Our Junior Ranger program is back for another exciting year!! Each day we cover new topics, and introduce fun educational activities that help keep things fun and interesting. It is a great way for you and your child to learn about the rich history and nature that is in your own backyard. There is a $60.00 enrollment fee per session for each participant. This covers all supplies, graduation certificate, t-shirt, and patch.
As part of the "Let's Move" initiative to raise a healthier generation of kids, the National Park Trust is hosting National "Kids to Parks Day" on Saturday, May 18, 2013. You can sign up on their website to let them know you pledge to take your kids outside and to a park on May 18th, and over 120,000 people have pledged so far! We have some awesome park options right here in Prince William County, including some fun, local events! Here's a list of PWC, and surrounding area, parks that have special Kids to Parks Day events on Saturday:
Leesylvania State Park in Woodbridge, VA - Let nature ignite your imagination! We'll read Fairy Houses by Tracy Kane and spend a day outside making fairy houses with natural materials from around the park. See if you can discover what fairies and wildlife have in common.
Location: Visitor Center
Address: 2001 Daniel K. Ludwig Drive, Woodbridge, VA 22191.
Contact for more info: 703-583-6904.
Occoquan Regional Park in Lorton, VA will host the Occoquan River Fest from 10am-4pm. There will also be events in the town of Occoquan from 12-5pm.
Address: Occoquan Regional Park, 9751 Ox Road, Lorton, VA 22079.
Mason Neck Park in Lorton, VA has a variety of special programs and events.
Birding 101 (10am): Meet with a ranger on the back porch of the Visitor Center. Sit and watch the birds at the bird feeders and learn basic identification skills. Please bring your own binoculars.
GPS Adventures (11:30am-12:30pm): Come join us on this one mile hike with park GPS units. We'll experience nature while searching for hidden caches! This program is most appropriate for ages six and up. Maximum of 10 people. First come, first served.
Mammals of Mason Neck (2pm): Meet a ranger in the picnic area to learn about some of the local residents here in the park. Test your identification skills and learn something new about these furry park residents.
Rockets (3pm): Come watch as we demonstrate the power of air pressure. We will be launching rockets made from 2 liter soda bottles using air, and water. Help us pump up the pressure in the bottles and guess which one will fly the farthest.
Awesome Eagles (4pm): Meet up at the Visitor Center for an informative talk about our national emblem, the Bald Eagle. Come learn about these amazing birds and look for them as they soar along the bay.
Address: Mason Neck Park, 7301 High Point Road, Lorton, VA 22079.
Contact for more info: 703-339-2380
Lake Anna State Park in Spotsylvania County (our favorite camping/boating spot!) has some special programs.
Fishing 101 (10-11am) $2/person $6/family. Learn the basics of fishing and put it to the test! *Limited Space; Register at the Park Office*
Orienteering 101 (1-2pm) Join a ranger and discover how to orienteer with compass and map.
Gold Panning (3-4pm) Join Matt for a fun filled program featuring the history and basics of "Panning for Gold just like the prospectors."
Address: Lake Anna State Park, 6800 Lawyers Rd, Livingston, VA 22551.
Daily parking fee applies $5 per car. Contact for more info: 540-854-5503.
The Town of Vienna - The Town of Vienna Parks and Recreation Department and Club Phoenix Teen Center proudly present “Teens on the Green” at the Vienna Town Green on May 18, 2013. The local talent will awe and amaze as we highlight three fantastically talented teen bands on two stages. The concert is free and open to the public. Please contact the Vienna Community Center for more information, 703-255-6360.
Address: Vienna Town Green, 144 Maple Avenue E, Vienna, VA 22180
Contact for more info: Town of Vienna Parks and Recreation 703-255-5721.
Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, VA has some fun programs and events scheduled.
Tyke Hike (10am-12pm): Meet at the Lost Mountain Parking Area This discovery hike is an easy walk, for children ages 4-6 and caregivers. Bring water and snacks, and wear sturdy footwear.
