Saturday, November 26, 2011

Be Careful or You'll End Up on Your Butt

After the post Thanksgiving stuffing, my husband, kids, parents and I took a hike on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland to Weaverton Cliffs, north to the Ed Garvey Shelter and back. The leaves are off the trees and ankle deep on the trail. I forgot that freshly fallen leaves are slippery when I almost fell on my butt; however, I managed to catch myself before falling on the edge of a rock. That got me thinking about what are the hazards of hiking after the leaves have just fallen.
  • Hiking on freshly piled leaves is liked walking on a newly polished floor with high heals; the wax provides a perfect opportunity to skid out. The waxy, protective coating on leaves is similar, particularly going down hill. To prevent this, I stepped from rock to rock because of their textured and abrasive surface. Furthermore, while hiking down hill, I took smaller steps and used my quad muscles as brakes.
  • The ankle deep leaves messed with my depth perception and where the best spot was to place my foot on the trail tread. The rocks and tree roots played peekaboo, tricking me with my involuntary decisions to make the right choice.
  • Often times when I hike, I rely on the trail tread to lead me in the right direction and check for blazes at turns and intersections. However, I found myself looking for the white blazes a lot more because the trail tread mimicked the forest floor.
The winter is one of my favorite times of the year to hike because the views are expansive through the woods and the trails are a lot less crowded in the DC area, except for the occasional burst of southwestern air that infiltrates our region in the winter. This causes people to stop hibernating and leave their dens to seek the fresh air of the trail.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Camping at Rocky Gap State Park

   Friends in my neighborhood gather every September to go camping for fellowship and fun in nature. For the past nine years, we have camped at a county park, Little Bennett. This park has beautiful nature, great facilities and is a half hours drive from our homes. Camping at this park allows us to participate in our kids weekend sports activities and be close to home for families who are new to camping. Each year, there are the regulars and some families trying camping for the first time. Two thumbs up for them! Sometimes camping for the new families has been successful and they have become regulars but others have packed up in the middle of the night to return home.

   This year on our tenth anniversary, the regulars decided to mix it up and change the location and duration. Instead of one night, we camped the weekend at Rocky Gap State Park. It is a gorgeous park tucked in the mountains of Western Maryland very close to the Pennsylvania border. The park offers an outdoor experience for the novice to the expert: a resort lodge to a campground and mountain bike trails.
I reserved six campsites on Lake Habeeb, each site with their own access and view of the crystal clear lake. We arrived at night to see a mystical fog hover over the lake in the moon light. The kids immediately had a blast exploring the trails to the lake with their flashlights. After hot and humid summer days, we experienced the crispness of fall. Something our bodies were not physically used to. We layered our fleece both morning and night to sit by a campfire and chill while the kids kept warm with a pretend game of Star Wars in the woods - boys against girls! Morning coffee never tasted so good. As the day passed, the sun peeked through the sky providing some warmth. The sun encouraged us adults to move. Some hiked the lake loop while others mountain biked it. To complete my outdoor adventure, I put on my wetsuit for an open water swim in the lake. Refreshing but chilly, as the sun descended over the mountains. As day turned into night, no camping trip is possible without roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over an open fire. Before quiet time descended over the campground, the kids lead us in song from yesterday and today.
   Living in a neighborhood with an "it takes a village" mentally is a true blessing in life; where a sense of community is real and shared by all. The gift is even great when the same sense of community can be shared in nature.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Trail Discovery for Kids

August Highlighted Hike
Stone Bridge Loop Trail
Manassas Battlefield National Park
Manassas, VA

Hike Information
* 1.1 mile circuit hike on a wide trail with crushed gravel and raised wooden walkways.
* The hike has one moderate hill to ascend and descend, hiking clockwise or counter-clockwise. Each has steps that are widely spaced.
* After the Stone Bridge, turn right or left to start the circuit hike.
* An extra 1/4 of a mile may be added to the hike passed the Van Pelt Site along the field to Bull Run (hiking counter-clockwise).
* Hike both in the woods and open field.
* Trailhead and parking lot on Rt. 29 two miles east of Sudley Rd.
* Trail map.

Age Appropriate
This circuit hike is appropriate for all ages because it is short and jogging stroller passable for toddlers. However, it can be a section of a longer hike for children elementary age and older.

