Saturday, April 30, 2011

Celebrate Forests: International Year of Forests


Ursula came home from school this week and told me I needed to see a video on my computer. At first I resisted, thinking she wanted to show me something silly, but she explained that she’d seen the video in science class. “You have to see it,” she told me. “It’s amazing.”

This is how I learned that five years ago the United Nations declared 2011 the International Year of Forests. The resolution adopted then by the General Assembly noted that forests “contribute significantly to sustainable development, poverty eradication and the achievement of internationally agreed development goals.” It also said that forests around the world are under stress and endangered — from climate change, unsustainable logging practices, desertification, and ever-increasing consumer needs — and urged governments, industry, and organizations to reverse the loss of forests worldwide and to develop, fund, and mobilize sustainable forestry.

The film Ursula wanted me to see, “Of Forests and Men,” is the official film for the International Year of Forests 2011. French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand took aerial cinematography from around the world to create a 7-minute short film. And, as Ursula said, it is amazing — both in the splendor it shows and in the wide-ranging devastation it reveals. She and I saw clear-cuts, huge slash-and-burn areas, vast monoculture plantings, and mills churning out disposable paper products. We ran it again, and then a third time, mesmerized by its combination of beauty and destruction.

Ursula explained that her science class had been learning about the concept of “Gaia.” In Greek mythology, Gaia (or Gaea) is the goddess of the earth. In science, the Gaia theory proposes that the Earth is a complex, integrated, self-regulating, evolving system. Seeing the forests of the world from the air, as we did in Arthus-Bertrand’s film, gave us both a sense of that complexity and integration.

I bet I’m not alone in having no idea that we’re nearly halfway through a year celebrating forests worldwide. I looked at event listings on the “official U.S. celebration” website (sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters, and the American Forest Foundation), and found only a handful across the country for the entire year.

Ursula wants to plan a walk through our woods and post it on the official U.S. celebration website. We’re lucky to live in a place where trees and forests surround us. If you’re similarly lucky, maybe you should consider taking a walk in your neck of the woods, too. We should celebrate our forests, and we should care whether forests around this living planet are being cut down at an unsustainable rate. Watch the film and see if you don’t feel the same.

Learn more

- Learn more about the United Nations’ International Year of Forests.
- Watch “Of Forests and Men” by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

- Sign up to host or attend an event.

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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Junior Naturalist: Honeybees


Over spring break, Ursula helped our friends Bruce and Gretchen install beehives in their backyard. Anna, the oldest of their three daughters, started beekeeping last year. We were delighted to receive some of Anna’s homemade honey, and also to learn more about bees.

We hadn’t realized, for example, that the honey we eat is actually “improved” nectar that bees have repeatedly eaten, spit back out, and let dry. (Thankfully, it still tasted just as sweet once we knew that.) Or that honeybees pollinate around one-third of all the fruit eaten around the world.

This year, though, Anna is studying across the country from her family and her beehives. Last year’s bees did not make it through the winter, but everyone in the family wanted to try again. So 12-year-old Sara and dad Bruce agreed to put on bee suits and install this year’s hives. Bruce had already picked up “bee packages” from a local supplier — each “package” about 5,000 bees in a container the size of a large shoe box. The hive’s queen traveled in her own capsule (think of a mesh box for one tube of lipstick) suspended inside the larger container.

Bruce pried a can of sugar syrup that the bees had been using as a food source out of the container. As bees streamed out of the opening, Sara slid the queen’s compartment from its slot, ran with it straight into the house and into a bathroom, and closed the door. She had the delicate job of removing a cork plug from one end of the capsule and replacing it with a mini-marshmallow — all without letting the buzzing queen escape. (The previous year, Anna hadn’t taken this precaution, and one of the queens had flown her tiny coop; luckily, Anna was able to recapture the runaway queen and put her in her hive.)

While Sara dealt with the queen bee, Bruce poured the rest of the bees into the prepared hive. Ursula was the videographer, though without a bee suit and very aware of all the swarming bees. She caught Sara on camera triumphantly holding the queen bee in her box and explaining that the queen and her workers will together eat through the marshmallow to free her. (The queen will be less likely to desert the hive after that joint effort.)

The two girls edited Ursula’s videotape and put it up on YouTube. (Check out the link below.) If all goes well, we’ll have some more homemade honey before winter.