Town Ball (12-2pm): Meet at the Picnic Area Play an inning or more of this historic game that evolved into our National Pastime.
Life on the Farm: Planting a Vegetable Garden (1-3pm): Meet near the Visitor Center Help us plant our vegetable garden. All farm hands will get to take home seeds.
Nature Journaling (2-4pm): Meet at Turner Pond Learn the basics of recording your nature observations and receive your beginner's journal. Location: Meet at Blue Ridge Trailhead
Address: Sky Meadows State Park, 11012 Edmonds Lane, Delaplane, VA 20144.
Contact for more info: 540-592-3556
Also, the National Park Trust has some great children's activities on their Buddy the Bison website. You can check those out here.
Haunted History Hike
Mommy Meet-Ups: Basket Weaving
Veteran's Day Wall of Honor
Harvest Crafts Food Drive
Making a few summertime memories can be as simple as baiting your fishing pole! There are several great local places to take your child fishing. Don't like worms? No problem. Fish will nibble at marshmallows, bread, cheese, or just about anything that will stay on your hook. Don't forget to check your child's scout guide if they participate in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, because many levels have fishing awards!
Ages 16+ a Freshwater Virginia State Fishing License is required year round and a Virginia State Trout
License is required November 1 - April 30. The Fish and Game Warden can ticket you for not having a
license, even if you're just "holding" your child's pole, so make sure you get one! The KMart in Dale City
sells them along with numerous other retailers, or you can get them online, too!
For a full list of Virginia Fishing regulations you can click here, but generally speaking, all you need to know is that you can't use dynamite (phew!) or net fish, scuba fish, or alter fish by cutting them, and that you need to follow posted regulations.
Got your license and your rod? Let's get fishing!
Locust Shade Park's 8 acre pond is stocked with trout and also has catfish, blue gill, bass and crappie.
Lake Ridge Park reservoir provides good fishing for largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie and catfish.
Leesylvania State Park offers pier fishing from March 1 to Nov. 1. Catfish, perch, largemouth and striped bass are typical. The park also offers children's fishing tournaments on the first Saturday of every month and adult's fishing tournaments on occasion, as well.
Occoquan Regional Park also offers fishing. The no-wake zones around the main dock areas make for peaceful water and lots of fish!
Prince William Forest Park- Specific portions of the lakes and streams throughout the park are available for fishing. Live bait is prohibited. For specifics, be sure to ask a ranger in the Visitor's Center!
Have a favorite fishing spot? Leave a comment on this post and let us know where!
The Junior Ranger Program at Leesylvania State Park runs several weeks this summer for various ages. Parents may use the program as a drop-off camp or may remain with their child, if they're more comfortable. Children as young as 4 and as old as 12 may participate in various weeks. Please see the flier for additional information. This fantastic park is located here on the Woodbridge/Dumfries side of Prince William County and offers several programs for families and children throughout the year.
Prince William Forest Park is a fantastic location for camping, hiking, and even meeting friends at the playground! There are several entrances to the Park, including a few from route 234 in Dumfries and off route 619 past Independent Hill going to Triangle. The main entrance to the park, which I recommend you use, is the one you reach by taking exit 150B off I-95. When you enter the park, there is a ranger station, but it may or may not be manned. If there's no ranger, head straight down the road and you'll arrive at an information area where you can pay your $5. Admission is good for seven consecutive days, so it's a pretty awesome deal, when you think about it that way!
Here's another view of the playground. The kids had a great time running around, and as a bonus, there's a BATHROOM!! Flushing toilets, running water, the whole deal. I consider proximity of the potty to be a huge deal, so chalk that up as a win!
Prince William Forest Park has a scenic drive, as well, and it's quite pleasant. I would have especially loved it when my first was a baby. He had horrendous colic and the only way he slept was in motion. A nice drive through the park would have been a great way to spend the time driving the baby!