What is fun for kids?
* Easy access to Bull Run to play in the stream or throw rocks.
* Great Civil War interpretive signs of the First Battle of Manassas. Being able to use the natural environment to play act the battle.
* Activities in the Park: Stone House, Henry House, and the museum and movie about the Civil War at the Visitor's Center.

* No bathrooms at the trailhead/parking lot.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Camping in the Rain

   I love to camp but have to admit that camping in the rain sucks. Twice this summer, my kids and I have done it; once at Ohiopyle State Park and the second time in Acadia National Park. Gaining some experience, I have noticed how people protect themselves differently from the elements. The most important is to have a dry tent. The second is to have a dry area to congregate and eat.
   About ten years ago, I purchased our first family tent when my daughter was born, a four-person Eureka. I love this tent. It has held up in lots of rain. The rain fly is attached to the body allowing for rain to drain away well. We were expecting rain in Acadia; therefore, placement of the tent was really important particularly since the site was sloped (made it fun to sleep also!) I staked it on the up slope against a large log that cribbed the site. My daughter and I dug drainage ditches at the ends of the log out away from the sides of the tent. Lastly, I dug a small drainage ditch at the edge of the vestibule on the up slope side. When rain drained off the vestibule, it pooled at the corner.
   At any campground, it is hard not to notice the different styles and strategies people use for car camping, particularly when it rains. Tents are all different shapes, sizes, and colors: A-frames, domes, pyramids, rectangles, and many more that can't be summed up in one word. Each tent and owner protects their bags and pads differently from rain: a fly at the apex of the tent, full coverage staked away from the body, vestibule flies, and supported screened vestibules and flies. Knowing the rainy forecast, many people hung large tarps in addition to the flies above their tents for extra protection. Some choose to do the combo of tarping their picnic table and the entrance to their tent, creating a covered walkway. Those who didn't protect their tent sufficiently were forced to sleep in their cars (love being a fly on the bathroom wall after rain). Thankfully, our family was not one of them. We had a dry tent!
   Just like with tents, campers use varying strategies for protecting a congregating/eating area. Some use canopies, while others put up screen houses for both rain and bugs. I placed the picnic table under some trees. Thankfully someone had left a line across the site where I hung a trap from and tied off the corners. A slope in the tarp is important to wick away the rain. If not, then a big, sagging pool of rain collects and it becomes extremely difficult to drain. Looking around, I noticed some staked one or two sides to the ground or placed poles in the grommets and tied the other corners to a tree, others tied three ropes parallel and hung the tarp with flaps on each side to ward off diagonal rain, and yet another tied one corner to the hitch of their car. Hanging and tying a tarp involves problem solving to achieve the best set-up to ward against the elements. This summer I have gained more practice than I've liked in hanging a tarp.
   I have to admit, I considered a hotel room after 20 hours of constant, steady rain in Acadia because my kids and I were wet and cold. However, our tent stayed dry and we opted for a hot shower instead (coined operated outside the park). Clean, warm and in our jammies, we quickly negotiated the rain and climbed into our sleeping bags. The pitter patter of the rain on the tent peacefully and gently put us to sleep. Even though I don't like camping in the rain, I love listening to the rain on my tent!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Family Meals and Packing: Backpacking Style

   This past weekend, my family and I did a kid-friendly backpacking trip to Green Ridge State Forest with some friends. We hiked two miles to our wilderness campsite at a great swimming hole along Fifteen Mile Creek. To get there, we needed to bushwhack off the trail before it ascended a steep ridge. It was a beautiful spot where the kids had fun playing in the water and cooling off from the hot sun. Packing for a successful trip is time consuming, particularly when I do it occasionally and for the family.
   Our camping gear is in three bins in the basement. They are easy to pull out and separate backpacking supplies from car camping supplies. For me, meal planning is most time consuming, particularly creating the dinner menu. Time is spent: planning the menu, making the grocery list, going to the store, and then repackaging it to reduce the waste and weight.
    Our standard breakfast menu is instant oatmeal and bagels with cream cheese (bought in the plastic tub). I didn't take bagels this time to reduce space. To add protein to the oatmeal, I chopped almonds and put them in a zip bag with craisins. Coffee is a must to get my husband and I going in the morning. Starbucks Via packs are as good as coffee grounds without the clean-up.
    Lunch is easy and packed with protein - cheese (smoked Gouda works well and doesn't get greasy) and salami or pepperoni. We eat them with Naan bread and apples or baby carrots. Naan is a great alternative to pita and bagels. It stays moist long and doesn't crumble or take up lots of space. Something sweet is a must and a dark chocolate bar hits the spot.
    Burritos, tacos, or fajitas are a standard camping meal particularly when car camping because it is a very simple meal. However, making this meal while backpacking causes a lot of clean-up. This is my least favorite chore whether camping or at home. Therefore, I like to minimize the dish washing. I really like freezer bag cooking which allows you to make a one-pot meal in a freezer bag.
    I made two freezer bag meals: one recipe I got from, Italian mashers with chicken, and a second I created, tuna polenta casserole (see recipe below). I prepped both meals at home combining the dry ingredients in freezer bags and wet ingredients in another.  Instead of cooking the meal in the freezer bag, I cooked them in one large pot for a hungry family of four. Freezer bag cooking is great for one or two servings in a gallon size bag but cooking for four in one is difficult to stir and get all the ingredients combined. My family loved the tuna polenta casserole. Clean-up was easy with four bowls and sporks and one pot and spoon. Just the way mom likes it!

