Thursday, May 27, 2010

Walking the City: Hikes with Children in and around New York City


It’s the unusual hiking guidebook that quotes rock and roll lyrics, a Walt Whitman poem, and The Great Gatsby. But then, it’s the unusual outdoors guide that takes New York City and environs as its focus. AMC’s Best Day Hikes near New York City, published this spring, makes the most of the metropolis’s vibrant history, while offering 50 hikes around the city and out to the lower Hudson, New Jersey, Long Island, and Connecticut. Author Daniel Case marks more than 40 of the hikes suitable for children. Here are 5 that bring city and country together in interesting and surprising ways:

1. Central Park. New York City. “People dancing, people laughing … a real celebration.” Robert Lamm of the band Chicago wrote these lines in “Saturday in the Park” after spending a summer day in Central Park. They still ring true today. We walk in the park on nearly every visit to New York, and we’re always discovering new corners. Ursula and Virgil’s finds on our last trip included “Strawberry Fields,” a tiny garden across from the Dakota apartment building memorializing John Lennon of The Beatles, and the small pine grove called The Pinetum. Signs and maps at reasonable intervals make it easy to navigate around the 843-acre park.

2. High Line. New York City.
Neighborhood activism, a great idea, and a sturdy old rail viaduct came together to create New York’s newest trail, and surely one of its most remarkable. The “elevated park,” the second of its kind in the world, opened during the summer of 2009. A set of stairs above Gansevoort and Washington streets serves as the trailhead to the green walkway, which extends 0.8 miles north along the western edge of Greenwich Village, through the Chelsea Market arcade. Check the High Line website for such activities as last-Wednesday-of-the-month scavenger hunts for children 5 and up.

3. West Pond Loop. Broad Channel, New York. Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, the only wildlife refuge in the National Park system, is a popular birding site in the middle of the New York Harbor. The West Pond Loop offers views of “big birds” — planes, that is — as well as some of the 325 “real” birds, such as osprey, swans, herons, and egrets, that can been seen in the salt marshes. The full loop around the pond is 1.8 miles. Accessible by public transportation.

4. New York Botanical Garden — Native Forest. Bronx, New York.
This hike has an entrance fee, but once you’ve paid for your visit to the New York Botanical Garden, you’ll have the opportunity to spend time in 50 acres of forest that, as guidebook author Case says, “haven’t been cleared since before the Dutch traded beads with the American Indians.” And, as you might expect from the largest botanical garden in any city in the world, there’s much more to view, besides. Not open on Mondays.

5. Massapequa Preserve. Massapequa, New York. F. Scott Fitzgerald famously imagined in the closing paragraphs of The Great Gatsby that the lush forests of Long Island must have looked like “a fresh, green breast of the new world” to early settlers. That forested landscape had largely disappeared in the 19th century, when Walt Whitman walked “the long brown path before me leading wherever I choose” as a child growing up on Long Island. But there are still pockets of undeveloped green space amid the suburban sprawl. The Massapequa Preserve on the South Shore of Long Island is the southernmost section of the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt, a 20-mile trail that ends at Cold Spring Harbor State Park at its northern end. The 2-mile out-and-back trail through the Preserve crosses over streams and through woods, and travels along the shores of Massapequa Lake. Accessible from the Long Island Rail Road’s Babylon Branch.

Learn more

… about AMC’s Best Day Hikes near New York City
… about AMC’s New York – North New Jersey Chapter

Photo from Friends of the High Line.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Combining Nature and History: Hikes with Children near Philadelphia


When Virgil was younger, he liked to play a game he called “combinding,” creating fantastical animals that had, say, the wings of an eagle, the legs of a cheetah, and a python’s constricting strength. AMC’s Best Day Hikes near Philadelphia, published this spring, contains a number of hikes that “combind” interesting history, fun activities, and nature exploration for children. Here are five that caught my eye:

1. Schuylkill River Trail. Philadelphia. A 10-mile stretch of a planned 130 miles of trail along the Schuylkill River offers art, gardens, an extensive urban park and trail system, bustling river life, even a water museum. Park at Lloyd Hall, near the entrance to the Philadelphia Art Museum, and walk north along the east side of the river. Not all the art is inside: 9,200-acre Fairmount Park is known for its sculpture gardens — and its flowering gardens (azaleas near the art museum, cherry trees by the river). Watch rowers come and go from ornate boathouses along Boathouse Row. The former Fairmount Water Works now houses a water museum, with exhibits attuned to children’s interests. The round trip from the parking area at Lloyd Hall (where there are public restrooms) to Girard Avenue Bridge is approximately 3 miles.

