Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Scouting Out the New England Base Camp

As much as you think you know a place, the more often you're proven wrong. I've written about New England, especially Massachusetts, for years, and I'm always delighted to find a new outdoors place to love.
There's no real reason I'd know about Camp Sayre in Milton, especially considering it has primarily served as a Boy Scouts of America facility.
For more than 50 years, the camp, located adjacent to the Blue Hills Reservation, was used almost exclusively by the Scouts, with access allowed for some private groups, like Girls Scouts and churches. Recently, however, the camp decided to open to the general public for special programs on weekends, and it added the New England Base Camp to its name.

The varied offerings at the 108-acre facility include an outdoors ropes challenge course, archery, identifying edible plants, building with hand tools, cooking outdoors, starting a fire without matches, and introductory ice climbing classes.
There’s also an ongoing project to build a Wigwam in the traditional way, which visitors can pitch in on and an indoor Olympic-sized pool. In winter, an outdoor ice skating rink is built and visitors can sled and snurf on hills on the property. Most programs are either half- or full-day and quickly sell out, so advance planning is recommended. Campsites and cabins are can be booked as well.
Specialty programs and events, like birthday parties, high ropes leadership training (for all levels and groups, including families), and guided canoe trips are also offered.

Another valuable program at the camp is the Outdoor Leadership Training Program, which includes Wilderness First Aid, American Red Cross and Basic First Aid, Climbing Instructor Course, Team Building, BB and Archery Instructor, Introduction to Outdoor Skills. Some are clearly aimed at adults in charge of groups, but some like the American Red Cross and Basic First Aid, are great for anyone interested in getting these skills down.
I can't wait to get my family there, especially when that ice skating rink is up and running for the season!

Get advice on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog and find more trip ideas in AMC’s community for families,

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Something To Be Thankful For: Keeping a Family Trip Journal

By Ethan Hipple 

Ten years ago, when our kids were 4 and 2 years old, my wife, Sarah, and I bought a simple 5-by-8-inch artist sketchbook. It’s the kind you find in art supply stores, with the hard black cover and stiff paper inside. It is a good, sturdy little book, and we decided to make it a family trip journal that we would all write in during family adventures.

We got the idea for keeping a group trip journal when we led trail crews for the Student Conservation Association (SCA). One of the defining parts of SCA was that the crew leaders—us—would provide a journal in which the teenage crew would write during the 30-day trail-work hitch. Journal writing was part of the daily rotation of chores, along with getting drinking water, packing up our trail lunches, and doing dishes in camp.

The journals were filled with daily impressions from all of the crew, as well as drawings, maps, inside jokes, lists of books to read, bands to get into, and places to go. When the experience was over and everyone was safely back home, we would make a copy of the journal and send it to all of the crew members as a holiday gift. We treasured our SCA trip journals, so once we had kids of our own (our own little trail crew), we decided to continue the tradition by starting a family trip journal.

Now, that little sketchbook we bought 10 years ago has some stories to tell. It has worn in and softened after years of paddling and backpacking trips, getting dropped in Central American markets and on countless beaches, toted along on bike trips in Maine and North Carolina. The edges are frayed; there are more than a couple of coffee stains; and the binding has started to come loose. But the memories contained within are rock solid.

Here’s a little gem of an entry from our son, Jackson, then 13. It was the first night of our family’s first bike touring trip in Maine. My memories of that day have been a little whitewashed, as I only remember the rocky outcroppings, the blue water, the abundant sunshine, and the sense of freedom of being on the road under our own power. Jackson’s realism brings me back down to earth.

Starting from the parking lot of the carwash yesterday I felt excited to start our trip. It took Papa and Tasha a while to find a parking spot where they could leave the van for five days, but they asked around and we parked behind a dumpy carwash, one of the only places we were allowed to park. It took us a while to get going due to some crying and grumpy attitudes. Once we got going though, everybody had smiles on their faces.

