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Nature Parks: Five favorites in the Triangle

In honor of Take a Child Outside Week, we name five favorite nature parks in the region.

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I wrote about the local events planned to mark Take a Child Outside Week, which runs Wednesday through Sept. 30, yesterday.
The annual week, started in 2006, encourages kids and their parents to get outside and enjoy nature. The week gives parks, nature centers and other spots a chance to highlight their own offerings. Many are offering free programs starting Wednesday.

I'll be talking about it on WRAL-TV's morning news on Fox 50 around 8:30 a.m., Wednesday. I thought I'd share five of my favorite nature parks in the Triangle. Of course, this is just scratching the surface as we have some great outdoor spaces in our region. So if your favorites are not listed here, please share in the comments! 

1. Prairie Ridge Ecostation,  1671 Gold Star Dr., Raleigh. The outdoor lab and learning space for the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences sits off Reedy Creek Road near the N.C. Museum of Art. The 45 acres is a collection of different North Carolina landscapes - a Piedmont prairie, forest, ponds, stream and more. Families won't want to miss the nature playground, where kids can make mud pies, build homes for fairies and gnomes, experiment with water and crawl through a groundhog tunnel. Prairie Ridge offers lots of regular events, including a Thursday morning storytime for preschoolers, opportunities for families to be citizen scientists and regular nature walks. And it's also just a great place to explore on your own. It's open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and noon to 4:30 p.m., Sunday. Bathrooms and ample parking are available on site.
2. White Deer Park and Nature Center, 2400 Aversboro Rd., Garner: I fell in love with this park when I reviewed it a few years ago. The 96-acre park includes a 2,500-square-foot nature center, two miles of paved trails that are easy for young kids to navigate; an innovative natural playground and a traditional playground. The nature playground includes a 20-foot slide that descends with the slope of the land, teeter totters made of logs and other pieces. White Deer offers regular nature programs for kids. You'll find lots of parking and bathrooms here. The nature center is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, from April to September. The hours change to noon to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, from October to March.
3. Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve and Stevens Nature Center, 2616 Kildaire Farm Rd., Cary: This 150-acre preserve in the middle of Cary has been a long-time favorite of mine, starting when I was childless and living in Cary. The nature center offers some great hands-on exhibits for kids where they can learn more about the plants and animals that live here. It offers four trails - only one is longer than a mile at 1.2 miles - that are easy for many to hike, though they can be a bit hilly. My favorite is the 0.8 mile Swift Creek Loop with boardwalks and a long stairway. This park offers all kinds of programs and camps for kids all year. Lots of parking and bathrooms are here. There is even a small gift shop in the nature center with items for kids and up. The nature center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday.
4. Annie Louise Wilkerson MD Nature Preserve, 5299 Awls Haven Rd., Raleigh: Trailblazing doctor Annie Louise Wilkerson, a Wake County obstetrician and gynecologist, left her 157-acre retreat to the city in her will. Today, the spot offers regular programs for kids, trails, and some natural play pieces for kids. There's a pond and lots of tall trees for kids to explore here. Inside the nature center, you'll find fun activities for kids and a very knowledgeable staff. There also are parking and bathrooms here. (Honorable mention to Durant Nature Park in north Raleigh. Another great nature park, with a nice playground tucked among the trees where we've spotted deer more than once). The nature preserve is open 10 a.m. to dusk, Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 p.m. to dusk, Sunday. It is closed on Mondays.
5. West Point on the Eno, 5101 N. Roxboro St., Durham: The park, which runs along two miles of the Eno River, has historic buildings, including a grist mill, along with lots of outdoor spaces and about 1.5 miles of walking trails. This is a popular spot for big festivals in Durham, such as the annual Eno River Festival in July, and much smaller nature programs. It's also fun to splash, canoe and raft along the river. Parking and bathrooms are available here. The historic buildings are open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., weekends, from April to December.


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