Tuna Polenta Casserole - 4 servings
I measured some ingredients and eyeballed others. Therefore, you will need to adjust based on your own taste buds.
1 1/4 cup polenta
5 cups of water
3 stalks of celery chopped
2 chicken bouillon cubes
Onion flakes
Black pepper (no salt, bouillons have lots)
2-5 oz. Packages of tuna
Cheddar cheese
   Combine the polenta, onion flakes and bouillon cubes in a freezer ziplock bag. Chop the celery and place in a small zip bag. At the campsite, combine water and celery in the pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and slowly add the dry ingredients while stirring. Once polenta is mixed in, then add the cheese and tuna and stir. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir again before serving.

Just as good as mom's tuna noodle casserole!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Eyeball to Eyeball

   On Wednesday, my kids and I went tubing down the Shenandoah River outside of Harpers Ferry with some friends. It was a glorious day of bright sunshine and crystal blue skies; not the normal humid DC haze. The highlight of the adventure for my kids was leaving the safety of their tube and frolicking in the swallow river. They swam, splashed, chased each other, and jumped off rocks to their hearts content.
   The highlight of the day for me was being eyeball to eyeball with a damselfly. I am not sure what it was about my arms; a great landing pad on top of the bright orange tube but I had many visitors. At one time, I had five of them lined up on my right forearm. The leader and I stared at each other. I loved looking into its big black, bulbous eyes each positioned slightly off center. We stared at each other for a while until a splash hit my arm and all five lifted in flight with their delicate clear, cellophane wings. I wonder what the leader damselfly was thinking as we stared at each other. I was thinking, "you are beautiful."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Part II: Volunteering as a Vacation?! A Wild Ride

Idaho Whitewater Rafting
Google image
   During the American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacation, our group worked five days with one day off; free to do whatever we wanted.  After a relaxing morning start, I needed to accomplish a twelve mile run. From the lodge, Gretchen and I ran the Old Cascade Highway to the Iron Goat Trail. In our shorts and t-shirts, we shivered our way down the highway until our body's furnace burned with warmth. We enjoyed an easy run on a fantastic trail with beautiful scenery and views.
    We returned to the lodge to quickly change and eat to catch a ride on the Wave Trek bus that would deliver ten of us to an afternoon of riding cold, frothy rapids down the Skykomish River. It took us thirty minutes to arrive at the little town of Index, WA off of Highway 2. Outdoor Adventures, otherwise known locally as Wave Trek, has a great location on the river with a gift shop, bar and cafe, yard with fire pit and hot tub and a river guiding outfit. 
   Twenty rafters gathered in the cafe to watch a safety video. We gathered our gear in the rain and put on our wetsuits and booties. The temperature of the water was forty degrees. We were the only "girls rock" boat (Gretchen, Phyllis, Nancy and Stacey) with Rachel as our guide. Rachel has guided rivers full-time for eight years but now does the gig part time due to owning her own business (yeah for Rachel!). You can take the girl out of the river but never take the river out of the girl!    
Google image
   She reviewed the safety tips for falling out of the boat and demonstrated paddle strokes. We assumed our positions in the boat (me - front right side) and off we went on an afternoon full of adventure. After a few class three rapids, we reached the class five rapid. We parked the boat on the river bank to scope and plan our route through the rapid. I was willing to give up the front position. I was a little nervous that our guide's confidence was showing cracks. Gretchen (a former guide) advised that I stay in my position to keep things consistent and help Rachel, since it was obvious that she was nervous about riding this rapid. She hadn't guided through this rapid at the current water level (running high due to snow melt). Therefore, she waited until last and watched all the other boats as they successfully paddled the rapid. 