2. Valley Forge National Historic Park. King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Washington really did sleep here, along with the rest of the Continental Army over a bitter winter during the Revolutionary War that we now call the Encampment of 1777-1778. Valley Forge was considered an important historic area almost from the start. The area around Washington’s headquarters was established as Pennsylvania’s first state park in 1893; the site became a national park in 1976. The current network of trails provides a walking tour of the encampment’s historic buildings, starting with Washington’s Headquarters at the visitor’s center, and including reconstructed soldiers’ huts. You can also see ruins of the forges along Valley Creek that gave the historic area its name.

3. Rancocas State Park. Mt. Holly, New Jersey. This 1,100-acre pinelands park in western New Jersey incorporates the Rankokus Indian Reservation, which is leased to the Powhatan Renape Nation. A museum and replica village are open to the public. (Limited hours; check the website for current schedule.) The New Jersey Audubon Society maintains a nature center, a natural history museum, and a network of trails, and a schedule of programs for children and families.

4. Monocacy Trail. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Follow industrial and immigrant history along a river trail. Depending on where you want to go along the 3-mile trail, you’ll see Illick’s Mill, a grain mill that operated in the latter half of the nineteenth century and is now a community environmental center; Burnside Plantation, a living history museum of the Moravian immigrants who founded Bethlehem; Historic Bethlehem’s Colonial Industrial Quarter, with its restored Water Works (begun in 1754 and considered America’s first pumped town water system), tannery, and other early manufacturing buildings. Cross over the Lehigh Canal and Towpath to the mouth of the Monocacy Creek at its confluence with the Lehigh River for iconic views of the once-mighty blast furnaces and rolling mills of Bethlehem Steel. Steel production ended there in 1995. The mills now house a casino.

5. Little Lehigh Parkway. Allentown, Pennsylvania. Virgil would love this combination: a trail with a scale model of the solar system; the Museum of Indian Culture, with exhibits about the culture of the Lenape and other woodland Indians of the Northeast; the Lil-Le-Hi Trout Nursery — and a fly shop that gives lessons in fly fishing and fly tying. The museum is open Friday through Sunday; fishing is encouraged every day.

Next up — great hikes with children in and around New York City.

Photo by Sue Beyer, from an article about the Illick's Mill opening in 2009.

Learn more
… about AMC’s Best Day Hikes near Philadelphia
… about AMC’s Delaware Valley Chapter


Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Hikes and the City


I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time letting go of my old hiking guides, especially when their dog-eared pages and broken spines bring back happy memories of a streamside campsite or an epic slog or the view from a granite outcrop. Part of the fun of planning a new hiking season, though, comes in looking through new guidebooks. A new hiking guide can throw open the doors to places we haven’t been before, maybe even introduce us to new ways to think about hiking.

I’ve looked at two guides lately that do both of these things. AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near New York City and AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia explore the hiking possibilities in and around two of our nation’s former capitals: New York City, where George Washington held his first inaugural, and Philadelphia, which served as the country’s capital several times in the 18th century. I know both of these cities, but not as places to hike.

The book titles themselves signal something important going on in the hiking world: These are hiking guides that include descriptions of trails through urban parks, across city greenways, and next to rivers, along with more expected hiking fare. Nearly half the hikes in the two guides can be reached by public transportation.

A generation ago, I don’t know that we would have considered these real “hikes.” But a couple of trends have come together to make hikes of this sort entirely appropriate for guidebooks: the development of green urban corridors and natural pathways that skirt the built environment on one hand, and on the other, an increased awareness about the benefits of getting outside, wherever you happen to live. These two guidebooks, and others like them, bode well for the vitality of hiking as an urban activity and for the health of families in and around cities.

Of course, people have always walked in cities. And for families who live in rural, suburban, or exurban America — where it often feels impossible to get anywhere with getting into a car — visiting cities often gives us our best opportunities for walking. I’d have to think hard to say whether my children have walked more city miles or more trail miles over the years.

I don’t want to give the impression that these two guidebooks concentrate only on in-city hikes. In fact, both stretch well beyond the borders of their respective cities, even into neighboring states. But in their willingness to appreciate cultural, industrial, and natural history at a walker’s pace, they make hiking accessible in new ways.

