Thursday, May 30, 2019

Our Favorite Sprayground: Veteran's Park

Y'all. It is hawt. But I still need a sizable daily dose of fresh air, and so do the kids. Which is why I can tell you about every Mecklenburg County Park and Rec sprayground in town. All of them, with their playful, bubbling fountains, offer sweet relief from the oppressive heat. That goes for grown-ups as well as kids. (Go on, you have permission to peel off your sweaty socks and wet your toes, at least!)
Our favorite Charlotte sprayground is at Veteran's Park in East Charlotte. Here's why we love it:
Size: The Veteran's Park sprayground is large -- about the size of a baseball infield -- and offers a bunch of different fountain options. A raining tower, some tall geysers, some arching jets, some gurgling spouts. But it it is also contained by a fence, which is bordered on the inside with some benches for observing or taking a break.
Cover!: The sprayground is 100% shaded thanks to a large, permanent cover. This might be the greatest feature for me. No broiling in the sun and much less concern about reapplying sunscreen.
Playground: If the kids get tired of running through the water, there are two large playground sets right next to the sprayground. One for bigger kids, and one for littles. There are also two swing sets. Other park features include tennis courts, baseball and softball fields, basketball courts, picnic shelters and a paved walking trail. Here's a park map.
Restrooms: Conveniently located right next to the sprayground, the restroom facilities are relatively new and usually clean. Good for potty breaks and changing in and out of bathing suits.
Proximity: Veteran's Park is located between the Commonwealth and Plaza Midwood neighborhoods, in walking distance to plenty of restaurants for rest and refueling after a day of play. There's also a Harris Teeter, a public library, a great used book store, and two ice cream options (Rita's and Dairy Queen) a few short blocks away at the corner of Central Ave. and The Plaza. All are good options for another stop on that side of town before or after the park. 
Something to keep in mind: The sprayground is on a timer and operates from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. -- not a minute before or after. And it can definitely get crowded at times. But next time you're feeling trapped indoors by the heat, consider the Veteran's Park sprayground an effective antidote for summertime cabin fever.
How to get there:
Veteran's Park is located at 2136 Central Ave., Charlotte, NC, 20205.
Don't forget to pack:
  • Water shoes and swimsuits: Unless you're fine with getting your clothes wet, which is also ok.
  • Towel and change of clothes: For the ride home.
  • Water: Even under the shady cover, you'll need to stay hydrated. Refill at the restroom facilities.
  • Snacks or a picnic lunch: There are plenty of picnic tables for a refueling break.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: The rest of the park, including the playground equipment, courts and fields are only partially shaded, at best.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Spend Some Time on GovPorch

A few weeks ago, we participated in the Mayor's Ride to Breakfast as part of BIKE! Charlotte. It ended at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center Plaza. That's not a part of town we frequent (in fact, I don't think I'd been there since we went to get our marriage license 10+ years ago). But we discovered a reason to return soon.
Situated in what used to be an unimaginative concrete enclave sits GovPorch, a colorful, creative space for play and relaxation.

GovPorch debuted in 2017, dreamed up by a City of Charlotte team that won a grant in the national $1 million KaBOOM Play Everywhere Challenge. KaBOOM supports projects designed to make play easy and accessible for kids and families in the U.S. The $35,000 grant helped the City realize the dream of reimagining the drab and underutilized space.

The original exhibit was meant to be transient due to limited resources, so some of the features, like bean bags, children's artwork and library books, were removed not long after GovPorch opened. But many fun elements remain.

Today, you'll find:
  • parking meter garden
  • A giant chess set
  • Life-size lego blocks
  • A permanent ping-pong table
  • A super-sized Connect4 game
  • Rocking chairs
  • Benches and tables
  • Musical wind chimes

You'll also enjoy a beautiful skyline view and the chance to spend time with fellow Charlotteans from many different walks of life.

Next time you're uptown, plan to spend some fun and relaxing time on GovPorch.
How to get there:  
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center Plaza is located at 600 E. Fourth St., Charlotte, NC 28202. There's a parking garage around the corner at 232 S. Davidson St., or you can look for on-street metered parking. Another great option is to ditch the car and ride Lynx. GovPorch is a few short blocks from the nearest train stop.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: For all the fun things to do at GovPorch, there isn't much shade.
  • Change: Consider a pocketful of coins for on-street parking meters.
  • Snacks or lunch: It's a lovely area for a picnic.
  • Comfortable shoes: In case you want to wander around uptown.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Charlotte Bike Route No. 8

You drive by the signs every day. I'm sure of it. They are white, with a green oval. Inside the oval is an iconic Charlotte crown, a bike, and a number. They are everywhere, and, yet, somewhat invisible . . . until you notice them and learn their secrets.
For all its maddening traffic, Charlotte is actually remarkably bike-friendly. Case in point: Our greenways. And our protected bike lanes. And, importantly, the signed bike routes marked by the pervasive, yet mysterious green signs.

Years ago, Charlotte began identifying key bicycle routes to help cyclists identify a relatively safe way to ride bikes (on low-volume, low-speed city streets) to a variety of destinations, like schools, shopping areas, employment centers, transit connections, greenways and parks.
We're a bike-riding family, yet I'd never taken the time to learn anything about the routes. Until recently, when I finally asked a friend from our old riding days who works for the City if she could help me find a map or resource that would give me an idea of route directions and distances.
Here's the map she found for us, and I think its a game-changer. It's jam-packed with information, like color-coded bike lanes, bike routes, greenways and many other points of interest, which means it's easier to read on a device with a zoom function, rather than printed on paper.
Map in hand, I set out with our oldest kid to give one of the rides a go. And it was fun! We chose route No. 8 because of its proximity to home. From start (at Commonwealth and The Plaza) to finish (by the Evergreen Cemetery on Norland Rd.) it was three miles (one-way) and, true to the intention of route developers, the streets were relatively bike friendly (as, thankfully, were the drivers that afternoon). With a kid in tow, I don't mind riding on the sidewalk here and there, which we did on some of the narrower, busier stretches. But for the most part, we felt comfortable on the road.
One of the fun things about the city bike routes is that riding them is like going on a scavenger hunt. While I do recommend getting a general sense of the directions before you mount your bike, there's something exciting about spotting the green directional signs as you go.
We chose to do an out-and-back ride, but I think next time we'll pick a destination and see if we can get there by piecing together stretches of multiple routes. Seems like a great, practical learning experience for the kids.
Now's a great time of year to dust off the old bike and go for a spin. Maybe start by planning an outing using the Charlotte Cycling Guide. And, when you're driving, I hope your heart leaps with a tiny bit of excitement every time you notice those once-invisible signs lurking everywhere you turn.

Don’t forget to pack
  • Helmets: Always wear one when you’re riding. Same goes for your kid. Always.
  • Water: Stay hydrated
  • Map: You'll find it helpful to have it handy on your smart phone.
  • Bike lock: In case you want to park somewhere and wander for a while.
  • Reflectors and bike lights: Especially if you’re riding early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
  • Before you go: Pump your tires and make sure your brakes are in good working order.