  As we waited, the butterflies in my stomach multiplied. I had lost confidence in Rachel's guiding when our boat got stuck on a few rocks upstream. Then it was our turn to ride and maneuver the rapid.We headed for the first drop and nailed it correctly. Then threaded the needle, as the guides call it, between two rocks successfully but didn't quite get the boat turned back left to make the second drop between two rocks. The left side of the boat caught the right rock and we entered the hole.Three went swimming. Gretchen and I managed to stay in the boat by moving towards the floor. My heart pounded in my head and chest. Once out of the hole and in the eddy, Rachel noticed my face and heavy breathing. She asked if I was having a panic attack. No, I wasn't but I was a little freaked out. I had never gone swimming before in a rapid due to a guide's misjudgment in the river. I have gone swimming due to my own misjudgment while kayaking an inflatable duckie. 
   The three swimmers were quickly rescued by two different boats. As soon as everyone was back into the boat, we went through another rapid. This time, we hit a rock incorrectly on the right side of the boat. It happened so fast after the first rescue. Everyone was so discombobulated that we didn't have enough time to get back in the groove and over we went. All of us, including the guide. As soon as I was in the water, I looked up and grabbed the rope on the boat. Rachel was beside me as an angel kayaker (not part of the crew) approached from her left side trying to assist her to get back in the boat. I remember him say "get back in the boat, you need to get back in the boat." she said, "I cant." And she couldn't. The kayaker left and it was just Rachel and me. I tried to pull myself in the boat but the PFD's are so bulky that I couldn't.  I knew the only way I was getting back in the boat is if she did first. She felt my hand under her butt and together we got her back in the boat. Then together, she pulled me in. I grabbed a paddle but sat on the wrong side as she instructed me to sit on the left. We hit another rapid. Working together, we navigated it successfully. 
   Exiting the rapid, Bernyce appeared beside our boat after swimming through the rapid. Rachel grabbed and pulled her in the boat. She looked water logged and stunned. She lay in the back of the boat catching her breath as we paddled over to the eddy to take stock of all the others who were missing.  Once there, we found out that not only Bernyce went swimming but everyone in their boat did except for their guide Josh. Still in our boat, a safety kayaker came over to Bernyce to say that he wanted to pull her to shore while in the rapid but if he did she would have hit a rock hard and decided for her safety that it would be better to let her ride the rapid. 
   We gathered some of our fellow rafters and then paddled around to another eddy where the rest were. Once there, Mike, the head guide, gave us a pep talk to stay strong and continue to paddle hard because Rachel still needed us to ride the rest of the river, even though we were feeling weary. We did. We paddled hard and stayed together as a team the remaining trip. We made it down the river without swimming again. We had fun riding some class three waves doing 360s. When all was said and done, we lifted the raft out of the water and headed on the bus for our start point, Wave Trek headquarters. There, I sat in the hot tub to add heat to my aching back. There were times on the river that I was exhausted. I forgot how much work it is to ride a river hard and make it through the wild rapids.  Maybe running twelve miles and rafting on the same day wasn't the best idea but I did it. Dressing back in dry clothes felt great. So did a warm latte.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Volunteering as a Vacation?!

