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

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

Curtis Memorial Park in Stafford, Virginia

IMG_0455After my mom’s sudden passing in March, my sister, brother and I immediately went into triage mode when it came to making sure her staffing business ran as usual and getting her personal affairs in order.  Before her funeral, we needed a break from all the new terminology we learned and responsibilities we acquired, so we set out with all the cousins and my aunt Jeanne to a special hometown park that meant a lot to our mom and was a big piece of our childhood, Curtis Memorial Park, in Stafford, Virginia.

Curtis Memorial Park (aka Curtis Park) is located at 58 Jesse Curtis Ln in the rolling hills of Hartwood’s farm country (more and more of that area is being developed now).  Growing up, we spent a lot of our time here; whether it was attending summer camp or the annual Easter Egg Hunts, taking swimming lessons, being on the swim team, going on spooky Halloween nature walks, having my birthday party, attending my senior year picnic, helping with soccer camp, or working at the front gate, we made a lot of memories with great friends and family.

IMG_0395Curtis Park features an olympic-size outdoor swimming pool with a large baby pool with splash umbrella and zero-depth entry, 18-hole Gauntlet golf course, nature trails, pavilions, sand volleyball, tennis courts, skateboard park, fishing lake, playground, baseball fields and large open fields.  As you drive into the park, you pass a beautiful tree-lined entrance road that leads to open fields adjacent to the tennis courts, skateboard park and playground.  Turn left before the open fields to access the Gauntlet golf course and small to medium-sized pavilions.  The playground features several slides, climbing structures, bridges, teeter totters, tot swings, regular swings and a sliding bar.  It is adjacent to a small pavilion and the tennis courts and backs up to a nearby nature trail.  The girls loved climbing all over the playground and spent a lot of time swinging together!

IMG_0441Past the open field is a large parking lot with access to the pools, nature trails and large pavilion on top of the hill overlooking the pool.  Further down the main road is the large lake for fishing and boating and more nature trails.  The main fishing pier and boat ramp is accessible from the other side of the lake on Stony Hill Rd (you must exit the park). After our playground time we picnicked on top of the hill, which offers the best views of the park. The girls enjoyed chasing each other while taking in the site of the drained pool below.  The Olympic-size pool has depths of 3ft and 4ft in the shallower end to 12ft in the deep end.  The baby pool features a zero-depth entry and splash umbrella.  The deep end has two diving board blocks, but with it being out of season when we visited I’m not sure if they actually allow diving.  I have very vivid memories of jumping off the since removed 3-meter springboard and 5-meter platform boards during off hours.  Being the daughter of the Aquatics Director had its perks!

While the kids were busy picnicking I ventured over to the nearby grave site of the Curtis family where about a dozen family members are buried.  According to the Stafford Parks & Rec website, the Curtis family donated land from their farm to the county to be used for recreational purposes.  The park opened in 1975 and is getting ready to have a big 40th anniversary celebration this weekend on June 20th.  We’re excited to come back for the big celebration and swim in the pool I grew up in!

My mom worked tirelessly to implement new amenities and improvements to the pool and programs, which created positive publicity in the local media.  Here are just a few of the fun ideas she implemented over the years:

  • She updated the baby pool to include zero-depth entry and water splash umbrellacurtispark 8
  • In 1990, she brought a 3-meter inflatable slide to the deep end, which was a huge hit with patrons but a big pain to her staff.
  • With scorching temperatures in 1991, she dropped in five 300-pound blocks of ice to try to cool things off.
  • In 1992, she organized meet and greets at the pool with local swimming and diving Olympians, Jeff Rouse and Mark Lenzi.  She went on to organize Olympic watching parties at the pool so folks could cheer on the local Olympians as they went for the gold (see local news stories from July and Aug 1992)!

My mom worked as the Aquatics Director of Stafford County from 1981-1993, where she managed the area pools and Aqua Po Beach, but was most proud of teaching swimming lessons to the area’s youth.  She met life-long friends and gave several teenagers their first jobs as lifeguards; we were honored to see some of those same teenagers and former coworkers again at her funeral service.  I am forever grateful for the memories I have at this park and can’t wait to come back this weekend for the 40th anniversary celebration, which happens to coincide with my mom’s birthday.

Thumbs up: beautiful pool and picnic settings, fun nature trails, one park with EVERYTHING

Thumbs down: I remember little shade around the pool

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

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

Caroline County Park in Ladysmith, VA

IMG_6807

During a recent family visit to Ladysmith, VA I inquired about the local parks, to which I heard crickets in response.  After an unsatisfying trip to the Caroline Parks & Rec website, I talked to my sis-in-law who is a teacher in Caroline and she remembered there being swings near the high school.  So on Sunday before heading home to Raleigh my sister and I met up with my sis-in-law and her daughter at Caroline County Park.