Finally, there's camping. We were fortunate to spend part of a night with our boy scout troop, and had a great time! There are, again, restrooms, as well as nice sites with decent parking. We were near an outdoor area with lots of bench seating where we enjoyed a bonfire, too. We stayed in the tent camping, but they also offer 5 cabins. For details on camping at Prince William Forest Park, just click here.
Prince William Forest Park
Pros- nice playground, bathrooms located nearby, camping and parking
Cons- small fee, multiple entrances can be confusing to first timers (like me my first time!)
Cautions- only that you should be sure to check for ticks, but that's any outdoor location in Virginia!
Leesylvania State Park is a fantastic location right here in Prince William County! Having a park so close is such a great perk! Here are their activities coming up this weekend!
Below are this weekend programs and attached are upcoming programs! Hope to see you here at !
Terrific Tales for Toddlers
Colonial Children's Games
A Revolutionary Father's Day Presentation
Powell's Creek Hike
Father's Day Canoe Tour
Friends of Leesylvania State Park ’s monthly meeting
In honor of National Kids to Parks Day (May 19, 2012), I decided to venture outside my comfort zone and take my girls (three years old and one year old) to a park we never had been to before. We actually drive by it several times a week, but have never checked it out.
I was pleasantly surprised as we drove down the driveway leading to the park area. Parking is close to the playground and is easily accessible. There is a sidewalk leading right from the parking lot to the playgrounds which is great when bringing a stroller along. We passed by several covered pavillions which were set up for parties. Some people even set up their own! They all looked very inviting to my party loving three year old!
Slide on "little kids" playground
There are two playgrounds right next to each other. They look very well maintained and inviting. One is the "little kid" playground and the other is the "big kid" playground. There were very few differences between the two, namely the "Wiggly Bridge" (as my three year old called it) and some more spaces to climb up/down. Both playgrounds have swings (bucket and regular) and slides. The slides have a tendency to get hot as they old school metal ones, but weren't too bad the day we were there. We checked out the "little kid" playground first. My one year old is not walking yet, so I sat her in the mulch by the large number manipulative. She had fun spinning the numbers and watching her big sister run around. The "big kid" playground was just too inviting, so my three year old ended up spending most of her time over there, but would go back and forth between the two. The playgrounds are close enough that you can watch your children on both at the same time. My girls also really liked the swings.
"Big kids" playground
"Little kids" playground
We were there before lunch time and the sun was really strong over the playground. The only shade to be found was that made by the equipment itself! Make sure you bring a lot of water when you come if it is sunny. There is a water fountain near the bathroom, but it was not working the day we went. We decided to take a break for a snack under one of the many trees on the park grounds. It was nice to get out of the sun for a while. There is also a lot of room for children to run around. As we ate snack, my three year old was eying a "mountain" by our spot. She felt like such a big girl when she reached the top. There was a flat field at the top which would be perfect for flying kites in the fall!
One thing I always look for when I am going out is a bathroom. Thankfully, there is a bathroom on the park grounds as we had to use it on the way out. Unfortunately, it had a strong smell of cleaner, but didn't feel very clean. There was no soap, but the water did work. Note to self, bring hand sanitizer!
All in all, we really enjoyed our first visit at Joseph D. Reading Park. I definitely see us going there in the future to play and for picnic lunches. Kline's Freeze (yum!) is not far from the park entrance so you could get ice-cream on the way in or on the way home!
Well maintained and clean equipment.
Two playgrounds for different ages.
Lots of shade for resting and picnics.
LOTS of room to run.
Playground is very sunny.
Metal slides get hot.
Bathroom is not the best.
Make sure you bring enough water for everyone and some hand sanitizer! Maybe we'll see you there!
Angela Pounders is a transplant to Manassas Park from Arlington. She is blessed to be a stay at home mama to two beautiful girls. As a former teacher (as well as preschool director and Children and Family Director), she is always on the look out for fun, easy and educational things to do with her girls. She also loves to share her ideas and is looking to start her own blog, Master's Daughter, by the fall.
