Lake Wheeler Park


If you’re looking for a place to go boating or fishing in the city of Raleigh, North Carolina, then look no further than Lake Wheeler Park.

One of the city of Raleigh’s beloved recreation destinations, Lake Wheeler Park is located south of downtown just past North Carolina State University’s agricultural field labs, and it’s easily accessible from I-40. The park consists of Lake Wheeler, several picnic shelters, a park office with concessions, a volleyball court, a fishing pond (called Simpkins Pond), a small playground, public restrooms, and an outdoor fitness circuit with exercise stations. (A nominal use fee is associated with several of these amenities.)


A sun deck, complete with lush foliage, overlooks the lake and is connected to the park office, concession stand, and restroom areas. — Lake Wheeler Park (Raleigh, NC)


The old-fashioned rocking chairs overlooking Lake Wheeler on the sun deck near the park office and concession area invite relaxation and leisure. — Lake Wheeler Park; Raleigh, NC


Fishing on Lake Wheeler is restricted to the two piers or from fishing boats. Boats can be rented from the park, or personal boats can be put in at the boat launching area by the park office. (Raleigh, NC)


Petal boats, jon boats, kajaks, rowboats, and Sunfish sailboats (like the one pictured here) can be rented by the hour (half hour for pedal boats) or by the day. — Lake Wheeler Park; Raleigh, NC


A graylag goose along the sandy shore of Lake Wheeler. — Lake Wheeler Park; Raleigh, NC


Fishing on foot is permitted along the shoreline of Simpkins Pond (pictured here). A fishing license is required for bank fishing. — Lake Wheeler Park; Raleigh, NC


Lake Wheeler Park is primarily a fishing, boating, and picnicking spot. While there are trails, they lead to the various “fishing holes” and piers—they don’t connect to one another or make a loop.

After visiting quite a few of Raleigh’s parks, (Nash SquarePullen ParkLake Lynn, Fred Fletcher Park, Mordecai Historic ParkLake Johnson, Durant Nature Preserve, and now Lake Wheeler), I’ve discovered that each one is unique and has its own special charms.

Durant Nature Preserve: A City of Raleigh Park

Durant_Park_Sign_LogIf you follow my blog with any regularity, you know that I’ve been trying to make my rounds of all the parks that the city of Raleigh, North Carolina, has to offer. I was off work for some appointments the other day and had a few hours to while away in between. Since I’ve only made modest progress toward my goal of exploring Raleigh’s parks, I decided that it was the perfect time to check another one off of my list: Durant Nature Preserve.

Getting to the park was a cinch–Interstate 540 is only minutes from the park, which is located on 8305 Camp Durant Road. The road itself starts out dirt and gravel, then turns into macadam. (Seems  a little backwards, I know.) Much like the other parks I’ve visited so far, I was delighted at how rural the setting seemed. After passing a subdivision, where Camp Durant Road turns from gravel to macadam, the only indication that I was near civilization was the distant noise of traffic along dual-laned Durant Road.

Durant Nature Preserve was the headquarters for the Occoneechee Council of the Boy Scouts until 1979, at which time the City of Raleigh purchased the 237 acres, formerly known as Camp Durant, and turned it into a park. The quiet, woodsy recreation spot was elevated from a mere “park” to a “preserve” in 2010.

Durant Nature Preserve offers fishing, picnicking, five miles of trails (plus access to the Abbott’s Creek connector of the Capital City Greenway), and educational opportunities that range from summer camps and year-round programs to self-guided, “sensory” tours of the gardens and trails.

My visit fell into the self-guided, “sensory” category and began at the preserve’s newest installation, the Sensory and Natural Play Garden. The name pretty much gives it away: this garden is ideal for the kiddos, but it’s also fun for all ages. Partly serious, partly silly, this area includes such features as native plants, ponds, a rock garden, and even a snail crossing.


A rustic bird feeder in the Sensory and Nature Garden at Durant Nature Preserve. (Raleigh, NC)


In the rock garden, a mushroom sprouts up among the art.

I didn’t see any wildlife–not even birds–in the Natural Garden, so I was delighted to spot a yellow-spotted millipede on the sidewalk as I made my way further into the park. I would later see three more millipedes while trekking through the woods.


A yellow-spotted millipede at Durant Nature Preserve in Raleigh, North Carolina.

A particularly informative area of the park is the Interpretive Tree Trail, which begins near the Park Office and winds its way toward (the Nancy Drew-esque) Secret Creek Trail. Plaques along the interpretive path identify native trees and provide interesting facts about them.


