** Updated 8/9/16 with new hours. **
From Sarah C.:
It’s no secret my family loves the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. We also really like the natural play area at Wilkerson Nature Preserve. That said, we we’ve been counting down to the opening the new Nature Play Space at NCMNS’s Prairie Ridge since we learned about it during a Museum visit a couple months ago.
Prairie Ridge is located in West Raleigh just off Edwards Mill Road. The entrance to the trails and play space is found to the left of the Ecostation building. There is a map of Prairie Ridge at the entrance but note that currently the Nature Play Space isn’t noted. Follow the signs for the amphitheater. The quickest route is to head straight ahead and continue until you see the outdoor education classroom. One of 3 entrances is found just behind the classroom. (Tip: there is a restroom inside the classroom building.)
We chose to wander through the trails first and explore the area. On our way out we realized that we basically took the long way all the way around the property! It was worth it. We wandered through the prairie, found a small pond and building to bird watch, spotted a few birds as well as butterflies & bees, and ended up at the picnic area just outside of the Nature Play Space. If you choose to explore the trails, take note they are grass or mulched so plan to use a carrier or jogger stroller if your children are too young to walk.
Once inside the Nature Play Space, we played and played and played. We dug and sifted. Pumped water and splashed. Hopped along log stepping stones. Tried our balance on a raised log. Searched for shark’s teeth. Made music on bamboo rods. Searched for gnomes. Left a message in the mailbox. And built a castle with small logs. It was a wonderful peaceful afternoon and reminded me of my childhood growing up in the country (except maybe the shark teeth – I didn’t find any of those in my own backyard).
My son didn’t want to leave. I can’t say I blamed him – this play area was wonderful. As I paused to look at the map on our way out (when we realized how long of a journey we’d taken to the Nature Play Space – we did take the short way back), he grabbed one of the butterfly spotting pamphlets and wanted to head back in to search butterflies! I have a feeling we’ll be back here to play and explore quite frequently. It truly is a gem within the city.
As Take a Child Outside week wraps up today, I encourage you to get outside with your child(ren) and make plans to visit the Nature Play Space soon. It’s a wonderful spot to explore, get in touch with nature and remember when play was simple. A child’s imagination + nature and anything is possible.
Prairie Ridge: Natural Play Space
1671 Gold Star Drive
Tuesday – Saturday, 9 am to 4:30 pm
Closed Sundays & Mondays plus state holidays