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.


Harris Energy and Environmental Center - New Hill (near Apex)


        This is the visitor's center for the Harris Nuclear Power Plant. The Energy and Environmental Center is not inside the gated area of the actual power plant. The E&E Center is at 3932 New Hill Holleman Rd., New Hill, NC. You will need this address to get to the Center because the address cannot be found anywhere on the Web. You will also have to make an appointment to visit the E&E Center during weekday business hours. It is easy to make an appointment, though. You can do it by phone (919-362-3263) or by email - the email address is provided in the link at the top of this page.

       On the way to the Center, I explained to my preschooler that the place we were going to visit makes the power that powers all of our lights, heat, TV, etc. I then pointed out the overhead power lines that we passed alongside the road and explained that those wires took the power from the plant to our house and other people's houses. She seemed to understand all of this - "Oh Dad, that explains everything."

       The reason I took the kids to the Center is that my wife had taken her fourth grade class on a field trip there and she said that the Center would probably be fun for our kids. The E&E Center advertises that its' exhibits are for middle school age and older. And in fact, when we arrived, the hostess seemed worried that my young children would get hurt on the undersides of the exhibits or by falling down the stairwell.  I will testify that I did not see anything dangerous under the exhibits - in fact I don't even think my small kids could fit under any of the exhibits - and I was able to keep my kids from falling down the stairwell. The kids didn't even notice the stairwell. My guess is that the hostess' apprehension stems from the fact that they probably don't see a lot of young children coming in for a visit.

      The front room exhibits focus on the history of electricity and the construction of the Harris Plant. My kids weren't that interested in those exhibits. The real fun for them was going into the back room where they could walk through a metal detector (it wasn't on), work in a guard station, and use mirrors to examine the underside of a real car. It was pretty cool I have to admit. In the guard station they could move a security camera with a joystick while watching what it sees on a monitor. They could also turn on security lights and sound a very loud and obnoxious security alarm. There were even real bullet-proof vests for them to wear. I put one on my toddler and it was so big and heavy that, when I draped it over him, it pulled him to the ground.

      In the next room there were some more exhibits where kids could generate electricity. There were also exhibits on radiation, power lines, and the giant Harris Plant cooling tower that is visible for several miles. An interactive computer screen, in this room, allows you to take a virtual tour of the Power Plant.

Model of the cooling tower that kids can go in
         It took us about 40 minutes to go through all of the exhibits. There are clean public restrooms and a watercooler at the Center.

         Did my kids understand everything they saw at the Center? No, probably not. But did they have fun? I can honestly say 'yes.' The interactivity of the security exhibit was like the exhibits you find at Marbles Kid's Museum, only this was free.You could also combine a trip to the E&E Center with a trip to the North Carolina Railway Museum - the Railway is within five miles of the Center.



North Carolina Museum of Art - Raleigh

Museum lobby with the tree projection on the far wall

Special Exhibit: 30 Americans  (through Sept. 4)


      I've taken the kids to the NC Museum of Art a number of times before I started blogging about my adventures. The Museum is really kid-friendly, the new exhibit space is beautiful, and the collection has a lot of items that even young children will find interesting. One of my preschooler's favorite things at the Museum is the tree that is projected on the lobby wall. The projection changes to show the tree in different seasons. It's immediately to the far right as you enter the Museum's new building.

      The Egyptian room with the sarcophagi is also a big hit with the kids. On the day we went recently, I noticed a new photograph in the African section of a man with a hyena on a leash. It's amazing to see how big the hyena is in contrast to the man!

      When you go to the new building you should go to the info desk and ask for one of their special kits for kids - it's a game your kids can play identifying details in the Museum's collection.

The old building

         On this day we were going to the special exhibit: 30 Americans. It's an exhibit of the work of 30 contemporary, African American artists. If you're uncomfortable with art that shines a light on racial stereotypes and prejudice then this is probably not the show for you. The exhibit is on the lower floor of the old Museum building which used to be the only building. It costs $10 for 1 adult and was free for my 20 month-old and 4 year-old. It sounds like a steep price to pay but after seeing the work I thought it was worth it. You can't bring a stroller into this special gallery space, which meant I had to hold my toddler most of the time. I was able to look at most of the work without him getting into trouble. He was mostly interested in climbing on the benches that were in the middle of each room.

      The work in this exhibit is impressive. There were enough textures and colors that both my kids were engaged even though they couldn't grasp the specific meanings behind the works. The ticket taker at the front of the exhibit was really sweet to my children and my preschooler just started sharing all of our family business with her. This ticket taker was quick to alert me that there were a couple of works in the exhibit that have explicit material, but that you are alerted to this fact well before you encounter the explicit work itself. I don't want to ruin the surprise for some, but the explicit material consists of a video installation that shows transvestites in lingerie and a pair of paintings that have explicit words written on them - not a problem of course if your kids can't read yet. My preschooler was quite taken with a set of huge and colorful woodcut prints that extend almost the entire length of a gallery wall.

     One thing I did on this trip that I have never done before, and I highly encourage, is take the kids on the walk around the Museum Park. There are several installed works along about a half-mile loop surrounding the Museum. The walk also connects to a greenway that goes to Hillsborough Street. There are several pieces along this walk that young kids will find interesting. One piece that my kids had the most fun at is called The Whisper Bench. It consists of two whimsical benches one on either side of the trail. Each bench has a megaphone like part on it that, because the benches are connected together underground, you can hear the person talking on the other bench.There is also a shelter that houses a huge pinhole camera on one of the trails. We didn't get to see this piece because the trail to it was closed.

