Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Can't Believe We're Talking Durham City Lakes Opening, but Here We Go!

I woke up today with the realization that, holy cow, March is here! Well, in three days, but nevertheless, banging at the door. It's been a hard winter for the City lakes--first a total freeze of Lake Michie (pictured below) and then a collapsed ceiling at the Little River boathouse due to frozen pipes.  A hard winter for southern lakes.
A good look at the ice thickness on Lake Michie

Bouy frozen in the ice on Lake Michie
With that said, the good new is that Spring has to come soon and when that happens, we'll be ready for you at the lakes.  In addition to kayak, canoe and jon boat rentals, we added some new toys to our aresenal, water bikes. They're similar to paddle boats but way more fun.   We open Friday, March 13 at 6:30am and are open Friday-Monday through mid-November.  Click here for more detailed information.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Winter Paddling--North Carolina Swamp Style

My family is from Florida originally, mom's side from Ft. Lauderdale and dad's from Avon Park.  One of  my favorite places to go when I was a child was Highland's Hammock State Park in Sebring, Florida. A catwalk wove its way through the triple-canopy jungle of the park, hovering over black water swamp filled with fish, frogs,exotic birds,thousand year-old trees, 'gators and the occasional cottonmouth in addition to singing insects.  My grandfather, tough German that he was, would occasionally reach into the water, grab a lily pad and swing it toward a cottonmouth curled on the knee of a cypress, hoping to make it strike. Come to think of it, perhaps that's the root of my since-conquered fear of snakes?

Anyway, that love of the swamp ecosystem is embedded in my DNA now, and it's carried into our programming and my pastimes.  Last week my staff and I explored a park new to us, Merchant's Millpond State Park in Gatesville, NC. Though it's a little chillier in late winter to spring and in the late fall, the paddling is much more enjoyable because there are far fewer bugs and snakes to deal with.  There are still plenty of things to look at, like the old-growth cypresses, the still-numerous birds that prowl for fish, and the crystal-clear skies at night.  If this interests you, we'll be headed to the Roanoke River Basin for three days, March. 27-29.  Join us for camping in beautiful black water swamp of North Carolina--it may be the most fascinating trip you take this year.
A few pictures from our adventure to Merchant's Millpond:
Sunrise from our campsite at Merchant's Millpond State Park

Thursday, January 8, 2015

It's that time again! Eno Discovery and Adventure Camp Registration

The brief, restful shoulder season for us is coming to a close and we're off and running toward summer camp.  Registration for both our Adventure Camp and Eno Discovery Camps begins Monday, March 16, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. You may register online at and follow the links to registration, go to one of our centers or the main office at 400 Cleveland Street.  NOTE: To register on line, you must have a PIN number prior to that day, so if you plan to register online go to the website sometime in the near future, set up your account and request a PIN.

In the meantime, until summer is here, let's enjoy some images from warmer times, shall we?

Intern Andre, aka  "the bendable brick", introduces a child to canoeing

The gauntlet at the Discovery Course

Hiking at Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee

Sliding at Upper Creek Falls

Ready to cave at Worley's Cave in Bluff City, TN

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