Let's go ahead and rank White Deer Park as one of the top park and playground destinations in the Triangle.
Tucked away in Garner, this 96-acre gem includes a 2,500-square-foot nature center filled with books and a big basket of animal puppets; two miles of paved trails; an innovative natural playground; and a traditional playground, which would stand out on its own.
I spent a morning there with Stephanie Shaffer, the park's supervisor, who showed me around the airy nature center and property. Shaffer and her staff plan regular drop-in and registration-required classes and programs for kids. And you can always explore the property by borrowing one of the park's discovery backpacks from the nature center.
What strikes me about White Deer Park is the variety. You can curl up with your kids in the nature center with a book, you can explore the trails and you can get two very different play experiences at the playgrounds.
The park, which opened two years ago, is named after a fabled white deer that once roamed the area. Soon after Garner officials decided to name the park after the doe, the albino deer was hit and killed by a pickup truck. But White Deer lives on at the park. Her stuffed body greets visitors at the entrance to the nature center.
Shaffer said the park's goal is to serve as an example of environmental design and stewardship. Last year, the U.S. Green Building Council awarded the nature center a LEED Gold Certification for its green construction and design. Features that helped the center earn the certification include geothermal wells, a rainwater collection system, use of daylighting and natural ventilation and incorporation of recycled building products and local materials.
Kids might not appreciate daylighting or geothermal wells. They will appreciate a park with two playgrounds.
The first is the natural playground, complete with a 20-foot slide that descends with the slope of the land, teeter totters made from logs and a colorful path (that kids have dubbed Candy Land). Shaffer tells me that parents sometimes wonder how kids should play with the pieces. Kids have no problem figuring out what to do.
"The kids just love it and they just create a fun great day," she tells me. On nice afternoons, it's teaming with kids, she said.
On the other side of the park is a more traditional playground. White Deer has a newer variety of play equipment, which we're seeing at playgrounds across the region. These pieces include lots of ropes for climbing and elements that spin and move kids around. You'll also find swings and slides here. I love that there is a shade structure over the play equipment.
Check Garner's current parks and recreation catalog for future events and programs here. They include several that don't require registration, including White Deer T.O.T.S. for kids 2 to 5 from 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. on the second Thursday of each month from April to September.
Discovery Days, for kids 6 and up, is geared toward homeschoolers and students who are tracked out. The drop-in program runs from 10 a.m to noon on the first and third Thursday of the month from April to September. The activities take about 30 minutes. Adults must accompany their kids.
Find White Deer Park at 2400 Aversboro Rd. in Garner. The park is open daily from sunrise to sunset. The nature center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m., Sunday. The park recently welcomed a new corn snake, which lives in a terrarium in the nature center. Click here for details on a contest to name the snake. The contest ends March 30.
For a closer look, watch my interview with Shaffer. Go to White Deer Park's website and Facebook page for details. For more information about the park's programs, click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page for the listing of parks and recreation publications.