In my next two posts, I’ll preview some of the particularly interesting family-friendly hikes in each book. First up — combining history and nature on the trail near Philadelphia.

Learn more
AMC's Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia by Susan Charkes
AMC's Best Day Hikes near New York City by Daniel Case


Photo: Along the Schuylkill River Trail in Philadelphia.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Everest Question

You may have seen the photo: A boy in a climbing helmet and harness with arms outstretched wraps himself in an American flag. The snowy ridgeline in the background helps make it clear that this is a summit photo, but you don’t really need it to get the point. The boy’s broad smile shines out even behind strands of shaggy curls that hang over his Oakleys. His grin says, “I made it!”

The boy in the photo, Jordan Romero, then 12, had just summited Carstensz Pyramid, at 16,023 feet the tallest mountain in Indonesia. A year earlier, as a sixth grader, he stood on the highest summits in the Americas, Denali and Aconcagua, presumably flashing the same adorable grin. He had to obtain a court order before he could climb Aconcagua because he was under 14, the minimum age limit set by the Argentine government. And before that, when he was 10, Jordan, his father, and his father’s girlfriend had ticked off the highest points in Europe, Africa, and Australia.

Why? Because Jordan had studied a mural of the Seven Summits in the hallway of his elementary school, in Big Bear Lake, California, and decided that he wanted to climb every one of them.

There’s a fair chance you have heard this story, or parts of it. The media swirl around Jordan Romero has filled magazine pages and airwaves for months. The 13-year-old is now on Everest, attempting to complete the goal he set for himself as a fourth-grader. On Thursday, he made it to Camp 2 on the technical Northeast Ridge of the world’s tallest mountain, climbing with his father, Paul Romero, who bills himself as a professional adventure racer, and three Sherpas. To get around an age limit of 16 on the Nepal side of the mountain, and also to keep their effort within a tight budget, Team Romero decided to go light, choosing a steeper route with exposed rock on the Chinese side, without guides. As I write this, the team is nearing Camp 3. The weather is supposed to hold through the weekend. The team hopes to summit on Saturday or Sunday.

And that’s why entering “Jordan Romero Everest” into a search engine will get you nearly 150,000 results; why People magazine spoke with Jordan on Thursday by satellite phone (his quote, “I’m more stoked than nervous,” is already in reruns on Twitter and headlining newspaper articles around the world). Because we like the goals, the effort, the sense that this impressive young man with the lovely smile is out there achieving his dreams. And isn’t it amazing? Isn’t it wonderful? Isn’t it inspiring?

Is it?

I’ve been uncomfortable about publicizing Jordan Romero’s Everest attempt here. Plenty of voices have already chimed in, most of them breathless. But I have misgivings about what Jordan is doing, the misgivings of a parent and a former climber. There are serious implications about a 13-year-old attempting to summit a 29,000-foot Himalayan peak. Somewhere amidst the interviews and photo ops, we should engage them.

A sophisticated and thoughtful writer for Outside magazine, Bruce Barcott, apparently failed to ask the most basic question another parent might ask of Jordan’s parents: If Jordan were to die on Everest, how would you justify it? Instead, Barcott left it to Johnny Strange, the youngest person up to now to summit Everest (he did it age 17, a year ago), to articulate the thoughts that many older readers must have been having. Strange said he’d realized that real climbers don’t care about Seven Summits or age records. Maybe that’s easy to say when you’ve set your record. But Strange also said that when he was 13, he wanted to climb Everest: “There was a reason I didn’t. I wasn’t ready for it. At that age, I would’ve climbed K2 if you let me. And I would’ve died. You’ve got to be careful. You’ve got to remember that at 13 you’re still talking to a kid, no matter what his physical abilities. I’m 17 and I still think I know it all—and at the same time I realize I don’t. At 13, you just don’t have the ability to employ logic, complex reasoning, and weigh consequences in high-risk situations.”

Strange’s comments may be self-serving. But they also point to what neurologists, psychologists, teachers, and parents, many of them, anyway, know about the adolescent brain. It’s not fully formed. Researchers have determined that the brain’s frontal lobe, where reasoning, planning, and judgment occur, doesn’t fully develop until about age 25. Even then, it won’t reach its full capacity for high-level assessment for another decade — just in time to be a parent, and to serve, if necessary, as the frontal lobe for a gung-ho, excitable adolescent.

