I know how hard it is to get young kids out of the house to go somewhere - even quick outings require you to pack enough snacks, diapers, and toys to make you think you’ll be gone for a week. And who wants to wrestle kids in and out of carseats just to find out that your destination isn’t kid-friendly? That’s why I’ve decided to visit Triangle area sites to see if they’re worth your trip. I won’t use a rating system but I’ll try to describe what you’ll see well enough for you to decide if your kids would find it interesting. I’ll also give you the heads up on bathrooms, stroller accessibility and any other SNAFUs I encounter.


Pullen Park - Raleigh

Park Website

        My wife and I had taken my preschooler to Pullen before it closed for renovations so when I went after the reopening I was able to appreciate the before and after effect. The transformation is dramatic yet you can still appreciate the original setting of the Park. Now, all of the buildings are color coordinated and attractive crests with the initials PP adorn each one. The restrooms received the most dramatic makeover - they're so clean and well furnished with a changing table in the Men's Room. The Cafe is one of the newest additions and helps to draw the crowds away from the playground equipment during the noon hour.

        The playground features four different areas: a school-age structure, a preschool structure, a sand and water play area, and a swing set with ADA compliant swings. My toddler wanted to stay in the school-age area with its' periscope and twisty slides. There is also a very large spider web that older children can climb. The full-size caboose is still there and its' interior got a fresh coat of paint. My toddler really liked playing in there as well.

The school-age play structure

       All of the rides received upgrades. The kiddie boats got some much needed help - the water doesn't look toxic anymore. The carousel is housed inside an enclosed structure that enables it to be open all year. The train station now sports some fancy wrought iron work and the train itself is shinier than ever. Even the landscaping and bridges along the railway were spruced up. Riding the train is a great way to see all of the renovations because it loops around the part of the Park that had the most work done. My toddler - a train fanatic - was most excited to board the train and wave to all of the passing pedestrians. In fact, the train was really the only amusement he wanted to ride.

      I don't remember how the rides were operated before the renovations but now you have to have tickets for the train, kiddie boats, paddle boats, and carousel. Tickets can be purchased from the large building across from the Cafe. After the conversion of dollars to tickets, the price per ride, per person is $1, except the paddle boats which is $5. The ticket booth takes credit/debit cards and the best part is that tickets don't expire, so if you don't use them all in one day you can use them the next time you come.

      Finding parking will probably be difficult for awhile as landscapers, working on finishing touches, have their large vehicles taking up valuable spaces. The crowds coming out to see the renovations will also be large for awhile, but we still did not have to wait too long to ride the train. I did happen to lose my infant's pacifier somewhere between the train station and the playground so if anyone finds it, send it to Capt. Dad, P.O. Box........


Carolina Rollergirls at Dorton Arena - Raleigh

Carolina Rollergirls Website

         My only previous experience with roller derby was seeing the movie Whip It but if I hadn't seen the movie I probably wouldn't have done a search for an NC roller derby team. I had been toying with the idea of taking my kids to one of these events to see how family friendly it was, but then I got one of those Amazon local deals to see the Nov. 19th doubleheader charity bout for half price and I took it as a sign. Even without the discount my kids got in for free to this matchup featuring the Trauma Queens vs. the Debutante Brawlers and the Carolina All-Stars vs. the Cape Fear All-Stars from Wilmington.

        The premise of roller derby is pretty simple. The jammer - identified by the star on her helmet - must break through the defensive players to become the lead jammer and the number of times she passes through the pack during a jam - two minutes - equals the number of points she scores for her team. Team members take turns as the jammer and the jammer can call off a jam at any time - usually when she is ahead in points. Roller derby bouts consist of two, half hour periods. All of the finer details of the sport are explained in the program.

       Watching roller derby can be at times relaxing and exciting depending upon the performance of the players. Sometimes it can feel like watching NASCAR, but the campy fun of the costumes, players' names, and the humor of the commentators keeps it interesting. The bout we witnessed was a charity event for the Pretty in Pink Foundation so there was also a bake sale and a silent auction going on. And if all else fails to excite, the promoters are not shy about advertising the beer that's available.

       Roller derby in NC seems to be in its' infancy: the scoreboard is an LCD projection on a pull-down screen; the commentators sit at a rough table with minimal PA equipment; T-shirts are launched into the crowd via overhand throw; the venue itself is not climate controlled; and the crowds that come are small but dedicated. There is a certain charm in seeing a sport at this stage of development. I noticed that everyone we encountered - from the ticket takers to our fellow spectators - was very welcoming. The players themselves even mingle with the crowds after a bout. And as long as you're 18 and not pregnant you can sit on the floor close enough to the track to feel the draft of the passing skaters.