I thumb through the journal on this cold and blustery November day, and my heart is warmed with memories of time spent outdoors with my family: impressions of a loon calling out over our campsite on Umbagog Lake; a timeline of our hectic first three days travelling through Nicaragua; long lists of foods tasted in Peru; hand-drawn maps of islands we camped on in Maine; lyrics from songs we wrote together while deliriously passing the time on bike touring trips; jokes we told around countless campfires. There are packing lists, menus, card game scores, pressed leaves, and lists of things to do. There are travel itineraries, bus and ferry tickets, and scavenger hunts.

Which brings me to today. As Thanksgiving and the holidays approach, we’re all planning trips to the store to stock up on provisions and packing our bags to see friends and family. Soon we’ll be gathered together to celebrate the holiday season. It’s a nostalgic time, when we pause life’s hectic pace to name what we’re thankful for and what matters to us, to pull close the ones we love.

Beyond this usual season of reminiscence, I’ve found myself a little more nostalgic lately. As I turn 40 this month, I’m taking stock of my first 40 years and making plans for my next 40. You reach this arbitrary, yet symbolic, halfway point in life and you can’t help but begin to ponder the big things, the connections between us, the goals accomplished, the dreams yet to come, the things you’ve been meaning to do, the meaning of it all. I don’t have any answers to the big questions of life, but there is one thing I do know: The memories in this little journal are the most valuable and prized possessions I could ever ask for.

Your family’s own trip journal doesn’t have to be anything fancy—just a simple, sturdy book that will travel well. Write with a good pen; keep it in a ziplock bag when you’re outside; similar to cats and fire, journals don’t like water.

Most importantly, have the kids write in it, even if they don’t want to. Have them draw a map to their favorite swimming hole or write down the funny thing Mom said at the campfire. Make a list of the foods you taste on a trip. Write down your accidental-but-awesome backcountry recipe. Make a list of the hikes and the paddles and the climbs you want to do together—then go check them off. Later, when the kids are older and Thanksgiving comes around again, you’ll have much to be thankful for.   

Our own well-loved journal is thick, filled with ten years of memories. I feel its heft in my hand, the weight of something solid I’d like to keep with me. I flip through the pages again. The writing and drawings and maps take up the first three-quarters of the book, but the last quarter is blank. These just might be my favorite pages: unwritten, ready, and waiting for the adventures yet to come.  

Get advice on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog and find more trip ideas in AMC’s community for families,

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Recapturing the Flag

Photo: Camp Pinewood/Flickr Creative Commons 2.0
By Ethan Hipple

Anyone who has ever played capture the flag knows the thrill of grabbing the opposing team’s pennant and running like crazy. All you need are a couple of bandanas, some open space, and a few friends. But if this and other classic outdoor games—red rover, kick the can, red light green light— are so easy and exhilarating, why don’t kids play them more?

The answer might lie in how often kids go outside and play, period. In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv writes that the area outside the home in which “digital natives” (a.k.a. “kids these days”) are allowed to play unsupervised has shrunk by 90 percent since the 1970s.

As the parks and rec director for a small New Hampshire town, I talk to a lot of parents about getting their kids outside to play. For many families, that means signing up for soccer, baseball, or tennis lessons. Those are great options with great rewards. But they’re also highly structured activities organized by adults that require hours of planning, specialized fields and equipment, scheduled times, and lots of players. The activities need so much infrastructure, it’s almost impossible for kids to play on their own.

Therein lies the beauty of classic outdoor games. Go ahead and show your kids how to play. You can even play along for a while. But then back off. The trick is not to let the adults ruin it. Don’t keep score, get referees, make play dates, or start a town-wide tournament. Just let the kids play.

The classic and still the best. Two opposing teams play in a set area divided into two territories. Each team hides a bandana, or “flag,” in its territory. The object is to find the other team’s flag, retrieve it, and get it back to your home territory without being caught, all while protecting your own team’s flag. Anyone tagged goes to jail (a designated spot within opponent territory), and anyone in jail can be freed by a tag from her own team. The game ends when one team gets its opponent’s flag back to home turf or when all members of a team have been sent to jail.

