Friday, December 19, 2014

Mistletoe Facts and Solstice Stargazing Sunday Evening

Seems like we were just talking about Fall leaves and acorns, and here we are at the winter solstice.  Now that the leaves are off the trees we can see one of the romantic symbols of the season, mistletoe, high in the treetops.  Mistletoe has a long tradition, dating back to pagan times, of being associated with mystical romantic powers. Thus that kissing under the mistletoe routine at holiday gatherings.  Mistletoe is interesting in that it's a hemiparasitic plant, which means it attaches itself high up in trees, like oaks, pines, but it can also grow on its own.  I grew up in a rural area of North Carolina and the people who sold it at the holidays would shoot it out of trees.  Quite the talent, don't you think?

Mistletoe in the treetop
Sunday is the winter solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year--perfect skies for our Winter Solstice Stargazing event this Sunday evening at Sandy Creek Park in Durham.  Why do I like the Winter Solstice?  Because the days keep getting longer after that, which means Spring is on it's way! Stonehenge is a fantastic example of ancient societies observing the changes in seasons.  Archeologists believe that Stonehenge was built to observe the winter solstice sunrise.  Take a look at this photo and see how the sun rises through the prehistoric monument. So, if you're looking for things to do with the family in town for the holidays, come to Sandy Creek Park in Durham between 5:30pm and 7:30pm and look at the winter skies through our telescopes!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Sights and Sounds from DPR Fall Outdoor Programs

What a fall--super busy for us (which we love!) From paddles to camping, shelter-building and more, we had a wonderful time sharing the natural resources of Durham with our many participants.  Here are just a few of the boatloads of images we captured during the season.  Our spring season will be here before we know it, so it's nice to reflect on a fall season well-spent.

Giving navigation instruction to Geo-Paddle participants.

Lake Michie on a quiet Saturday morning.
Sharing a shelter with friends
Learning Leave No Trace Ethics and methods

Pancakes after  morning paddle


Friday, October 24, 2014

Why is My Car Getting Pelted With So Many Acorns This Fall?

Acorns. Piling up everywhere, and pinging my car this week like a mid-summer hailstorm.  When I was young, our neighbors told us that these hailstorms of acorns forewarned of a hard winter to come. 

How would the trees know, I wondered? 

Turns out the trees don't know, and that abundant acorn production is actually a natural cycle of 3-5 years. These years of banner production are called 'mast years'.   Mast is the fruit of nut-producing trees, specifically a kind of piling up on the ground for animals to eat.  A 'mast year' is a year like the one we're having in the southern US where we have an overabundance of nuts (a massive understatement at my house). The cycle goes like this: there will be a year or so of piles of acorns on the ground (mast comes from the Old English word maest, literally meaning piles of tree fruit and nuts on the ground), squirrels and other animals feed on the nuts. Then come the years with less production, and what's on the trees is what gets eaten--not a lot left over to fall to the ground, and the population of nut-eaters thins because of scarcity of food. Then we have a year with large production, there are more than can be eaten by the current population of nut-eaters and you have our  result.  Pileups of nuts like the ones in the pictures below.

So now when you hear parents on the sidelines of your child's soccer match complaining about the massive amount of acorns on their decks, you have one more little tidbit of useless, but interesting, knowledge to share over your morning coffee. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Orb Weavers add to the Spookiness of October

I walked out the house early this morning to this special guest, an orb weaver.  It's fall and the babies born in the spring are now out and about building their intricate webs, a compliment to the fall mums and pumpkins on the porch. Their web pattern is one many of us recognize--if you're ever read Charlotte's Web, you've seen the work of fictional orb weaver Charlotte. 

I'm always happy to see the orb weavers, if not overjoyed by walking through their webs in the morning when I'm not quite awake.  Watching them build their structures every evening is fascinating, especially when one decides to try to overtake the front yard by starting at the roofline and extending to the wild persimmon tree in the middle.  They're ambitious little buggers.

Their hunting style is pretty cool, too. Attaching themselves to building structures usually, they generally situate themselves in the middle of the web--an intimidating presence at about a half an inch to an inch in size--and face downward, waiting for their prey.  They hunt at night, eating a massive amount of mosquitos, yay for orb weavers!   If not in the center of the web, they're hanging out nearby off to the side with a thread of silk attached to them as a warning system, like a bell on the door of a store.  Also awesome. So, if you see one in your yard, take moment to watch them work.