Sweet gum trees have fragrant, star-shaped leaves. The sap of these trees were used as chewing gum by Indians and early settlers. (Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC).


The yellow poplar is the tallest deciduous tree in the Southeast. The term deciduous means “falling off at maturity” and refers to trees that lose their leaves seasonally. (Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC)


White oaks like this one at Durant Nature Preserve (Raleigh, NC) can be 60 to 100 feet tall. Their sturdy, beautiful wood make them commercially useful.


The long, spreading branches of the American beech tree makes it attractive for shade. Wildlife eat the beechnuts that grow on these trees. (Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC)

Along the Secret Creek Trail, I saw different types of fungus and had several opportunities to stand out in the middle of the creek on rocks that extended from bank to bank.


Coral fungi along the Sweet Creek Trail at Durant Nature Preserve in Raleigh, NC.


A “sweet view” along the Sweet Creek Trail. There are several places like this one where rocks extend completely across the creek. — Durant Nature Preserve (Raleigh, NC)


I photographed this ebony jewelwing damselfly along the Secret Creek Trail. Unlike a dragonfly which spreads its wings at rest, a damselfly’s wings are folded above the body when at rest. Damselflies aren’t all “damsels” and dames. This one, in fact, is a male. Females usually have a lighter body and a white spot on their wings.


Maps throughout Durant Nature Preserve help park visitors to identify their location and plan their exploration. — Raleigh, NC (iPhone 4S)


Colored wooden circles, like the yellow circle on a tree along the Lakeside Trail (left), denote specific trails. Hiking symbols on trees (right) indicate that the trail is more rugged and ideal for proper hiking. Trail legends (bottom) on maps posted throughout the park provide the length and blaze colors of the various trails. — Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC


Fishing is encouraged on the two fishing docks at Durant Nature Preserve. Pictured here is the smaller dock by the boathouse. Fishing gear can be borrowed from the Park Office. –Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC


Along the Lakeside Trail, I spotted two lizards: this one, which I think is a ground skink, as well as a six-lined racerunner with yellow stripes.

Despite a full overnight charge, my camera battery died…just as nature came alive. Along the Lakeside Trail, I encountered several skittish turtles that quickly slipped into the water, a great blue heron that took off and glided across the lake, and a hawk. I veered onto the Border Trail and made the most of my iPhone’s camera.

I have to admit that the further into the park’s trail system that I ventured, the more unsure I was of my actual location–(and the more I wished I had applied some bug spray, which is another thing entirely). The blaze markers helped with my navigation a bit, but there were several times when I would reach a fork in the trail and had to make a decision. A simple map in hand would have probably made this easier….but what fun would that be!


The more rugged Border Trail at Durant Nature Preserve involves crossing a creek by way of rocks and a large concrete paver. — Raleigh, NC (iPhone 4s)

Shortly after crossing the creek, I found myself on a dirt road that appeared to be an access or service road. It was muddy going because of recent rainfall, but I soon made my way onto another wooded trail. It was here that I encountered a whole mess of deer. The deer are fawning this time of year, and sure enough I saw a mother watching over her little ones as they ate. Although it’s tempting to venture closer, a notice at the Park Office had advised that it’s best not to get too close to them so that the mother will not get spooked and abandon her babies.


A mother deer with her three fawns at Durant Nature Park in Raleigh, NC. (iPhone 4S)


Along the way, I encountered a “waterfall.” The yellow blur at about seven o’clock is a yellow swallowtail butterfly. — Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC. (iPhone 4S)


What’s a park or nature preserve without a turtle log? –Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC (iPhone 4S)

There was so much more to see and do–I had also planned to visit the park’s butterfly and bird garden–but I had gotten a bit too entrenched in the trail system and it was time to head back to civilization. In my estimation, Durant Nature Preserve is a great local destination for all ages. No doubt, each visit will be a slightly different experience but always an entertaining exploration of creation.

A Park at RDU? Who Knew?


A wind feature at RDU Observation Park — Raleigh-Durham International Airport; Morrisville, North Carolina

I was taking my sister to the airport last Sunday morning when she observed a sign that changed my life forever: Observation Park

All my years—-nine, to be exact—-of circling and circling the terminals at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, (RDU), waiting for that call, email, or text that the plane had landed and my passenger was waiting for me outside baggage claim were over!

Five days later, I found myself not circling the terminals, but rather navigating the turns toward Observation Park as I awaited the arrival of my sister’s return flight. In true Lori fashion, I had left the battery of my good camera plugged in at work, so I was limited to my iPhone’s capabilities.

