Jack Smith Park (Cary, NC)

Jack Smith Park splash padBack in June, my sister and niece visited the same weekend we planned a trip to Jack Smith Park with our Raleigh Jaycee friends. Jack Smith Park is located at 9725 Penny Rd and opened towards the end of last summer. If you’re looking for a one-stop shop for outdoor fun, this is the park!

Jack Smith Park features a splash pad, multiple playgrounds for all ages, a rock climbing structure, walking trails, and a dog park. We arrived at the park at 10am when the splash pad opened. Luckily, some friends saved a table under the pavilion for our group to stash our gear while out playing. The splash pad features tall buckets that dump, gentle water fountains, circular misting fountains, and maneuverable water guns. Picnic tables with umbrellas, clean restroom facilities, large pavilion, and half-walls for sitting are adjacent to the splash pad. 

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After my kids tired of the splash pad they played on the playground areas and rock climbing structure. The smaller kid playground features several slides, a small rock climbing wall, sails for shade, and a curved climbing ladder. The bigger kid playground features a tall spider web climbing net, challenging curved climbing ladders, gyro spinners, slides, and stepping stones. The regular swings, baby swings, and tire swing are located near the perimeter of the park. When I wasn’t poking my head around parents and play things to keep an eye on the girls, I was pushing the girls on the tire swing. Boy, do they LOVE a tire swing!

And, my oldest daughter loves rock climbing! She’s pretty fearless and persistent, and loves the challenge that rock climbing presents. The park’s rock climbing structure is at the far end of the park. Large natural rocks surround the structure which sits upon a rubbery surface. She tried multiple times to climb the hardest section of the rock before trying her hand at the flatter sides. Though she didn’t climb up very far, she enjoyed climbing alongside the bigger kids.

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The Town of Cary parks always impress me with their attention to landscaping, public art, and availability of public restrooms. Young trees surrounded by half-walls create nice sitting areas for parents. The park features several ornamental grasses, flowering shrubs, and a large open grassy field down from the playground. Many benches and shaded picnic tables also scatter the perimeter. Vollis Simpson’s folksy art sculptures take center stage as you park near the playground. Finally, the restrooms are very clean and roomy, and have water fountains and a nearby hand shower for spraying off the treated water.

Despite being super busy on a weekend morning, I look forward to bringing the girls back here one day. Splash pads offer a quick water alternative to cooling off in the pool. And, with so many other activities at this park, it makes for many fun-filled hours!

Thumbs up: one-stop shop for fun, rock climbing structure, mixing water play with dry activities, outdoor art, natural climbing rocks, nice landscaping, lots of seating options

Thumbs down: very crowded, can be difficult to manage multiple small kids

2017 First Day Hikes

2017 First Day HikesLace up your hiking boots and head outside on New Year’s Day for an organized hike in a local park.  Every state park in NC (city parks are catching on, too) organizes 2017 First Day Hikes to encourage fitness and reconnecting with nature in the new year. Last year we visited Murrells Inlet, SC for the first time, but this year we’re staying close to home and hope to discover something new (weather forecast at publication: a little chilly and dry)! 

List of organized First Day Hikes at parks and greenways within an hour of Raleigh:

