Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Celebrate Trails on June 2

This Saturday is National Trails Day, the perfect opportunity to get out and enjoy a hike with your kids—and to help maintain your favorite trails alongside other local volunteers.

AMC chapters have many activities planned, including family hikes and work projects. On the Mount Willard Trail in New Hampshire, a favorite for many families who have stayed at AMC’s nearby Highland Center Lodge, a group will welcome all ages for a spring cleanup, including clearing vegetation, repairing water bars, and improving off-trail drainage.

The American Hiking Society, which sponsors National Trails Day, is holding a coloring contest (look under "American Hiking News"; deadline is July 31). If your kids are involved with the Boy Scouts, you may also find ways to get involved through them—including a chance to get a special patch commemorating the 20th anniversary of this national event.

If you want to continue the tradition of giving back to the trails beyond this weekend, consider signing up for a Volunteer Vacation or Teen Trail Crew, joining a local chapter trail committee, or adopting a trail yourself. You will be showing your kids how important it is to help maintain the trails that get us out and active in the natural world all year round.

Photo by Jerry and Marcy Monkman.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Heather Stephenson.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Boston Nature Center Celebrates Outdoors with Kids Boston

Leti Taft-Pearman, AMC staff; Morag Deans, AMC Boston Chapter member; and Kim Foley MacKinnon, author.
Did you know that wild turkeys, pheasants, and even coyotes call Mattapan home? I learned this and more this weekend on a visit to Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary to celebrate AMC’s new book, Outdoors with Kids Boston, and new free Kids Outdoors online community.

I spotted a turkey, but the other wildlife kept out of sight as a lively group of kids enjoyed a “nature play date” at the sanctuary on Sunday afternoon. The play area there includes several stations where kids can build dams, dig in sand, and create their own games using natural materials. The property also features one of the greenest buildings in Boston and more than two miles of trails and boardwalks that traverse meadows and wetlands.

The play area at Boston Nature Center in Mattapan.
Outdoors with Kids Boston author Kim Foley MacKinnon, who has a teenage daughter, shared her tips for getting kids outdoors with a group of parents gathered on picnic blankets in the shade of a large tree. Her recommendations included inventing games, such as being the first to spot an animal or identify 10 species; giving children age-appropriate responsibilities, such as reading a map; and offering rewards such as a good waterfall view—or ice cream—to help keep outings fun. After the talk, she and Erin Kelly, the center’s education coordinator and camp director, led a guided walk along the Snail Trail.

Volunteers from the family committee of AMC’s Boston Chapter attended and let others know about their upcoming events, including family-oriented trips to the Blue Hills, Moose Hill Farm in Sharon, and the Boston Harbor Islands. (Search AMC’s activities listings using the keyword “Boston” and selecting “family” as the activity type to learn more.)

Parents also used computers at AMC’s table to sign up for the registration-based Kids Outdoors online community, which offers local expert advice (including weekly blog posts by MacKinnon) and more than 100 close-to-home hiking, biking, swimming, paddling, and playground ideas for kids up to age 12, searchable through Google Maps.

According to Mass Audubon, more than 230,000 residents and more than 40 schools are located within two miles of the Boston Nature Center, so the site’s community gardens, education programs, and summer camps offer close-to-home outdoor opportunities to a large urban population. Check out this green oasis the next time you need a respite from the bustle of the city.

AMC President John Judge with Bethany Whitemyer and Crystal Lauzon of Bright Horizons, a sponsor of the Kids Outdoors online community.

First and third photos by Heather Stephenson. Photo of Boston Nature Center play area by Lisa Drakulic of Bright Horizons.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Heather Stephenson.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

4 Outstanding Adirondack Trips: Hiking, Paddling, Biking—and Riding a Train

Adirondack Park in New York State offers vast wilderness, beautiful lakes and ponds, and 46 mountain peaks over 4,000 feet. At about 6 million acres, it is the largest park in the contiguous United States, larger than the entire state of New Hampshire. Where should a visitor start?

I asked Peter Kick, author of the new book, Discover the Adirondacks: AMC's Guide to the Best Hiking, Biking, and Paddling, for some suggestions. Here are his favorites for families looking to explore the park. The first two trips are near Fish Creek Pond Campground and Rollins Pond Campground, two great places to pitch your tent for an outdoor adventure. The second two are near Old Forge, a popular tourist area.

