Lake Wheeler Park

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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.)

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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)

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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

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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)

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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

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

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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)

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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.

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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.

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

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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)

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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.

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

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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

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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

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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!

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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.

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

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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)

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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.

Fifteen Minutes at Fletcher Park

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Fred Fletcher Park has been “owned and operated” by the city of Raleigh, NC, since 1982.

I found myself in the rare situation of being early for church the other Sunday. With nearly thirty minutes to spare, I headed to the nearby coffee shop. En route, I happened to see the sign for Fred Fletcher Park.

I’ve probably passed the park a dozen times, but I only noticed it that day because of my quest to visit as many Raleigh City Parks as possible this Spring and Summer. (I am a bit clueless, but I must state the obvious: the sign is just a tad-bit concealed.)

With hazelnut frappuccino in hand–and more than fifteen minutes on my hands–I decided to take a peek at the park, which was purchased by the city in 1982 and is the former site of the Methodist Home for Children.

The park is named after Fred Fletcher, (1910-2000), who was a Raleigh native, a radio broadcaster, the Vice-President and General Manager of WRAL-TV, and President of the Capital Broadcasting Company until his retirement in 1975. Fletcher’s early professional roots in the YMCA (in Chicago) no doubt sparked his more than 50 years of involvement on commissions and as a chair for the Parks and Recreation in Raleigh and Wake County.[1]

I entered the 21-acre park from Glenwood Avenue, (there is also an entrance off of St. Mary’s Street), and was greeted by the rather abstract sculpture entitled Redbird, created by Harry McDaniel. (You can read more about this “puzzling” work of art at the sculptor’s website. There is more to the sculpture than meets the eye! Here’s a hint: Although it looks like a bouquet of bright red flowers, all the pieces actually come together to form a cardinal, North Carolina’s state bird.)

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“Redbird” by Harry McDaniel — Fred Fletcher Park; Raleigh, NC

I passed by an athletic field, which was already filling with spectators and children kicking soccer balls. I was somewhat surprised by the buzz of activity, particularly at this 8AM hour, but it occurred to me that the  park must be well used, well liked, and somewhat safe. Thus encouraged, I parked in a (free) lot just beyond the ball field. The lot led to the park’s amphitheater.

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The lovely Fred Fletcher Park amphitheater. (Raleigh, NC)

After meandering the walkways of the amphitheater, I followed a path from there to the two-story, historic Borden Building, (circa 1900). Peering through the windows, I spotted antique furniture and wall hangings. I later discovered, (thanks to the trusty internet), that some of the pictures in the house are of Fred Fletcher, as well as some of the children who lived at the Methodist Children’s Home.

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The Borden Building on the grounds of Fred Fletcher Park dates back to 1900 and is listed as a Raleigh Historic Property.

The Borden Building, grounds, and amphitheater can be rented for special events, such as weddings, parties, and conferences.

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Lilies along the ridge of the amphitheater, overlooking a shelter that can be rented for events and special occasions. — Fred Fletcher Park; Raleigh, NC

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An inquisitive squirrel watches me from a tree near the Garris Building at Fred Fletcher Park. The Garris Building, adjacent to the Borden Building, is headquarters for the park’s school based youth programs. (Raleigh, NC)

Fifteen minutes flew by and it was time to head to church—or else I would now be late!

Hopefully, I will have more moments to spare, because what I didn’t see at Fletcher Park are perhaps some of the more intriguing aspects: a water garden (with four deep pools!) and a wetland boasting butterflies, dragonflies, frogs, ducks, and other animal species.

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L&R: Pretty peonies in the Borden Building gardens. Center: Beautiful blue perennials alongside the winding paths in the nearby amphitheater. (Raleigh, NC)


[1] http://www.capitolbroadcasting.com/history/the-people/fred-fletcher/

An Afternoon at Lake Lynn

It’s been such a pleasant spring here in central North Carolina. The humidity has been fairly low and the highs on average have been in the mid to upper 70s.

As a nature and trails enthusiast, I’ve decided to take advantage of the weather and visit some of Raleigh’s city parks. (I tend to frequent the American Tobacco Trail, which is a 22-mile converted railroad bed that begins in the city of Durham and runs through Durham, Wake, and Chatham counties, but there are so many other greenways in the area that beg to be explored!)

Of particular interest to me are Raleigh’s four lakes and nature preserves: Lake Johnson, Lake Wheeler, Lake Lynn, and Shelley Lake. Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll visit them all (plus some other Raleigh parks), but Lake Lynn was my first destination. I chose it because reviews hinted at wildlife aplenty.