For the last couple of summers, I have been taking some "me" time to learn and give back. While my kids are having fun and spending quality time with their grandparents, I rejuvenate my passion for all things hiking and environmental. In the past, I canoe camped in the Adirondacks to learn and become a Leave No Trace Master Educator and strategized with Appalachian Trail clubs in the White Mountains to encourage youth to become trail stewards. This summer, I participated in an American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacation on the Iron Goat Trail in Stevens Pass, Washington (Central Cascades).
Thirteen volunteers from all parts of the United States gathered at the Mountaineers Lodge in Stevens Pass on July 9th for two purposes: to have fun and give our sweat to the Iron Goat Trail. We worked with Volunteers for Outdoor Washington, their Iron Goat Trail committee and the US Forest Service to fix problems caused by multiple avalanches on the nine mile trail. Originally, the group was supposed to break ground on a new connector trail. However, Martin's Creek was running high due to a late snow melt and the Forest Service couldn't build a temporary bridge to access the area (the Cascades received three feet of snow in April). Therefore each day, our large group split into many, each with a crew leader, to tackle blowdowns, dig root balls, fix cribbing, install and clean drainage dips, brush (otherwise known as weed whacking), clear boulders, repair bridges, fix surface gullies, and clear a lot of avalanche debris on the lower and upper pass of the Iron Goat Trail.
The Iron Goat Trail is an interpretive rails trail built from the Great Northern Railroad bed. The railroad was an engineering feat and so is the trail, both built with incredible sweat equity. In the early 1900's, thousands of immigrant workers blasted tunnels, dared heights to construct trellis and chiseled steep mountain sides to complete the railway from Minneapolis to Seattle. In the 1990's, with Ruth Ittner's vision and fortitude , the Iron Goat Trail was built. The trail was built both by many volunteers from American Hiking Society and Volunteers for Outdoor Washington. The Iron Goat Trail is masterfully built; the most beautifully constructed trail I have hiked. The granite, stacked cribbing on the steep mountain slopes matches that of the stone walls built by New England pioneers. Craftsmanship!
The lower pass of the Iron Goat Trail is ADA approved. The trail is wide with a compact surface, gentle elevation gain, easily passable mountain streams and ravines, raised cribbing and wheel chair accessible interpretive signs. ADA trails are also fantastic for families with young children who may need to push a stroller. This trail offers great family fun: easy access, visual and interpretive history, waterfalls, mountain streams, great views, and near and far beautiful scenery. If a challenge is needed, then hike the upper pass of the Iron Goat Trail via the Martin Creek crossover or the more strenuous switchbacks to Windy Point. The best view of the mountains is at Windy Point, whether you are standing or sitting on a toilet. Yes, that's right, there is a composting, pit toilet where you can do two things at once, enjoy the view and well you know....
The group bonded around its central theme, the Iron Goat Trail. We sweated and shivered, created aching backs and muscles, developed hunger pains (then ate really well), grew tired (then slept well), shared stories and conversations and participated in an amazing adventure of white water rafting on our day off (Read Part II of Volunteering as a Vacation). Happy times all for the greater good - hike-able trails to provide access to the bounty of nature!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Trail Discovery for Kids

Highlighted Hike
River Trail
Washington, DC
 Hike Information
ü  The River trail is wide and flat. It is 1.4 miles out and back.
ü  The trail surface is a mix of gravel and mowed grass. It is stroller-friendly (bigger wheels will work best).
ü  The trail follows a peninsula of land with the Anacostia River on one side and the Kenilworth Marsh on the opposite.
ü  Link to the trail map.
 Age Appropriateness
ü  This hike is great for all ages but in particular toddlers and preschoolers. The trail is a fantastic introduction to hiking and nature.
 What is fun for kids?
ü  July is the best month to go because all the water lilies and lotus flowers are in bloom. It is beautiful!
ü  Having the kids choose which path they want to follow around the many ponds.
ü  Walking the boardwalk to the river.
ü  Riverside access to the Anacostia.
ü  Seeing wildlife – many types of butterflies and dragonflies, bull and green frogs, painted, red-eared and snapping turtles, deer, beaver and a lot of birds.
ü  Small visitor center to educate about marshes.
ü  Great place for nature photography.
ü  Picnic tables in the shade!
ü  Hot, hot, hot in the summer! The River Trail is mostly shaded but not the boardwalk or ponds.
ü  Park is open from 7:00 am to 6:30 pm.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ohiopyle State Park: Pennsylvania’s Outdoor Mecca

