Canal Path/Heritage Trail & Old Mill Park in Fredericksburg, VA

IMG_2283Before summer came to an end we headed back up to VA for a final party at my mom’s house before turning it over to new owners.  To counteract the bushel of crabs (and beers) we were going to eat that weekend, we headed into downtown Fredericksburg on Saturday morning for a run and some playground time.

We parked at Old Mill Park (2410 Caroline St) along the Rappahannock River in downtown Fredericksburg.  We walked up towards Caroline St and turned right on the Heritage Trail, heading towards Route 1. Heritage Trail is a 1.6 mile paved path that parallels the Rappahannock River, offering gorgeous views of the flowing river through the city.  We quickly passed under Route 1, then followed along Riverside Dr before turning right along Fall Hill Ave.  We passed by the entrance to Virginia Outdoor Center and then turned left onto Canal Path trail.

IMG_2309The Canal Path is a paved 1.8 mile trail that parallels the canal until Princess Anne St where it then connects back with the Heritage Trail making a loop through downtown.  The Canal Path is mostly shaded, making it a great way to escape the summer heat.  We passed behind Mary Washington Hospital, ran under Route 1 again, ran by the Wetlands at Gayles Pond, and passed the Fredericksburg Dog Park on our way back to Old Mill Park.  Both trails display mile markers and informational signs throughout the paths related to historical aboriginal culture, Civil War battle action and current-day wetlands.

After our 3.1 mile loop run we ended back at Old Mill Park, which was a great place for the little ones to get out and stretch their legs.  Old Mill Park has a large playground for ages 2+ nestled under large trees.  It has several slides, climbing structures, built-in games for littles one to manipulate, nearby swings with tot swings, and several teeter totters.  Old Mill Park also has several large open fields (used mostly for soccer), pavilion with picnic tables, restroom facilities and riverfront views.  After all our running around we headed to the nearby Mason Dixon Cafe for brunch and mimosas.  And, no downtown Fredericksburg visit would be complete without walking next door to Carl’s for amazing ice cream!

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Thumbs up: beautiful river views, accessibility to running/walking loop in downtown Fredericksburg,  historical markers of information, picnic spots, playground along running loop, felt very safe with all the foot traffic

Thumbs down: nothing to report

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

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

Knightdale Station Park

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We are fortunate to have a great group of moms and kiddos through Stroller Strides of Midtown Raleigh to explore local parks with and a trip Knightdale Station Park last fall is no exception.  Knightdale Station Park is located at 810 North 1st Ave just outside 540 and south of US-64 business in Knightdale.

This park has a bit of everything – walking trails, large playground areas for kiddos under 2, ages 2-5 and ages 5-12, a dog park, and athletic fields.  We spent most of our time exploring the various playground areas, where all boast a farming/barn theme.  The playground area designed for ages 5-12 has a large play silo with a steep enclosed slide.  A spiral staircase is enclosed in the play silo, so if you have adventurous younger children, make sure they use extra caution.  Other than the play silo, this large playground has monkey bars, wide wheelchair-accessible ramps, smaller slides, and other climbing structures.  The nearby tot playground for ages 2-5 is a train with tunnels, slides and climbing structures.  It’s rather small for a tot playground, but the adjacent corral with bouncy horses and spinning cups provides some more activities for the young ones.

img_4530Ashley’s favorite play structure at this park was the play chicken coop designed for ages under 2.  She loved throwing mulch down the egg shoot for her friend to catch at the bottom.  This play area is covered and great for early walkers as kids can access it by a small ramp or short steps.

Scattered around the playground areas are benches, tot swings, regular swings, a large faux tire swing, mushroom stools, twirling structures, and sandbox with large tractor tire.  The different playground areas are joined by concrete sidewalk paths and covered with shredded bark.  A large pavilion with picnic tables and separate restroom building are also near the playground as is a walking/running trail.  Finally this park also has several athletic fields and an off-leash dog park with separate small and large dog areas.

For more information about this park and future plans visit the Town of Knightdale website.

Thumbs up: unique farming themed play areas, all ages incorporated into play areas, walking trails adjacent to playground

Thumbs down: climbing enclosed staircase in silo is a bit scary for little ones, young landscaping yields little shade

Baileywick Park

img_3239The playground at Baileywick Park was closed this past winter so we finally made a visit in late May.  Baileywick Park is located in Northwest Raleigh at 9501 Baileywick Rd.  Upon entering the park you pass access to the Baileywick greenway trail and eventually come to a large parking lot that provides access to all of the park’s amenities.  We parked near the bathroom facilities and started with a visit to the playground.

The playground consists of an expansive jungle gym for ages 5-12, a smaller jungle gym for ages 2-5, four tot swings, four regular swings, a sand box with diggers, and several teeter totters.  The base of the playground is covered in wood chips and there are several benches scattered around the playground.  The playground for ages 5-12 has several slides that are of medium height, multiple climbing options, monkey bars, bridges and more.  The tot playground has several slides, matching games, and a few different climbing ladders.