Let’s say that Jordan Romero accomplishes his goal this weekend. Let’s say he goes on to give motivational speeches, is written up as a role model and inspiration for others. Let’s say that a 12-year-old next tries for the record. Or a 10-year-old. Is that still inspirational? Is that still OK?

Not long ago, the Dutch authorities grounded a 13-year-old girl who wanted to sail around the world solo. Her parents supported her goal. In fact, they’re still fighting the government to let her set sail, while she’s still young enough to go for the record.

I bring all this up because the people who read this blog share an interest in great kids and the great outdoors. There’s so much to think about in this story — real issues for parents involving dreams and risk and responsibility and where we draw our lines, and why. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

My biggest hope for Jordan Romero this weekend isn’t that he plants a flag on the summit of Everest. What I hope is that he and his father make it safely off the mountain. If he were suddenly my son I’d say, “Thank heavens you’re alive. Now you’re grounded.”

Learn more
- Bruce Barcott's article on Jordan Romero in Outside Online .
- A discussion with AMC author and whitewater paddler Bruce Lessels and other musings on teenagers and risk in this blog.


Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

“My mother and I climb mountains”


“My mother and I climb mountains.” Debbie Mitchell’s oldest child, Jen, wrote that sentence on a school assignment when she was eight years old. Jen, now 29, rediscovered the sheet of paper not long ago when she going through a box of things from her childhood.

Debbie has climbed mountains with all four of her children. The first summits were the easiest, especially for the children, as they could ascend a peak without taking a step. Debbie carried Jennie up Mt. Willard when her daughter was two months old. By the end of Jennie’s first year, she had “climbed” Cardigan and the Belknap peaks.

Jennie enjoyed her time in a backpack. At age two, she accompanied her mother as Debbie pursued a goal of climbing all of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot peaks. But when younger brother Jason was two, he wanted to walk the trails himself. The family slowed to his pace. Jason, now 24, is a paramedic; he considers that he learned about teamwork and effort, both key parts of his job, on the family hikes.

Huts have been the center of the hiking experience for the two younger Mitchells, Keri, 10, and Emilie, 8. The family takes advantage of AMC’s three-day and five-day specials, often starting out and ending at the Highland Center. Debbie has learned to let the alpine experience work for her when she plans family hiking trips: “You have to keep them occupied when they’re in the woods,” she says. “You don’t have to work so hard when they’re above treeline.”

Ten-year-old Keri likes the ridges and wants to hike from Madison to Lakes to Mizpah as soon as her mother will let her. (Next year, says Debbie, when Emilie can handle it better.) One day, Keri has told her mother, she wants to work in the huts.

Debbie and her husband joined AMC when Jennie was born. They hoped to find like-minded hiking families. “We did a couple of group hikes” with Jennie when she was a baby, Debbie recalls. The groups were welcoming, but the Mitchells were often the only hikers with a small child. Now that her children are older, Debbie is trying to bring her experience as a hiking mother to other families. Three years ago, she became the treasurer of AMC’s Narragansett Chapter, and last year she became involved in the chapter’s new family trips committee. “Rock climbing at Lincoln Woods filled up completely,” she says, but getting parents and children onto the trails has been harder.

Early this season, Debbie and Keri hiked up one of their favorite mountains. The peak was still covered in snow, and the weather was, shall we say, brisk. Keri noticed another girl on the trail who looked to be her age, and who did not appear to be having a good time. Debbie noticed her daughter taking this in. Hiking along, they talked about how comfortable Keri is on trails, how experienced she is, and how much the two of them enjoy the experience together.

When her older sister found the piece of paper with “My mother and I climb mountains” written on it, Keri spoke up: “I like going up mountains, too.”

Debbie Mitchell’s family hiking tips:
• Try to hike trails before you take children on them, or familiarize yourself with the hike by reading maps and guidebooks, and by talking to other hikers.
• Be prepared: Have the right gear, know the forecast, bring enough food and water.
• Bring an extra change of clothes, or at least extra underwear and socks: Young children are going to wet their pants in the first half hour, you can just count on it.
• Be ready to turn around if you have to. There’s always another hike.

Learn more
… explore AMC’s Narragansett Chapter in Rhode Island on the Chapter website and on AMC’s website.
… search family trips and chapter activities using AMC’s trip-finder.
… read another post in the Outdoor Mothers series.