Bull Run Mountain Conservancy in Broad Run, VA, will be hosting several camps this summer for children of all ages. Preschool Camp, Elementary Aged Herpetology Camp, and Middle/High School Watershed Workshop Camp for Teens.
Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians. BRMC invites your child to spend TWO days hiking and handling, searching and observing salamanders, frogs, lizards, snakes and turtles on the Bull Run Mtn Natural Area Preserve. Marty Martin, the premier mid-Atlantic herpetologist will be joining both camps to discuss and find every snake possible
June 21/22, OR June 25/26, OR
Members: $100/ Non-members: $150
Summer Nature Camp
BRMC invites your child to spend a nature-filled week interacting with the natural world. Each day we will focus on different plants and animals in the Bull Run Mountains. Campers will add to their understanding of natural systems through hikes, stream walks, games, and eco-dramas.
Week of July 23rd, OR Week of July 30th
Pre-registration is required.
BRMC Members: $250/ Non-members: $300.
Chesapeake Watershed Workshop
BRMC will offer an educational workshop for youth ages 13-18 focused on the conservation of the rivers and streams that flow into the Chesapeake Bay. The four-day workshop will begin with an overview of stream ecology and natural history. We will then spend Day 2 exploring the headwater streams in the Bull Run Mountains. Day 3 will be spent downstream in the Little Bull Run, and Day 4 will be spent in Turkey Run National Park along the banks of the Potomac River. At each location students will perform stream monitoring, vegetation analyses, and stream habitat and riparian buffer evaluations.
4 Days Week August 6th
Pre-registration is required.
BRMC Members: $200/ Non-members: $250.
Preschool Nature Camp
At this week-long camp, young children will be exposed to the outdoors and wildlife. They will explore the life on the Bull Run Mountains through a series of discovery hikes, nature crafts, and games.
Pre-registration is required.
BRMC Members: $125/ Non-members: $175.
Leesylvania State Park in Woodbridge, Virginia has some outstanding kid-friendly programs coming up this weekend!! Whether your child loves dinosaur activities or your teen needs some volunteer service hours, these additions to our calendar can help meet your family's boredom-buster needs!
National Trails Day
Kids Fishing Tournament
Clean the Bay Day Shoreline Cleanup
Lee's Woods Historic Hike
Leesylvania State Park, right here in Woodbridge, offers some great programs, including fishing tournaments and ranger-led activities, but over the summer they also offer a family-friendly outdoor concert series!
"Music at the Marina" is held from 5-7pm on select nights over the summer and will feature:
-J. Three, June 9, 2012
-Billy Caldwell, June 30, 2012
-Laurence McKenna, July 14, 2012
-Soul Gravity, August 11, 2012
-No Charge, September 8, 2012
There is an entry fee to the park.
As part of the "Let's Move" initiative to raise a healthier generation of kids, the National Park Trust is hosting "National Kids to Parks Day" on May 19, 2012. You can sign up on their website to let them know you pledge to take your kids outside and to a park on May 19th! We have some awesome park options right here in Prince William County, and they're hosting events, to boot! I've also included some surrounding parks in case you'd really like to make a day of it!
Leesylvania State Park in Woodbridge, VA will be hosting a Kids to Parks GPS hunt at 12 and 3. The hike will be 1.3 miles and GPS units will help in your search. Bring water and closed-toed shoes. $3pp or $8 per family or $25 per large group.
Occoquan Regional Park will host a Healthy Paddles Event from 10am-3pm
Rock Creek Park in DC will host a Kids to Parks Event from 10am-2pm
Mason Neck in Lorton will be offering a variety of programs. GPS rentals will be available. Feathers and Furst, 10-10:30am, Picnic Area Pond Patrol 11-12pm, Makin Tracks 12:30-1:30pm, Whimmy Diddles 2-2:30pm, Hiking Helpers 3-4pm.