Orb weaver doing what it does best.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Lunar Exploration Postponed to Saturday, Nov. 1, 7:30--9:30pm

Unfortunately, the weather is not going to cooperate this evening.  There's a front moving through that's going to bring winds and cloud cover that will make viewing the moon impossible.  The good new is that on November 1, the moon will once again be in the perfect place in the sky for viewing. We'll be at Old North Durham Park at 7:30pm with telescopes at the ready, so please come join us.
In the meantime, if you want to do a little moon gazing online, check out this article and the related images:

Monday, September 29, 2014

Take a Kid Outside with DPR Outdoor Recreation

Ok, so last week got away from us with the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Assocation (NCRPA) conference in Wilmington and we missed most of Take a Kid Outside week Sept. 24-30, but might I suggest we in Durham celebrate Take a Kid Outside Month?  We have some great opportunities in October from Lunar Exploration to our Urban Wild programs.  On Oct. 3 in Old North Durham Park (behind Central Park School on Foster Street), we have our Lunar Exploration from 7:30pm--9:30pm.  We'll have numerous telescopes through which to view the 3/4 moon and it's features and knowledgeable and approachable staff to help guide you through the night sky. 

Another great event for getting children outside is our Campout! Carolina Jamboree at West Point on the Eno Park in Durham, Oct. 11-12.  This is such a glorious event filled with families taking in the fall air with our friends from the Piedmont Wildlife Center and the Eno River Association. What makes urban camping a great experience?  Well, if it's your first time, you're close to home in familiar surroundings with friendly, capable staff willing to teach you the ropes.  If you're nervous about your capabilities, we can help.  If you don't have equipment, we'll get you set up with what you need to have a fun, comfortable evening in our crown jewel park, West Point on the Eno.

Storytelling by the campfire

Friday, September 26, 2014

Up Close and Personal with the Moon, Oct. 3, Old North Durham Park

If you like looking at the moon in your back yard, you'll be blown away by what you see through a 10-inch telescope. Last spring we held an awesome stargazing party at Old North Durham Park in conjunction with the NC Science Festival at which we had four large telescopes, laptops set to the current sky, activities for kids and even had a fly-by by the International Space Station.  Spectacular views of Jupiter and Saturn kept visitors returning to the telescopes to take a look.  

We're back again on Oct. 3 to view a lovely waxing gibbous moon through our 10-inch telescopes.  Waxing and waning moons are best for viewing the features of the moon, like the Copernicus Crater, because of the shadows cast by the sun.  Old North Durham is a surprisingly good urban viewing location with wide horizons, and the bonus is that it's walking distance for a large number of neighborhoods. Our knowledgeable staff and the experts from NCCU's Physics department will be on hand to help us explore the features of the moon.  We'll be in the park from 7:30pm--9:30pm, so come join us and explore the wonders of the moon!

Waxing Gibbous Moon

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fall Programs--Pancake Paddles, Astronomy Series and Discovery Days in Costume

Well, here we are.  Fall,and September, one of my favorite months of the year with it's cool nights and sunny, warm afternoons.  The colors and the smells that make me want to pack the camping gear and head to the mountains, sit by a fire and read a book. 

We are loaded with awesome fall programs that offer something for everyone who loves the outdoors and, especially, being outdoors in the fall.  Below are a few of my favorite new programs in this fall's lineup.  I'm looking forward to being the Black Widow for Heroes and Villains day at the ropes course almost as much as I'm ready for pancakes after a peaceful morning paddle on Lake Michie.  Click on the link to the right (FALL 2014 PROGRAM SCHEDULE) for the full schedule of programs or to register. 

Sunrise Pancake Paddle (#14035)

Saturday, September 13 from 6:30 a.m.-8:30 a.m.

Lake Michie Recreation Area – 2802 Bahama Rd.

Rise and shine with DPR Outdoor Recreation! Join us for a sunrise kayak paddle and a breakfast of scrumptious pancakes. We’ll provide the boating equipment and the pancakes, you bring weather appropriate clothing and an appetite.

Ages 7 and up (children must be accompanied by an adult)

CR PC $7; CR NPC $8 NCR PC $11.75; NCR NPC $13


Explore the Urban Wild

Join DPR Outdoor Recreation for a free adventure in your park! Bring weather-appropriate clothing and lots of curiosity.