Photos: Debra Mitchell.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

“Let’s go hiking. Let’s go shopping.” Three generations of mothers and daughters.


Last week, as Mother’s Day approached, I spoke with several mothers about their experiences with children in the outdoors. Christine Woodside, the editor of Appalachia, grew up in suburban New Jersey, but her family also spent two weeks every summer in New Hampshire, renting a rustic cabin at Rockywold-Deephaven Camps on Squam Lake. “My mother’s idea of roughing it,” Chris says, “was not having a shade on the lamp.”

During their weeks at the camp, Chris’s father and brothers hiked one of the peaks in the Squam Range every morning, while Chris’s mother explored the area’s antique and craft shops. Sometimes her mother joined a hike, but to Chris she seemed more at home in high heels than in hiking boots. Chris alternated between parental passions: one morning hiking with her father, the next morning shopping with her mother.

That changed one day when Chris was perhaps 12. Her father and brothers had made a plan to climb Mt. Morgan. Chris was already in the car with her mother, ready to go shopping, when she jumped out to join the climb. “I was wearing these thong sandals,” she recalls. “Halfway up the trail, one of them broke. I climbed the rest of the way with one sandal flopping.” Later, Chris’s father made the experience into a sort of saying: “He’d say, ‘You can do anything. Remember that time you climbed Mt. Morgan in the broken sandal?’”

Chris’s split-second decision confirmed a deeper choice, which she had yet to recognize. She discovered backpacking in her twenties. Chris and her husband, Nat Eddy, hiked the Appalachian Trail, 2,100-plus miles over 4 1/2 months. “It was a great experience — lots of crying, lots of low blood sugar — but it changed me, made me into the kind of person I am now.”

Children arrived on the heels of the AT experience. Elizabeth was born in 1988, almost exactly a year after Chris and Nat stood on the summit of Katahdin. Annie followed two years later. From the start, the family canoed, hiked, and camped together. Chris says, “I felt that I owed it to them to teach them to be independent. And there’s no better way to do that than being outdoors.”

Chris took her daughters on their first girls-only camping trip when Annie was in kindergarten and Nat’s schedule didn’t match the school vacation. Chris drove two days, to a trailhead along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. She wanted to share a special spot along the Appalachian Trail, a place called Grassy Ridge, with her daughters. They never got there: On their first night in the tent, a storm came through and hit their exposed campsite with thunder, lightning, freezing rain, and heavy winds. Mother and daughters hiked out the next morning.

Chris persevered, though, and the all-girl camping trip over spring break became a tradition. “I carried my belief like a torch,” Chris says now of her determination to take her daughters hiking. “Partly it was just me needing to get out.” But she also wanted to keep her daughters from getting caught in the traps that adolescence often sets for young women. “Wearing the dumb shoes” is her shorthand for the kind of paralyzing self-consciousness that makes girls obsess about how they look or wear clothing that's fashionable but not functional.

Elizabeth was 13 when she asked her mother, “Can’t we just go shopping?” instead of hiking. But they went. Chris bribed her into one last trip at age 15 by offering to end a hike in the Presidentials with a trip to the outlet malls. When Elizabeth no longer came on the camping trips, Chris and Annie backpacked with a friend of Annie’s and her father. When the friend decided that she hated hiking, Chris and Annie continued alone. By this time, mother and daughter could carry the same weight and keep the same pace. The decade-long string of mother-daughter hiking trips ended in 2008, just before Annie’s senior year of high school. The year she graduated, college applications bled into a summer job. Chris didn’t bring up hiking — “She didn’t ask and I didn’t offer” — and then Annie was gone.

Both girls are at college now, and Chris has been thinking about those hiking trips, wondering what her daughters may take from them. “They know how important the outdoors is to me,” she says. “I think it got them through those adolescent years with more confidence. And I do know that it helped us know each other better. When you’re holding umbrellas over the campfire, you do talk.” But it’s too soon, she thinks, to know whether her daughters will find the same kind of pleasure that she does in the outdoors. “You just don’t know how it will turn out.”

Chris’s mother is 80 years old now and still dresses with great flair. Not long ago, she took Chris clothes shopping, and daughter enjoyed letting mother pick the right outfit for her.

Just before Mother’s Day, Chris received an email from Annie. She asked her mother if they could set aside some time to go backpacking later in the month, after she’s home from college. “It’s been too long,” she wrote.



