There’s a lot of “Duke” where we live-Duke Island Park, Duke’s Parkway West, Duke Farms–and it’s all from Doris Duke. Her humongous property is located not far from us at all (15 minutes-everything is 15 minutes). Driving along roads that border the area you can catch glimpses of old lovely stone buildings and structures, but I never knew much about the estate. A couple of years ago we went to the greenhouses which were lovely and on par with Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh-unfortunately the week we went was the last week it was open as it was being closed. Well, now they have opened an orientation center and miles and miles of hiking and biking trails on the grounds. And it’s free. We decided to go check it out on this beautiful Sunday afternoon.
HOLY COW. I just don’t even know where to start. The concept behind the whole area is to promote stewardship of the land and indeed this land has so many different naturally occurring types of areas-meadow, wetland, forest, lakes, etc. It’s a destination for birders, photographers, conservationists, and naturalists. There’s even a very large community garden. The parking lot and orientation center (picture above and get this-it was once the main barn) were hopping when we got there. We were intrigued by the geocache trail and picked up a brochure/instructions. Unfortunately, we just don’t seem to be able to use our thing very well and within 20 minutes were totally frustrated and still outside the main building. Tabby was whining, I was losing my temper (seriously-that kid can’t walk 1/4 of a mile without whining and I know I need to accept that she might be a not athletic child and might not appreciate nature, but I just can’t) and there was talk of everyone ruining things for me. On the bright side, we were delighted by the old cistern that supposedly had a cache that we couldn’t find. We clambered all over it. I can’t believe what good repair the walls and structures are in. There were also clouds of dragonflies zooming around, which was cool. Giving up and fed up we decided to board the tram to take us over to an area we had selected on the map.
And here’s where things really got amazing. I love reading historical fiction-especially about wealthy people back in the day whose estates included follies and lakes and so on. So that’s what this is like. It was like having one of my novels brought to life. We disembarked and walked across a little bridge and there were beautiful stone walls and acres and acres of wildflowers and lakes and the the Mermaid Pool, oh the Mermaid Pool!
A perfectly round manmade pool with floating islands of flowers and a giant fountain sculpture in the middle. You could see an old entrance to the pool and instantly I imagined beautifully dressed couples going for a little row around the pond. How romantic!!
The old foundation was also breathtaking.
A very very deep foundation (two stories the sign said) for what was clearly a mansion. A graded slope in front went down to a giant meadow. Behind the foundation was this fountain.
Again, can you imagine having these things in a private residence? Look at the size! They would have employed legions of gardeners. The mansion was actually never built, so only the foundation for it remains.
Now for the bad part of the day. We missed the last tram. Oops. And had to walk back. The park was still open and plenty of people were walking and biking, but I had broken open blisters on both feet and a cry-y whiny child on my hand. It seemed a long long way back. But it was beautiful!! I can’t wait to explore this in other seasons, as well as the many other sections (we only saw a very small bit.) I especially can’t wait to go back with our bikes (Tabby can ride in the bike trailer) as the pathways are smooth and level and the terrain is not very hilly at all. We’ll be able to ride all over. This is a popular birding area and I know that last winter there was a pair of nesting Bald Eagles (we watched the eagle cam). Today we only a Great Blue Heron. Oh! And we did find a geocache by the Mermaid Pool!
So much to explore and see. I’m hoping this becomes a very special place for us. In addition, I’m always griping that in our county the only park programs are pretty far away (more than half an hour). Well, scanning their programs it looks like they have just as many things that we would want to do (bat walks, full moon walks, other nature programs), so we’ll just go here instead.
It really was delightful. So delightful that I’m already forgetting the mean things we said to each other in frustration over the whining and crying and only remembering the purples and yellows of the meadow, the romantic Mermaid Pool, and the quiet lovely paths.
If you live in our area, you might want check it out, too! www.dukefarms.org