  • Durant Nature Preserve – enjoy a family-friendly guided nature walk (at least 1 mile) followed by hot chocolate and discussions with staff about what you saw; 2-4pm; start location: 8305 Camp Durant Rd (north entrance); pre-registration is suggested but not required; prepare for natural surface walking; non stroller-friendly; event information
  • Walnut Creek Wetland Center – enjoy a family-friendly guided nature walk (at least 1 mile) followed by hot chocolate and discussions with staff about what you saw; 2-4pm; start location: 950 Peterson St; pre-registration is suggested but not required; wheelchair and stroller-friendly; event information
  • IMG_5058Falls Lake State Recreation Area – scavenger hunt with hike along Rolling View Track Trail (0.75 miles); start times at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm; pre-registration is required; prepare for natural surface walking; event information; my 2015 First Day Hike review
  • Jordan Lake State Recreation Area – 2.7 mile hike of Blue Loop along New Hope Overlook trail; start location: New Hope Overlook by boat ramps; 9am start time; event information; my 2012 review of New Hope Overlook trail
  • img_4160Umstead State Park – 1.3 mile hike along Pott’s Branch Trail; start location: small parking lot by Pott’s Branch trailhead (Hwy 70/Glenwood Ave); 9am start time; event information; my 2014 review of Pott’s Branch Trail
  • Eno River State Park – options of 2 mile or 4 mile hikes; start location: Fews Ford Access; 2pm start time; arrive early as this is a popular event and parking can be hard to find; event information
  • Raven Rock State Park – 2.5 mile easy hike along Raven Rock Loop Trail to the park’s centerpiece, Raven Rock; start location: picnic shelter at Raven Rock Loop trailhead; 2pm start time; event information
  • Kerr Lake State Recreation Area – 1 mile nature hike; start location: park office (6254 Satterwhite Point Rd); 1:30pm start time; event information
  • First Walk Cary at Morris Branch Greenway – bring the family for a walk along Cary’s Morris Branch Greenway; parking location: 115 Allforth Pl and follow signs for walk start; 10am start time; stroller-friendly; event information 

If the above times or distances don’t work with your schedule, visit a park and explore on your own. Check out my list of previously reviewed trails in the area.

Marla Dorrel Park (Cary, NC)

IMG_6770Over the past few years I’ve continually heard about the amazing “dragon” park in Cary with great play areas for all kids.  Well, we finally ventured to the super popular Marla Dorrel Park, which features the Kids Together Playground at the end of summer with friends.  With its unique play areas for graduated levels of difficulty, variety of wheelchair-accessible play equipment, nicely landscaped areas, and abundance of seating it makes a great park for everyone!

Marla Dorrel Park is located near Tryon Rd/Cary Pkwy at 111 Thurston Dr in Cary.  It features a basketball court, access to MacDonald Woods Park via Henshaw Greenway, covered pavilion, and the Kids Together Playground, a playground inspired by two girls whose sisters have special needs where kids of all levels of physical and mental ability can enjoy fully-integrated play. There’s a longer walk to the playground from the parking lot than most parks so make sure you have everything you need when get out of the car.  As you walk towards the park your eyes are immediately drawn to the beautiful crape myrtles and flowering plants near the pavilion. The large pavilion provides a great meeting spot for birthday parties and picnics and an easy place to spot the restrooms, which even has shorter toddler-level sinks.  Just past the pavilion is the infamous climbing dragon sculpture, Katal, resting in full sun while the kids run up, down and all over it.  Heading in the other direction, follow the widely paved sidewalks where you’ll pass interactive purple whisper benches on the way to one playground area full of tunnels, arched ladders, fire poles, shade sails, and more.

IMG_6761Beyond this playground is another play structure with graduated levels of difficulty that feature wheelchair ramp access, twisty slides, arched ladders, a fun rolling slide, interactive play items and so much more.  Tot swings, traditional swings and chair swings are also located nearby including a swinging platform with wheelchair accessible ramps.  The playground surface is mostly sand so bring your sand toys or enjoy the diggers; but wide paved sidewalks wind throughout making it easy to access all areas.  They even have wheelchair-accessible sand tables along the pathways!

After exhausting a lot of time on the bigger playgrounds, we visited the partially fenced-in toddler area, which features a playhouse, river of sand, water sources, sand table, and small climbing structures.  While our girls felt they have mostly outgrown this area, the shaded benches made for a nice place to stop for a snack.  And everyone enjoyed walking through the misting fountains.

This park is loaded with a variety of play structures and picnic spots – we played and snacked for over 2 hours.  And, while it may be a super popular park (parking lot was almost full on our way out) it is so big and has so many play areas it doesn’t feel overflowing with people.

Thumbs up: variety of play equipment for all ages/abilities, lots of shade, abundance of swings, well-maintained landscaping, great picnic areas

Thumbs down: lush landscaping can be hard to see over when trying to keep watch on more than one child!

