Three Bears Acres' fall festivities begin Sunday with some new additions and lots of old favorites.
For three years, the spot has offered a place for kids to run wild across 50 acres in northern Wake County. Mixed in among the tall trees are kid magnets such as a jumping pillow, a mud kitchen, pedal boats, a tree house playground and a giant slide.
But kids, if my kids and my friends' kids are like most others, get just as much of a kick out of running across the hills and valleys, getting dirty and feeling free. Each time we go, my kids spend hours running and complain when it's time to leave.
"It's an easy day," said Melinda Kinsel, a Raleigh mom and one of the founders. All you need to do is dress your kids in old clothes and let them explore at their own pace, she said.
The spot is the brainchild of two moms - Kinsel and Moira Roberts - who were wondering what to do next when their youngest children started school. They thought back to the times when they and their kids were happiest. The answer was when they were outside. Three Bears opened in 2012.
Each year, Three Bears has added more attractions and amenities, including the PAWS Cafe, which will serve snacks on weekdays and meals on weekends and permanent restrooms. A sprayground is popular in the summer. (It's closed for the season).
Its field trip offerings, led by a teacher, also have grown to include a variety of subjects including one that focuses on Native American life with opportunities to see artifacts found on the land.
And, it's becoming a popular place for school fundraisers and big events - even a company picnic that drew 1,000 people.
The fall season starts this Sunday (but be sure to call ahead if the weather is rainy).
For the fall, Three Bears will add hay rides, hay forts, pumpkin bowling, archery and a brand new activity - the corn cannon, which involves launching ears of corn at fall-themed targets with a hydraulic cannon. A free pumpkin is given away for each paid child admission.
Admission is $7 for adults and $13 for kids (ages 2 and under are free). On Thursdays, admission is $10 for kids ages 2 to 5 and parents are free. Three Bears' website details the hours, which change depending on the month, but will include weekend hours in October and November. The fall season runs through the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
It's been a lot of work, but Kinsel said she loves it.
"I am still having fun," she said. "I can still be a mom. I can still get to the soccer and all that kind of stuff."