Lake Anna State Park in Spotsylvania (it's our favorite camping/boating spot!) will have Jack Corrigan teaching Geocaching 101. Preregister by calling 540-854-5503. $2/pp or $6 per family. No park entrance fee. 9am-12pm or 1-4pm.
Wolf Trap in Vienna (yes, it's performing arts, but it's also a park!) will have kids day from 9am-12pm.
Also, the NPT has some great children's activities on their Buddy the Bison website. You can check those out here.
Even if you think your child is too young for some of these planned activities, why not get them out to a park on the 19th anyway. Lake Ridge Park is a fun one, even for little kids, or even your neighborhood playground could do in a pinch! There's hiking trails all over PWC (the one behind Waterworks is fun!) and you can enjoy some time being active and outside with your kids!
Thanks to photographer Marla Anson for sharing her thoughts on Cloverdale Park with us! I would add that the last few times I've been to Cloverdale there's been some trash issues, but it is a a large, open park, great for group events, and there are also some baseball and football fields to the opposite side of the parking lot!
The kids and I have started going to the playground in Cloverdale Park. I took these pictures on Tuesday during our second visit there. One of the homeschool groups I joined meets there every Friday afternoon and I learned a nifty little tip from them. There is a port-a-potty there that gets cleaned on Friday mornings. There are also several pavilions, one of which does have restrooms, but sometimes the port-a-potty is a cleaner option. To reserve the pavilions, just get in contact with the folks over at Veterans Park. In addition to the playground and pavilions, there are soccer fields and and baseball fields.
Burke Lake Park. This place is fully loaded with a miniature train, carousel, several playgrounds and picnic areas, mini golf, ice cream shop, water activities and more. Burke Lake Park is located in Fairfax County, but I would call it a destination park due to its high number of activities. The park is open from sunrise to sunset, which obviously varies during different times f the year. The park closes to all traffic (foot/bike/car) at sunset, too, so if you're camping, you're in for the night :)
The park facilities are open weekends beginning early April through Memorial Day, except the campgrounds which open in late April. The park itself, however, is open year round. From Memorial Day to Labor Day the park facilities are open daily, weather permitting, and then they're open again on weekends through late October, which is also when camping ends.
The train runs on the 15 and 45, beginning at 11:15am. The carousel runs on the hour and the half hour beginning at 11:30am. The ice cream parlor is open 11am-4pm, and mini golf opens at 11am. The park is free for Fairfax County Residents (so load up in your Fairfax friend's minivan). For non-residents on weekends and holidays (it's free on weekdays) the fee is $10 for cars and vans and $40 for buses. Picnic areas are available to rent for parties.
We've had the opportunity to enjoy Burke Lake Park on several occasions, both with friends for playtime and for camping and running. We've even picnicked by the water, which was lovely, too. The kids enjoyed the train and carousel (although older elementary children might find it "lame").
Says PwcDad: Camping at Burke Lake is great for younger kids because it features lots of activities and several fitness trails that are great for younger children.
Burke Lake Park
Pros: Close to Lake Ridge/Woodbridge, free on weekdays, lots to do, picnic areas have always been clean on our visits
Cons: Amenities are at a price (although low), not PWC :), if you are an iPhone addict, your reception is going to stink :)
Caution: Campers should note that you cannot leave or enter after dark, even if you have a child that decides they'd rather not camp tonight.
One of the smaller community centers owned by the Prince William County Park Authority (I'm not sure what to call them now that the PWC Government has assumed control, but until they send me a new logo, I'm sticking with the old name), Birchdale Recreation Center is located on the corner of Birchdale Ave and Dale Blvd, near the KMart. The physical address is 14730 Birchdale Ave.
scouting activity day over spring break. Birchdale features a small community center with indoor restrooms and a few classrooms. They are also associated with Turley Baseball Fields, which are across the street. There is an outdoor pool, playground, small half pipe, and 2 picnic pavilions which can be rented for $40 per day per pavilion. If you rent the pavilion, you can also purchase pool passes for $1.50 per person, up to 20 per pavilion. The pool is 25 meters. Sounds like it could be a very economical way to do a family reunion or smaller group function! The playground is wide and open, with good visibility. Not pictured above are several swings. The area is wood-mulched. Behind the playground is some open space, which is perfect for a swordfight, and adjacent to the playground and the open space are the picnic pavilions.