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

Umstead Park – Company Mill Trail

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If you combine a preschooler, some hiking and a little water play you’re guaranteed to have some fun! A little while ago, Ashley and I enjoyed some mommy and me time during her first “big girl” hike where she wasn’t riding in a backpack and we had an amazing time.  I have such great childhood memories of my aunt taking my brother, sister and me hiking in the Shenandoah National Park just outside Charlottesville – we hiked, splashed in the streams and ate yummy treats along the way!  Ashley would’ve loved some Oreos (like my aunt always had on hand for us), but unfortunately for her, all she got was banana chips and apples on our hike!

IMG_6206So, for our hike we headed out to the Company Mill Trail in Umstead Park.   The Company Mill Trail is a looped trail of 5.8 total miles, but we only hiked a two mile trip that consisted of one mile down to the water/old mill and one mile back.  The entrance to the trail is located in the back left corner of the main parking lot of the Harrison Ave entrance to Umstead.  As you head toward the trail head you’ll pass several picnic tables and a large pavilion, which would be a great spot for a large group cookout followed by a short hike. This trail is very shaded and moderate in difficulty with lots of tree roots and a few narrow or steep parts, so Ashley held my hand while we hiked. Her preschooler legs go faster than her brain can account for so I wanted to prevent as many scrapes and bruises as I could.

IMG_6233So we set off and hiked for a mile until we came to the creek.  Before heading across the bridge we walked down some steep rocks and had a snack along the creek’s edge near the remnants of the old mill wall.  According to an information board near the parking lot, Company Mill was built in 1810 by Anderson Page and was used for grinding wheat and corn.  It was also a popular spot to have fish fries, weddings, and social gatherings before being washed away by a flood in the 1930s.  There are several flat spots below the old wall and near the water that are great for stopping.  A friendly photographer took our picture for us and then warned us of some water snakes he saw (luckily we didn’t see any).  After our snack we headed across the bridge and turned right to join the few crowds on the large rocks near the opposite side of the creek bank.  Ashley loved scooting down to the water and got tickled when I told her she could take her shoes and socks off and soak her piggies in the water.  This child was in heaven!  And, after a short while later we hiked the one mile route back to our car.  She was pretty exhausted for the last half of the hike home, but stayed in good spirits and finished on her own…I was so proud of her!

So, if you’re looking for a short yet fun hiking trail to conquer with little ones the Company Mill Trail in Umstead Park is an excellent option.

Resources: Great Outdoor Provision’s description of Company Mill Trail

Thumbs up: creek for splashing, views from bridge, shady, family friendly hiking option

Thumbs down: signage from parking lot to trail head

MacDonald Woods Park in Cary

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We had a jam-packed spring break staycation this year with trips to local parks, dance class, and a visit to Fearrington.  The beautiful weather stayed around all week and one day we met some dear friends in Cary at MacDonald Woods Park.

MacDonald Woods Park was our second choice for a park after we learned that Marla Dorrel Park was closed for renovations; lucky for us, MacDonald Woods Park was a short 2 mile car ride from Marla Dorrel.  MacDonald Woods Park is located at 1601 Seabrook Ave and is connected to Marla Dorrel Park via the Hinshaw Greenway, which is part of the pedestrian bridge that crosses US-64 highway. This park has on-street parking and sits below the road so it seems rather hidden at first, but based on the amount of people it’s a popular spot!

img_6008MacDonald Woods Park has playground areas for the 2-5 and 5-12 age groups with two swings for both groups. The 5-12 age playground is rather large with several ladders and slides, monkey bars, and climbing wall with rope. The loop-shaped ladder was by far a challenging favorite for this duo. The younger playground is very small with only 2 slides, steps and a platform ladder. There are a few bouncy rides and a small low-to-the-ground structure for early walkers. A small elevated sandbox is located between the two playground areas. But, by far, the best feature of this park is the merry-go-round. Yes, that’s right…they have a merry-go-round! Go Cary! Of all the parks we’ve been to this was a first so you can imagine the confusion when the girls first saw it. Having never been on a merry-go-round they watched several groups of people get on and off before getting on with a group of toddler girls. These sweet maniacs quickly caught on as to why you hold on to the bars but also moved into more challenging feats such as dangling their feet over the edge. That proved to be rather anxiety-ridden for us but they had fun and no one went flying off the thing, so it was a success!

