"Where's the playground?"
That's what my younger daughter asked as we parked the car and started to explore Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve in north Raleigh. That was my fault. I called this tranquil spot, surrounded on three sides by the Neuse River, a "park" when it really is a nature preserve.
There's no big plastic and metal play structure here, but after a little bit of grumbling, she ran ahead of me - finding stumps to hop across, a log to balance on and a few mud puddles to run around and jump into.
The 146-acre former farm sits just off Louisburg Road. A master plan eventually calls for amenities such as a bird trail, butterfly meadow and small amphitheater. But, right now, it mostly includes lots of open space, a trail and a connector to the Neuse River section of the greenway.
When we were there, we saw plenty of visitors unloading their bikes for a ride on the greenway. But, we were there for a half mile walk along the preserve's wood line. We'd just come from Bakery La Dolce Vita, so we all had some sugar to run off.
The trail is natural - grass with some tree roots sticking up, but a jogging stroller could easily move around the roots and other bumps. As I walked along taking pictures, my kids ran ahead of me and behind me, laying down briefly on a blanket to soak in some of the sun. It was a former farm, so there's a large open field to explore. Tall grasses make for a fun sensory experience for little ones too, though watch out for ticks.
"It's just a really great place - that field - for kite flying, Frisbee throwing, bubble blowing," said Amy Corbally, who manages both Durant Nature Park and Horseshoe Farm. "There are lots of opportunities to burn a lot of energy for the little ones."
If you go, there's a restroom here - but no running water. So bring your own water and hand sanitizer and prepare for the facilities - a composting toilet.
We spent about an hour here. Paired with a Raleigh parks program, a picnic and a little imagination, you could easily spend much of a morning or afternoon here.
"It's great for wildlife enthusiasts and for anybody trying to grab some peace and relaxation," Corbally said.
In March 2017, Raleigh parks has two programs planned.
Hunters in the Sky is 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., March 12, for ages 5 and up and their parents. Participants will learn about red-tailed hawks, run through an obstacle course and make a craft to take home. It's $6. Pre-registration is required four days in advance.
Meadow Wee Walkers is 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., March 16, for ages 1 to 5. The easy-paced hike around the preserve is a good opportunity for adults and their little ones to explore nature. Pre-registration isn't required, but it's helpful for organizers. The program will be held monthly.
Programs will ramp up this summer after the preserve's farmhouse opens later in the spring. The small home will be open during programs and special events at the preserve, Corbally tells me.
Upcoming activities including programs that focus on both nature and art - cloud painting, for instance, or coyotes, which, along with eagles and hawks, are seen on the property, Corbally tells me.
The preserve also will host volunteer days for ages 12 and up. The next one is 9 a.m. to noon, March 18.
For more information about these programs, call the preserve staff, who are based at Raleigh's Durant Nature Park, at 919-870-2871 or go to Horseshoe Farm's website.
One word if you go: Be sure to keep dogs on their leash. Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve is at 2900 Horseshoe Farm Rd.