Top 10 posts in 2011: AT cats, deathslogs, wicked big puddles, and other outdoors family fun

Another year gone, a new year starting, a time for reflecting… which makes this a good time to look back on “Great Kids, Great Outdoors” posts from 2011 that touched people or were shared most widely.

Sir, the AT Cat.” I first wrote about Sir and his trail friend, Magic Mix, in a description of efforts by “trail angels” to help thru-hikers stranded by Tropical Storm Irene in New Hampshire and Vermont at the end of the summer. Readers wanted to know more about Sir, and the story of the black backpack-sitting cat and his young owner became the year’s most popular post. (2011 was the Year of the Cat around AMC: One of the top posts on Matt Heid’s “Equipped” blog was about the house cat at the Mount Washington Observatory.)

Deathslog.” Maybe it was the title, or maybe the debate that followed it. For whatever reason, the story of four boys, their fathers, and their one-day hike across the Presidential Range became one of the most-read posts of 2011.

Early-Season Family Hikes.” This series of three posts from April was fueled by the eagerness every hiker feels to get back into the mountains after a long winter — and the winter of 2010-2011 was a long one. Experienced AMC guidebook authors helped me select day hikes for families — Robert Buchsbaum for the White Mountains, Michael Tougias and John Burk for hikes near Boston, and Peter Kick for hikes in the Hudson Valley and Catskills — and, judging from how often the posts were read, helped many families get an early start on hiking.

Wicked Big Puddles and Vernal Pools.” Who doesn’t like spotted salamanders and the delightfully crazy folks who set up “salamander crossings” to help these New England amphibians return to vernal pools each spring? The first warm rain of the year brings salamanders, wood frogs, and other forest creatures to these ephemeral pools for a very short time — sometimes only one or two nights — to mate and begin a new cycle of life. A series of Mass Audubon outings gave me the title for a post that combined natural science with information on where families could join the fun.

Some of the most viewed posts of the year weren’t actually from 2011. I’m glad to know that such series as the five-part “Fall Hikes and Rambles with Kids,” from September 2009, and “Teaching Kids Cross-Country Skiing,” from December 2010, are still being found and read.

“Great Kids” also need the “Great Outdoors” in town and at school. “Rethinking Schoolyards — and Classrooms,” also a popular older post, explored the efforts of innovative schools to incorporate the natural world into children’s school days. I profiled the outdoor playground at Crossroads Academy in Lyme, New Hampshire, and the outdoor classrooms created through the Boston Schoolyard Initiative.

Finally, in this blog I sometimes explore our own outdoors family relationships, our ups and downs, high points and spills. “If the snowshoe fits: one reluctant kid, one grumpy mom, and a dad with hot dogs,” from January, was the most popular of those posts in 2011.

The New Year brings some changes to the “Great Kids, Great Outdoors” blog. Beginning this week, AMC Outdoors and AMC Books publisher Heather Stephenson will start sharing her knowledge of AMC and her own experiences as an outdoor parent. Look for her fresh and different perspective to these postings starting Saturday. And as always, we hope you’ll share your own knowledge and experiences with us. It’s going to be a great year!

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