Raleigh, North Carolina – When my daughters were little, Durant Nature Reserve was a favorite place. We were looking for turtles on the pond, spy deer while we played on the playground and hiked the short trails. But I’m still surprised to learn from people who haven’t yet.
So I checked with Amy Eckberg, who has worked at the park for almost 20 years, first as an environmental educator and volunteer and now as a full-time park manager. Eckberg has two daughters in their twenties who grew up playing Durant.
“This is where we took our dog for long walks, where my daughters caught their first fish and where we spent hours playing at the creek,” Eckberg tells me. “I have so many fond memories and photos of my kids exploring the reserve. It was and still is our go-to when we need a dose of nature and fun!”
I checked with Eckberg to find out more about what makes Durant, at 8305 Camp Durant Rd., So special, his favorite places, and how to keep kids and teens engaged in outdoor adventures. Here is a Q&A.
Go ask Mom: Durant gets a lot of visitors, but for some it’s still a hidden gem. What makes it special?
Amy Eckberg: Durant is a 237-acre natural oasis nestled between the bustling Neuse Falls to the west and Capital Boulevard to the east. Those who find refuge, whether through word of mouth or the big brown brands on Capital Boulevard, quickly fall in love and become regular visitors; it’s easy to see why. With two lakes, a meandering stream, several gardens, children’s play areas and miles of wooded trails, the reserve offers a variety of natural habitats perfect for nature exploration and fun family activities. Whether you are looking for a quiet and peaceful walk to connect with nature, or want to participate in one of our many hands-on nature programs, Durant is sure to provide a memorable outdoor experience on all levels.
Durant’s former life as a Boy Scout camp offers a unique charm like the cabin and outdoor fire pit located along the Lower Lake Trail built in the 1950s by the Boy Scouts as a dedicated space for nature study. Now the cabin is used as the base for Durant’s popular family camping programs where participants gather to refuel a shared meal cooked over a campfire before setting out on a firefly-lit trail to listen to the fireflies. owls hoot and frogs call. A night of camping under the stars is followed by a morning canoeing on the lake and bass and crappie fishing on the docks where many caught their very first fish!
The colorful, hand-painted murals of wildlife found scattered throughout the park are another unique feature that makes Durant special. They provide an example of the handwork of our talented staff, combined with their passion for interpreting the rich diversity of plants and wildlife that are unique to Durant, which visitors can also experience through our interactive programs on the nature run by enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff.
GAM: Tell us about the programs you offer to families at the park.
AE: One of my favorite programs is the Campfire Story and Marshmallow Roast program. Who doesn’t love a good campfire story followed by an s’more? Here, families come together to enjoy good company, a traditional snack around a campfire, and a seasonal story that can take the form of a skit, song or song. “Guest animal”. They are always lively and entertaining programs that are fun for all ages. Take a Child Outside Week (TACO) is a traditional annual every September aimed at getting families to enjoy all of our parks. During this week-long event, Durant will offer an outdoor cooking and nighttime hiking program, as well as fishing and monarch butterfly programs – all of which take advantage of Durant’s unique habitats and resources.
Another of my all-time favorite family shows is Enchanted Forest, which takes place this fall on October 23. It is a magical evening where the animals of the woods come to life along paths lit by luminaries to talk about their life in the woods and for some, the water. At the end of the path awaits you a campfire and a roasting marshmallow; it’s a program you won’t soon forget and it’s one of my kids’ favorite memories!
GAM: What are some of your favorite trails and spaces in Durant?
AE: One of my favorite things to do with my daughters on the reserve was visiting the fishing pier. We counted all the turtles, fish and dragonflies we saw and looked for our animal friends like the kingfisher on their daily patrols of the lake. We loved taking our dog on long walks around the lower lake trail stopping for a break at the old cabin site. We also enjoyed coming to the park about an hour before it closed in the summer to catch fireflies, listen to owls, and look for white-tailed deer munching on persimmons. The Secret Cove was our go-to trail and this is where we played on the big boulders and took our homemade “boats” made of sticks, bark and leaves to sail along the creek.
As a big storm destroyed hundreds of trees and the old park office in early 2020, the reserve is starting to heal and come back stronger, as evidenced by the new features found in our Sensory Garden. The newly sculpted Chainsaw Art Log is the result of a huge oak tree that fell during the storm, but now provides a fun focal feature depicting some of the wildlife found in Durant. It also reminds me a bit of the totem poles that once adorned the dirt and gravel entrance leading to the park and were installed by Boy Scouts decades ago.
GAM: Many parents have big visions of family weekend hikes, but they often turn into tantrums or unhappy teens. What are your tips for a happy family hike?
AE: Hiking with my own family and leading hikes for others has taught me a thing or two about what it takes to have a good time in the great outdoors and the secret comes down to a little preparation. It is essential to ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met before hitting the trail, as well as to anticipate needs that may arise while you are away. Kids of all ages need water and snacks, so be sure to bring these essentials. The timing and the track is also important. Soaring summer temperatures can make any well-meaning hike unbearable, so try spending time outdoors earlier in the morning or later in the day. I always like to find the most shaded trails possible and luckily Durant has a choice. I especially like the Secret Creek Trail which is shaded by many mature trees and runs parallel to a scenic stream. This is the perfect place to look for animal tracks, especially deer, raccoons, and opossums. The loop around the lower lake is also my favorite – both trails provide great opportunities to see turtles, fish, and even our resident great blue herons who regularly hunt for food by the water’s edge.
Being in nature is inherently calming and at Durant there is always something new and amazing to see which makes it easy to avoid potential temper tantrums or even the most unhappy teens with the art. distraction. Each season offers something new to marvel at. In this summer season my personal favorites are butterflies, baby turtles and acrobatic dragonflies.
GAM: I would take my daughters when they were much younger to Durant and we would look for turtles or count the squirrels that crossed our path. What’s your tip for keeping toddlers and preschoolers engaged in Durant?
AE: I always like to bring a little something unexpected out of my bag towards the end of a walk with preschoolers as energy levels start to drop. A small bottle of bubbles was my go-to thing for getting tired kids to the finish line or up to a hundred yards up the hill. My daughter’s favorite Buzz Lightyear toy was a regular companion on our walks, because if Buzz could do it, too! Other easy-to-carry hike essentials included a small, transparent magnifying box to pull out when we found any bugs, rocks, seeds, or whatever else we wanted to take a closer look at. Toddlers are so excited to find things to put in the box and then see how big they get!
There are so many fun gardens to explore with preschoolers in Durant. The trails are short and easily navigable. The Sensory Garden at the entrance to the park is a fun and whimsical garden filled with plants, a sandbox, a play teepee, a turtle climbing hill and a beautifully play shelter. painted where children’s imaginations can run wild. The butterfly garden in the summer is always my favorite place to look for caterpillars, colorful flowers and fluttering butterflies. The bird garden, located next door, provides ample space for bird watching at the feeders. Climb the short paved path that leads from these gardens to the lake in search of trees chewed by beavers and turtles basking in the sun – sometimes 50 for a log!
The park offers themed discovery backpacks that anyone can view for free at the park office. These backpacks contain fun activities that help families dive deeper into nature. Look for life in the lake by checking out the pond backpack where you can use a landing net to search for tadpoles and dragonfly nymphs, or check out the insect backpack to use a mosquito net, guides and box magnifying glass to help you identify the incredible variety of insects found in the reserve.
Go Ask Mom features local Moms every Monday.