      But is roller derby in NC kid-friendly? Absolutely. My toddler's eyes were glued to the track as soon as we walked in the arena and he quickly learned to clap and cheer when we did. The small crowd and the general admission seating allowed us to find a nice open seating area so both of my kids could get up and move without having to worry about bumping into neighboring spectators. If your kids tend to get antsy you can always bring small toys as a distraction. This bout was a doubleheader so it was a long time to expect our kids to stay and we knew it was time to leave when my toddler launched his stuffed lion track-ward.

The Rollergirls' mascot, Evil Ed


NC Museum of History - Part 2 of Story of NC Exhibit - Raleigh


To see my blog on Part 1 of the Exhibit click here.

       The second part of the exhibit opens with a very fun map of NC with buttons that activate wooden toy representations of different regional contributions to NC history, like the running train that represents the opening of the Wilmington Weldon Railroad. The exhibit then paints in broad strokes from slavery to secession to the Civil War to Reconstruction to WWI and WWII. There is a video stop in the secession area and in the Reconstruction portion is a KKK headdress and a video explaining the Wilmington race riot of 1898. In the WWI area your child can have their picture taken as the face of a doughboy soldier.

The map 

      Stops along the way describe significant elements in NC history like tobacco production, the emergence of textile mills, and the development of Black Wall Street in Durham. My preschooler paid close attention when we told her that at her age she would have been working in a mill already. She asked the ever important question: "how would I go to the bathroom?" When we read a placard to her that described the communal outdoor bathrooms for workers she emphatically proclaimed, "Everybody would see your panties and your butt! Everybody!"

A textile mill interior cleverly set up with mirrors.
         In the slavery section the Museum has reconstructed a slave cabin that they supposedly removed from its location and reassembled. Based on the quality of building materials and the architecture, not to mention the number of furnishings inside, I have a hard time believing this was an authentic slave cabin. It looks like it post dates the slavery period. It could have been a sharecropper's cabin or perhaps the owner of these slaves was a rare exception who set his property up in nicer accommodations, but the cabin certainly does not represent the majority of slave dwellings that I have seen. Even the slave cabins of Stagville in Durham, while on the nicer side with their wood floors, are nothing compared to the "luxury"of this re-created cabin at the Museum.

A cutout view into the nicest slave cabin I've ever seen.
        After WWII, the exhibit has very little to say about modern NC. I was surprised to see no mention of Andy Griffith's NC connection and his contribution to early television - there was actually no display on the emergence of TV. Likewise, no displays chronicled the Vietnam War and Fort Bragg's role as a major training facility for that War. It's like the curator ran out of energy or physical space to bring the exhibit into more recent history.

     This second part of the exhibit is obviously the most ambitious portion but it's also less interactive. There is a great deal more text to digest in this second installment and not enough video segments to occupy the kids while you try to read up. There are much fewer hands-on items in this second part than there was in the first. My preschooler was engaged but we had a heck of a time keeping my toddler reined in. He might be a great candidate for one of those kid leashes I never thought I would consider.


Wake Forest College Birthplace Museum - Wake Forest

The Museum is in the newer structure on the right


       This was probably the quickest visit I've ever made. The Museum is anything but kid-friendly, especially for young children like my toddler. It's furnished like an alumni house or like my in-laws living room with lots of nice furniture and breakable sit-arounds.

       The auditorium on the right side of the Museum is where you can see a 15 minute video about the College and the Town of Wake Forest and their survival as exclusive elements. I only saw one or two minutes of the video before my toddler insisted on leaving the room, but it started out using golf star and alumnus, Arnold Palmer, as a departure point for exploring the College's history.

      The Museum's collection - which can be viewed in a hall to the left of the main foyer - center's mostly on the College's sports history. A few displays focus on other aspects of the College's story like it's medical program. I had to view the exhibit hall rather quickly while repeating "Don't touch that!" as I followed behind my toddler's pinball-like trajectory, so I didn't get a chance to read many of the placards.

Display of WF's medical school artifacts

       The main foyer houses a diorama of the original campus replete with a stationary miniature train, which my toddler loved. It also houses a 'Rolls Royce golf cart' which was made for one of Mickey Mantle's charity golf tournaments. The tricked out cart with cooler and stereo tape deck was acquired by one of Mantle's teammates, a WF alumnus who donated it to the Museum.