The Whisper Bench

        Even if you don't see 30 Americans, the NC Museum of Art is one of my top picks of places in the Triangle to take the kids.


Cliffs of the Neuse State Park - Seven Springs (near Goldsboro)

View of the Neuse River from the top of the cliff


      When I heard about this park as a 90 foot high cliff over the Neuse River I imagined something as dramatic as Great Falls Park in Virginia. It's not quite that dramatic but it is worth seeing. The land the park sits on was once used by the Tuscarora and Saponi Indian tribes as a ceremonial ground, but like all great places that Native Americans found first, it was taken over by the English settlers and renamed.

       If you want to make the trip, you should Mapquest the park or use your GPS. The signage along the roads is limited. You should also bring plenty of drinking water because you'll need it if you plan to hike the trails. There is a water fountain at the trail head but you will have to be able to stomach the taste of galvanized steel if you plan to use this water. There are basic bathrooms at the trail head as well. Bringing a stroller with your young kids is not a good idea. I used my in-line double stroller and it was really hard to navigate the trails with it.
  • "350 Yard Trail" (white blaze) is very doable with a stroller.
  • The "Bird Trail" (red blaze) is OK with a stroller but you will have to carry it up some steps a couple of times.
  • The "Galax Trail" (blue blaze) - don't even bother with a stroller there are too many obstacles.
  • I also wouldn't recommend you try the "Spanish Moss Trail" with a stroller.

        The view along the trails is nice. My preschooler said: "It's like we're driving in a jungle." A creek runs beside the "350 Yard Trail" with some small waterfalls. My toddler even listened for once when I told him not to go too close to the creek. My preschooler was the trail leader for the whole hike, a job she took very seriously, as she commented: "It's hard work bein' trail leader."       

       The park is designed to facilitate camping and it would definitely be a great place to camp. There are bathhouses, picnic tables, boat rental, and even a swimming lake with pool house. The day we were there we were also able to see several fighter jets doing flyovers because of the park's proximity to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

The pool house

The swimming lake

       A new, combined park office, visitor's center, and museum is set to open in April. The day we were there the new facility was being inspected for the final time by the state and the contractors to see if it was ready for occupation. In fact, when I drove into the new facility parking lot, the ranger asked me if I was there for the final inspection. Evidently, he didn't see my two kids making faces in the back of the van.

       The park is a little bit of a hike from the Triangle - it took us a little over an hour to get there from the Knightdale area - but it is worth a look if you have some time or if you plan to be out near Goldsboro.


North Carolina Central University Art Museum - Durham

rear of Museum

       The NC Central campus is easy to find - on the left side of Fayetteville Street - and the parking was even easier. We pulled up to the booth at the entrance gate and the guard pointed out a parallel spot on the main driveway. I got the stroller out and we headed for the Museum which was maybe 500 ft. from where we parked. We did have to go around to the front of the building, by the campus cafeteria, to gain entrance to the Museum. If you go this way you will pass the outdoor abstract sculpture that my preschooler described as looking like a big lump of chicken. I'll let you judge its poultry resemblance for yourself.

       The Museum itself is small - one room and only big enough for one exhibit at a time. But I was very excited to see the current exhibit of Richmond Barthe (there is an accent mark over the 'e' in Barthe that blogger won't let me insert) sculptures. These sculptures will be on display until April 8. The works are all of the human figure and cover a wide range of material from Jesus Christ to Paul Robeson as Othello. There are photos of Barthe's large scale sculpture of Toussaint L'Ouverture that currently stands in Port au Prince, Haiti. Barthe's work is even featured in the relief sculpture of an eagle on the Social Security Building in Washington, DC. I liked how the sculptures in this exhibit were arranged - in straight rows down the center of the room - because it made it easy to get a 360 view of each one and it emphasized the numerical magnitude of Barthe's work.

      My toddler looked around from his vantage point in the stroller, but mostly howled the whole time we were in the Museum. I suppose this was not quite his aesthetic. But my preschooler seemed to enjoy the sculptures. She picked out a favorite - Lovers - of a man and woman embracing. When I called her attention to a sculpture of a nude man dancing (I thought since she is taking dance that a dancing sculpture might peak her interest) she said that she thought it looked like the man was just showing his butt.

     The Museum also has some of its permanent collection on view on one of the walls. The permanent collection includes a Jacob Lawrence print and a Romare Bearden print.

      It took about 45 minutes for us to view the entire Museum. The Museum opens early at 9am but is not open on Mondays and Saturdays. It's a really nice, small venue for appreciating art. If you wanted to maximize your trip, you could also stop at the Hayti Heritage Center and St. Joseph's AME Church which you pass as you go down Fayetteville St. towards NC Central campus.


Bunnies, Chicks, and Ducks Oh My at Tractor Supply - Knightdale


      As a quick treat for your young ones, take them over to the Tractor Supply Company store in Knightdale where they have chicks, ducklings, and bunnies. I would imagine since this is a chain store that they would also have these animals at their other locations as well.

      At the Knightdale store, the baby animals are kept in the vestibule at the front of the store between the inner and outer doors. The babies are kept in large metal tubs and you can't help but hear the chicks when you enter the store. My toddler and I (my preschooler was at preschool) watched one woman buy the last of the chicks while we were there - you have to buy chicks in quantities of 6 and there were two leftover but the clerk told me that the two left weren't very healthy. The clerk said they will probably get more chicks in, but they are dependent on the postal service to bring them.There were only three white rabbits there and several ducklings.

      I don't know how much longer the animals will be in stock at the store, but it's worth a stop. I mean, how often do your kids get to see baby ducks and chicks?