1. Hiking Coney Mountain
“At 2.0 miles (round-trip) and a scant 500-foot elevation gain, this is the ideal hike for a wide ability group, and especially friendly to first-time-ever hikers,” Kick told me in an email. “If you can walk, you can climb Coney Mountain!”

From the summit, which is reached via a gentle, well-marked trail, hikers are treated with a 360-degree view of the surrounding Tupper Lake region, including such landmarks as Haystack and Buck mountains and Mount Marcy, the state’s highest mountain, which was earlier called Tahawus (“Cloud-Splitter”). Families who want to tackle more in the same day can plan ahead and also paddle on Little Tupper Lake or hike Mount Arab. Those who are ready for a more difficult hike in the area might try St. Regis Mountain or Ampersand Mountain on another day.

2. Paddling Rollins Pond Loop
Kick recommends this loop as “good for families of any ability level, and a perfect introduction to pond hopping, Adirondack style.”

The water of the small ponds and streams on this 7.5-mile loop is flat and easily managed, and the wildlife is plentiful. Look for osprey, eagles, herons, and mergansers, as well as trout. Don’t let the “pond hopping” discourage you—the distances for the three carries are short (three tenths of a mile or less) and you can wheel your boat between waterways, if you have a canoe dolly. The carries are marked with signs.

The loop passes through the Rollins Pond Campground, where you can stay for a fee and can rent canoes, kayaks, and rowboats. Rentals of boats, canoe dollies, and camping equipment are available at nearby St. Regis Canoe Outfitters, and you may camp for free at designated campsites along the ponds, including some sites on islands.

“This trip is logistically simple, with not a lot of fussing to get boats, car-topping, or route finding,” Kick says. It is “the ideal guided discovery for youngsters in active outing families or those aspiring to be.”

3. Hiking Bald Mountain
Bald Mountain (also called Rondaxe, after a nearby lake) in Old Forge is “probably the most popular family hike in the Adirondacks,” Kick says. It’s just 2 miles round-trip and the elevation gain is 440 feet, so it’s relatively easy to get to the top, but the pay-off is tremendous: 360-degree views from the fire tower across the Fulton Chain of Lakes, a string of eight lakes connected by straits or short portages. This is also a dog-friendly hike near other tourist attractions, so expect crowds on warm summer days.

4. Bicycling to Carter Station—With Help from a Train
Kick calls this “the coolest bike trip EVER.” To do it, board the Adirondack Scenic Railroad with your bike at Thendara Station, 1 mile south of Old Forge. Leaving at 10 a.m., the diesel-powered train (which carries canoes as well as bicycles and passengers) takes you on a 45-minute, 6-mile ride through the woods and along the Moose River to the Town of Webb’s extensive, well maintained mountain biking trail system. From there you cycle back to Old Forge and enjoy some easy riding on the town’s streets along the paved TOBIE Trail (TOBIE stands for Thendara-Old Forge-Big Moose-Inlet-Eagle Bay). Any fat tire or hybrid bike can make the easy 8-mile trip; Kick estimates the total time for the loop, including the train ride, at about 3 hours. Riders who want to explore more will find lots of loops and side trails, none of them steep.

Learn more
- You can find more details about these trips, and many others, in Discover the Adirondacks.

Photo of Peter Kick courtesy of Peter Kick.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Heather Stephenson.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Kids Bike to School Across the Nation

Are you geared up for the first-ever National Bike to School Day? Or do your kids bike to school every day?

Tomorrow, Wednesday, May 9, schoolchildren across the country will be pedaling to class as part of an effort promoted by the National Center for Safe Routes to School. The event promotes healthy physical activity, cleaner air, and safer streets, plus participating schools can register for a chance to win one of 10 free bike racks.

To find out about local events, get tips for planning your own, or see photos and stories afterward, visit www.walkbiketoschool.org. And if you participate, don’t forget your helmets.

Here are some other great resources for getting your kids on bikes safely and happily:

Dos and Don'ts of Bicycle Safety for Children and Families
Choosing Bicycles for Children of All Ages
Family Bicycle Tips, Illustrated by Trips

(Photo by iStock)

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Heather Stephenson.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Get Past “No” and Get Outdoors with Kids

Getting outdoors is good for kids’ growing bodies and minds. Parents know that. But it still can seem hard to do.

Computer screens call. Schedules fill. Adults worry about safety, or don’t know where to go.

How can families move beyond such obstacles?

Here are some tips from the authors of AMC’s new Outdoors with Kids guidebooks for Boston and New York City. These parents speak from experience: They brought their own children along as they researched their books, each of which describes 100 great places for active outdoor family fun. Their suggestions apply to families anywhere.