Lake Ridge has several tot lots which are fantastic for a few reasons. First, they're less crowded. Unlike Fantasy Playground, which is a "destination park", these are more like neighborhood play spots, which are still fun but have less than 1.3 million children. Second, they're shaded. If you have a sun-sensitive child (or heat-sensitive), these can be great options. Finally....I don't know, I always feel like there should be 3 things. Maybe I'll come up with one if you read to the end, but I'm not making any promises.
Corner of Antietam and Seminole
Intersection of Mohican and Stoneford
2/3rds of the way down Mohican between Edgemoor and Calloway (but on the left)
So, you get the idea. There are a total of 18 tot lots in Lake Ridge, and they tend to follow a pattern. Want to share your favorite location with us? Leave a comment with the GPS or intersection!
Before you read the following post, I have to apologize for my absolutely abominable iPhone pictures. Here's the deal, folks, I am not a good enough mom to carry my camera. I can admit that. I have three kids and two hands, and one of them is not getting a Kodak, because that leaves me even MORE outnumbered than I was to start with.
I'm pretty sure the only nice pictures we have of our kids since my second child was born are from my awesome friends who do carry their cameras, and from professional photographers (love you guys!). However! That being said, please always multiply the "cool factor" of anything I've photographed by about 5. Thanks. Also, thank you to the very nice people who let me take their pictures at these events and are not at all creeped out by the lady with a cell phone and a media pass. I think it's the business cards. They make me look legit :) If you'd like some professional pictures- check out Mary Davidson's from PotomacLocal.com
As I've mentioned several times, I am a native Prince Williamite. That's a technical term, which you'd know if you were also born and raised in the P-W-C. Not everyone can be this complacent in one place for so long, so if you didn't know, now you do ;)
Another thing you'd know if you were a true local, is that we don't like being looked down on by people from Fairfax who think they're cooler than us just because they've got carousels at their fancy pants playgrounds, and Wegmans and Trader Joes and P.F. Changs and play areas in their malls. Also, they've got Ann Taylor and Banana Republic. Listen, outlet shopping is just smart. So, there. Plus, we have a 24-hour Walmart. What's up, Fairfax?
As such, I have immensely enjoyed watching our county change over the last decade. I love that you can still find farms, but I also love checking things off the list of reasons people from Fairfax refuse to admit that PWC is a viable place to live or raise kids.
Most recently, Potomac Mills has checked a few items off my list, adding a "Fashion District" with places like Banana Republic, Victoria's Secret, J.Crew, and Abercrombie and Fitch. If I wasn't on a stay-at-home mommy budget....
They also added an indoor play area at the "Grand Court", which is at the beginning of the "Fashion District" section! Hahaha Fairfax! Plus, ours is educational! We were able to go join the Potomac Mills Kidgits for the grand opening celebration of the new play area, which featured a concert from Rocknoceros, cupcakes, and 300some of your closest friends! I love a great kid friendly event that's local Prince William County!!
Oh, hello everyone cool! How nice that we can all hang out at the mall together! Kidgits is a great way to get out of the house and enjoy free entertainment. Join the Kidgits club for some great extra perks! It's only $5 and your child gets special treats at Kidgits meetings, a shirt, and spins on the prize wheel every time you shop!
When you're a big brother and home schooled, you sometimes have to hang out at little kid events. Cupcakes and a hat help you to up your "cool" factor.
I love that there is a small tucked away section with games perfect for toddlers to play with. It's nice when someone thinks of details like that!
The theme of the play area is Virgina- so there are several historical landmarks shown, as well as the "landscape" on the floor featuring labels of prominent water features.