       I had read about the Museum's collection of photographs of the Town's two train wrecks and I figured my toddler would be interested in those since he likes making his own toy trains wreck. After asking one of the Museum staff about the photos he brought out the book containing them, at which point my toddler became his own train wreck as he fell to the floor in a screaming meltdown. I decided that was a good signal to leave.

      The Museum is definitely not for young children and may not be that interesting to older children either unless they have a passionate interest in Wake Forest history. The Museum's target audience is definitely WF alumni interested in better understanding their alma mater's beginnings.


Imagination Station - Wilson


        On a blustery October day, after my wife returned to work from maternity leave, the three of us men hit the road for some adventure. My toddler seems to like riding in the car - he's been asking to go some place all week. Maybe he'll be a truck driver when he grows up. As soon as I got him and his brother in the car I taught him a new phrase - "We're off!"

       We approached our destination through Wilson's historical district along tree-lined streets amidst antebellum and federal style homes. It was clear as soon as we entered the downtown area that there is a need for urban renewal.

       The Imagination Station is housed in a building that has been used as a courthouse and a post office. Limited parking is available in the rear of the building. Five dollars will pay for your adult ticket. Because the two boys were under three they got in for free.

       We had the whole Museum to ourselves and we puttered around the first floor with its exhibits on simple machines and the human body. The exhibits are meant to be kid-friendly and interactive but unfortunately many of the ones relating to the human body are not working. The collection of exhibits seem somewhat mismatched as if they were found at a carnival's going out of business sale and thrown in a room together. There is a building block station that kept my toddler's interest for a little while but it wasn't long before we were ready to see what was on the next level.

A mouth display on the first floor

       Upstairs is where you can find the old courtroom which is now used during birthday parties for science demonstrations. As I followed my toddler into the jury box I couldn't help but wonder what kind of grisly testimony may have been heard in that space. The second floor is also where you can find the live turtles, lizards and snakes. There are two noteworthy exhibits in this room. One was the largest snake I have ever seen alive and close up - an albino ball python that was thicker than my arm in diameter. I couldn't get over the shock of seeing a snake that large coiled in his habitat in the corner of the room. The other exciting display was an open top enclosure at floor level where a live tortoise was being kept. Even though my toddler could reach the tortoise, it was unclear if the Museum expected him/her to be touched. And then there's the whole thing about salmonella with turtles that I didn't know if it applied to tortoises as well so we just kept our hands to ourselves.

This cell phone picture does not do this ball python justice!

        On the second floor, near the restrooms, you can also find the Curiosity Room for children under five. The room is furnished like a daycare with loads of preschool toys and books that are quasi-scientific in nature. Needless to say we spent a long time in that room. I have to say one of my favorite parts of this whole adventure was playing with the dinosaur figures with my toddler in that room.

The Curiosity Room

      The third floor of the building houses the NC Museum of the Coastal Plain which is a one room gallery featuring changing exhibits. The current exhibit is a photographic essay of African American gardens.

     The staff at the Station was very nice and I would recommend checking this place out only if you live in Wilson or very close. Of greater interest to my toddler than the Museum was the constant train whistles he heard nearby. I asked one of the staff if there was someplace in town we could go to watch trains coming and going. She suggested the Amtrak station a block down from the Museum on Nash St. We spent a few minutes parked at the station hoping to give my toddler the train fix he so desperately craved. But alas, even though we had heard trains pulling in all morning, the time we spent at the station didn't bear fruit.



West Point on the Eno - Durham


          I had heard so much about this park from various Triangle websites and brochures that I was excited to find a temperate day to make a visit. I guess my expectations were high given all the hype, but I was a little disappointed with West Point. I expected it to be bigger and a bit more pastoral. Granted we went on a weekday so we weren't able to see inside any of the historic structures (the Mangum House, the Mill, and the Hugh Mangum Museum of Photography) on the property.

         We turned into the park driveway, surprised to see how close the park sits to a major thoroughfare - in early Fall you can see through the trees to the shopping center across the street. Driving along the park's one way gravel road, we took in the layout of the park which is a good thing since we were never able to find a printed map. The only map we found was on a placard near the parking lot. There are also some decent park maps on this part of the website.

        Once we parked the car we went looking for a bathroom. Tip: the restrooms behind the Mangum House are locked when the House is not open. My wife asked some children who were there on a school trip and they pointed us toward a picnic shelter near the Laurel Cliffs Trailhead (my wife is still home on maternity leave). While my wife was using the facilities and I was trying to feed our infant, my toddler decided to venture out on his own. Stuck in my position next to the stroller, above a set of steps, I called after him as he moved farther away from me. Luckily, a helpful gentleman offered to go after him. As my son realized his time on the lamb was fleeting, he broke into a run heading down the trail into the woods.