After some playground time we had a picnic in the grassy area near the basketball court and then explored the nearby paved trails to the bridge and open grassy field. After some more trail exploring the girls were pretty exhausted so we headed home. I’m not sure if it was the fact that kids were out for Spring Break but I’ve got to think this park is naturally popular with its fun features and entrance to Hinshaw Greenway.

Additional resources: Hinshaw Greenway, MacDonald Woods Park

Thumbs up: merry-go-round, nearby creek to explore, landscaping
Thumbs down: small tot playground, few picnic tables

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

Walnut St Park

On the ninth day of Raleigh Parks Christmas, we headed out to Cary with my friend, Kristina, and her daughter, Lucy to visit Walnut St Park.  Wow, what a great park for crawlers and cruisers!  Besides the large open spongy surface, there are tot swings, a jungle gym with smaller slides, and an area with balance beams and climbing structures that proved to be so exciting for the non-walkers!

Walnut St Park is run by the Town of Cary and is located at 1420 Walnut St, not far from Cary Crossroads shopping center.  Not a surprise, but the main entrance sign is easy to miss when driving on Walnut St, so look for the cross-street of Nottingham Dr.

This park has both a tot play area and an older kid play area that are both very close to each other.  Both playgrounds are covered in the spongy surface with the exception of the small sandbox with diggers in the tot area.  There are swings, jungle gyms, and a small pavilion in each playground area.  The older kid playground also has some amazing climbing structures that were very popular.

If you’re looking to take the dogs on a walk or stroll the kids around, this park has a great paved walking trail.  According to the information sign, 2.5 loops around = 1 mile.  While walking around the trail, you’ll see many birdhouses, an area dubbed the wetlands, a natural mulch walking trail, and a large 1.5 acre open recreational space.  There are many benches scattered throughout the trail and a few picnic tables near the large open field area.  Don’t forget to check out the fancy brick “imaginary garden” promenade that cuts through part of the loop.  Check out the Town of Cary’s website for information about future phases of the park, which include adding a basketball court.

So, I know I can’t say it enough, but the Town of Cary does a great job with creating playgrounds with the spongy surface, which is so nice for the really small crawlers and cruisers!  Ashley and Lucy had a fantastic time roaming through the climbing structures, swinging on the tot swings, crawling from one end of the playground to the other, all the while trying to sneak a taste of the nearby mulch chips!  This would be a great park to bring your lunch followed by a romp around the playground.

Thumbs up: playground, walking trail, tot area, nearby pavilions

Thumbs down: somewhat hard to see entrance sign from Walnut St

Weekend Agenda

So, BOB arrived this week! He’s navy blue and black with hints of gray, very sturdy and reliable, and was a complete surprise! BOB is not another BT rescue (2 is plenty) or a weekend guest; he’s my new jogging stroller! Everyone I’ve talked to who runs with their baby and young kids swears by BOB. Despite the price tag, it’ll be something you’ll still be using with kid 2+. So my sweet mom and mom-in-law conspired (on the advice of my husband I’m sure) to get me this early birthday present and I can’t be more excited! We love our current stroller deeply and will use it 75% of the time, but with the uneven sidewalks and gravel trails around here, Ashley looked like she was going to catapult out if I didn’t do a wheelie over every little bump.

BOB allows us to take our park exploration to a whole other level, so tomorrow morning we’ll be heading over to Umstead Park to probably hike the S. Turkey Creek Trail and Reedy Creek Lake Trail. These are ones we’ve biked pre-baby and they should be nice, shady trails for Ashley and the BTs.

But before we head to Umstead tomorrow, we’ll be heading out to Thomas Brooks park tonight at 5pm to watch the 16u and 18u PONY softball championship games.  Today is the last day of the tournament, which was co-hosted by the Raleigh Jaycees and NC ChallengersThomas Brooks park is run by the Town of Cary and it’s a first class softball complex.

On Sunday morning I’m heading up to DC to meet my sisters and friends for the Britney concert…should.be.awesome!  While I’m out of town I’m putting my husband on assignment (he’s finding this out while reading now) to explore a new park with Ashley and write about it for next week.  He’ll be so excited!  Happy weekend to you all!