Old-school but still as fun as ever. Using chalk, one player draws a square on a concrete or blacktop surface, divides it into four quarters, and labels those quarters 1 to 4. The size of the court will vary by locale. Each of four players claims a square. The player who goes first bounces a rubber playground ball into another player’s square. If that player fails to move the ball along to another square, or if the ball bounces more than once, the player is out. When someone is out, players in all lower-numbered squares advance a square, and a new player steps into the number 4 spot. The player who stays in the longest eventually advances to number 1. There’s no official end to this game. Kids can keep playing until they get tired or it gets dark, whichever comes first.

My family’s all-time favorite. Simple and elegant, this game can be played for hours on end, indoors or out. The idea here is basically hide and seek in reverse. One player hides while all other players close their eyes. After one minute, the other players look for the hider. When a seeker finds the hider, she hides alongside him. As more players find the hiders, they all squeeze into the same hiding spot. Eventually one person will be left, wondering where everyone has gone, while everyone else crams together. The first person to find the hider gets to hide next.

Get advice on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog and find more trip ideas in AMC’s community for families,

Friday, October 23, 2015

School’s Out(side): Outdoor Classrooms

Laurie Sullivan/Creative Commons 2.0
 By Kim Foley MacKinnon

In the past, getting city school kids outdoors meant playing handball in a brick courtyard. These days, more and more educators are finding creative ways to integrate outdoor learning into their curricula, with efforts ranging from planting rooftop gardens to transforming parking lots into outdoor labs.

One such initiative is New York City’s The Natural Classroom, a parks department program designed to expose students to the different ecosystems of the city. Teachers and students visit a park and take part in a series of hands-on activities led by an urban park ranger. Thirteen distinct programs are available for students in grades K–8.

Farther north, Boston has taken a more on-site approach. The Boston Schoolyard Initiative, founded in 1995, has turned 88 schoolyards into centers for play, learning, and community. In fact, since 2007, an outdoor classroom has been included in every Boston Public Schools schoolyard renovation. With elements such as play equipment, public art, and outdoor furniture, these areas are specially designed to support teaching and learning, providing a dose of nature just outside the school door. Each has a sample woodland, urban meadow, or planting beds; some have a combination. There’s even a greenhouse at Boston Latin Academy and a wetland at West Roxbury High School.

For those wondering whether an outdoor classroom can make much of a difference in a child’s life, the evidence is piling up. In 2013, The University of Chicago carried out an independent study on the Boston Schoolyard Initiative, finding that participation in outdoor science lessons (as reported by teachers or students) is associated with higher levels of several positive attitudes, behaviors, and activities. Teachers and students reported authentic, meaningful experiences during outdoor science instruction; students indicated higher interest in and self-efficacy for science; and, overwhelmingly, students reported loving going outdoors for science instruction.

“Teachers in the Boston Public Schools have demonstrated the value and power of bringing students outdoors to learn about science and nature,” says Myrna Johnson, Boston Schoolyard Initiative’s executive director. “The work in Boston sends a message to other school districts that science teachers can effectively conduct outdoor science lessons, with positive impacts for both students and teachers.”

There are plenty of other approaches to encourage learning outside of the classroom, and sometimes it’s the students leading the way. At Boston Latin School, students run a hydroponic farm right outside their cafeteria, using a repurposed shipping container from Freight Farms in which they plant, tend, and harvest crops during study periods and after school.

A great resource for teachers and parents interested in outdoor learning spaces is the 2012 book Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms, by Eric Nelson. An early leader in the field, Nelson cofounded the Child Educational Center in Pasadena, Ca., in 1979 and manages the Outdoor Classroom Project, an initiative of the center. He also developed a course on outdoor classrooms, which has evolved into a series of outdoor-specialist trainings. A how-to guide for getting an outdoor classroom off the ground, Nelson’s book covers everything from enlisting community support to space layout and design, with plenty of photos of creative and practical outdoor spaces to inspire readers.

A takeaway lesson for adults? The best way to engage kids in the outdoors is to get them out in it, hands on and out of their seats.