Mangum House


        When we were all reunited we headed towards the mill. At the mill, my toddler was captivated when his mom pointed out that he could look through the planks in the bridge to watch the water run over the dam. We found a shaded picnic bench that provided a nice view of the mill and had a picnic lunch. The sound of water rushing over the dam was relaxing, but the sound of passing cars on the nearby road reminded us that we were still in the city.

        After lunch we made our way back to the Laurel Cliffs Trailhead and began the third of a mile hike. We left the stroller at the trailhead which ended up being a very smart move since the very last portion of the trail is not stroller accessible due to steep grade and rocky terrain. Although I probably carried my toddler the majority of the time, those rare moments when he was hiking with us were a special treat - him using a stick he had found as a walking staff and stopping every so often to gleefully examine an ordinary rock. As you hike along the bluffs of this trail, there are some beautiful views of the Eno River below. The trail ends close to the Mill so we only had to hike back a short distance along the gravel drive to get back to the stroller.

      We definitely had fun and Fall is a great time to enjoy the park's many splendored leaves. But as far as parks with mills go, I was far more impressed by Yates Mill Park with its' quiet rural setting and hands-on exhibits in the Visitor's Center. Next time I come to West Point I'll try to make it for the Festival on the Eno which I hear is a big deal.

The Hugh Mangum Museum of Photography


Noah's Ark Ministries - Clayton

The play structure

         So, this place is a little different than the other places I've taken my kids. Noah's Ark is a ministry run out of a woman's home in Clayton. She provides petting zoo experiences for birthday parties, vacation Bible schools, Sunday School classes, and if you make an appointment like we did, you can come to her farm to interact with the animals. I found Noah's Ark through a web search I was doing for another agency named after the Biblical patriarch - Noah's Landing - a petting zoo specializing in exotic animals that, despite their name, does not subscribe to a Judeo-Christian philosophy. 

        Having only corresponded with the proprietor via email, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this experience. When my GPS told me I had reached the address and I saw that it was a private residence with three large crosses erected near the road, I was a little nervous. The owner waved us in to the driveway as she attempted to get stray pigs and llamas in their pen before she opened the gate for us. My kids were excited to see so many farm animals, but as I drove down the gravel drive I was still pretty unsure of what I'd gotten myself into. We parked our car and the owner introduced us to her daughter and granddaughter and then informed us that she was waiting for a couple more families who had made appointments. She suggested we take the kids to the ark-themed play structure at the front of the lot to let them play until the other families arrived.

       My kids had fun playing on the swings, slide, and two level boat (I had my preschooler with me on this trip because she was off from school for a teacher workday). There were a few picnic tables surrounding the ark and a lot of animal poop on the ground - so much, in fact, that it was impossible not to step on a turd. The good news is that all of the animals are herbivores so the poo isn't really smelly as it cakes the bottom of your shoe. As far as I know there are no public restroom facilities at Noah's Ark. I suppose if you had an emergency you could ask to use the owner's bathroom, but we didn't have a reason to test this theory. 

       After all of the families had arrived, the proprietor gathered the children around for some basic instructions on how to pet the animals and an admonition to keep hands out of noses and mouths until they could be sanitized with the provided hand sanitizer. Then she brought a donkey into the yard for the kids to take turns sitting on. While the kids got on and off the donkey, the owner talked about the significance of donkeys in the Bible. This Bible lesson was the extent of the proselytizing - there was no witnessing or altar calls or specific theology discussed - so as a parent raising my kids in a Judeo-Christian tradition I was comfortable with the message they were getting. The only other indication that you are visiting a Christian themed petting zoo is the fact that all of the animals have Biblical names, including an irascible, crested mallard appropriately named Paul.

        After the kids took their turn on the donkey, they were ushered into a small pen and given a few minutes to interact with some goats and sheep.

        The next enclosure the kids entered provided them a chance to touch a bunny, chickens, a pig, and Paul the duck who's not really the touchy-feely sort. My toddler was enthralled with the bunny and kept trying to pick it up. The owner sat next to each child and helped them hold the bunny so parents could take pictures.

         The last enclosure gave kids a chance to feed llamas from their hand. The owner explained that llamas have no top teeth so they can't bite. My preschooler enjoyed walking to the door of the enclosure so the llamas could tickle the small pellets from her outstretched hand.