RDU’s Observation Park, which has been around for over twenty years, is small but quaint. Located near the Control Tower and the General Aviation Terminal, the park consists of an observation deck, benches and picnic tables, restrooms, and a play area complete with a miniature runway and a small jungle gym shaped like a yellow spider. The park is full of aviation history and artifacts, and parking is free.


The flowering, tree-lined path leading to the elevated observation deck is a welcome (and park-like!) contrast to hangars and pavement. — RDU Observation Park


An elevated observation deck offers a bird’s eye view of planes taking off and landing. An intercom on the deck makes it possible to hear air traffic control. In flying, wind socks like the orange one you see flying above and to the left of the observation deck in this photo help to determine wind direction. Aircraft take off and land against the prevailing winds.  — RDU Observation Park


Along the railing of the observation deck are images and descriptions of planes past and present. — RDU Observation Park


In the foreground is a walking path with plaques detailing the history of flight in general and RDU in particular. In the background, a plane takes off on a rainy, breezing summer day to a destination unknown. — RDU Observation Park


Just below the observation deck is a plane propeller from a Douglas DC-3. This “workhorse of the skies” served RDU from 1943-1963.

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One of the plaques along the pillared pathway near the play area harkens back to the first powered flight taken by Orville and Wilbur Wright at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. The Wright Flyer stayed in the air for 120 feet. …And the rest is history.

Although not technically a Raleigh city park, RDU Observation Park is a park and it is in the Raleigh area, so for purposes of this post I’m counting it toward my goal of visiting (and appreciating) Raleigh’s parks this summer. Five down, and many more to go!

A Look at Lake Johnson



Stairs leading to the paved trail from the South Parking Lot off of Advent Ferry Road. (Lake Johnson; Raleigh, NC)

With a forecast of 90 degrees on tap, I arrived at Lake Johnson before 9AM to beat the heat. My visit was part of an ongoing quest to explore the various city parks that Raleigh, North Carolina, has to offer.

I parked in the South Parking Lot off of Advent Ferry Road, where there was ample free parking at that hour. From the parking lot, I took the wooden stairs up to the paved greenway, which is part of the Walnut Creek Trail.

I passed several walkers as I followed the winding path through the tall trees. When I reached a sign for “Scenic Overlook,” I headed straight for the scenery. Soon, curiosity took me off the paved trail and onto one of the unpaved foot paths—this one leading me right down to the banks of Lake Johnson. It was steep going and seemingly remote, but the hum of traffic still audible from the rather busy Advent Ferry Road encouraged my exploration.


Lake Johnson (Raleigh, NC) from an unpaved path along the shoreline.

Unsure of where this rustic route was taking me, I headed up through the woods and onto the paved greenway again. (In case you’re keeping notes, I never did make it to the scenic overlook!) Back on the paved greenway again, I passed a picnic shelter—one of three that can be rented for a modest hourly fee (with a two hour minimum).

I continued along the greenway and came to the pedestrian bridge, which runs parallel to Advent Ferry Road and spans Lake Johnson.


Lake Johnson from the pedestrian bridge along Advent Ferry Road. The boat house/park office, complete with restrooms and concession, is in the distance on the left. (Raleigh, NC)

I stopped to chat with a friendly, bandana-clad Air Force veteran out for his morning stroll before making my way to the boat house/park office, where boats can be rented for a small charge and fishing rods and reels can be checked out for free (NC fishing license required).


A view from the boat house/park office. Motor and non-motor boats are available for rental by the hour or by the day. (Lake Johnson; Raleigh, NC)

A little further down the 3.5 miles of paved greenway, I came to the Lake Johnson dam. I must say, it was rather calm and underwhelming, so I went in search of the dam’s spillway.


My search for the spillway at Lake Johnson’s dam began here.

An overgrown but still visible path led me to my reward: the Lake Johnson “waterfall.” I found two vantage points for viewing the spillway, both of which were a bit obstructed by tree branches and one of which offered a park bench.


The waterfall at Lake Johnson dam. (Raleigh, NC)


Lake Johnson’s spillway/waterfall. (Raleigh, NC)

All in all, the park has much to offer the residents of Raleigh. Not only is it a peaceful and natural place to get out and walk, there are picnic areas and even a conference room for gatherings, as well as water-related activities for all ages, including a pool on Jaguar Park Drive. If you live in the Raleigh area and haven’t visited Lake Johnson yet, I think it’s well worth a look.


My visit to Lake Johnson took place on Friday, May 9, 2014.