Caroline County is a small county of less than 30,000 people, but one that is steadily growing in businesses and population.  Caroline County Park is located across the street from Caroline Middle School around 13690 Devils 3 Jump Rd.  For a small town with assumingly small recreation funds, I was pleasantly impressed with the features of this park; however, the general upkeep needed some attention.  The park has a large shelter pavilion with horseshoes, a shaded walking trail, a skateboarding park, a playground area with swings, baseball fields, tennis courts, soccer fields, public restrooms, and ample parking.

IMG_6770The pavilion area was great in that it could hold large family gatherings with nearby parking, but the amount of trash scattered throughout the area was disturbing.  In reality, the problem seemed to be that the trashcans were light enough to be tipped over by small animals so some heavy duty trashcans with lids would probably solve that problem.  The nearby horseshoe pit and sand volleyball court would probably get more use if they were raked and maintained more frequently.

The nearby playground area was the big hit for our little crew.  It has a tall double slide, large climbing structure, one tot swing, one handicapped-accessible swing, and several regular swings.  Claire enjoyed sharing the tot swing with her sweet cousin, Emma!  The playground area has great shade cover, but plan to bring mosquito repellent next time – we left with quite a few bites.

After the playground we headed over to the skateboard park area to check it out.  By this time the skateboarders had left so Ashley brought her new (to us) scooter in to wheel it around.  After the scooter lost its appeal, she enjoyed running up and down the skateboard ramps.

IMG_6813All in all, this park had several great features despite some maintenance needs.  And, it was nice to see so many people enjoying the soccer fields so early in the morning.  Hopefully as the county continues to grow, more people will visit the local parks and draw more attention to what fun kids can have here!

Thumbs up: playground area, variety of features, skateboard park, shadiness

Thumbs down: general maintenance, waste pickup, lack of informative Parks & Rec website advertising the great features of this park

Optimist Park: Tutus & Picnics

img_5806
Stretching her ballerina toes after class

Awhile back a dear friend of mine and I signed our girls up for a preschool dance class at Optimist Park through the City of Raleigh.  It ended up being the perfect Monday morning activity, which led into extended play time and lunch at the playground.  It was the first activity (other than regular preschool) where the girls were on their own, so it was fun to have a buddy to learn some new skills with (we still talk about plies over here)!

Optimist Park is located in North Raleigh in a subdivision off Six Forks Rd at 5900 Whittier Dr.  It’s an older park with a community center, playground, seasonal and year-round pools, tennis courts, baseball fields, and greenway access for Mine Creek Trail, Snelling Branch Trail and Shelley Lake.

img_5782
A glimpse into the dance class

Dance class was held in the community center in a room that did not have easy access for parents to view their kids “dancing”.  So, to sneak peeks we’d have to poke our heads in and try not to disturb their learning.  Once dance class ended we headed over to the playground for some more play time and a picnic.

Again, Optimist is an older park so the playground has a more classic look with brown and orange painted metal.  The playground area is covered in a sandy surface and has a large jungle gym for the 5-12 age group that our 3 year olds and even 15 month old enjoyed.  There are several slides, a tunnel, and a few climbing ladders.  In the same area are

the springy cars and 4-person teeter totter.  The playground sits adjacent to a creek that has a short fence, which no one really explored even the 15 month old, but do take caution.  Benches are scattered throughout and the picnic tables and swing set are nearby.  This area is pretty shady, even with the few leaves on the trees.  If you follow the paved trail, you’ll come to eight lighted tennis courts that are adjacent to the student parking lot at Sanderson High.

img_5793
From the dance floor to the sandbox

While Optimist Park might not be a destination spot, it sure made for a great post-dance class play time and picnic spot!

Years ago Ashley and I ran the Snelling Branch Trail from Optimist Park and I never posted about it! To get to the greenway access, you’ll want to start in the smaller parking lot off Northclift Dr that is behind the Sanderson High baseball field.  Follow the signs and run behind the baseball field and you’ll come to North Hills Dr, which you’ll cross over.  Continue a little further and you’ll come to the Shelley Lake Trail where you can turn left to go south and see Shelley Lake very quickly or turn right to go north and discover the Mine Creek Trails or northern end of Shelley Lake loop.  We turned right and then made another right onto Mine Creek Trail where we crossed over North Hills Dr again, went under a tunnel for Lynn Rd, and eventually turned around near the intersection of Longstreet and Bent Creek Dr.  There’s a flowing creek along the way and we even passed a random playground.  According to the City of Raleigh website there’s a current project to extend East Fork Mine Creek Trail to Honeycutt Park.  That’ll be a good reason to get back here soon for more current pictures!

Thumbs up: quiet/not crowded, great picnic spots, fun beginner dance class, convenience of having park features close in proximity, greenway access

Thumbs down: older facilities, lack of true dance studio for watching kiddos

Photos from the Greenway exploration in Feb 2012:

Lions Park

img_5322

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

Millbrook Playground

img_3825

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

Williams Park

IMG_2957

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