For a few moments, my preschool companions and I tiptoed through north Raleigh's Brookhaven Nature Park, eagerly looking for squirrels.
Sure, my daughter and her friend see squirrels everyday in our neighborhood. Apparently, there is something particularly magical about squirrels found on nature trails.
I surprised the girls with a trip to this park after I picked them up from school. The park sits in the Brookhaven neighborhood off Glenwood Avenue and near Crabtree Valley Mall. I wanted to write about it ahead of Take a Child Outside Week. The week-long international program was started right in Raleigh at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. Its goal is to urge families to get outside and let kids really explore nature.
Some local parks departments will be offering special programs in the next week, which I'll highlight on Sunday. Even if you can't sign up for a program, we have so many great parks, greenways and other outdoor spaces around here to explore.
Among them is Brookhave Nature Park. The 26-acre park opened in 1973. There is an observation deck with picnic tables and a nice parking lot, but there are no facilities here. A bathroom visit might be in order before you arrive.
Once you do, you can hike around several trails. Jenn Steele, Raleigh's nature program manager, says there's likely no more than two miles of trails here, if that.
"They all loop back together so you don't have to worry about getting lost," Steele said. And that's good to know as there could be better signs and maps on site.
We explored the deck, which offers some displays on some of the animals and plants you might see - deer, cardinals, squirrels, for instance. The kids were intrigued by the trees that came up through circles in the floor.
Then we set out on our hike, heading along the upland forest trail and then joining up with the main trail.
This is a gorgeous, hilly piece of property with tall hardwoods shading the trail, which is partly paved, but mostly natural. It would be tricky to maneuver through here with a stroller. We came upon a spring-fed creek. There's also a pond on the property.
We stopped to look at a bug on a bridge, wondered what kind of animals might live in the hollowed out tree trunk and talked about how tree roots are kind of like feet for the trees.
But mostly, I just let them go and listened as the two buddies chatted about the bridges, the creek, the hills and all of those squirrels. They sat for five minutes quietly on an observation deck, just looking out onto a narrow meadow.
When we reached the parking lot and I told them we had hiked exactly one mile in 27 minutes, they couldn't have been more proud of themselves. That mile is twice the distance they complain about walking when we're taking their older siblings to school.
I guess on the next walk to school, I'll just encourage them to hunt for squirrels!
Brookhaven Nature Park is at 1525 Berkeley Dr., Raleigh.