Great Park Pursuits

In 2006, shortly after the publication of Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, Connecticut governor M. Jodi Rell launched a statewide “No Child Left Inside” initiative to reconnect children and families to the natural world. A key part of the initiative was an eight-week contest for families called “The Great Park Pursuit” that took place in the state’s parks and forests.

Since then, a half dozen other states, including several in New England, have developed similar programs. Those state park systems are gearing up now for the 2011 “Great Park Pursuit” season. The basic notion behind the first program has remained — to introduce children and families to the great outdoors. This year, however, Connecticut has stopped running its program as a contest; other states offer a range of family-friendly activities.

Follow the links below for more information about Great Park Pursuits and other similar programs around the region.

• The state launched a year-round Great Park Pursuit Outdoor Recreation Challenge earlier this year. There’s no formal registration process, but letterboxes, secret codes, and passbooks encourage children and their families to explore Connecticut’s state parks.
• The next event is a Family Boating Day on July 9 at Mansfield Hollow State Park.

Maine has two programs. The Maine State Parks Passport program is open to anyone who visits Maine state parks. The Take It Outside! program is limited to state residents.
• The Maine State Parks Passport program runs from Memorial Day through September. Free passport books are available at any state park or historic site.
• Through Take It Outside! in 2011, Maine families who have never been camping have the chance to spend a weekend at one of 11 participating Maine State Parks. Families receive a two-night reservation at their chosen state park and are lent a complete set of camping equipment for the weekend. The program, which is offered to Maine residents only, starts July 15 and continues through the first weekend in August.
• Take It Outside! programs are also held throughout the summer at various locations around Maine.

Massachusetts began a Great Park Pursuit program in 2007. The program has grown over the years. In 2011 it includes a team contest and events at parks around the state.
• The 2011 Massachusetts Great Park Pursuit kicks off on Friday, July 1, and concludes with a “grand finale” on September 10. The Massachusetts Great Park Pursuit is a team activity; the minimum team size is one adult 18 years or older and one child under 18. Teams collect special stickers for their game cards.
• Teams are challenged to visit different Great Park Pursuit programs and to design their own activities. Programs include hiking, fishing, history, coastal walks, night-sky programs, and more.
Two examples:
Fishing clinics at Walden Pond. July 2, 9, and 23. 7:00 am – 9:30 am. Walden Pond staff provide instruction and fishing gear for visitors ages 7 and up. Pre-registration is strongly encouraged: Each Saturday morning event is limited to 12 youths. All children must be accompanied by an adult.
Thoreau on Greylock family hike. July 16. Mt. Greylock State Park. Hike along the historic route of American naturalist and writer Henry David Thoreau to the summit of Mount Greylock, accompanied by local writer and scholar Lauren Stevens. 5.5 miles one way or 11 miles round-trip.

New Hampshire

Registration for the New Hampshire Great Park Pursuit has already closed and the summer-long competition has begun. However, anyone can take part in some of the other activities, including self-guided NH Biodiversity Quests.
• Here’s a challenge for Franconia Notch State Park: Locate dead and downed wood (rotting logs, downed branches), a dead standing snag, a forest seep, and a yellow birch “barber chair.”

Rhode Island

Registration for the Rhode Island Great Outdoors Pursuit is still open, even though the program has already begun. It includes both guided and self-guided events and offers a list of places to explore in Rhode Island communities.

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

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