Lake Lynn is a man-made lake that was formed in the mid 1970s for flood control purposes by damming up Hare Snipe Creek. Around the lake is a 1.9-mile paved trail referred to as the Lake Lynn Loop. Colorful posts mark off every ¼ mile. The trail is part of the Capital Area Greenway trail system. (A large section of the Lake Lynn Loop is also part of Hare Snipe Creek Trail. Perhaps this is why there are not only Lake Lynn colored markers, but also a set of more rustic mile markers along most of the route.)

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Two types of mile markers can be found along the Lake Lynn Trail. The more rustic one may denote the coinciding Hare Snipe Creek Trail.

In addition to the lake, the park offers a community center, playground, and tennis courts; however, I didn’t investigate these amenities during my visit, choosing instead to walk around Lake Lynn and look for interesting things to photograph.

I parked in the parking lot off of Lynn Road. There are two main parking areas–the aforementioned one off of Lynn Road and one that can be reached by way of Ray Road. (It might behoove you to enter the park’s address into your GPS. I simply entered “Lake Lynn” and my GPS took me into the bowels of an apartment complex called The Reserve—which incidentally offers a scenic view of the lake and provides pathways for its residence that lead down to Lake Lynn Park.)

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The view of Lake Lynn from the ridge above the Lynn Road entrance to the park. (Raleigh, NC)

Within minutes of hitting the Lake Lynn trail, I encountered wildlife galore!

I heard the great blue heron’s distinctive honk before I saw it. I hustled around a thatch of trees just in time to (sort of) focus and snap the following photo:

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A great blue heron in flight over Lake Lynn. (Raleigh, NC)

Around the next bend, I came upon a quirky-looking bird that I later discovered, (thanks to my trusty American Birds by Roland C. Clement), was a double-crested cormorant.

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A double-crested cormorant out on Lake Lynn. (Raleigh, NC)

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A double-crested cormorant and his box turtle buddy on Lake Lynn. (Raleigh, NC)

A good part of the trail spans the lake itself with the use of wooden bridges. On one such bridge I stopped to ask a fisherman, who had cast his line over the side, what was biting. “Sticks,” he replied, then demonstrated this by reeling in a large twig.

I later encountered an older gent who was overseeing three fishing poles, so I asked him the same question. “Nothing today!” was his reply, but he proceeded to tell me that the lake is home to at least four types of fish and that he routinely catches bass.

Further down the same boardwalk bridge, a girl asked me if I had seen “the turtle with a HUGE head.” Turns out, it was a snapping turtle. He never fully surfaced, but his size and shape can be ascertained through the murky water in the photo below. I concurred. His head was huge. …And he kept snapping at me, which made me very thankful that there were two feet and a sturdy bridge between us.

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Snapping turtles, like this one spotted at Lake Lynn, are the largest freshwater turtles in North Carolina. They are strong swimmers but often walk along the water’s bottom. (Raleigh, NC)

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The deer are unnaturally friendly at Lake Lynn Park.

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The obligatory squirrel shot. Lake Lynn Park has its fair share of squirrels.

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Perhaps I’m easily amused, but for me it was great fun spying out the various canoes and skiffs nestled in the trees along the banks of Lake Lynn. (Raleigh, NC).

A beautiful Chinese Goose on Lake Lynn. (Raleigh, NC)

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There are several “turtle logs” around Lake Lynn. This one in particular was the happenin’ log during my visit, with at least 15 hard-shelled reptiles leisurely sunning there. (Raleigh, NC)

Lake Lynn Park is a real gem within the Raleigh city limits. Nevertheless, if you are considering a visit, here are a few things you might want to know: For starters, the trail is rather hilly. Nice, but hilly. Secondly, although there are pockets of seclusion along the trail, generally Lake Lynn, (which can be accessed from various apartment complexes and subdivisions surrounding the park), is a busy place (if my visit on a Sunday afternoon in early May was any indication). The trail is wide, but sometimes it doesn’t seem wide enough when everyone is blissfully “doing their own thing.” There are runners, walkers, K-9s large and small on leashes, baby strollers, people fishing, and cyclists who’ve perhaps never heard of “On your left!” trail etiquitte. Then, of course, there are silly hearts with cameras taking pictures of the wildlife, talking to complete strangers, and otherwise getting in the way. Or so I’ve heard.