All ages (children must be accompanied by an adult).

No cost, no pre-registration required.

2 p.m.-4 p.m.

October 18, Oval Drive Park  (#14030)             

November 22, Holton Career and Resource Center  (#14048)

December 6, Cornwallis Road Park  (#14049)



High Ropes Discovery Day:

Heroes and Villains

Hello true believers! Come dressed as your favorite super-hero or super-villain while you explore Durham Parks and Recreation’s high ropes course! Safety considerations may require removal of caps, batarangs, infinity gauntlets, power rings, etc.

*Cost, location and age limits same as a normal Discovery Day.

November 8               11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.     #14063

                                    12:30 p.m.-2 p.m.       #14064


Astronomy Series

DPR Outdoor Recreation and NCCU invite you to search the heavens with us! We will provide the equipment, you bring weather appropriate clothing.


Constellation Kayak (#14036)

Lake Michie Recreation Area – 2802 Bahama Rd.

Friday, September 19 from 7 p.m.-9 p.m.

This will be an enchanting evening of paddling and stargazing on scenic Lake Michie. Learn the names of constellations and their stories as well as viewing amazing stellar objects.

Ages 7 and up (children must be accompanied by an adult)

CR PC $7; CR NPC $8 NCR PC $11.75; NCR NPC $13


Lunar Exploration (#14028)

Friday, October 3 from 7:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.

Old North Durham Park- 310 W. Geer Street  

Exploring the surface of our closest celestial neighbor, the moon, in magnificent detail using state of the art telescopes and binoculars!

Cloud Out Dates: 10/4

All ages (children must be accompanied by an adult).

No cost, no pre-registration required


Solstice Stargazing (#14029)

Sunday, December 21 from 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.

Sandy Creek Park- 3510 Sandy Creek Drive

We will use state-of-the-art telescopes and binoculars to look at some of the wonders of the cosmos on the evening of the winter solstice.

Cloud Out Date: 12/22

All ages (children must be accompanied by an adult).

No cost, no pre-registration required


Friday, August 15, 2014

Mushrooms and Fungi in Abound in Durham!

First a joke:  Why did the mushroom get invited to the party?  Because he's a fungi!
Cheesy, I know.
You may have noticed that since the rain has set in the last few weeks there are wild mushrooms and fungi everywhere. In your lawn, on your hikes, at the base of trees, wherever there's moist, rich soil.  Mushrooms are the fruit of the fungus that grows underneath the surface, loaded with spores as the reproductive organs of the fungus.  I find it enjoyable to see what new, and sometimes bizarre, fungus will pop up in my yard. What's more than a little challenging is identifying the many different types from the 10,000 described species in North America.  Other than Old Man of the Woods, I don't try to identify edible mushrooms because so many look very similar and, well, I'm an amateur, not an expert at identification. Learning, but still an amateur.

These are just a few of the mushrooms and fungi I've come across in the last week.  The first three are from my yard, and the last are from a night hike with a DPR summer camp group at West Point on the Eno.  West Point is fairly bursting with wild mushrooms and fungi right now, so it was a fun night exploring with the kids.

Here are just a few from this past week:

Caesar's amanita

wild Eastern Cauliflower mushroom

White Coral Fungus

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Eno Discovery and DPR Summer Camps Getting Kids into Nature--Summer Photo Gallery #2

Well, we're in Week 6 of summer camp, so hard to believe that the warm months of summer pass by so quickly.  It's been a fantastic summer for exploring the natural world and splashing in the rivers and lakes of  Durham.  Got a little carried away with the photos, but wouldn't you?  My favorite images are the ones that show children learning about and living in nature.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Summer Adventure Photo Gallery, Vol.1 : Maxing Out the Fun Factor at Adventure Camp

Learning a T-rescue
You've got to sink it before you can right it!

Conquering the Gauntlet at the Discovery Course

Roan Mountain misty afternoon

Looking for LeRoy's hideaway
Worley's Cave mud fun

Back home for about 30 seconds

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Stand-Up Paddleboarding, sunset kayaking and more with DPR this summer

Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), a Sunset kayak and high ropes Discovery Days are great ways to get outside during the summer.  The majority of our summer programming is with our Eno Discovery camp and our Adventure camp, but in between we have a some great summer experiences waiting for you.  Who doesn't want to spend some time on the water in the heat of a southern summer? The link to registration is on the right column of this blog, and please note that pre-registration is required for programs.