Adjacent to the playground is a large open field, restrooms, a large shelter with eight picnic tables, an area shaded with trees (no picnic tables though), a covered bench area, and two lighted baseball fields.  A paved walking trail is also nearby, which leads to another shelter with two picnic tables and an open field.  This park is also equipped with the Big Belly solar trash and recycling compactors, which has provided great savings for the city.  These have been installed in several places throughout Raleigh and it’s great to see them at the parks.  Learn more about the Big Belly solar compactors in this N&O article from earlier this year.

Thumbs up: open fields, numerous benches, several swings, climbing options on large playground, nearby walking trail, landscaping around playground (several hardwoods and crape myrtles)

Thumbs down: full-sun playground area is very hot

JT’s Grommet Island Park in Va Beach

img_3096A few months ago we headed to Va Beach for a fun girl trip with my sis, mom and aunt who had flown in from CA.  I rarely get back to that area, but have lots of fun memories with trips when we were young, high school field hockey state championship games, and the Wicked 10K race a few years ago.  Even though the weather was super chilly and a bit rainy we still found some time to explore a nearby park, which happened to be oceanfront.

JT’s Grommet Island Park is located at 100 2nd St just before you reach Rudee Inlet.  Parking in this area is always a challenge especially during the high season.  There is a full day pay parking lot adjacent to the park, but if you’re just planning to stay for an hour or two it’s best to park on the street and pay by the hour.  JT’s Grommet Island Park is a special playground in that it gives everyone, regardless of their abilities, a place to play at the beach.  The park opened in 2010 and is 100% handicap accessible – the surface is made of hard rubber to allow wheelchairs to easily maneuver, the ramps on the jungle gyms are wide enough for wheelchairs, the sandbox play areas are unique and accessible for all folks, and there is a wheelchair accessible teeter totter.

Despite the rain, Ashley had a fun time jumping and bopping around the playground.  Knowing that Ashley has a short attention span when playing at the beach, having a playground at the beach would make for happier kids (and parents)!  For more information about this playground, visit Grommet Island.

Thumbs up: unique play features for everyone, ability for everyone to play on the beach, variety of slides and climbing areas, ability to install shade sails during summertime

Thumbs down: rubber surface had too much sand on it

Williams Park

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Williams Park is a bustling playground in the center of North Raleigh adjacent to Lynn Road Elementary School.  It is located at 1525 Lynn Road and some of the photos are from when Ashley was much younger and some are from this Spring.  As you can see, having a friend to climb through tunnels with, chase through the soccer field, and swing with is the best way to spend an early Spring afternoon!
In addition to the large playground area (complete with shady canopies), Williams Park has a large open field with soccer goals surrounded by a short walking path, tot swings, sand volleyball courts, youth swings, tennis courts, a large shelter area, and some shaded sitting areas.  The playground surface is made of wood chips and sand.  The playground areas are a series of small climbing structures with slides that are connected by monkey bars.  For younger ones, that means lots of repetitive trips down the same slides or that they’ll need your help getting to the other play areas.  Since Ashley was just beginning to climb ladders at this time, she needed my help getting up to the higher slides too.

If you take a walk along the trail at the park, you’ll find a small plaque memorializing the park to Peter P. Williams Jr.  According to a News & Observer article, his father donated the land for the park in honor of his son.  I always enjoy when I can find some tidbits on the history of a park!

Thumbs up: great shade, close parent-sitting areas throughout the playground

Thumbs down: I’ve been here in the past and seen where drainage can be an issue

Shelley Lake Playground

img_2656With our weekly trips (if not more frequent) to Shelley Lake for Stroller Strides classes, I finally took pictures of the playground area.  Shelley Park is conveniently located in central North Raleigh at 1400 W Millbrook Rd.  There are two entrances on Millbrook Road – one large parking lot near the Sertoma Arts Center/playground and the other just down the street with a smaller parking lot for jumping right on the walking trail around Shelley Lake.  To reach the playground, park in the Sertoma Arts Center parking lot and walk down the paved trail where you’ll see the playground on the right.

The playground area is rather large with separate jungle gyms for ages 2-5 and 5-12 that are covered with wood chips.  The tot playground has several slides, a few climbing structures, and nearby teeter totters in the sandy area.  The youth playground has a climbing wall, steeper slides, a suspension bridge, an enclosed slide, and several climbing structures.  There are also four tot swings and four regular swings in the large sandy areas.

Other than the playground the park has picnic tables, basketball courts, a walking/running trail around the lake, and an arts center with lots of programs for people of all ages.  Ashley took a Mini Monet art class when she was about 18 months old and had a great time – while there wasn’t a lot of painting, it was a great introductory class to colors, shapes, sensory objects and following directions!

As most parks indicate, please lock and hide all valuables or take them with you – I have a friend whose car was broken into at this park.

Thumbs up: tons of picnic tables, suspension bridge on large jungle gym, shady, variety of slides

Thumbs down: not much for non-walking kids to play on, frequent trash around basketball courts (c’mon folks, throw your trash away in the nearby trashcans)