1. Keep it Simple.
“First of all, my advice is to not overthink,” says Kim Foley MacKinnon, author of Outdoors with Kids Boston and mother to Sadie, 13. “There are plenty of places to go near your house, wherever you are.”

William de Jong-Lambert, co-author of Outdoors with Kids New York City with his wife Cheryl, agrees. He suggests that families keep goals small. On a weeknight, that might mean 15 minutes outdoors before dinner. On a weekend, “just spend two hours, maybe three hours, and then come home for lunch. You don’t have to commit to a big excursion.”

2. Schedule It.
The de Jong-Lamberts, parents to 9-year-old Riley and 6-year-old Halina, find that scheduling regular times for getting outdoors helps them fit it in. “On Friday nights in all seasons and weather, I meet the gang somewhere outside after work,” says Cheryl de Jong-Lambert. Her husband picks the children up from school, then meets her. “We find that works better and gives us much more time outside than having me go home first and then us all going out,” she explains.

3. Give the Kids Control—and Rewards.
MacKinnon recommends choosing outings with a rewarding goal, like a walk to a waterfall or a great view. Other rewards can help too. She told her daughter’s friends, who came along on many research trips, to bring a lunch and look for a good place for a picnic. Soon they were also looking for a good place to have ice cream at the end of the day. The ice cream “wasn’t really my [original] plan, but eventually it became part of our routine,” she says with a chuckle.

She also followed the young people’s lead on the trail. “Whenever we went somewhere that had a trail map, I had my daughter or one of the other kids be in charge of the map and choose where we would go,” she says. “Giving kids ownership over their day helps.”

4. Make It Fun for Everyone.
MacKinnon recommends that parents invent simple nature games. On one hike after a rainy day, she pulled out a laminated field guide card and challenged the kids to identify all the mushrooms they saw. “They had a blast,” she recalls. “I think they found more than 12 types.” The group also had an ongoing contest to be the first to point out an animal each day: “They loved being first to spot something.”

Parents, too, need to have fun while they’re outdoors. “There are plenty of things that are important to do, but you have to want to do it or it isn’t going to happen,” says William de Jong-Lambert. Given the interest in history that he and Cheryl share, their family often explores places with links to the past. They also enjoy finding parks and playgrounds in ethnic neighborhoods, where they can buy Polish, Korean, Tibetan, or other international foods for a picnic. 

5. Skip the Housework.
To enjoy more time outdoors, Cheryl de Jong-Lambert recommends leaving housework for later. “You have to not let the indoors suck you in,” she says. “There’s always stuff to do, but you have to turn a blind eye to it and go out.”

6. Use Technology to Your Advantage.
If it’s hard to pull your children from computer screens or hand-held devices, harness that interest in technology to get them outdoors, MacKinnon says. GPS and geocaching “is an answer for kids who are techy and want something in their hands,” she says. To get started, you can visit geocaching.com and enter a search radius from a location (such as within 20 miles of your home) to see what caches are hidden nearby. Then read the descriptions to see which sounds like fun for your kids.

7. Invite Friends—or Make New Ones.
“Your kid is less likely to complain in front of their friends,” says MacKinnon, who swears by inviting a buddy to make outings go more smoothly. And for parents who aren’t already comfortable or knowledgeable about outdoor activities, she recommends joining a local group like the Appalachian Mountain Club, to meet other parents, get discounts, and find places to go and things to do outdoors as a family.

Learn More
  • Meet New York authors Cheryl and William de Jong-Lambert on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 13, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at Prospect Park’s Audubon Center. The fun family event will include a scavenger hunt, a campsite to explore, and a guided nature walk.  
  •  Meet Boston author Kim Foley MacKinnon on Sunday, May 20, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the Boston Nature Center. This hands-on, kid-friendly event will include a “nature play date” and a guided nature walk. 
  • Learn about AMC’s Kids Outdoors online communities for Boston and New York City, set to launch in May. These sites will offer more tips and activities for families interested in getting outdoors.
  • Check out Outdoors with Kids Boston and Outdoors with Kids New York City at AMC’s store.
  • Celebrate the grand opening of the new natural playscape at AMC’s Highland Center with a day of special games and activities, Sunday, July 1. The “Big Mountain” play area made of local granite, wood, and other natural materials was designed to help families enjoy the outdoors.

Photo by Istock.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Heather Stephenson.

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