Adventures in Nature
Families Create Memories at Nearby Parks
Here’s how to entertain the kids, keep them healthy and get them outdoors this summer.
Where to Go
Traveling to iconic natural wonders like the Blue Ridge Mountains, Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon isn’t the only awe-inspiring way to captivate children’s attention and help them contemplate nature’s beauties. As Brian Ettling, a seasonal ranger at Crater Lake National Park, in Oregon, likes to remind park visitors, “Find your own sacred place and keep going there; it could be a wooded area by your house or a county, state or local park.”
Visits to in-state parks are easy to fit into a family’s summer plans and can generate lifelong treasured family traditions. Participating in programs or other exploratory adventures stimulate creative and critical thinking, challenge outdoor and athletic skills and can even teach life lessons.
July is America’s Parks and Recreation Month, first designated by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) in 1985. NRPA makes it easy to tap into what’s happening in local parks or wherever family members may be traveling. Events around the country can be found by visiting nrpa.org/july.
What to Do
Biologist Rachel Carson, the mother of the modern-day environmental movement, wrote, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” In this addictive digital age, it can sometimes be challenging to find exciting ways to help children connect with nature.
Jessica Culverhouse, NRPA senior manager and a volunteer master naturalist, offers ways to channel digital habits. “Free apps like the electronic field guide Leafsnap and mobile games like Agents of Nature can be great tools to engage kids with the outdoors with their technology still in hand,” she says. Another idea is a simple nature scavenger hunt using a smartphone camera.
If weekend camping is of interest, in-state parks are convenient and also easy on the budget. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) makes the first step easy with tips and suggested activities through their Great American Campout (nwf.org/great-american-campout.aspx). This summer-long celebration of camping encourages everyone to take the pledge to camp, which helps fuel the conversation and initial planning, whether camping in a backyard or local, state or national park.
Last year, the Carlson family took the pledge and first camped out in Big Basin State Park, only 20 miles from their home in Santa Cruz, California. “It was an incredible weekend none of us will ever forget; a world away, but right in our backyard!” they cheer.
Garden for Wildlife, another popular NWF program, connects people with their local habitats. Girl Scout butterfly heroes in Wyckoff, New Jersey, learned how. “Our troop was looking for a way to provide a community service for their bronze award project,” says Wendy Rosica, co-leader of Troop 94686. “We chose to create a Monarch Way Station garden in a new community park in our neighborhood. Specifically designed as a space for the butterflies to breed and eat during their annual migrations, it’s not only a beautiful addition to the park, but also a positive way for the Girl Scouts to help area residents learn more about the plight of Monarchs and other pollinators.”
National Audubon Society nature centers are an accessible local resource (Audubon.org/audubon-near-you). Families learn more about native birds and Audubon hiking trails, and naturalist presentations enhance explorations of the region’s habitats. Local native plant and animal species are disappearing at alarming rates and need habitat stewardship by present and future generations (Climate.Audubon.org).
Our in-state parks are wellsprings of life from which children and adults can draw throughout our lives, enabling us to discover the splendor and uniqueness of nature right in our own community and backyard. When we see and feel directly what’s at stake, we’ll fight harder and more consciously to protect and preserve it. As Carson eloquently observed in The Sense of Wonder, nature can help us all find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
Harriet Shugarman, of Ridgewood, New Jersey, chairs local and regional environmental committees and works with national, state and local organizations seeking pro-environmental legislation. Connect at ClimateMama.com.