For years, I have heard many great stories and comments about Ohiopyle StatePark in Southwestern Pennsylvania. My friend and I, two moms, packed her minivan with camping and rafting gear, bikes and our kids and off we went seeking outdoor adventures.
     From Washington DC, Ohiopyle is a three hour drive and from Pittsburg, 90 minutes. Ohiopyle is located in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, an area lush and green, a temperate rainforest with a large tree canopy shading mountain laurel, rhododendron and ferns. Mountain streams fall from steep ravines and feed the Youghiogheny River. The river provides a white water adventure for children on class I and II rapids to thrill seeking adults who kayak or raft class IV and V rapids. Four companies in Ohiopyle provide guided and unguided trips. My daughter couldn’t wait to ride the rapids; however, it wasn’t in the cards. We experienced temps in the 60’s and rain that creates blue lips and shivering children. Not kid (or mommy) fun!
     We established home for three days in the state park: staking tents, spreading out chairs, hanging a hammock and setting-up the stove. Thank goodness for the tarp because it became our togetherness refuge under the raindrops. The girls stuck together in the two-person and my son hung with the moms. Each site provided a bit of privacy from the next and the bathrooms (showers in a separate house) were “not the best I’ve seen but not the worst,” said my daughter.
     Water play, rafting and riding the natural waterslides (video), didn’t make the agenda for the trip due to the weather. Instead, we wore pants and jackets, a great reprieve from the hot, humid temps in DC, to hike, bike, and visit Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s incredible, organic architecture home built over Bear Run for the Kauffman family in 1936. This ingenious marvel is the epitome of what outdoor living should be, besides camping of course!
     We hiked and biked the Great Allegheny Passage, a rails trail from Pittsburg to Cumberland, MD. After establishing home and cooking dinner, we took a twilight hike down the ravine to the Passage to walk amongst the fog that enveloped the old railroad bridge above the Youghiogheny. We also biked in search of the many waterfalls on side trails along the Passage. My kids braved a STEEP downhill climb to one with me in nervous tow. Well worth the nervous climb!
     So much to do in Ohiopyle State Park with not enough time. We will be back to raft or kayak, ride the natural water slides, mountain bike, rock climb and some day bike the entire Great Allegheny Passage. This trip created great memories. We look forward to more in Ohiopyle.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Veggy Revolution

    The First Lady has generated a lot of buzz about school vegetable gardens and made it very fashionable. Right on for her! So along with the children and nature movement, school systems across the country are starting their own revolution to teach children where food comes from and what a better teachable moment than growing a vegetable garden. 
   For a very long time, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) did not allow teachers, students or parents to plant vegetable gardens on school grounds. For over a year, a ground swelling of activism occurred to change the school system's stance. With the work from Master Gardeners, Montgomery Victory Gardens, and Audubon Naturalist Society's GreenKids program, the school system softened this spring and started a pilot project to allow schools to grow vegetables in containers.
   GreenKids helped seven MCPS elementary schools plant salad greens in an Earthbox or a salad table. The GreenKids Environmental Educators and school teachers integrated lessons on local food sustainability, plant parts and vegetables, what a garden looks like, and observing and taking data about the growing process. Students planted, harvested, and ate their greens at a salad party where they were able to invite other vegetables to their salad bowl. The project was a huge success due to the excitement, smiles, and willingness to try something new, particularly since they had grown it with their own two hands.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Celebrating National Trails Day: Kid Style

   On Saturday, there were two celebrations, Marisa's 4th birthday and American Hiking Society'National Trails Day. I had the pleasure of being invited to her party to lead her and her family and friends on a Beaver and Animal Adaptations hike on the Northwest Branch Trail. This trail follows the Northwest Branch, part of the Anacostia watershed, for four miles. It is noted for a lot of beaver evidence, pencil-pointed tree stumps and trees missing their bark on the lower quarter. This evidence provides invaluable teachable moments about animal adaptations. Pencil-points are examples that beavers' teeth are an adaptation for survival, providing lumber for their lodges and dams to create safety pools. While hiking, the kids and I are on a hunt for beaver evidence, searching for pencil-points. I section the trail and they count the evidence. At each stream crossing, they receive stickers or beads with the goal of counting them at the end to learn how often they observed beaver evidence along the trail. Simple scientific data collection!
   Throughout the hike, the kids learn and engage in activities about camouflage and the predator prey relationship and their importance in animal adaptations. For me, the best part of each hike is watching the kids relate to their natural surroundings in their own creative way. Some, throw rocks or splash and stomp their feet in the water or look for critters under rocks or in the stream or chase each other in their own mimic of predator and prey. Whatever they do, I love watching them and looking for critters that I can share.
    For Marisa, National Trails Day was about celebrating being four. For me, National Trails Day was about sharing my passion for trails and their enveloping ecosystems with her and her friends. Thank you Marisa for sharing National Trails Day with me.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fishing Around

