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Asheville's free summer family fun



6/25/2012 - Asheville's free summer family fun
by Susanna Barbee, WNC Parent contributor

 Now that summer is in full swing, many parents are looking for a variety of ways to keep their kids' budding minds and busy bodies in motion. The Asheville area provides many stimulating activities for children of all ages and many at little to no cost.

 "It's a must to find free things to do each summer," said North Asheville mom Jenn Gardner. "Spending less money on a daily basis allows us to save up for bigger trips and vacations." 

Tailgate markets

 Tailgate markets are an integral part of our Appalachian heritage. For decades, local farmers have loaded up their trucks with food and wares and set up shop in town to sell to the public. Though it's easier and sometimes cheaper in today's world to visit the grocery store for produce, meat, eggs and other necessities, children gain little in the way of a fulfilling experience.

In contrast, a stroll through a tailgate market allows a young mind to learn about nearby farms, regional foods and sustaining the local economy. The atmosphere is friendly, often with live music and endless smiles and hellos. Vendors will offer tastes of sausage, honey and cheeses, among many other items.

Most tailgate markets run from April to October, but days and hours of operation vary. Information regarding specific tailgate markets can be found at


The North Carolina Arboretum is a backyard treasure. It includes 65 acres of cultivated gardens, one of the nation's most unique bonsai collections, and numerous indoor and outdoor exhibits. Admission is always free, and parking is free the first Tuesday of each month. On other days, parking is $8 per vehicle.

The destination is a favorite for Gardner and her two children, Annie, 7, and Waylon, 4.

"The arboretum is very kid-friendly," Gardner said. "The welcoming area gives the kids binoculars and a net to catch bugs. They also have great trails. It's just a neat place to take your kids."

Also free at the arboretum: geocaching. Pick up a kit at the Baker Education Center and head out in search of hidden treasure.

Pack Place museums

Pack Place, on Pack Square in downtown Asheville, is home to two museums, Asheville Art Museum and the Colburn Earth Science Museum.

Each museum offers free admission from 3-5 p.m. the first Wednesday of each month. At the Colburn, children younger than 6 are always free. At the art museum, children younger than 3 are free.

Head to the movies

An option for families with older kids, Cinebarre at Biltmore Square Mall will host free outdoor movies at 7 p.m. Tuesdays. Bring a chair or a blanket. The theater will sell grilled foods an d offer its full indoor menu, too. Offerings include "Talledega Nights" on July 17 and "Ghostbusters" on July 24. Visit for details.

For the younger set, head to the Carolina Asheville theater for the free movies at 11 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Visit

For only $1, Regal Cinemas offers kid friendly movies at 10 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays through the summer. The Biltmore Grande at Biltmore Park and Beaucatcher cinema in East Asheville are participating. Visit for a schedule.

Shindig on the Green

Shindig on the Green is another free favorite. On Saturdays during the summer months, Pack Square Park is transformed into a mini-bluegrass festival. From 7-10 p.m., the Bascom Lamar Lunsford stage features bands and dancing while informal jam sessions are scattered about the green.

"Because music is such a big part of our lives, Shindig on the Green is a summertime ritual our entire family looks forward to," said Aimee Bumgarner, a Weaverville mom and member of husband-and-wife band Calico Moon. "If you have little ones who aren't inclined to sit still, it's nice to be able to wander around and still enjoy great music. Shindig is a wonderful way to bring multiple generations together to participate in the musical heritage that is so deeply rooted here in the mountains of Western North Carolina."

Shindig dates for the summer are June 30; July 7, 14 and 21; Aug. 11, 18 and 25; and Sept. 1. Visit

Robert Lake Park

Frequenting the park every day gets old. It's the parents' job to change things up a bit. A few ways to do this are to visit a park away from your own neighborhood, bring along a picnic lunch, or meet friends who aren't regular play date buddies.

Kids get sick of the same old swings and slides, but there are parks that offer much more. Robert Lake Park is located in the quaint town of Montreat. Nestled among trees and a flowing creek, the area stays cool and shaded even on the hottest of summer days. There are swings and jungle gyms specific to babies and toddlers, and others specific to older children.

The creek itself is part of the fun. Kids in bathing suits and water shoes spend more time playing in the creek and hopping rocks than on the swings and slides. There are also a number of benches and picnic tables for families to enjoy lunch and snacks.


Splashville is a summertime kid favorite. In front of the Buncombe County Courthouse and City Hall is a flat area with fountain valves that spray water intermittently. Kids have a blast running in and out of the water and cooling off on a steamy day.

If you visit Splashville, be sure to put water shoes, Crocs or flip-flops on your child. It can get slippery, and to maintain traction when running about, kids need shoes. Also, bring towels and a change of clothes. Your child will be sopping wet and silly after hours of running about in the water.

"We like to make a day of downtown," Gardner said. "We'll first visit Pack Library's kid section, grab some lunch, then cool off at Splashville before going home."

Indoor fun

As much as kids love being outside during the summer, those afternoon thunderstorms often disrupt plans. On other days, the mere heat is too much to bear, and parents are looking for a cool, indoor activity.

Lowe's Build and Grow clinics offer free hands-on workshops for kids ages 5-12 where they build wooden projects. The clinics are offered at 10 a.m. every other Saturday. Parents can view the full schedule and register their children online at Workshops last one hour, and kids walk away with a completed project, an apron, goggles and a patch.

Home Depot offers similar workshops where they aim to teach children do-it-yourself skills and tool safety while providing a sense of pride and accomplishment.


A visit to the library is another wonderful option. A family can keep it simple by perusing the stacks and checking out a week's supply of books, but the libraries of Western North Carolina offer much more than that.

Libraries in Buncombe, Haywood and Henderson counties offer story times and toddler times for kids ages 4 months and up.

Summer reading programs are in full swing at area libraries, too. Visit the website for your local library system to find upcoming programs, or check the WNC Parent Calendar on Page 48 for July events.

Buncombe County Public Libraries offer activities for teens such as Rant and Rave, a newsletter featuring book reviews and recommendations for teens, by teens. Kids ages 11-18 are encouraged to submit book reviews, which may appear in the next Rant and Rave.

"When my kids were little, entertaining them at home wasn't so hard." Gardner said, "They're now at an age where they need a lot of outside stimulation. Asheville has plenty of that, especially for a mom on a budget."


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