Want to immerse your students in nature? Each year, AMC’s residential environmental education program, A Mountain Classroom, takes 3,500 kids, grades 5 through 12, into the backcountry for hands-on exploration.

For kids ages 3 to 5, check out AMC’s Wee Wanderers; for older kids, read about Teen Wilderness Adventures. Not a teacher but want to work with kids in your community? Find out how you can get involved in AMC’s Youth Opportunities Program.  

Get advice on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog and find more trip ideas in AMC’s community for families,

Friday, October 16, 2015

How and Where to See Fall Foliage with Kids

By Kim Foley MacKinnon

Adults and kids often have different ideas about what autumn outings should entail. Maybe the adults in the family want to see the changing colors of the leaves, while the kids just want to jump in big piles of them. When it comes to fall foliage, there are several strategies you can try for meeting in the middle. 

If you choose your destination wisely and have a game plan, both parents and kids can enjoy the day. Think beyond just pretty trees. Pair your adventure with picking a pumpkin, pressing apple cider, or going on a hay ride. Find a harvest festival or corn maze or another cool event that just happens to require a drive through colorful foliage areas. Everybody wins! Here are five ideas to get you started.

Brookfield Orchards, in North Brookfield, is a delightful and somewhat old-fashioned place to pick apples, and the drive there is quite scenic. Operating since 1918, the fifth generation of the same family is now in charge. The farm has more than a dozen varieties of apples to pick, a playground, a snack bar (don’t miss the homemade apple dumplings!) and a large country store. On fall weekends, there are hay rides and other activities.

New Hampshire
Take a trip to the charming town of Jackson in the White Mountains to check out a local tradition, the Pumpkin People, now in its 28th year. Businesses and homeowners display their pumpkin creations throughout the village to vie for bragging rights. Maps are provided at participating stores in town so you can take a self-guided tour. 

Rhode Island
Every weekend day in October at the historic, family-owned Patchet Brook Tree Farm in Tiverton, you can go on a 30-minute hayride and pumpkin hunt. Look for scarecrows and other family-friendly Halloween decorations and surprises as you go through the woods and fields of the farm. At the end of the ride, you'll end up in a pumpkin patch, where everyone gets a pumpkin. 

The historic Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock holds a series of fall events through the month of October, culminating in an early family Halloween celebration on October 25 with donuts-on-a-string (a variation of bobbing for apples, where kids instead can attempt to get donuts hanging from a tree), pumpkin carving, Halloween tales, wagon rides, and lots more. The working dairy farm, opened in 1871, also has farm life exhibits, a restored and furnished farmhouse, plus year-round programs and activities. 

A ride aboard the Pumpkin Patch Trolley at the Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor is a family tradition for many. Take a ride on an authentic trolley to see the pumpkins and enjoy the foliage en route, pick your pumpkin, and return for decorating and games. The special event runs Fridays through Sundays in October. 

More Info
These websites have maps detailing where to find the best colors each week.

New Hampshire: 
Rhode Island: 

Get tips on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in Great Kids, Great Outdoors and find more trip ideas in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s community for families,

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Brook Walk at Castle In The Clouds

Many cascades and falls wait along this magical path. 
By Ethan Hipple

There is a secret gem located in central New Hampshire: the Ossipee Mountains. The area is full of short hikes to granite ledges and open peaks, waterfalls galore, and no crowds except on a handful of locally popular hikes. A visitor to the Ossipee Mountains will wonder why they have never heard of this magical place before, as it is full of wildlife and offers much of the same exhilarating scenery as the White Mountains. The views south over Lake Winnipesaukee are breathtaking.

The Brook Walk at Castle In the Clouds is a delightful trail that leads past five waterfalls, culminating in one of the most idyllic falls in New Hampshire, the 40-foot high Fall of Song. Unlike most hikes, this one starts high in the hills and descends along the brook to your destination. This shorter distance (1.6 miles round trip) offers so much to young families. Kids will love the sense of excitement in discovering each of the 5 waterfalls along the route, and folks of all ages will appreciate the free-falling and wild Fall of Song. Visiting in the spring or after a heavy rain is particularly exciting as the water shoots out over the ledge and falls 40 feet into the small gorge below.