        The capstone experience for all of the kids was the chance to take a pony ride around the front lot. The owner saddled up a pony and led it in a loop around the yard while a gleeful rider posed for photos. My preschooler has been craving another pony ride for some time now, but this was my toddler's first experience on a horse. He dutifully mounted the patient animal but he would not let go of his mother during the entire circuit. The owner does not provide helmets for the pony ride so you should bring a bicycle helmet from home if you want.

       If you don't mind making an appointment, Noah's Ark is a very relaxed way to give your kids a petting zoo fix. The owner is very good with the kids and easy to be around so you quickly get over the feeling that you're at someone's private residence. She does expect a donation if you come, so bring some cash or a checkbook for the suggested $5 a person donation.


ROAD TRIP: Town Creek Indian Mound - Mt. Gilead


        The occupation of the Town Creek site by Native Americans goes back 10,000 years. Around 1200 CE the development of the earth mound began, huts were constructed, and a stockade was erected around the site for protection. During this time, burials and special ceremonies were performed at Town Creek. The earth mound itself was used as a burial site and a meeting place for ceremonies. Bodies were buried in different positions inside the mound - some were laid out on their backs, while others were curled on their side into a fetal position, the bodies of infants and children were often placed inside large earthen vessels and buried.

        The approximately 10 foot tall mound is preserved at Town Creek although the bodies are no longer visible - a friend tells me that there were once windows in the mound that allowed visitors to see the buried skeletons. Four buildings have been re-created on the site to appear as they would have when the Pee Dee Indians lived there. The Guard Tower is the first of these buildings that you encounter. It's a cone-shaped enclosure along the wall of the stockade. My preschooler thought it resembled a cave and excitedly declared that she could sleep there. The next hut is the Mortuary where you can step inside and view mannequins behind glass reenacting the burial of a child. A button on the panel in front of you starts the recorded narration. The East Lodge provides a demonstration of the building technique used to create all of the structures at Town Creek.  And finally, the Town House sits atop the earth mound and is furnished with log benches and a small altar-like table which sits at the front of the hut and faces the benches.

the Guard Tower and stockade

the Mortuary hut

interior of the East Lodge

         Visitors can find bathrooms, with a baby changing station in the men's room, at the Visitor's Center. Two small exhibits are also housed in the Center - one detailing the archaeologically significant Hardaway site and another which illustrates aspects of the Pee Dee culture at Town Creek. The Hardaway exhibit has  some interactive elements to help kids understand how Native Americans made tools. The Pee Dee exhibit features a ceramic urn used in burials at Town Creek as well as two heads of Pee Dee Indians reconstructed from skeletal evidence found at the site. The Visitor's Center also contains a small gift shop with the expected Native American swag as well as a comprehensive offering of books on Indian culture in North Carolina.

       I have to admit that when I planned to visit Town Creek I doubted that my kids would have much fun; I was going mostly because I was really interested in seeing an Indian mound. But surprisingly, my kids had a great time. There was plenty of open grassland for the kids to run through and roughhouse in inside the stockade area. My kids loved the Mortuary hut because it's dark and a little spooky with the mannequins frozen in mid-ceremony, plus they got to push a button that started a pre-recorded message. My toddler really enjoyed running in and out of all of the huts. And we had a race to see who could get up the mound first - there's a ramp ascending the mound that requires a bit of caution when walking up because it is steep and relatively smooth.

       If you make the trip you will need to plan accordingly because most of the drive is on rural roads and there aren't a whole lot of nearby places to stop for food or potty breaks. There are several picnic tables at Town Creek, if you're inclined to bring a lunch. You'll definitely want to GPS or Mapquest Town Creek because there is very little directive signage along the way.

      More people should definitely make the drive to see Town Creek, one of only two surviving Indian mounds in NC and the only one with an interpretive center.


ROAD TRIP: "Day Out With Thomas" at the NC Transportation Museum - Spencer

          We had already intended to visit the Transportation Museum, knowing that my toddler would love the chance to see trains and automobiles, but it just so happened that the weekend we chose to visit was the same weekend Thomas was coming. When Thomas comes he brings a carnival replete with food vendors, a small mini-golf setup, model train displays, wooden train playsets, a hay maze, a gift shop, pictures with Sir Topham Hatt, and children's performers. There was quite a crowd but because we arrived late in the afternoon I imagine we avoided even longer lines. Food vendors even gave us freebies because they wanted to get rid of their inventory on the last day of the weekend event.

Sir Topham Hatt

          Tickets to ride on Thomas were $19 a person and also included admission to the Museum. The ride itself was about 20 minutes and meandered along the edge of the Museum campus. For the first half you travel forward and then the train reverses to bring you back to the starting point. The trip is not exactly scenic but it does offer a glimpse of the Museum's rolling stock awaiting restoration.