Other bee facts:
• Honeybees are not native to North America, nor are they the most efficient pollinators. Native bees, such as bumblebees or mason bees, are earlier risers and fly faster from flower to flower.
• Cave drawings tell us that human beings have been eating honey for at least 15,000 years.
• Worker bees — females that are not sexually developed — are the only honeybees that most people ever see. A hive’s few drones, or male bees, don’t work; their only purpose is to mate with the queen.
• A worker bee will usually visit between 50 and 100 flowers on each collecting trip. She’ll return to the hive carrying more than half her weight in pollen and nectar.
• Over the 6 weeks of a worker bee’s life in the summer months, she’ll produce slightly less than one-tenth of a teaspoon of honey.
• To make one pound of honey, worker bees will fly 55,000 miles and tap two million flowers.
• A queen can lay one egg per minute for a total of 1,500 eggs in a single day.
• Honeybees used in commercial pollination, as in the California almond crop, have died in large numbers in recent years. Colony Collapse Disorder is not well understood, but pesticide use appears to play some role in the large-scale die-offs.

Learn more
- Watch “Starting up a beehive,” Sara and Ursula’s video.

- More information on bees.

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

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Celebrating Earth Day with children


Earth Day occurs on Friday, April 22, this year. The first Earth Day, held on the same date in 1970, is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement, and with helping pass the landmark environmental laws that followed: the Clean Air Act in 1970, the Clean Water Act in 1972, the Endangered Species Act in 1973.

One of the goals for Earth Day 2011 is to encourage individuals, organizations, and communities to pledge to do at least one “green act” — plant a tree, replace inefficient light bulbs, ride a bike or walk to work or school, or tackle other large-scale efforts — in advance of the global Earth Summit in Rio in 2012. When I checked earlier this week, the pledge counter on the Earth Day Network website was above 72 million.

A friend complained to me the other day that Earth Day bothered her the same way Mother’s Day does: We shouldn’t honor our mothers or the planet we live on only one day a year. My friend is right. One day isn’t enough to honor the ongoing miracle of life on this blue-green planet, any more than it sufficiently celebrates the work, and the value, of raising children. The history of Earth Day shows us, though, what good can happen even from one day.

Here are five family-friendly ways to celebrate Earth Day around the AMC region, both on the actual day and beyond.

1. Picnic for the Planet. The Nature Conservancy is celebrating Earth Day 2011 by encouraging people to gather together around the world and to pack a “green, smart, and local” lunch. A group is meeting on the Boston Common from noon to 2 p.m. One mother wrote on the website, “It’s school vacation week, so I’m bringing my children!”

2. Find an Audubon event. Audubon societies around the United States are offering a variety of events to celebrate Earth Day. Two examples in the AMC region: The Audubon Society of Rhode Island is offering free guided walks at wildlife refuges around the state and in nearby Massachusetts on Earth Day and the Connecticut Audubon Society is hosting Earth Day fairs around the state on April 30. At the Fairfield Earth Day exploration, for example, children can make crafts and meet animals on the endangered species list.

3. Plant a tree. Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April. This year that’s April 29. On the first Arbor Day, in 1872, an estimated one million trees were planted around the country. Now it’s celebrated around the world. Look for tree-planting opportunities in your community, or plant one at home.

4. Pick up trash. As I’ve written here, I spent my early Earth Days picking up trash along roads and out of rivers with my parents and brothers. I continue that tradition with my children. We pick up the trash that’s collected along the side of our road (most of it beer cans) and walk the shallows of the pond looking for fishing line, hooks and sinkers, and sunken worm containers. We’ve noticed that the lakeshore is cleaner now than when we started. Sadly, not so the roads. I think my children learn something about the world, and about themselves, by picking up after other people.

5. Join AMC for Earth Day weekends. AMC is hosting Earth Day weekends through the end of April at Highland Lodge. The programs, which require advance registration, touch on green technologies, carbon footprint analysis, and ways to save energy and reduce consumption at home. They also include short guided hikes, family arts and crafts, a recycling relay, bottle bowling, trivia, and other games related to Earth Day.

