UPDATE 5/24/16: Don’t forget to check out the details from our first visit to the Wickham Park Main Playground, Aviary and Nature Center. Wickham Park is now open for the 2016 season and will remain open through the last weekend in October 2016. You can find the most up-to-date hours & rate information here.
Every time I visit Wickham Park in Manchester, CT, I leave thinking how I can’t wait to come back. There are just so many wonderful things to explore in this 250-acre expanse of trails and gardens and playgrounds and picnic areas and so much more. We’ve already blogged about the delightful holidays events and also about the main playground, aviary, and nature center. So on this visit, I was on a mission to check out the hiking trails, the Sensory Garden, and the other two playgrounds.
Armed with my trusty map that I printed from the Wickham Park website, we set out on our adventure. But even if you forget to pre-print your map, there is a little map included on the back of the ticket you’ll receive at the entrance.
I felt a little bit like we were in an episode of Boo’s new favorite TV show: Dora the Explorer. Who do we ask for help when we don’t know which way to go? The Map!
So the first stop on our adventure was the hiking trails. Sometimes the signs in the park can be a bit hard to follow (hence the map), so to get to the trails, go past the first parking lot on the right, and then stay to the right as the road splits.
There is a small parking area at the trail entrance.
So when we got out of the car, we saw this sign near the trail entrance.
Turns out this part of the trail network is actually a fitness trail, kind of like the one we found at Nevers Park. There are fitness stations every so often with suggested exercises. We weren’t really looking for any extracurricular activities, but some of them made for a little added entertainment for Boo.
As an added bonus, right now there is some construction going on right in this area. So if your little one is like mine, and loves to see any kind of construction equipment, he or she is in for a delightful surprise.
Back to the trail…
Now, this is definitely not a trail for a stroller–any kind of stroller. But now that Boo is almost 3, we’ve been encouraging him to walk along with us when we go for these little hikes anyway. This trail is actually quite challenging for a little one (not to mention a pregnant woman). It has some pretty steep hills and the footing is bumpy with roots and rocks and twigs (definitely wear some sturdy shoes). Boo was a great little hiker though. I was impressed.
We had some fun exploring the “fitness stations.”
Boo did decide to hitch a ride on the way back though.
Now, we did this fitness trail as one loop, and it didn’t take very long (the rough terrain made it enough of a workout for me though!). But it did appear that there were other trails heading off in other directions. Unfortunately, we didn’t really see any trail signage whatsoever, so make sure you bring your map with you if you are trying to head in a specific direction (or don’t want to be wandering around too long).
This was only one short piece of a much larger trail network, including, for example, this self-guided tour of the Wetland Gardens that looks really neat.
Next stop on our tour: the Sensory Garden. I’d heard a rumor that there was a model train hidden in there somewhere, and since trains are just about Boo’s favorite thing ever, we had to go check it out. So we got back in our car and headed up to the area with the main playground, the nature center, and the aviary. There’s a big parking lot up there (check out our previous post for details).
First thing to remember if you have train-lovin’ kiddos, is that the model train only runs on weekends from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. (and only during the open season). So make sure to file that info away somewhere if you want to avoid future heartache.
You’ll find the Sensory Garden just down from the main playground, almost across the path from the entrance to the aviary.
The Sensory Garden is actually a relatively new addition to the park, having opened to the public in 2010. It’s a beautiful collection of foliage and structures designed to stimulate the five senses (with the “sixth sense” of imagination thrown into the mix as well).
As you pass through each archway, you’ll notice a label that alerts you as to which sense is being highlighted.
And throughout the garden there are sculptures, additional information on signs and recordings, and activities designed for the senses.
And of course, the model train.
The model train was actually built into the garden at its inception as part of the overall sensory experience. We were lucky enough to have a few minutes to chat with the man who was running the train that day, and we were able to find out all kinds of neat information. As it turns out, the train used to reside locally in his parents’ backyard, and he donated it to the park when he heard about the construction of the new Sensory Garden.
You’d never guess just how much thought and engineering went into the train installation, or how much planning was involved to make it a genuine sensory experience. For starters, notice the tunnel and the bridge. These are neat to look at sure, but they are also each designed to offer a different sound experience. So if you close your eyes, you can try to listen for the change in pitch as the train goes over the bridge or through the tunnel and try to figure out where the train is on the track just by using your ears.
Then there’s the water feature, and also a place where the train will stop and you can press a button to hear different sounds that are captured from real life. Since we had just been to Day Out With Thomas at the Essex Steam Train the week before, we were very familiar with that authentic steam engine sound. It was neat that Boo was able to recognize it as well.