                   ____________ SPOILER ALERT ______________
      If you'd rather be surprised about what happens on a Thomas ride don't read the next paragraph.

       The inside of the passenger cars are decorated with banners and pictures of Thomas' friends. The ride begins with Thomas themed sing-along songs piped through the loudspeakers. Each passenger is given a Jr. Engineer Certificate signed by Sir Topham Hatt - my toddler gazed upon his with reverence as if he'd just received his diploma from Thomas U. Midway through the ride a 'conductor' in costume strolls through the car chatting up the passengers.

___________END OF SPOILER_________

         The Transportation Museum itself is worth seeing even when Thomas isn't in town. The campus is a former train repair depot so trains and train equipment dominate the Museum's collection. The star of the Museum's campus is the 37 stall roundhouse with working turntable - you can take a ride on the turntable for a dollar. Several noteworthy engines and passenger cars reside in the roundhouse with placards that describe their history. The Back Shop - the largest building on site where all the train repair work was done -  is currently under renovation but you can step just inside the doorway to see antique firetrucks, some unique automobiles, an amphibious plane, and you might even be able to spot the fuselage of a passenger jet. 

The Bob Julian Roundhouse

The Champion - a diesel/electric with 6 million miles of experience

inside the Back Shop

       A gift shop dominates the old Mechanics Shop but it also houses a display of small fishing boats and a conestoga wagon. Another building is devoted to antique cars spanning the decades up to a 1978 Plymouth State Police cruiser.

antique cars in the "Bumper to Bumper" exhibit

        The Museum's buildings are spread out and a bit far from the parking lot so you'll definitely want to use a stroller to transport the little ones. There is a large covered picnic shelter on site as well as restrooms. A pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks provides visitors with a great perch to see the Museum's trains coming and going.We were able to see all of the exhibits in two hours. 

        The Transportation Museum belongs to an older era of museums in the respect that there aren't a lot of things kids can touch - except for when Thomas brings his carnival - and most of the Museum's information is delivered through text laden placards. But what the Museum lacks in interactivity it makes up for in the breadth of its' train collection, the crown of which is the preserved roundhouse. My kids had never seen a roundhouse except on Thomas and Friends. It was exciting to be able to show them the real thing, especially one with a functioning turntable.

         This excursion was all about my toddler. I can't remember the last time I saw him that excited. When he first sighted Thomas he called out his sister's name - a name we very rarely hear him pronounce - to share his excitement with her. There is such a wonderful feeling that comes from showing our kids something they have only dreamed about. Although I haven't done it, I can only imagine this is what it feels like to take children to Disney World for the first time.


Lake Crabtree County Park - Morrisville

Park website

         I wanted to see this Park because I heard about their rod and reel loaner program and my preschooler has been asking me if she could learn to fish. Never having caught a fish in my life, I'm not sure I'm the best to teach her. Still, with my inland fishing license that I bought at Dick's Sporting Goods, we set out on one of the most beautiful summer days we've had yet. When we got to the Park we soon learned that everyone who could set me up with the loaner program was at an off site training. The one worker who was there offered to let me borrow her personal rod but she didn't have any lures and me, being the well-prepared dad that I am, hadn't brought any food that could be used as bait. So even though my preschooler was disappointed because we couldn't fish, we decided to hang around and see what the Park had to offer.

       Fishing at Lake Crabtree is catch and release and only permitted in certain areas of the Park. The fishing pier is very accessible and the view is beautiful. You can also rent boats from the boathouse on the weekends.

from the fishing pier

        There are plenty of picnic shelters, picnic tables, and clean restroom facilities at the Park. There are two playgrounds - a large one in partial shade and a smaller one in almost complete shade. The restroom facility is very close to both of these playgrounds. Mountain bike and hiking trails run throughout the park and range in length from a quarter mile to six miles. Some of the trails are paved and great for stroller hikes. One mountain bike trail goes by the foundation of an old homestead left over from when the Park was all farmland.

the larger playground

        Down at the area called the floodplain - a large grassy meadow - there is a sand volleyball court, picnic tables, and a garden. When we were there a gentleman was flying very large kites where the grassland meets the water's edge. The floodplain also provides a great place to watch planes coming in and out of RDU.

the floodplain

       My kids had a great time playing on the playgrounds and enjoying the scenery. I enjoyed it too. Finding someplace that both my kids and I can enjoy is difficult and one of the main reasons I started this blog. Taking my kids to a playground is a no-brainer but it's nice to go somewhere that appeals to adults as well.