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Early-season family hikes in the Catskills and Hudson Valley


I’ve asked the authors of several new AMC guidebooks to share their suggestions for first-of-the-year family hikes. We started with spring hikes in the White Mountains and around Boston and Cape Cod. In this third post, we travel to New York. Our guide is Peter Kick, author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, now available in an expanded second edition.

The five hikes selected by Kick take children to a trailside zoo, fire tower, cranberry bogs, lighthouse, and even a meteor crater.

Hessian Lake and Fort Montgomery, Fort Montgomery. “This easy hike winds through a park and a zoo, around a lake, and through a Revolutionary War site adjacent to the Hudson River,” says Kick in his introduction to the trip. The Bear Mountain Trailside Zoo houses only animals native to New York State, such as bear, bobcat, beaver, and otter, that have been found injured or abandoned. The zoo also includes four museums: Reptile and Amphibian House, home to a variety of turtles, snakes, frogs, toads, salamanders and skinks; Nature Study Museum, created by the Museum of Natural History to teach children about animal identification; Geology Museum, where visitors learn about the geology of the Hudson Highlands; and History Museum, which explores local Native American and early settler culture. Kick recommends hiking the popular 3.25-mile trail before Bear Mountain State Park opens in June, when trails become much more crowded and parking fees take effect. On the other hand, a summer hike may be just the thing, if children know that a swimming pool, merry-go-round, and picnic area await them.

Thompson Pond and Stissing Mountain, Pine Plains. Kick recommends Thompson Pond as a spring hike with children because of its wildlife — “returning birds, rails, golden eagles, and lots of little bridges with schools of fish underneath” — and also because that hike can easily be combined with a climb to the top of the fire tower on nearby Stissing Mountain. Each hike is about three miles. Be aware that the fire tower has a waist-high enclosure and roof but no windows, so expect to feel the full force of the wind!

Cranberry Lake Preserve, North White Plains.
A “delightful and diverse short walk” near Kenisco Reservoir is an “ideal outing for young children,” says Kick. Cranberry bogs are one of the interesting features in the small preserve’s forest and wetland habitats. In the spring, tulip trees and rhododendrons are in bloom. Kick recommends the family-oriented programs at the preserve’s Nature Center. Nature programs are offered to the public nearly every weekend.


Giant Ledge, Shandaken.
“Giant Ledge is my favorite easy hike in the Catskill High Peaks,” Kick says. “It’s good any time of year, and very forgiving for a season opener — a gigantic-feeling hike without the work.” The three-mile hike offers big views, a glacial cirque, and even the site of an ancient meteor impact, 375 million years ago. The circular crater can still be seen on satellite images.

Saugerties Lighthouse, Saugerties. This easy 1.1-mile hike is “an ideal introductory hike” for young children. The Saugerties lighthouse is the only lighthouse in the Hudson Valley that is both occupied and accessible by foot. The brick lighthouse sits at the point of a small peninsula that juts into the Hudson River. The short trail through a 17-acre nature preserve is flat and easy to walk, but surrounded on both sides by “jungly” tidal wetlands. A spur trail leads to a sandy beach. Children can “examine bits of flotsam and jetsam washed ashore with the tides, half hidden in the sands,” writes Kick. “Maybe a message in a bottle will be discovered!” There are picnic tables at the lighthouse, which is now run as a bed and breakfast.


Learn more

- Purchase AMC’s Best Day in the Catskills and Hudson Valley by Peter Kick through the AMC store.
- Read “Early-season family hikes near Boston” (Great Kids, Great Outdoors).
- Read “Early-season family hikes in the White Mountains” (Great Kids, Great Outdoors).

Photos of Saugerties lighthouse and Cranberry Lake Preserve courtesy of Peter Kick.

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

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Early-season family hikes near Boston


I’ve asked the authors of several new AMC guidebooks to share their suggestions for first-of-the-year family hikes. Robert Buchsbaum began by recommending a few hikes in the southern White Mountains. With this post, we head south, to eastern Massachusetts. Our guides are Michael Tougias and John Burk, co-authors of AMC’s Best Day Hikes near Boston, now available in an expanded second edition.

Hiking in the spring is a wonderful way to watch the natural world come alive. The four hikes selected by Tougias and Burk bring children to different natural environments: salt marshes where migrating shorebirds stop and rest on their way to breeding grounds in the Arctic, river wetlands, even carriage roads and flowering trees for a community that was never built.

Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge, Concord. An easy 1.7-mile loop that travels along two ponds and the floodplain of the Concord River. The open and changing wetland views hold children’s attention, especially as they’re likely to see osprey, geese, blue herons, ducks, and other species of birds. Look for muskrats and their cattail lodges along the shoreline of the freshwater pools next to the trail, John Burk says, and for the painted, spotted, and snapping turtles that share the pool. Bluebirds, woodpeckers, and migratory songbirds are often easily visible in the woods bordering the ponds, along with squirrels, chipmunks, and other familiar woodland creatures. (Be forewarned: Kids may not want to leave the parking lot until they’ve climbed to the top of the observation tower.) The Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge is a short drive from Minute Man National Historic Park and Walden Pond.

Rocky Woods, Medfield. Children can climb a whale (Whale Rock), catch a fish (and throw it back in), or follow a narrow passage through a “mini-canyon” in the large Rocky Woods Trustees of Reservations property. Plan the fun around a picnic — picnic tables and grills are scattered about the shoreline of Chickering Pond.

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Cape Cod. John Burk recommends Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in South Wellfleet for its easy trails and diverse — and often quite visible — wildlife. From spring through fall, Burk says, “there are all sorts of crabs, peepers, ducks, herons, cottontail rabbits, shorebirds, and turtles that are easy to see. And the sanctuary has a large butterfly garden.” The trails offer constantly changing views of different habitats, including ponds, forests, beaches, marshes, open grasslands, and mudflats. Many shorebirds use Wellfleet Bay for stopovers during their long spring migrations to their Arctic breeding grounds.

World’s End Reservation, Hingham. World’s End, as the name suggests, is a peninsula that juts out into Boston Harbor. At the end of the nineteenth century, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted laid out roads and planted trees for a residential development on World’s End that was never built. Most of the 4.5 miles of trails are on Olmsted’s old carriage roads, now maintained by The Trustees of Reservations and included in the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. Tougias calls World’s End “an old favorite”: “Kids can walk along the beach looking for driftwood, run through the meadows, see the Boston skyline, and walk on a path through the woods and by a small pond.” In the spring, look for sea ducks and other shorebirds along the rocky shore or walk among the tulip and apple trees in blossom.

Learn more
- Purchase AMC’s Best Day Hikes near Boston by Michael Tougias and John Burk through the AMC store.
- Read "Early-season family hikes in the White Mountains" (Great Kids, Great Outdoors).

Photo: Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Courtesy Mass Audubon.

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

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Early-season family hikes in the White Mountains


The snow around our house has almost disappeared. Crocuses and daffodils are emerging. We’ve packed away snow pants and winter boots; the kids wear their puddle-stompers to school. Spring hiking is surely just around the next muddy bend.

But where to go when there’s still plenty of snow up high and trails down low are waterlogged? I asked the authors of several recently updated AMC guidebooks for their favorite early-season family hikes.

Robert Buchsbaum, who wrote AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains, starts us off. Appropriately so, since Buchsbaum’s White Mountain guidebooks have truly been a family affair: daughter Alison learned to walk and hike while her father and mother, Nancy Schalch, did the research for an early version of the guidebook; son Gabriel was already scrambling up mountains by the time the first edition of the Best Day Hikes guide was published in 2006. As Buchsbaum notes in the newest edition of that book, “It has been great to see the pendulum swing over the years, from Nancy and I cheerfully encouraging the kids to keep up on the trails, to them now wondering what could possibly be taking their parents so long to get up the mountain.”

Buchsbaum tends to look toward Waterville Valley and the southern White Mountains for early-season hikes, since they thaw out a little earlier than more northern areas and higher elevations. He offers three recommendations:

Smarts Brook Loop, Waterville Valley. Several lowland trails on basically level ground offer wonderful kid-friendly adventures — a granite gorge with 30-foot walls, beaver dams (including some you can walk on) and lodges, and small cascades and pools perfect for wading. The hike to the gorge is less than 0.5 miles roundtrip; the full loop, plus a side trip to the beaver meadow, is 3.6 miles.

Stinson Mountain Trail, Rumney. One of 10 additions to the new Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains, this moderate 3.6-mile trail near the popular sport-climbing area leads to fine views. From Stinson’s summit on a clear day, you can be rewarded with sweeping views of Mt. Cardigan and New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, including Lake Winnepesaukee. Follow a short spur trail to the north for views of Stinson Lake and Mount Moosilauke.

