Make Smart Choices for After-School Activities


Published:

The demands of schoolwork may cause you to hesitate when considering after-school activities. Although you don't want to overload your child's schedule, the academic, social and physical benefits of extracurricular programs are hard to ignore.

The Afterschool Alliance, an information clearinghouse and advocacy group, reports kids who participate in after-school programs have better school attendance, higher grades and loftier aspirations about graduation and college attendance. They're less likely to use drugs or get into trouble with police and — because they log less screen time — at a lower risk of obesity. Kids also develop social and leadership skills in after-school programs as they interact with peers in cooperative roles and mentoring relationships. That's an impressive list of benefits.

What to consider

Do your homework before signing your child up for an activity. The following guidelines help you sort the best from the rest:

Content – If possible, let kids choose activities based on their personal interests, says Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D, author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent's Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go. Help your children find activities that reflect who they are and what they want to learn, instead of imposing your preferences on them. Kids flourish when they're deeply engaged.

Quality – After-school programs aren't created equal. The best programs offer much more than homework help, says Sara Hill, senior consultant for the National Institute on Out-of-School Time. Discipline-based activities that allow kids to create a quality product over a period of time are best, she says. For instance, kids might learn math and science by building a boat, or practice art and leadership by putting on a play.

Staffing – You're looking for more than a babysitter. Staff members should be professionals with bona fide skills and experiences. Programs with strong community connections usually have the best resources, Hill says. Kids may get to work with artists, scientists and athletes from local organizations, such as museums and colleges. These opportunities expose kids to real-life role models.

Movement – After-school sports show kids the value of practice and encourage persistence, but the benefits of exercise are even bigger. John Ratey, M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, prescribes exercise for kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (and everyone else) because it boosts moods, relieves stress, and improves learning and memory. Being a jock is anything but dumb.

Leadership – Extracurricular activities, including sports and clubs, are ideal places for kids to explore and practice what it means to be a group leader, Kuczmarski says. When kids take responsibility for organizing group work and producing results, they learn valuable social skills. Encourage your child to take on leadership roles whenever possible.

n     Logistics – Rather than causing burnout, after-school activities can provide balance to a class schedule that is overly academic if locations and timing fit your lifestyle, Kuczmarski says. It's OK to keep kids busy, but avoid signing on to so many programs that you'll be scrambling from one to the next. Pay attention to cost as well. Good programs don't necessarily cost big bucks. Many quality programs receive funding from grants and community partnerships.

As you weigh the options, Hill advises keeping this goal in mind: You want your child to be a well-rounded citizen and a healthy, happy person. After-school activities can provide enrichment, adventure and variety. They shouldn't be driven by high-stakes testing or be box-fillers for college applications. Kids don't want to participate in programs that are just more school after school.

The good news, Hill says, is innovative programs promote learning without rote or repetition. If you can't find quality after-school activities near you, contact your school district to advocate for programs you'd like to see. Out-of-school shouldn't mean out-of-opportunities.  n

Heidi Smith Luedtke is a freelance writer, personality psychologist, mother of two and former educator.

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October 2019

Since the 1850s, North Carolina farmers have been going to the State Fair to learn about ways to improve their farming practices. Discover the origins of the State Fair and the history behind some...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
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This festival has something for the fastest runners and families alike. Start and finish at Diamond View Park at the American Tobacco Campus and choose from the Half Marathon, Five Miler or 1 Mile...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Southpoint Mall and American Tobacco Trail
6910 Fayeteville Rd
Durham, NC  27713
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Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
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Cost: Free

Where:
Carmichael Gymnasium
2611 Cates Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27695
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Performers in Mallarmé's first Family Series Concert, “JAZZ IS CHAMBER MUSIC, TOO!” will include faculty and students from the NCCU Jazz Department...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kirby Horton Hall, Sarah P. Duke Gardens
420 Anderson St
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Mallarme Chamber Players
Telephone: 919-560-2788
Contact Name: Mickaella Guarascio
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Celebrate the 20th anniversary of Triangle Beagle Rescue with barbecue, cake, ice cream, vendors, raffles and a doggie costume contest.  