      Lake Crabtree is a Wake County park and, as I've noted before in other postings, Wake County has some of the best parks in the Triangle. Wake County has found a way to combine kid-friendly fun, educational opportunities, and scenic landscapes in many of its' parks. 

     Lake Crabtree is one of my favorite spots and I'll definitely return. Even besides the fishing, there are lots of other activities at the Park I'd like to try.


Durham Arts Council - Durham

Special ExhibitCircus: Costume, Prop, and Baggage    

Arts Council Website

     This exhibit of large acrylic paintings runs until September 25. You can view the paintings anytime the building is open - Monday through Saturdays 9am to 9pm.

     There are almost 20 paintings on view in this display. The works in the exhibit have been described as large, and they are at about 2ft. x 1ft. I guess when I heard about the show I expected wall-size paintings. The paintings are posed almost like snapshots and they focus mostly on the behind-the-scenes lives of circus workers. They especially seem to portray the relationships that have developed in the midst of a circus environment. These very colorful paintings - some of which contain animals - are good for attracting young children's attention.

     Three of the paintings are done on large panels (5ft. x 4ft.) that sit on the floor. One of these - my preschooler's favorite - is pictured above. This is also the only panel that is painted on both sides. On the opposite side the carousel horses are walking through a meadow with the circus in the distance.


        The facility itself is nice with two galleries - one upstairs and one downstairs. There is an elevator to get you to the upstairs gallery if you're using a stroller. Classrooms for the youth programs at the Durham Arts Council are also upstairs.

        The Durham Arts Council is a quick visit so you'll probably want to combine it with another attraction in the area.


Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site - Four Oaks

Visitor's Center

Bentonville Website

       This bloody battle, which has been somewhat eclipsed by the ensuing surrender at Bennett Place,  now consists of a Visitor's Center, the Harper House, and a driving tour of the battlefield.

      The small Visitor's Center contains period firearms and munitions as well as other artifacts from soldiers. The placards around the room are text heavy and if you have small children like I do you probably won't be able to read all of them. There is a short orientation film that the tour guide on duty can start for you at any time. The film begins with the mounting tension that caused the War and progresses through the War's significant events. We weren't able to see the whole film because my toddler was surprisingly not in the mood to watch a movie. There is also a small gift shop in the Center with the expected Civil War paraphernalia - flags, currency, toy guns. My toddler had a great time marching around waving the small flags. The highlight of the Visitor's Center is the audio-visual map that details the progression of the battle via moving colored lights and narration. 

      Restrooms are located in a separate building behind the Visitor's Center and to the right. A picnic shelter is also located next to the restrooms.

Harper House

      The Harper House is a very short walk to the left of the Visitor's Center. Only ten years old at the time, the house served as a makeshift hospital for Union and Confederate wounded. The Harper Family was forced to move to the upstairs so that the downstairs could be used to treat the wounded. The House is setup much the way it would have looked at the time of the battle. The rooms downstairs are arrayed with makeshift operating tables and blood stained bandages strewn helter-skelter as if the House's occupants had just fled. The upstairs features a cramped living room and bedroom to illustrate the tight living space that the family endured during the House's occupation as a hospital.

     Behind the House is the kitchen building which is from the period but originally resided on a neighboring home site. The inside is sparsely decorated with a loom and a few other household tools.

     Built in a similar manner to the kitchen and very near it is the slave's cabin (the Harper family had three slaves). This building was also moved from the same site as the kitchen. The cabin's interior features a table and two beds - one of which is one half of a bunk bed set.

      I was pleasantly surprised with how well my toddler behaved during the tour of the House and outbuildings. Perhaps he was tired, but he stayed in my arms or held my hand during the tour. Maybe my little man is growing up, or this could have been a fluke.

     The driving tour of the battlefield is well marked and pleasant. You need to keep a lookout for the gray square markers that usually sit on the right side of the road - occasionally they can sneak up on you. For most of the markers there is no shoulder to pull onto so I guess locals have gotten used to drivers stopping along the road to read. There are four stops a long the tour that offer driveways where you can pull off the road. There are a couple of places where you can get out of your car and hike to see remaining earthworks, but my preschooler was too tired to do it. If you begin the driving tour at the Visitor's Center you will see the Confederate cemetery across the road. My preschooler may share her father's fascination with historic cemeteries because throughout the rest of the tour she made me promise to tell her if I saw any more graves.

