Three Bears Acres
In this neck of the woods, you don't find much more than churches, bare bones country stores and the occasional stable. But last year we watched some heavy machinery carve a rugged landscape out of forest, and knew we were in for a treat when the rustic, log sign went up labeled, "Three Bears Acres."
From the moment I first opened the car door and turned my kids loose on this 50-acre recreational farm, I knew it would take a major bribe (or total exhaustion) to get them to leave. "Kids are so happy here — where else can you give them that old-fashioned, care-free, run-through-the-woods, play-in-the-mud experience?" said co-owner Melinda Gross. "So rare to see a child cry here!"
And you can see why, given these top 10 highlights:
300-foot toboggan slide: Select a sled and race one another on four side-by-side slides. Nervous? Ride with a buddy! (My 18-month old went down with me.)
70-foot-by-30-foot jumping pillow: A big, orange bouncy trampoline-like pillow sends kids (and "big kids" like me) sky-bound.
Graffiti wall: Washable paints plus Do-a-Dot markers plus a large white mural inspire creativity.
Water wall: Tubes, funnels, watering cans and water. Enough said.
Mud kitchen: Takes old-fashioned mud pies to a new level! Kids dip into a clawfoot tub full of mud, and rework gooey globs into cakes, muffins, ice cubes — whatever they can imagine — with the help of a mini-fridge, stove, table and more.
Treehouse playground with 100-foot bridge, cargo net, slides and swings.
Big Bear Pond: Explore this three-acre pond by paddleboat or with a small net to capture and observe frogs, tadpoles and other aquatic creatures.
Fire pit: Warm up a chilly day with a few s'mores.
Seasonal fun: Kids dig in and harvest seasonal crops like sweet potatoes and carrots. Corn planted in April will provide a maze for fall fun.
Just added: Paws Café (drinks, hot chocolate), sling shots, big plastic tubes to climb in and roll around, and another teepee to complement a growing section on native American artifacts where kids can dig for arrowheads.
Melinda and her business partner Moira Roberts opened Three Bears in October 2012. Along with the usual stops and starts and growing pains that all new businesses generate, getting electricity on site was one of their bigger hurdles. With the county dragging its feet on a permit, Gross and Roberts had to ferry gas cans to Three Bears to fuel a generator to power the jumping pillow, bathrooms and a well. Once the permit was finally issued, Gross spoke with their Touchstone Energy cooperative, Wake Electric, who put them on a two-week waiting list. "But the very next afternoon, Wake Electric showed up. They were so very helpful and wonderful to get the electricity up and running. I'm okay if I never see a gas can again!" said Gross.
Three Bears offers special events such as Toddler Thursdays from 10 a.m.–1 p.m. (kids 2–5 for $10 and parents free) and plays host to fundraisers, field trips and birthday parties.
March through May, Three Bears Acres is open Tuesday–Saturday 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m.–5 p.m. The farm is closed for the summer and will reopen October 1. Admission is $10 for adults, $18 for kids (2 and under free with paid adult). After 2 p.m., admission drops to $7 and $13, respectively. Season passes are available for $30/adult (includes two guest passes) and $57/child.
Call or check their Facebook page before going as they sometimes close due to weather. And one last piece of advice: consider bringing a change of clothes for your child!