Do you know what is the most popular outdoor activity in America? Yup, that's right, fishing. Fishing transcends age, class, race, and gender, unlike all other outdoor sports. Why is that? My thoughts are that it doesn't require expensive equipment (a bamboo pole will do), requires limited physical activity and therefore less intimidating, and a body of water, whether a stream, pond, lake or river, can be found locally.
Yesterday, I listened to two knowledgeable speakers provide a lot of information about fishing in the DMV (District, MD, VA) on the Kojo Nnamdi Show. It got me thinking about fishing, children and nature. Fishing is a great way to introduce children to nature with opportunities to observe wildlife and receive the positive and tranquil benefits of it, particularly water side. Trout Unlimited with their Trout in the Classroom and the American Fly Fishing Trade Association are two outstanding organizations that introduce fishing to thousands of children around the US. Whether you participate in one of these two organization's fishing programs or go out on your own, fishing helps children develop a relationship with nature. This relationship fosters earthmanship!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Three Muddy Moms: Biking the C&O Canal

   Biking the C&O Canal has been on my bucket list for many years. 2011 was the year to do it. Little did I know in January that last weekend the Potomac River would flood and create many obstacles for three moms and friends who were seeking adventure away from our kids. Mud was the theme of the weekend.
   A few weeks before the trip, I did my research and organized the logistics: bike from Cumberland, MD to Washington DC, get dropped off in Cumberland on Thursday and sleep in a hotel, set out on the trail Friday morning with a trailer and two paniers, bike 60 miles per day, bring some food but hit the accessible restaurants, and camp in two pre-determined sites along the trail. Reality hit and plans changed. We didn't camp but stayed in the Riverrun B&B and Harper's Ferry Hostel where we could rest our weary muscles and clean the caked mud off our bodies. A shower never felt so good! We ate at every accessible restaurant along the trail because our lunch food became our snacks due to being ravenously hungry. We ditched the trailer Saturday morning because it was too heavy and created more problems on the flooded trail.
   It rained for five days straight before the trip. We were warned by the National Park Service that the trail was muddy but we didn't anticipate the "real" conditions of the trail until we started hearing the stories from bikers heading north - standing water two feet deep, downed trees, and large patches of the trail washed away. Hearing this, we stored the trailer in the basement of the B&B and packed only the essentials, one change of clothes, a little food, and bike tools. This was the best decision. The trail was impassable by trailer from Hancock to Harper's Ferry. On Saturday, we biked 69 miles which took 9.5 hours to complete. We biked through four miles of mud the consistency of chocolate fudge sauce gumming up our gears and brakes. We lifted our bikes over six downed trees and walked many areas where the trail eroded away. We reached Harper's Ferry mentally and physically exhausted with mud caked to our skin and clothes. Many people stared and asked. Even though this section of the trail was the worst, for ninety percent of the 184.5 miles we dodged or biked through mud puddles.
   Are we glad we completed the trip? Yes, definitely!
  • the camaraderie of three friends laughing through the obstacles and physical pain.
  • the natural beauty surrounding the trail. Our favorites being: Paw Paw tunnel, waterfall after the tunnel, slate valley, vegetation covered cliffs, rapids on the Potomac, mature trees growing in the swampy, black water of the canal, white and purple wildflowers lining the trail, and immersed in varied shades of lush green.
  • visits with wildlife - six snakes (black rat, northern water and garter), many turtles (box, snapping, painted and red-ear sliders), a broad-headed skink, alive and dead carp, deer, frogs (carpenter, green and bull), ground hog, adult beaver and the best of all a baby beaver. We stopped to look at a map. My eye caught a baby beaver walking towards us. He squeaked at us hoping we were its mama as he walked around our feet and in between our bike spokes. He pulled at our mama heart-strings as he tried to follow us down the trail.
  • completing a challenge and goal.
Did we learn lessons from the trip? Yes, definitely!
  • don't drag a trailer when biking long distances and in muddy conditions.
  • stay in a hotel, B&B or hostel when biking long distances.
  • be a minimalist.
  • fenders on a bike aren't so great with thick mud and stones on the trail. It gums up and sprays everywhere. Fenders are good for water in puddles and on pavement.
  • pack necessities in easy accessible pockets.
  • don't carry extra water beyond two water bottles.
  • knobby mountain bike tires aren't needed.
  • invest in clip peddles and shoes.
We communicated well with each other to problem solve obstacles, logistics and breaks when our bodies needed them. This is essential for all successful trips. 
We arrived in Georgetown on Sunday afternoon with sore muscles and butts but with smiles on our faces, hugs from our families and the best tasting smoothies from CycleLife. What is our next adventure? We are not sure but we are having withdrawal from our adventure and camaraderie!