Learn more

• Read Christine Woodside’s essay about hiking with her daughters, “Mom and the Girls, Taking the Upward Trail” (New York Times, January 30, 2009).
• Learn about Appalachia, the longest-running journal of mountaineering and conservation.

Photos: Mother and daughter on Bear Mountain, Connecticut; Elizabeth and Annie. Christine Woodside collection.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mother’s Day Out

Yesterday Jim and I finally got around to talking about Mother’s Day. We’d already sent flowers and cards to our mothers. Now the question was what we’d do to celebrate my day.

“Where do you want to go?” Jim asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t care.”

“Just so it’s a hike?”

“Right.”

All I ever want for Mother’s Day is a hike. No flowers or chocolate for me, no dinner out. Let me open cards from the children over breakfast, and let me hear only muted whining while we lace up our hiking boots and Jim loads a backpack with extra clothes, water, and food. (OK, maybe he sticks some dark chocolate in the food bag…)

Ursula and Virgil know that we go hiking on Mother’s Day. It’s the only way they know to mark the day. When they were babies, we hiked Cardigan, our “home” mountain, a mere seven minutes’ drive from our house. We’ve hiked into Lonesome Lake, stood on Mt. Moosilauke, Mt. Cube, Smarts — all mountains within an hour’s drive, all good hikes with kids. We’ve hiked in swarms of black flies. (How cruel is it to hiking parents in the Northeast that the black-fly season runs from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day?) We’ve hiked in a steady drizzle and in blustery wind. We’ve hiked with other families, and sometimes, when the weather just won’t cooperate, I’ve pulled on rain gear and hiked alone. But my heart doesn’t lift in the same way then. For me, Mother’s Day is a real celebration when we walk a trail together.

I don’t want to stretch too far in trying to understand why spending “my” day in this way is so important to me. I think it’s nothing more complicated than wanting to bring together two parts of my life that fill me with enormous joy and make me feel part of a larger whole. That’s probably enough.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New Growth on Mt. Cardigan

A lot of folks around here were pretty unhappy when the state arranged a big clear-cut last year on the northern end of Cardigan Mountain State Park, up by the Firescrew Trail and Cilley’s Cave. Our neighbor Dave Stacy was one of them. He sits on the town’s conservation committee, and he was especially concerned about the erosion that was likely to result from stripping all the softwoods off a large, steep slope. He and the committee wrote a letter to the state and asked what could be done.

The clear-cutting went ahead as planned. But on Saturday morning, early, Jim and Virgil went up to the town house, where a dozen or so volunteers were gathering. (Ursula and I had an even earlier start, driving to Hanover to watch a rowing regatta on the Connecticut River.) Nearly 2,000 seedlings, provided by the state to re-seed about 40 of the acres that had been clearcut, were waiting there, bundled together with twine and stacked in paper sacks in the back of Dave Stacy’s truck.

Jim and Virgil joined a caravan of four-wheel-drive pick-ups up New Colony Road and beyond a gate onto state land, over a deeply rutted gravel road to the log landing at the base of the clear-cut. Virgil didn’t register the other recently logged areas on the way up there, or notice that the logging contractor had ripped out a couple of massive, century-old granite culverts and put steel pipes in their place. But the adults did, and it added a gray feeling to the overcast morning.

Jim and Virgil, working together, carried their paper bag stuffed with white spruce seedlings. (Other teams planted Norway spruce and black walnut, to guard against monoculture.) They picked their way uphill from the skidder road, scraping and digging little holes in the rocky soil and tamping in the small dark-green shoots. The six-inch seedlings disappeared among the scrappy sumac and alders and puckerbrush coming up fast in the clear-cut. Jim showed Virgil mounds of “moose loops” (the large animal’s droppings) on mossy granite and deep moose tracks in soft mud.

From the height of the cut they worked over and back down in a line and then up again, by which time Virgil had enough of the black flies and prickers and the hard work. (Toward the end, to keep him going, Jim had sunk low enough to promise him a minute on the computer for each seedling he helped put in the ground.) They called it a day after ninety minutes, leaving the other volunteers to finish off the rest of the re-planting.