Welch-Dickey Loop, Thornton. A perennial family-hike favorite, offering fantastic views for moderate effort, and a great early-season choice. These two mountains both top out at less than 3,000 feet; plus, Welch’s south-facing ledges quickly lose their snow cover. The full loop over both peaks is 4.4 miles, but shorter hikes also reward young hikers. The trail up Welch Mountain follows a stream for the first half-mile; with very young children this may be as far as you get. The first ledges appear at about 1 mile and offer another fine destination. Look carefully on these ledges for two alpine flowers, mountain sandwort and mountain cranberry, normally found at higher elevations.

All of these trails are within the White Mountain National Forest. Day-use fees of $3 are required at the parking areas for the Smarts Brook and Welch-Dickey hikes.

Learn more
- Purchase the updated Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains by Robert Buchsbaum through the AMC store.

Photos: Red trillium and granite walls along the Smarts Brook trail. Copyright Robert Buchsbaum.

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

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Nature film: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington


Ursula’s been on a classic movie kick recently, her answer to spring sleet and cabin fever. I’m happy to be complicit. Over the past two weeks, we’ve watched all four melodramatic hours of Gone with the Wind and dallied with several light musicals. The old movie we’ve seen most recently: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, released in 1939, the same year as Gone with the Wind.

I’d seen Frank Capra’s movie a long time ago. I remembered Stewart’s character, Jefferson Smith, an idealistic young man from a western state who is unexpectedly named to fill a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate. What I hadn’t remembered was that before heading to Washington, young Jefferson Smith headed the “Boy Rangers,” an organization that audiences would have recognized as similar to the Boy Scouts (at that time itself a youthful organization of only 20 years). Smith’s winding path to the Senate begins when the governor’s four sons, Boy Rangers all, tell their father that “Jeff Smith” is the “biggest expert we got on wild game and animals and rocks” and the hero of the moment, because he and his Boy Rangers have just put out a huge forest fire.

Once Smith is installed in D.C., we see him at work on a bill to create a national boys’ camp. The camp would have a grander purpose than simply letting kids run around outdoors. “You see,” Smith says, “if we could take the poor kids off the streets — out of cities — a few months in the summer — learn something about Nature and American ideals…” He has just the place in mind, too — “about two hundred of the most beautiful acres that ever were! Mountains, prairie land, trees, streams! A paradise for boys who live in stuffy cities.”

Smith, it turns out, ascribes to what could be called a naturalist view of American democracy. In this view, the country’s natural grandeur feeds its citizens’ imaginations and independence of spirit. Children acquire a first taste of freedom and possibility in the outdoors. Smith himself learned to appreciate nature from his father: “He used to say to me, ‘Son, don’t miss the wonders that surround you. Every tree, every sunset, every ant-hill and star is filled with the wonders of nature.’ He used to say, ‘Haven’t you ever noticed how grateful you are to see daylight again after going through a dark tunnel?’”

In 1939, the United States was still in the grip of the Depression, one of the longer and darker tunnels in American life, and was being drawn into a dark chapter of world history unfolding across the Atlantic. At the same time, a bitterly divided federal government pitted progressive New Deal crusaders on one side and corporations, capitalists, and citizens who feared the creep of Communism on the other.

In the movie, the idealistic young senator discovers that a businessman who owns most of his state’s newspapers and radio stations — and most of its elected officials, too — has secretly worked out a graft scheme to build a dam in the very place that Smith has chosen for his boys’ camp. Framed and threatened with expulsion, Smith takes to the Senate floor to clear his name, while his Boy Rangers get the true story out at home. The movie was a box-office hit and made a star of James Stewart.

Watching it with Ursula, I was struck by how contemporary its story line felt. (Except, Ursula reminded me, that now Mr. Smith would build a camp for boys and girls.) That got me wondering: Would today’s movie watchers make the same connection between building strong young bodies and creating active young citizens? How would a modern Mr. or Ms. Smith try to bring “the wonders of nature” to the country’s children?

What do you think? Send me your ideas at greatkidsgreatoutdoors@gmail.com. I’ll collect them for a later post.