Here's a view from outside the play area coming in. To the right, there are benches that wrap around for parents, caregivers, or kids in time out. Under the benches are shoe cubbies. You know, for shoes that are in time out.
The state bird, a cardinal, makes an appearance, as do natural resources like the blue crab. The tree slide, in the picture above, is George Washington's Cherry Tree.
For parking purposes, the TJ Maxx entrance is a good idea :)
Thanks to Potomac Mills Mall for making Prince William County even more kid friendly!
Disclaimer: I was not provided with any material goods or services in return for writing this article, although the very nice Kidgits people did hook me up with some chairs so that I could run around and interview people and keep my kids where I could see them. All opinions are my own. No one from Fairfax was injured in the writing of this article. If you're from Fairfax, I still like you. Some of my best friends are Fairfax people, when they're not hating on Prince William :)
We hit the Bull Run Festival of Lights for the second year this year, and I wanted to pass along a few notes and tips.
Prices are per vehicle ranging from $15 (cars weekday) to $30 (van weekend) with separate prices for group buses. You can get a $3 off weeknight coupon by visiting the trash cans at your local Chick Fil A ;) Sounds weird, but hey, $3 off is $3 off!! The coupons are sitting next to the placemats at the Woodbridge location.
Before you get to the park, which is 10 minutes from the Manassas line, be sure you stop at 7-11 and pick up some treats for the car. We vote hot cocoa and cookies, but you can pick whatever you like. When you get to the festival, you start out going through a toll booth. It looks like the show is going to start just after with lights on either side, and you may be tempted to turn your headlights off at this point.
Wait. They're just playing with you. There's 2 light displays and then nothing for a few hundred yards. When you get to the sign that says "please turn off your headlights", however, TURN THEM OFF!! There's more than sufficient light from the show and having cars (especially behind you) with their lights on totally ruins the experience for everyone!
Winding slowly through the next 2 miles, there are a bunch of cool light displays including reindeer and Santa, the characters from the Wizard of Oz, Toyland, and our family's favorite- a corner turn where the lights cascade down like snow.
The lights are beautiful, and it's a great activity for an evening where it's far too cold to enjoy something outside, or if your kids are too little to really enjoy outdoor activities. True story, the first time we went to a light show like this (it was in another state), we had a 1 month old baby and hadn't been out in months, so hubby and I stopped at Starbucks and put our colicky baby in the carseat, and by the time we got to the lights the baby was knocked out from the wonderful repetitive motion of the car and it was snowing lightly- it was actually one of the most romantic dates we've ever been on!
So. A word of caution.
At the end of the Festival of Lights there is this hot mess. I think they call it "The Winter Village". Your payment to the light show includes free admission to the Winter Village!! Squee! Free Admission.
Don't do it. Just don't. The Winter Village is actually a carnival designed to make sure you spend at least $75 on going to look at lights. Rides require tickets (which are non-refundable) and range in price from $3-$5 a ride. Some of them you can squeak by on without getting burned too badly (kids ride free with paying adult on rides they're too short to ride alone- i.e. the Ferris Wheel and the Egg Scrambler). You can get a wristband for $18 per person (for our family of 5 there was NO way I was doing that). There's also lots of junk food around to tempt your kids who, despite the fact that you just fed them dinner, now have a fever and the only prescription is chili cheese fries for $7.50.
If you'd like to be sneaky about the whole thing, the Village is only open on the following dates, so you could feasibly decide to go on a night that it's not open. (Or, perhaps you're not as big of a grinch as I am, and you like spending $5 on carnival rides, in which case, by all means, have a blast!)
Locust Shade Park is a great space in Triangle, down by Quantico just past Independent Hill if you're a 619 cruiser. It's great because it's got several different amenities including mini golf, tennis, a batting cage, docks with rental paddle boats, gazebos, picnic areas, playgrounds, fitness trail, and an ampitheater. When you go in the main gate, the batting cage, mini golf, driving range and visitors center are directly to your left. The ampitheater is further up on your right, and the playgrounds, hiking, and picnic areas are spread out along the road's loop.
