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

Abbotts Creek Park

IMG_3448Before Christmas we headed to the newly opened Abbotts Creek Park, which is adjacent to Abbotts Creek Community Center and Abbotts Creek Elementary School.  Abbotts Creek Park is located in northeast Raleigh at 9950 Durant Rd, just down the road from North Wake Landfill.

The playground area is fenced-in and has brightly colored play features similar to the playgrounds at Greystone Community Center, Hill Street Park, and Powell Drive Park.  The smaller age playground features a slide, climbing ropes, and a planet-like climb-through structure.  Just a few steps away is the older age playground which features several connected rope climbing structures, climb-through rings, bouncy stepping stones, a tall slide, and a spinner.  The park also has a few benches, tot swings, regular swings, and shade canopies.

IMG_3445Outside the playground is a large concrete area with a large painted circle (presumably for playground games), four 100-yd dash lanes, a large grassy area, and rear access to the community center and elementary school play areas around the corner.  The outside spaces have lots of room to hopefully add picnic tables in the future.

We spent over an hour on the playground where the girls imagined treasure hunts, pretended the rubberized surface was hot lava, and hid in the castle (aka the top of the tall slide).  We couldn’t visit the community center because it was closed while we were there, but according to the City of Raleigh website it features a, “two story community center houses a gymnasium with a real wood floor, fitness room, multipurpose classrooms, a fitness studio, lockers and dressing rooms, and office areas.”  Even though it’s a small playground area, there’s a lot to do; but if you run out of fun here be sure to visit Durant Nature Preserve or North Wake Landfill District Park down the street.

Thumbs up: shade tarps for hot days, easy access, brightly colored play structure with interesting rope climbing features

Thumbs down: nothing to report

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

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

Halifax Park & Community Center

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Recently we met up with friends to explore the newly renovated Halifax Park and Community Center.  If anyone remembers the old park, the community center was well beyond its years and the playground was small, sandy and a little sad.  The updated park is full of fun for all kids and feels safer from the nearby road because of the expanded fencing.

Halifax Park & Community Center is located at 1015 Halifax St, just north of Seaboard Station.  It has a small parking lot with additional street parking.  The playground area is 3/4 fenced in with easy access to the adjacent community center; and the community center is top notch!  It has a fitness gym you can join for a small monthly fee, classrooms, a large gym, and very nice restrooms, which are crucial for any parent with small kids.  A trip to the bathroom was a huge highlight for this preschool-age group!

IMG_7098The playground area has two playgrounds – one for ages 2-5 and one for ages 5-12 with a large oak tree and mulched area in between that provided great morning shade for the smaller-age playground.  The smaller-age playground has a rubber surface with two tot swings, ladders, climbing structures, one slide, and some fine motor twisty toys and noise makers.  The age 5-12 playground also has a rubber surface with several climbing structures, rope ladders, monkey bars, a slide without side rails, and two regular swings.  A big hit for the kids was also the stationary board with pretend car gauges and noises.

IMG_7100In addition to the community center and playground, this park also has outdoor full court basketball with nearby benches, a large fenced-in open field for soccer and baseball (and a poor attempt at kite flying), and great views of the freight trains coming and going.  Combine this park visit with a trip to Tyler’s Taproom or Bad Daddy’s in Seaboard Station and you’ve got a pretty fantastic outing!

More Resources: original Halifax Park blog post

Thumbs up: access to nearby restrooms, large shady oak tree, unique climbing features, landscaping

Thumbs down: small parking lot, no picnic tables

Whalebone Park in Nags Head, NC

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We love the beach, even for short three-day weekend trips!  About 9 years ago we started visiting Nags Head, NC with dear college friends for the Yuengling 5k race and it has turned into an annual trip that we look forward to each spring.  The race is always in early May, so it’s the perfect time to visit when rental prices are low and it’s not too busy.  This year as another fantastic weekend was coming to an end, we decided to stop at Whalebone Park on the way out of town.  It’s a park we’ve passed by several times when in town and finally made time for a visit, which was a quick and fun final stop before heading back to Raleigh.

