2-5 and 5-12.  The 2-5 age playground has several slides and few challenging climbing structures for the little ones.  It also has a fun “theater” play area under the playground, which can be fun for the young ones.  Ashley quickly ran through all the play areas at this playground and headed to the older kid playground.  The 5-12 age playground also has several slides, one of which includes a trifecta slide where 3 friends can race each other at the same time.  Since I was feeling too large to race, Bill and Ashley enjoyed several runs down the racing slides.  This playground also has several climbing structures too, which include a rock wall, swivel monkey bars, and a rope ladder.

After a lot of playground time we explored the rest of the park.  Adjacent to the playground is a large shelter complete with charcoal grills and restrooms, lit baseball field, basketball court, and sand volleyball court.  Adjacent to the basketball court and parking lot is a large open grassy memorial area surrounded by large rocks and dedicated to Rosalina M Rodriguez.  Then, we walked down the nearby greenway to learn that it is under construction.  The scope of this greenway project is to design and build a 5.6 mile segment of greenway trail, connecting the existing Mine Creek Greenway Corridor to the South Shore Trail on Falls Lake.  For more information about this project visit the City of Raleigh website.

While this was our last park trip as a family of 3, we couldn’t be more excited to share so many future park visits with baby Claire.

Thumbs up: fun playground slides, large shelter, future greenway project

Thumbs down: unsightly utility area, lack of shade around playground

Update: Greystone Recreation Center

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The weather this summer was extremely kind to my previously pregnant self.  There were few, if any, days where the weather was so ungodly hot you couldn’t go outside.  On those ungodly hot days we ate an early lunch followed by some type of run-your-ass-til-you’re-tired activity…all indoors.  This is when I discovered the super cute local coffee shop, Sola, in the Greystone Shopping Center in North Raleigh.  Actually, I didn’t discover Sola, but TriangleExplorer writes about it frequently so we finally checked it out.

True to the reviews, the folks there are super nice and accommodating of small children and they make some delicious sandwiches and mini donuts!  Let me repeat – they make mini donuts and they are freaking amazing!  They are also super fancy with their coffee making techniques, so if you’re looking for a french press coffee these are your people.

After a lunch at Sola we had some extra time to kill before nap, so we ventured over to Greystone Recreation Center, which is located in the same shopping center as Sola.  The last time we visited Greystone, Ashley was still crawling and it wasn’t a practical place to take her.  Now that she’s a rough and tumble 2 1/2 yr old she can pretty much do everything in the play area.  We arrived at just the right time too – summer camp was finishing up for the day so the play area was pretty quiet.  The playground is a perfect spot for kids who love to climb, jump and swing from ropes.  Ashley is still learning how to climb the rope ladders so this was a good place to try because the surface is spongy and I can be right there to assist.  She wasn’t a fan of the spinning play equipment yet, but also liked the 2ft tall rock you can jump off from.

It’s been interesting to see how my perspective of playgrounds has changed over time while Ashley has become more capable of doing difficult activities.  I wouldn’t dream of bringing a crawling child here again because of the smallness of the play area and all the big kids like Ashley running around, but I’m excited to see how much fun she’ll have here over the years to come.  If visiting Greystone, be sure to check the playground hours before going as they seem to change quite a bit over the year.

Visit my original post on Greystone Rec Center for additional photos.

Thumbs up: great indoor activity for hot or rainy days, various organized programs held through City of Raleigh

Thumbs down: smallness of area, tendency for playground to be crowded

Green Road Park

img_3195This week we took advantage of the gorgeous Monday weather and headed over to Green Road Park before meeting a friend for lunch.  Green Road is a large, open park with very nice amenities.  It is located at 4201 Green Road between Wake Forest Rd and Capital Blvd.  It has a large community center, two baseball fields, six sand volleyball courts, two basketball courts, four tennis courts with a backboard for individual play, a pavilion, and a large playground area with nearby restrooms.  We didn’t have a chance to visit the community center, but the City of Raleigh website notes it has two multi-purpose rooms, two gyms (air conditioned and non-air conditioned), dance room, fitness room, and bathrooms.

The playground area is designed for kids ages 5-12.  Sometimes the little ones are still able to play on the age 5-12 playgrounds, but this one was quite challenging for Ashley.  The slides are rather steep and the tunnel up  to the slides is also steep, making it a perfect climbing structure for the older kids.  The playground also has a variety of monkey bars, rock climbing walls, two swings and a small sandy area.  Adjacent to the playground is a large, shady spot with several picnic tables, which would be a great spot for a lunch with the little ones!

Don’t forget to get involved with the park system planning in Raleigh!  On Thursday, January 10 from 6:30pm-8:30pm at Green Rd Community Center there is a a meeting to discuss park needs and priorities.

Thumbs up: picnic spots, great condition of tennis courts, baseball spectator seating has nice wooden benches and brick walkways, convenient pathways to all the park amenities

Thumbs down: seeing a police officer question an older gentleman at the playground (kinda strange situation)

Blowing Rock: Memorial Park

In the Olympic spirit, it’s only appropriate to finish the story of our trip to Grandfather Mountain from Memorial Day!  As we headed out of town on Memorial Day Monday, we stopped through the town of Blowing Rock to grab a quick breakfast.  What started out as a quick stop turned into a yummy breakfast followed by a park adventure.

First, we stopped for breakfast at Kojay’s, which features delicious coffees and frittatas.  It’s an adorable cafe located on the main street and has lots of outdoor seating.  In addition to Kojay’s, the main street is filled with lots of cute little shops, hotels, restaurants/bars, real estate businesses, and local government buildings.  Anchored near the northern part of Main St is Blowing Rock’s Memorial Park.  It was established to honor those who served in WWI, WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam.  We decided to stop and check out the park after we saw they were setting up for the town’s Memorial Day service.  Knowing I’d miss Raleigh’s service at the Capitol, it was meant to be!

I love small town gatherings…you can feel the passion for the town as the mayor speaks and the veterans play Americana music.  Memorial Park is an amazing place to take the kids to play as it has a little bit of everything.  From the playgrounds to the courts to the horseshoe pits, this park has great features surrounded by gorgeous landscaping.  The playground areas have little shade and are surrounded with black plastic borders, making the height deceptive in some areas.  But, the tot playground area is great in that it is pretty low to the ground, making it a fun and safe place for the little ones to play.

Blowing Rock is a must-visit town if you’re in the area.  I can’t wait to go back soon and try some of the pubs and restaurants.

Thumbs up: landscaping, sense of community, variety and quality of recreation, tot playground equipment

Thumbs down: little shade around playgrounds, border around playground areas, dogs aren’t allowed except for along benches on Main St