     We made this trip on a day when the heat wasn't as toxic, so standing outside to visit the outbuildings wasn't so uncomfortable. There isn't a lot of walking required at this site - unless you want to see earthworks - so it's good for young children who can't trek long distances. The House tour was quick - probably because the guide figured my young ones wouldn't stay focused for very long. Overall, this wasn't the most kid-friendly site I've taken my kids but it wasn't the least kid-friendly site either. If you have a passionate interest in Civil War sites then I would highly recommend Bentonville.


Fred G. Bond Metro Park - Cary

Town of Cary/Bond Park website

     I had heard a lot about this park so I wanted to check it out. It has a playground, picnic shelters, four baseball/softball fields, an amphitheater, and a lake with a boathouse.You can rent bikes and boats at the boathouse. From what I could see, the trails are paved, or at least stroller accessible, and meander through the surrounding forest.

     We spent most of our time at the playground, which is set back in the woods. There is plenty of signage to direct you to the playground but you can't park your car directly in front of it. Don't worry though, it's not a long walk. The playground is probably only 500 feet from the parking lot. The playground has a sandpit as well as two play structures - one for toddlers and one for school-age kids. There are two sets of swings as well, including swings for babies.

     There isn't a whole lot to distinguish this playground from any of the others I've been to, except maybe the crowd. The day we were there the weather wasn't as hot and there were a lot of kids. It looked like area summer camps and track-out programs also use the playground to let their kids run off some energy. We had to wait a long time to use the swings.

    We drove by the lake and the boathouse but we didn't get out because by that time my kids were pretty tired. The boathouse looked nice but the lake was smaller than I expected.

     Bond Park is a good place to take your kids to play if you live in the Cary/western Raleigh area, but if you're coming from points east the thirty minute drive isn't really worth it.


Country Doctor Museum - Bailey


      The Country Doctor Museum consists of three restored buildings that once housed the practices of 19th century NC rural doctors. The main building shown above houses the gift shop and the Museum's administrative office. The doctor's house, which contains most of the exhibits, is across the street. A carriage house, which sits behind the main building, is where you can find two horse drawn buggies and two early automobiles. Your visit to the museum is conducted by a tour guide. We must have been our tour guide's most raucous visitors with our toddler that couldn't stand still and our preschooler who kept complaining.

     A trip through the doctor's house is a journey through medical practice that begins in pharmaceuticals and progresses to surgery and ends in obstetrics and dentistry. There are lots of artifacts to see along the way - from an apothecary cabinet to a 19th century exam table and Civil War era prosthetics. There are the expected bloodletting devices like lancets and an elaborately decorated urn labeled "leeches" -  the unfortunate patient who saw the doctor entering with such a container could easily guess the proposed course of treatment. Our guide was very knowledgeable and helped to explain that a rural doctor would do most of his work in the form of house calls.

    Oh yeah, and the movies have been lying to us - you know the ones portraying Civil War amputations occurring without anesthesia where the patient is told to 'bite the bullet.' According to our tour guide, ether and chloroform were in common use prior to the Civil War and those sadistic amputations done on fully conscious patients only happened if the surgeon ran out of anesthesia.

doctor's house

    Judging by the tools displayed in the last room of the house, the practice of obstetrics doesn't seem to have changed much in the last 50 - 100 years. Most of the tools looked similar to today's implements. There was, however, some kind of birthing harness that, even with explanation, I couldn't visualize how a woman in labor could be helped by such a contraption.

   Behind the house is an herb garden where plants are tagged as to how they would be used to cure various ailments.

   The payoff for my toddler was when we entered the carriage house with its' buggies and early automobiles. All of the vehicles were owned by local rural doctors whose families donated them to the Museum. The earliest automobile is a 1912 Ford. The cars still run, according to our tour guide, who mentioned that they had just made an appearance in a local parade. Along with the cars, the carriage house contains an iron lung, more artifacts from rural doctors, and an exhibit on nursing.


     Admission to the Museum is $5 per person and $3 for children 3 and up. There are a lot of artifacts to interest adults and the tour guide was very thorough. You'd probably be better off bringing school age kids to the Museum. My preschooler was somewhat bored and my toddler was rambunctious. Listening to the tour guide as if I were not distracted by my toddler yelling and whacking his mother seemed like a scene from a bad movie.

   If you're looking for somewhere to eat in Bailey after visiting the Museum, I'd recommend the Bailey Cafe at the corner of Main and Hanover streets. The building was once the old general store and its' copious shelves are now filled with the proprietor's teapot collection. It's a country kitchen style restaurant where you can get a meat and two sides. The food is home cooked and moderately priced. Dessert is a highlight at the Cafe where pies and cakes are baked in house.

the teapot collection