Cost: Free

Where:
Compass Rose Brewery
3201 Northside Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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The Durham Medical Orchestra will perform a benefit concert for the Miracle League of the Triangle, including children and adults with special needs. Special guest is Wool E. Bull of the Durham...

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Central Park Pavilion
501 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Website »

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Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


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One dark fall night, Mouse creeps out and hears strange sounds and sees spooky sights. What could it mean? Don't worry, Mouse—it's Halloween! Join us for a fun yet spooky tale by Lauren Thompson...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

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Join a naturalist for a re-energizing walk in the forest. This is a hike to immerse ourselves in nature. We will stop and talk about plants when it is interesting for the group. Note that, as a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

There is more to the “ring-tailed bandit” than meets the eye! Discover the mysteries behind this animal, including what their favorite foods are and their unique adaptations. Make a mask of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

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Did you know young raccoons are called kits? Learn all about these ring-tailed mammals through hands-on discovery, stories, and a fun craft! Then learn how to walk like a raccoon and search for the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Sponsor: Crowder County Park
Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

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Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Assist with our habitat box monitoring. Tasks will vary depending on what needs attention and may include: cleaning or repairing habitat boxes or installing new ones, monitoring our current...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

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For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that occur in trees and other plants during autumn. Although many details remain unclear, we do know enough to explain the basics of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that occur in trees and other plants during autumn. Although many details remain unclear, we do know enough to explain the basics of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that occur in trees and other plants during autumn. Although many details remain unclear, we do know enough to explain the basics of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that occur in trees and other plants during autumn. Although many details remain unclear, we do know enough to explain the basics of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Trick or Treat in Downtown is a Free annual Halloween event sponsored by Fuquay-Varina Downtown Association and participating Downtown Businesses. Held from 2-5pm, families are invited to...

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Fuquay-Varina
Fuquay-Varina, NC  27526


Sponsor: Fuquay-Varina Downtown Association
Telephone: 919-552-0848
Contact Name: Rachel Cornett
Website »

More information

Celebrate the fall season at the Garden with a fun-filled evening of hands-on nature activities! Meet green monsters, craft a magic wand and leaf critter, tackle the spider web obstacle course,...

Cost: $5 per person; children 2 & under FREE

Where:
North Carolina Botanical Garden
100 Old Mason Farm Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
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Sponsor: North Carolina Botanical Garden
Telephone: 919-537-3770
Contact Name: Elisha Taylor
Website »

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Just as you are getting sleepy and letting go of a yawn, many of the wetland’s inhabitants are stretching and getting ready for their “day.” We’ll learn which animals in the wetland are...

Cost: $5 per family

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
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Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

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Conjure up your best disguise* and show off your Halloween threads as you compete in our costume contest, then march over to the Makery to decorate a trick-or-treat bag for the big night. Summon...

Cost: $35

Where:
Kidzu Children's Museum
201 S. Estes Drive
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
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Sponsor: Kidzu Children's Museum
Telephone: 919-933-1455
Contact Name: Sabrina Varney
Website »

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This event is very popular, and spots fill up fast so make sure to reserve your spot in advance.  In the heart of a zombie apocalypse at TreeRunner, the park has been quarantined as a large...

Cost: Adults & Kids Over 14 years of age:$44; Kids 13 and under: $39

Where:
TreeRunner Raleigh
12804 Norwood Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27613
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Telephone: 919-410-7347
Contact Name: TreeRunner
Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that occur in trees and other plants during autumn. Although many details remain unclear, we do know enough to explain the basics of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that occur in trees and other plants during autumn. Although many details remain unclear, we do know enough to explain the basics of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that occur in trees and other plants during autumn. Although many details remain unclear, we do know enough to explain the basics of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that occur in trees and other plants during autumn. Although many details remain unclear, we do know enough to explain the basics of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Give rugby a try. Take part in tag rugby pick-up games every Saturday morning at Baileywick Road Park, near the Second Shelter.  No experience necessary. All ages. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Baileywick Road Park
9501 Baileywick Rd
Second Shelter Field
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Redhawks Rugby
Contact Name: denise travis
Website »

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Families explore different school and calendar options in the Wake County Public School System.