Kids on the Water (#13525)
Saturday, August 2nd from 9a.m.-12 p.m.
Lake Michie Recreation Area – 2802 Bahama Rd.
Kayaking, canoeing, sailing and standup paddle boarding all can be learned this half day program for kids who aren't afraid to make a splash. Space is limited so register early!
Ages 8-14
*CR PC $3.50; CR NPC $4.50 NCR PC $8.50; NCR NPC $9.50

Lake Michie has nice, flat water for SUP's

Sunset Paddle (#13527)
Saturday, July 26 from 8 p.m.-10 p.m.
Lake Michie Recreation Area – 2802 Bahama Rd.
Join us as we enjoy the beauty of Lake Michie at sunset by boat. Experience the transition from day to night while on a relaxing paddle. Only canoes or kayaks allowed on this trip.
 Ages 7-17(Children must be accompanied by an adult.)
*CR PC $2; CR NPC $3 NCR PC $7; NCR NPC $8
Ages 18 and up

Gorgeous sunset over Lake Michie

High Ropes Discovery Days
Come explore Durham Parks and Recreation’s high ropes course,  explore a large variety of
obstacles, some reaching 55 feet in the air!
Ages 7 and up (children ages 7-9 must be accompanied by a participating adult) 
*CR PC $7, CR NPC $8, NCR PC $11.75, NCR NPC $13
Bethesda Park, 1814 Stage Rd., Durham
July 19th  4 p.m.-5:30 p.m. #13552
5:30 p.m.-7 p.m. #13553
7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. #13554
Pre-registration is required for all programs.



Friday, May 30, 2014

DPR's Programs Go to the Dogs this Weekend! Disc Dogs and More

DPR's Canine Recreation is filling a dog lover's weekend with dog fun this Saturday, May 31.  First up is a Disc Dogs event at Rock Quarry Park (701 Stadium Drive) in north Durham, where from 9am--noon you and your furry friend can come watch or participate in the Hyperflite Skyhoundz Local Championship.  Awesome flyball and Treibball demos take place, and there'll be food and vendors.  Registration is from 8:30-9:00am if you want to participate, competition is from 9am--Noon. More info here:

Hanging out with mom
Afterward, on your way through town, drop by the adorable Downtown Durham Dog Park on North Roxboro Street (across from the First Baptist Church downtown) from
3-5 pm for a party that includes free nail trims from Local Mobile Vet and treats from Barley Labs.  DPR will also be giving away travel water bowls, which you can put to good use that day.  Also very cool, if your dog is not yet registered for the the dog park, DPR staff will be on hand to register them the guardian has vaccination records and a credit card at the event (no cash or checks on site).

Downtown Dog Park in Durham

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Bikers and Runners: A little slice of car-free heaven on the new ATT section

As an avid cyclist, I'm ecstatic about the completion of the bridge and the upgrades to the ATT into Chatham and Wake counties.  I've popped a few tires south of Herndon Park in the past, which is a general risk of riding on rough trail, but I'm happy to have smooth, car-free pavement to ride on.  Easy parking is located in the Harris Teeter shopping center on Hwy 54 or by Southpoint Crossings shopping center (a map can be found here:, you'll progress quickly past one of the elevated views of Durham county and through fairly thriving wetlands with beaver dams and turtle "beaches", logs with dozens of turtles soaking up the warmth of the sun. 
The pictures below show much better than I could describe, this wide, tree-lined bike trail. From the parking area to the New Hope Rd. parking area was just over 7.5 miles of fairly flat riding through NC Wildlife lands.  The trail changes from asphalt to fine gravel at the Wake County line, but riding a road bike on the trail proved easy enough.  Trail maps are at every road crossing, and there is a bathroom and water fountain at Herndon Park, and a water fountain again near the O'Kelly Chapel Rd. crossing.  You're kind of on your own for snacks, so pack well.

Using an app like Map My Ride will give you a good gauge of the ride--a map of the area, distance traveled, direction and elevation changes.

Parking area at New Hope Road trailhead
Urban wildlife--a turtle beach in a small wetlands near the mall

Finishing with the "whoopee" ride over I-40