Fall hiking means harvesting icicles along the way! 
Castle in The Clouds is a historic mountain top estate that offers tours and a restaurant overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee. The true beauty of the place is that 5,200 acres surrounding the Castle have been preserved by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust for hiking, XC-skiing, and outdoor recreation. There is also the historic mansion to visit (fee applies), a horse stables with trail rides available (fee applies), and hikes to seldom-visited peaks with stellar views of the White Mountains and Lakes Region.

For the Brook Walk, start at Shannon Pond near the trailhead, walk across the dam and head right on the Brook Walk Trail. You will cross a bridge over the brook, and then stay left along the banks of Shannon Brook as you pass Bridal Veil Falls, Roaring Falls, Twin Falls and Whittier Falls and finally to the 40 foot Fall of Song. To return, you can either hike back up the way you came, or continue down the wide gravel path past Fall of Song for about 1000 feet where you will intersect with the auto toll road. You can hike up the longer but more gradual road past several viewpoints to return to the trailhead. The traffic on this one-lane road is one-way and generally very slow, but keep a hold of the toddlers nonetheless.
Great views of Lake Winnipesaukee await,

Plan B:
Moultonborough on NH 25 offers a fine collection of restaurants and delis. A special treat in Moultonborough is the Old Country Store, known as the oldest store in America, operating since 1781. More than just a tourist stop, they offer old-fashioned candies, cheddar cheese, iron goods and picnic fixings.

Where to Eat Nearby:
Buckey's Restaurant at 240 Governor Wentworth Highway (NH 109) has excellent pizza, burgers, pasta, and salads. You may find a live band, karaoke, or a game on the TV as well. If you are there in between Memorial and Labor day, there is a fun mini-golf course out back.

Get advice on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog and find more tips and trip ideas in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s community for families, 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Exploring Nipmuck State Forest and Bigelow Hollow State Park

By Kim Foley MacKinnon

Just over the Massachusetts border, Nipmuck State Forest and the adjoining Bigelow Hollow State Park in Connecticut offer plenty of outdoor activities, ranging from hiking and camping to fishing and geocaching. It’s also a great place to look for wildlife, like beavers and eagles.

On a recent guided hike led by Chief Ranger Bill Reid, or “Ranger Bill,” as he said to call him, my group learned about the 9,000-acre area, which is part of the Last Green Valley, a National Heritage Corridor composed of 35 towns in eastern Connecticut and south-central Massachusetts. We chose to hike to Breakneck Pond, accessed just off the parking lot by Bigelow Pond. The 2-mile roundtrip is an easy walk along a wide path which intersects with Nipmuck Trail and can be taken all around the pond (a 6-mile hike). Ranger Bill has been following the progress of some nesting eagles, but we didn’t catch a glimpse on our hike. It’s definitely worth bringing binoculars in case you get lucky.

Nipmuck State Forest and Bigelow Hollow State Park are located in the town of Union and sit within one of the largest unbroken forest areas in Eastern Connecticut.  According to local lore, the name "Bigelow" is derived from "Big Low" in reference to the deep hollow in which the 18-acre pond of that name is located. The word "Mashapaug" is the Nipmuck Indian word for "Great Pond," another pond in the park area.

Younger kids love the shorter Bigelow Pond Loop, a lovely one-mile hike that offers plenty of rocks to climb and places to stop and explore. It’s also easily accessed from the parking lot.

Ranger Bill also told us about the Last Green Valley’s “Walktober,” which is now in its 25th year. Walks, strolls, bike rides, paddles, and all sorts of other events are held throughout the month and are an excellent way to get outside and enjoy the foliage.

You can download a schedule on the Walktober website or call 860-774-3300 to have one mailed to you. Although there are just 31 days in October, there are more than 200 activities planned! 

Get advice on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in the Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog and find more tips and trip ideas in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s community for families, 

Popular Posts