Cost: Free

Where:
Panther Creek High School
6770 McCrimmon Pkwy.
Cary, NC  27519
View map »


Website »

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Pittsboro comes alive with arts and crafts vendors, food trucks and more. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Pittsboro
, NC  27312


Website »

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The local community is invited to the CORRAL Riding Academy’s CORRAL Classic to celebrate the young women of CORRAL as they give riding demonstrations, meet CORRAL’s horses and goats at...

Cost: Free

Where:
CORRAL Riding Academy
3620 Kildaire Farm Rd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Sponsor: CORRAL Riding Academy
Telephone: 919.355.2090
Contact Name: Abby Shea
Website »

More information

Food trucks, a kids costume contest, arts and crafts vendors and more light up Main Street in Rolesville.

Cost: Free

Where:
Main Street
Rolesville, NC  27571


Website »

More information

Live entertainment, a kids' zone, corn hole competition, food trucks, and arts and crafts vendors highlight this annual festival in Holly Springs.  

Cost: Free

Where:
Sugg Farm at Bass Lake Park
2401 Grigsby Ave.
Holly Springs, NC  27540
View map »


Website »

More information

Calling all walkers, runners and anyone who wants to have fun at the beautiful Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh and help us celebrate 40 years of prevention. Join the staff of PCANC and the triangle...

Cost: $30 Individual/$70 for Families

Where:
Dorothea Dix Park
2105 Umstead Dr
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn basic canoeing skills and a bit about the millpond's history, then head out to explore the pond's many features as seen only from the water. Canoes, paddles, and life jackets are provided,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30 & 3 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the mill's history...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (60+ yrs), $3/Child (7-16yrs), Free/Child (6yrs & younger)

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675

More information

Come in costume for Halloween family fun at the 𝗧𝗿𝗶𝗰𝗸 𝗼𝗿 𝗧𝗿𝗲𝗮𝘁 𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗮𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗺𝗮𝗹𝗹 𝗦𝗮𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗱𝗮𝘆,...

Cost: Free Admission

Where:
Triangle Town Center
5959 Triangle Blvd
#206
Raleigh, NC  27616
View map »

More information

Learn basic canoeing skills and a bit about the millpond's history, then head out to explore the pond's many features as seen only from the water. Canoes, paddles, and life jackets are provided,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Man's best friend is featured in a family-friendly event that includes dog shows, a canine costume contest, parade, photo booth and more.

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Central Park
501 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Put on your fastest shoes and your race face for some fun, frightening fitness in a 3.1-mile run, Enjoy live music and seasonal food and drinks at the Farmhouse Café. Costumes not...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wendell Falls
320 Vintage Point Lane
Wendell, NC  27591
View map »


Sponsor: Wendell Falls
Telephone: 919-437-4043
Contact Name: Cherith Andes
Website »

More information

Meet the farm's horses and enjoy games, crafts, treats, music, a haunted trail for teens and more. All proceeds benefit Horse and Buddy Therapeutic Riding Program, a local equine...

Cost: $10/person. Free for ages 9 and younger

Where:
Horse and Buddy Therapeutic Riding Program
4728 Old U.S. Hwy. 1
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Website »

More information

Search wetlands and forests for birds. Ages 13-15. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Hemlock Bluffs/Stevens Nature Center
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

East Cloud Kungfu hosts a Parent's Night Out event, featuring a safe environment for kids as they about the wide world of kungfu.   Check it out!...

Cost: $25 first child, $20 each additional child

Where:
East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
5655-A Western Blvd
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Sponsor: East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
Telephone: 252-646-7053
Contact Name: Imari Colon
Website »

More information

The Annual Raleigh Zombie Walk will be calling the living dead once again this year. The Zombie herd will gather for the 13th Annual Zombie Walk, invading the streets of downtown Raleigh. You can...

Cost: Free

Where:
Nash Square Park
200 S. McDowell St
Raleigh , NC  27601
View map »


Website »

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N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the Lexington BBQ Festival. Board at any of these stops: Charlotte, Kannapolis, Salisbury, High Point, Greensboro,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

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