Learn more
- The script for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (differs slightly from the film)
- YouTube video clips from the movie:


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

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Passing on outdoor traditions: AMC's historic family camps


If you're the parent of a child in a certain age range, chances are you've looked into summer camps. And for good reason: Summer camps expose children to new experiences, give them the chance to build self-confidence and lifelong friendships, provide helpful structure, and get them out into the fresh air.

We've come to think of "camp" as something that children do. But family camps have an even longer tradition in this country — and the experience of a family spending time together in a camp setting in the outdoors is as relevant today as it was a century ago. Ironically, this old tradition can even address some of the issues confronting modern families.

"Of all the AMC institutions, only a couple have been in existence longer than our family camps," says Roger Scholl, AMC's director of chapter and volunteer relations. These volunteer-managed camps, which attract families year after year, are direct descendants of the club's "August Camp," which began in the late 19th century. All three full-service camps first served as bases for that moveable feast of outdoor recreation. The camp at Three Mile Island on Lake Winnipesaukee came under AMC ownership in 1900, after AMC "trampers and campers" visited the site during August camp. AMC bought the land near Evans Notch that became Cold River Camp in 1919, the same year that the neighboring White Mountain National Forest was created, and created Echo Lake Camp on Maine's Mount Desert Island in 1923.

Lillian Buck, who grew up spending summers at both Echo Lake and Cold River camps, where her father was a trip leader, is the current registrar for Echo Lake Camp. She notes the similarities between family and kid camps: "Everyone arrives at the same time," usually on a Saturday, and receives the same first-day introduction to the camp's traditions, usually during an evening gathering. The traditions include morning reveille at Three Mile Island, a lobster picnic at Echo Lake, talent nights and square dances. Life in family camps revolves around the outdoors, with hiking, canoeing, and kayak outings guided by AMC trip leaders. Rustic accommodations — cabins or platform tents lit only by lanterns or flashlight, outhouses and "sun" showers or shared bathhouses — maintain the feeling of "life lived outdoors," and large dining halls and common areas bring people together. "The camp environment provides a great way to be together as a family, but part of a larger community, too," Buck says. "By the end of the week, you know everyone."

Over the years, Buck has noticed a generational rhythm to the family life in the camps: "We see a family come and fall in love with camp. They come back and they bring their kids' friends or invite other families. When the kids grow up, there will be a while where we don't see the family. Ten years down the road, we'll see the older couple again with their grown-up children and grandchildren, or they come alone with the grandchildren. It's like watching the turning of the great wheel of life."

Sharing a week or two at family camp addresses a variety of modern family needs. Grandparents can come to family camp with young children, knowing that others in the community will be looking out for their safety, as well. Buck has seen family camp help families after divorce, bringing non-custodial parents and children together in a comfortable, yet structured, setting. The rustic facilities make it easy — even necessary — for children and parents alike to unplug from phones, computers, televisions, and other electronic stimulation. Older children, and especially teenagers, can stretch their independence and explore more widely within the protective framework of the community. "Kids," says Buck, "can feel like they're members of more than one family."

Roger Scholl says it's an easy vacation to plan and enjoy: Just "eat, sleep, and recreate" in a beautiful natural setting. But something deeper may be happening to those families amid the simplicity.

Psychologist and writer Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia and other books about parenting and community, offers parents three steps to creating strong bonds with their children: Keep screen time and other electronic distractions to a minimum; eat family meals; and take family vacations. Family camp does all this, and one thing more. AMC members knew a century ago that coming together in regular outdoor community helped develop and transmit important conservation values. Family camps share, celebrate, and pass along a love of the outdoors from one generation to the next.

Learn more

AMC's three volunteer-managed family camps have lotteries for the summer season (which runs from July 27 to August 25 in 2011) and maintain waiting lists for each camp. See the links below for details about each camp.
- Three Mile Island Camp, Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire
- Cold River Camp, Evans Notch, New Hampshire
- Echo Lake Camp, Mount Desert Island, Maine

In addition to its volunteer-managed family camps, AMC offers several week-long family adventure camps led by AMC staff at its lodges in New Hampshire and Maine. These staff-led camps offer a range of guided activities, including hiking, paddling, rafting, fly fishing, and hut overnights, based on location.

Photos courtesy of Cold River Camp.

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

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