Conservation can be an abstract concept, even for adults. Virgil learns about the environment at school; he’s watched TV programs about conservation. Saturday’s sweaty exercise in tree-planting was a rare chance for him to be involved. At the very least, he got a visceral, on-the-ground view of how rough and bony this land is here in central New Hampshire, and how hard it is to move around a cut-over patch of forest. He got a feel for how hard work can be turned into fun by teamwork, at least a little. His morning among that group of volunteers, creating room for new trees to grow, brought the idea of conservation home.

It was clear to Jim as they worked that Virgil was fascinated by how long it would take the seedlings to take root and grow tall. At one point, he leaned on his shovel and looked at the distant forested hillsides. He told Jim that he hoped the trees they were planting might someday look just like those. I hope Virgil will see that hillside grown up in forest. Even before then, I hope he feels proud for having helped nurture the land we share.

Learn more
• “New Hampshire parks could be up for sale,” June 2009 article in the Union Leader, linking to a list of the 27 parks that were considered “underperforming,” including Cardigan State Park.
• “Protecting Parks: New Hampshire plans for the future” by Marc Chalufour updates the story in the print version of AMC Outdoors (May/June 2010).

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Mapping Middle Childhood

David Sobel developed an early fascination with maps as a boy growing up on Long Island Sound. At age 12, he wrote to tourism boards around the country and asked them to send him state highway maps. He discovered USGS topo maps around the same time, and can still remember the thrill of seeing contour lines instead of roads.

Now director of Antioch's Center for Place-Based Education in Keene, N.H., Sobel continues to study maps and mapmaking. He considers them to be a powerful way to understand the developmental stages children go through in creating connections to the natural world.

It's no coincidence, as Sobel sees it, that he was 12 when he became intrigued by maps. Beginning in late elementary school, around age 9, children enter what he calls "the prime age for path-making." In our hunter-gatherer pasts, children in that stage took on coming-of-age challenges that drew on their mapping and path-making abilities. Even now, Sobel sees middle childhood as an opportunity for boys and girls to move from orienting themselves in known and comfortable landscapes into figuring out new places, new worlds.

AMC Education Programs Coordinator Cary Rhodes teaches map and compass skills to students who come through AMC's nature programs in the White Mountains. She sees a similar combination: Her students are drawn to the cool concept of putting three dimensions into two dimensions—creating maps, in other words—and in learning how to use gear, such as compasses, to determine direction. Her students are also often driven to explore. It's natural to put the two together. Rhodes and Sobel offer the following ideas for encouraging those map- and path-making impulses:

The hand-drawn "pop-up" map. Rhodes helps her students visualize one of the basic elements of a map, contour lines, by drawing concentric rings around the knuckles of one of her hands with washable marker. She holds her hand flat, like a two-dimensional map, and then makes it into a fist. Knuckle "mountains" pop out, and valleys appear. "You can see them getting how maps work," Rhodes says.

"Put red Fred in the shed." Rhodes plays this active game to help kids remember the different parts of a compass. She starts with the names: "red Fred" for the magnetic end of the needle, "the shed" the movable arrow under the compass housing, "360-degree circle" for the dial, and "baseplate" for the base of the compass. Then she tells students to "plug the compass into their belly buttons," facing away from themselves, and gives them a series of directions, like "Turn the 360-degree circle to 45 and take four big steps," putting "red Fred in the shed" with each change of direction. Rhodes can immediately see when they've grasped the basic concept of using a compass, and can continue the game until everyone is stepping and turning the same direction.

Shaping landscapes.
Building raised relief maps out of salt-dough or clay gives children a real "hands-on" sense of a landscape. Literally shaping mountains, valleys, and coastlines helps children internalize the landscape they've modeled, creating "mental maps" and deeper connections to the natural world. Sobel saw that "mental mapping" in action on a trip with a middle-school class to Franconia Notch. One student, who'd molded the Pemigewasset River valley, exclaimed, "I know where we are! Remember where the mountains smush in close to the river between two long, low mountains and then the big mountains are just beyond?"

Treasure maps and quests.
Even younger children can practice exploring and map-making by creating their own maps or by following the clues in scavenger huts and organized letter-boxing or quests.

Learn more


AMC Outdoor Explorations at Highland Center, Joe Dodge Lodge, and Cardigan Lodge often include map and compass skills — and games too!

• Great Park Pursuits are held in state parks in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

• AMC member Dick Norton created South Shore Quests in Massachusetts after learning about Valley Quest in Vermont and New Hampshire.

• A kid-friendly explanation of topographic maps in Backpacker magazine

Photo from AMC archives.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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