Maybe you've never been to Blue Jay Point County Park, but there's a good chance your kids have been there.
The 236-acre Wake County park sits along the shores of Falls Lake and is a popular spot for school field trips, serving about 60,000 school children a year, says D'Nise Hefner, assistant park manager in charge of educational programs.
Its environmental education center offers some interactive exhibits for kids about the natural world around them, including the importance of protecting our watershed. The education continues at its overnight lodge, popular with school trips and scout groups. You'll also find a large open play field; picnic areas; nearly five miles of paved and natural hiking trails; and a large and very popular playground.
Here's what I like about Blue Jay Point, which is about to turn 20 years old:
- The playground. This is a popular spot for a lot of parents. I tend to go to parks early (we're nearly all early risers in this house). So it's not unusual for us to be the first and only ones at a playground. But at Blue Jay, we're usually quickly joined by other groups. The larger play structure, designed for kids ages 5 to 12, stands out here. There's a long deck that leads to slides, monkey bars and a tube (used by many kids for hiding). Kids can jump onto the structure on the ground level or above along the path that leads to the bathrooms. I wasn't crazy about having my 19-month-old play on the larger structure because of some of the openings and the length of the slides, but there is a smaller play set for younger kids, which kept her busy for a bit. Bonus: There are some shady spots here.
- The sand area on the playground. It's a good-sized sand area with some sand tables as well. There are bouncy animal toys here, including a very low chipmunk, which was perfect for my toddler to climb on. There also is some green space next to the playground and sand area.
- The environmental education center. When you need a break from all that active play on the playground, this is a great place to go. The center offers some interactive exhibits for kids where they learn everything form the sounds of different birds to why it's important to recycle. It's surrounded by some lovely gardens and landscaping that attracts bird. You can sit in one of the rocking chairs on the front porch while your kids search for birds.
- The trails. You can take a short walk through the forest or a longer walk down the Falls Lake. The trails are part of the Falls Lake Trail, which is part of the Mountains to Sea Trail.
Blue Jay is gearing up for its big annual Songbird Celebration, which is 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. The free event is always the last Saturday in April and offers a variety of opportunities to learn all about birds. There are programs for preschoolers, kids, teens, families and adults only. The event celebrates the return of migratory songbirds. Food concessions will be available on site or pack a picnic.
Click here for all the details, including the full schedule of events. You'll register for the different activities at the event.
For more on Blue Jay Point, check out the videos - an interview with Hefner, who talks more about what you'll find there and some of the programs she offers for kids, and a closer look at Blue Jay's playground.
Hefner says the best way to keep up with what's happening at Blue Jay Point is to sign up for its email newsletter. You can find the sign up at the bottom of the park's homepage.
The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset seven days a week except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. It's all free.
Blue Jay Point is at 3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd. in north Raleigh. (Be sure to follow the directions listed on the website. Some car navigation systems won't get you to the right spot).