Whalebone Park is located across from Jennette’s Pier and next to Sam & Omie’s restaurant at 7300 S. Virginia Dare Trail.  It has a large ship-themed playground for ages 5-12 with several ladders, hanging bars, monkey bars, and slides.  The playground ship is called the Theodosia Burr, named after the daughter of Vice President Aaron Burr who was supposedly murdered on board the Patriot pilot boat at Nags Head around 1812. More information is included in a small informational board at the playground.

There is also a smaller playground for ages 2-5 with monkey bars, teeter totters, climbing ropes, and a small climbing wall.  It also has some musical toys that are a great height for early walkers, one tot swing, which was broken, and one handicapped-accessible swing.

IMG_6447All of the play areas at this park are situated on the rubberized surface, but unfortunately there isn’t any natural shade, so on warm days like this one the heat was beating down on us and we couldn’t even put Claire down to play.  Ashley seemed pretty worn out from the weekend so she spent most of her time swinging.

Next to the playgrounds are some additional features: picnic tables with removable shade tarps (not up on this hot day), sand volleyball court, bocce ball, horseshoes, trash can covers with interesting art and funnel ball game.  So, while it was fun to explore a new park at the beach, it seems like this park would be better appreciated by year-round residents than tourists busy with all the other myriad beach activities.

Resources: previous posts on Nags Head featuring Manteo, Roanoke Island, Jennette’s Pier, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and NC Aquarium

Thumbs up: having a playground option at the beach, interesting trash can lid art, nautical-themed playgrounds, walkable from Jennette’s Pier or Sam & Omie’s or Dune Burger restaurants

Thumbs down: lack of shade, poor landscaping

Lions Park

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Despite Lions Park being located in a transitional east Raleigh neighborhood, we found it safe, full of friendly people, and lots of fun!  Lions Park is located at 516 Dennis Ave in the east Raleigh Woodcrest neighborhood.  This park has several entrances, which provides easier access and parking to whichever activity you’re looking to try; and this park has a lot going on.  Besides the main playground area, there are four baseball fields, two full-size basketball courts, a dirt BMX track, a community center, eight tennis courts, and a large pavilion for rental.  While we didn’t have much time to capture the details about everything we did spend a lot of time on the playground.

The playground area at Lions Park is easiest to access from the Dennis Ave entrance that spills into a large parking lot area near the community center.  This park has two playground areas for the different age groups 2-5 and 5-12, which are both have a rubberized surface.  The 5-12 age group playground is one of the largest I’ve seen in Raleigh.  It has multiple levels of playing with several slides, climbing structures, monkey bars, tethered rope swings, and bucket chairs for spinning.  Ashley spent most of her time on this playground and even tried the curved ladder structure by herself for the first time (eeks)!  Even though she’s much younger than the recommended age for this playground I felt comfortable with her exploring on her own since there were very few high openings within the structure.  The big kid swing set and sandbox are also located nearby.

img_5324The 2-5 age group playground is a short walk from the bigger playground.  It has a fun climbing wall, a few slides, twisty toys, the dreaded butterfly shaped ladder which is too young for a 2-year old in my opinion, a seesaw, tot swings,  and bongos.

After a short jaunt on the tot playground we sat down for a picnic lunch.  Even though the playground areas are newer, the picnic spots and pavilion are showing their age (and a mossy roof).  Nonetheless, we found a sunny spot (it was January) in the moderately wooded pavilion area.  Adjacent to the pavilion are horseshoe pits, which had also seen better days.

Despite this park’s older age and its location, it has pockets of great features such as the playground, BMX track, and tennis courts. We even recently went to a birthday party here and it was super convenient to have the pavilion next to the playground.  I look forward to going back for a visit where we can scope out the BMX track, which should provide fun entertainment for Ashley and maybe get her excited to practice on her balance bike some more!

For more information about Lions Park, visit City of Raleigh website.

Thumbs up: playground areas, unique BMX track feature, spinning bucket seats, tot climbing wall, convenient benches scattered throughout playgrounds, wooded playground area would be nice for hotter weather

Thumbs down: condition of pavilion area

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