There are visual effects too: the bright yellow train cars that flit in and out of the foliage; the mountain landscape modeled after a real portion of a Colorado railroad; the miniature buildings. Boo loved it. Good thing that great playground is just around the corner so we could lure him away tantrum-free with the promise of slides 🙂
Also near the playground is the snack bar (or “Picnic Store” as it’s labeled on the map; isn’t that adorable?). Since our last visit to Wickham happened to be on a weekday, and since the snack bar is only open on weekends, I thought this would be a good opportunity to sample it. Plus, my third trimester belly and I had just completed a fitness trail, stood in the sun for 20 minutes contemplating a model train and were facing two more playground adventures–let’s face it, I was going to need some food!).
The snack bar is a great feature. The menu is pretty straightforward (we had hot dogs; they were good), but even so it is really nice to have the option to purchase some food. Especially since this is the kind of park where you can easily spend the whole day. CASH ONLY though.
Despite the kid-friendly menu (hot dogs, grilled cheese), Boo was not interested in anything more than his cup of apple sauce (which we brought from home).
After our brief refueling, we climbed back in the car, consulted “The Map”, and headed off toward the next playground (“3” on the map below).
Like I said before, sometimes the signage in the park can be a little hard to follow. So it helps to have an idea of where you are going. We had some trouble locating this particular playground at first, mainly because you can’t really see it from the road (at least not in the direction we were coming from). But look for this little bridge as a landmark.
Across the road you’ll find “Lot C”, which is where you’ll want to park.
As you enter the lot, stay to the right side. That’s were you’ll just barely be able to make out the bright red playscape through the trees.
This is also a picnic area with lots of tables and grills. The playscape is right next to the picnic area, so it’s a perfect place to have a big group picnic (or a small family picnic), because you can let the kids run all over the playscape and easily supervise them from the nearby picnic area. And this playscape is sized just perfectly for toddlers and preschoolers (the one negative is that there aren’t any baby swings).
It may, however, be a little small for daddies trying to go down the slide 🙂
The area was quiet, shady, and pretty deserted even though the rest of the park was hoppin’. The only downside to this perfect place for a toddler picnic, is that I didn’t see any nearby restrooms. As someone who is about to embark on the great adventure of potty training in just a few weeks (not to mention 6 months pregnant), I am hyper-conscious of restroom accessibility.
Back in the car, we consulted “The Map” and headed to our fourth and final destination for the day (“4” on the map below).
This is the third playground Wickham Park has to offer. It’s situated just beyond the Cabin. Oh, and don’t be deterred if you see a sign that the Cabin is hosting a private function; just continue past the Cabin to the playground/picnic area, which is still open to the public. And of course, don’t park in the Cabin parking lot if you see a sign like this:
Like the other playgrounds, there’s plenty of parking (even overflow parking down another road) for this one.
Like the previous picnic/playground area, no reservations are required for this area either. That makes it super for an impromptu get-together. There are plenty of tables and grills (although, only some of the tables are near enough to the playscape that you could sufficiently supervise your little ones–older kids would be fine), and a playscape that’s great for different age-groups (as opposed to the previous one, which I’d say is best for the 4 and under crowd).
There are baby swings here too. And plenty of open space for horsing around.
A flower for mommy?
PLUS, a nearby restroom facility.
It’s a short walk from the picnic area. Unfortunately, there aren’t any changing stations. However, I do think it’s very convenient that there is this designated spot for restroom parking right out front, in case you are in another area of the park and need to make a quick pit stop.
By this time, I was spent (I sort of recall how exhausting it was to have a newborn, but I had completely forgotten how draining it is to be pregnant!), so we headed home.
I really love so many things about Wickham Park, but I am particularly excited to have found these great picnic/playground areas. So who’s up for a little OAAM BBQ? 🙂
Additional Tips & Things to Bring:
- The Sensory Garden model train runs ONLY on Saturdays and Sundays from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. during the open season (April to October).
- The railroad is looking for volunteers to help run it on weekends. Contact Chuck Oakes, designer, engineer, and volunteer coordinator at 860-644-1128 if you are interested.
- The picnic areas are shady, which is lovely on a sunny summer day, but that also means lots of trees and potentially bugs. Bring bug spray.
- Neither picnic area (Hickory Grove 1 & 2–blue playscape; Hemlock Grove 1–red playscape) requires a reservation.
- Restrooms located near the Hickory Grove picnic areas (blue playscape). No changing station.
- There are also restrooms located near the Sensory Garden, around the back of the building that houses the nature center and the snack bar. No changing station here either.
- The snack bar is only open on the weekends from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
- Snack bar is CASH ONLY.
- You are welcome to bring your own food into the park (of course), but be aware that the picnic tables outside the snack bar are reserved for snack bar patrons on the weekends.
- Don’t forget to check out the spectacular gardens as well.
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