Locust Shade also has large-scale (and small) picnic facilities available for rental. They're great for outdoor gatherings for birthdays, scouts, or church functions. You can find a list of rates HERE. There are picnic areas that border playgrounds, which would be especially great for a child's party.
HERE, but note that the season is obviously limited to times when outdoor weather will be conducive to a good time.
Locust Shade Park
Pros: Lots of different activites, no entrance fee
Cons: Wooded- beware of ticks and bring your bug spray
Caution: The boat ramp is VERY open and the sections that are "fenced" are spaced well enough that your small child could easily get in the water for a swim. It's not that clean, I don't recommend it.
Nestled on the corner of Hedges Run and Cotton Mill Drives in Lake Ridge, just behind the community center and pool, is Fantasy Playground. This giant wooden play area features balance components, slides, a sandbox, 4 baby and 4 regular swings, a tire swing, covered picnic area, tunnels, and rocks. Lots of tiny pea-sized gravel rocks.
My children absolutely adore this playground. They think that it is, quite possibly, the coolest place in our immediate area. If I drive the wrong way to Starbucks on a nice day all I hear is a loud wail from the backseat about going to Fantasy Playground.
It's not that I don't love going to the playground, because I do. I'll hit Lake Ridge Park, neighborhoods, heck, we sit at the school playground for about an hour a day on nice afternoons (and some not-so-warm ones where I just can't go back home yet) and sometimes longer. Also, I know a lot of people think that Fantasy is Fantastic.
(Oh hi, readers. Just a fair warning: If you're an adherent of Lenore Skenazy you should probably save us both the trouble and stop reading this post now. Still reading? Because I warned you....)
I loathe Fantasy Playground. Everything about it. I don't like the tiny gravel that ALWAYS gets in my shoes. I don't like the sandbox, because I'm convinced that 1/2 the western world's squirrels (and small children who are potty training) have ahem, well, utilized it as other than a sand box. Most of all, though, (seriously stop here Skenazy disciples) I hate that this park has terrible visibility and ramps on the play area that dump into the parking lot. I have 3 children that run on 3 different speeds. "I'm on Speed", "Buddha meditating under a tree", and "PUSH THE SWING MOMMA!!!". These three speeds are not conducive to being at this playground and being mindful of my kids. That being said, if you're okay with not being able to see both of your children at once (which I would be if it was just "I'm on Speed" and one other one, since "I'm on Speed" is old enough that I am confident in his skillz without me, but I have 2 that I need to watch) then you'll probably love it here.
Pros: Large, elaborate space, well-maintained by the LRPRA and re-stained yearly. This playground has lots to do and groups can enjoy the picnic area covered by shade.
Cons: Rocks are fun to throw, apparently. Also, there's limited visibility across the playground so if you have one on the swing you can't see your other one on the slide. Middle schoolers tend to congregate here for some reason when school is out in my experience, so if you're not comfortable reminding preteens that they can't curse on the playground (which I find to be rather fun, actually) be sure to tell your children to earmuff it if there's a group of them.
Caution: If the pool is not open, there is not a nearby bathroom or porta potty. Even if the pool is open, the lifeguard on duty may or may not let you use it if you don't have your pool pass. Even if they will, it's a close call for children who are still in the "when I say I need to go potty right now, I actually mean I needed to go 10 minutes ago and now I REALLY NEED TO GO RIGHT NOW!!" phase. Also, if you have a daredevil, there is a portion of the playground that has a hole in it down to a tire seat below. An easy jump for an elementary kid, I've seen a few toddlers not fare quite so well with it.
Recommended for: This is a toughie. There's no label on this one like there is in Montclair ;) I would say that despite the presence of baby swings and smaller slides/sandbox for younger children, the BEST time on this playground is had by the elementary set.