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Secret No More: Patuxent River Park

My wish for Mother's Day this year was to camp with my family and friends at Patuxent River Park about 45 minutes southeast of Washington, DC on the Patuxent River. Over the past couple of years, our family has hiked the trails in this park from the upland woods to the boardwalks in the wetlands. This park is special because you can't image that you are so close to an urban area with its quiet peacefullness, abundance of wildlife, and lack of people. I debated whether to tell my secret or keep it to myself. In the end, I decided everyone needs to feel the peace and joy that this park deliveries once you have spent an afternoon or a weekend in its boundaries. So now the secret is out.
I reserved the campsite on January 3rd.  It is very difficult to reserve for weekends because there is only one campsite and it is such a gem. Our family arrived on Friday evening after tackling beltway traffic. We opened the gate and drove to the site, got out of the car and said wow. The site has a magnificant canopy of mature trees covering it with three picnic tables and a campfire ring. The campsite is big enough to stake down four tents. The campsite sits on a bluff on the river. After checking out the campsite, my kids ran to the river's edge to discover a dock where I heard, "Oh mama, look." This is where we spent most of our time over the weekend: reading, talking, playing, bird watching, canoeing and kayaking.
On Saturday morning, we rented a canoe and a kayak for two days. The rental is cheap at $12 a day or $17 for the day and overnight. The kids had a lot of fun learning how to paddle a canoe and kayak, many of them taking the kayak out themselves after gaining some confidence in their skills. At various times during the weekend, different combinations of parents and kids explored the pathways amongst the reeds to discover, turtles, snakes, beavers, ducks, geese, frogs and lots of osprey who were nesting at the time.
On Saturday afternoon, we hiked the trails to Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary connected to Patuxent River Park by a long boardwalk through the wetlands. Even though the hike was not a highlight of the trip for the kids, they used their imagination to create an adventure on the trail. For them, the best moments were play on or next to the river and the "secret" fort they created near the campsite. For me, the best moments were listening to nature's quiet and my children's laughter, sitting next to and on top of the peaceful river and sharing the natural, beautiful spot with family and friends.

Monday, April 25, 2011

To Hike or Walk

Do these questions or thoughts enter your mind when you think of a “family hike?”
  • ·         How do I fit another activity into my over-scheduled family calendar?
  • ·         There are dangerous things in the woods.
  • ·         I don’t know where to go hiking. Where are the closest and best trails for my beginning family?
  • ·         I have never been on a hike before. How do I start?

     The word “hike” can be intimidating to parents. Some parents visualize scenes of skyscraper mountains, deep canyons and vast, never ending forests. Big scenes that can be a little scary. Some parents can’t visualize anything because they don’t have a point of reference or connection. Let’s break the word down and use the less intimidating word of “walk.” More parents can visualize this word – a walk down their neighborhood street (with or without the dog), in a neighborhood park, or along the beach. These are known, provide a point of reference, and create a connection. Now, think of a walk in the woods, along a stream, to a pond, in a wetland, or many other possible places.    
     A hike is synonymous with it takes a long time to do - an all day event. Whereas a walk means a shorter period of time – an hour. Add a family’s perceived notion that a hike is an all day event together with their overscheduled lives, this equals a barrier to hiking on a trail. Yes, families today are overscheduled but let’s dispose of the perceived notion that a hike lasts all day. Instead, insert the word walk and go for an hour long walk on a trail with your family. When does your family have an hour in its schedule? Where is the nearest trail to walk for an hour?

The nearest trail is one click away:

None of these sites or resources is geared to help families navigate which trails or “walks in the woods” are best for kids but below are some.

Don’t feel comfortable taking your family for a walk in the woods because danger lurks around the next tree or you have never taken a hike. Don’t fear, Washington DC and many major cities have organizations that guide families to explore and experience fun adventures on kid-friendly trails. These hikes provide opportunities for parents to feel comfortable in an unfamiliar activity in an unknown place and everyone can participate in unstructured play in a structured event. Check out this family hike opportunity.
Family Hiking 101: Exploration, Safety and Leave No Trace
Sunday, May 15, 2011
2:00 – 5:00 pm
Join two expert guides from Hiking Along and The North Face on a two mile circuit hike around the perimeter of Theodore Roosevelt Island. The trail is natural surface and raised walkways through two ecosystems, a deciduous forest and wetlands. The hike is great for children of all ages with fun natural playgrounds: rocks for climbing, water for skipping rocks, and the monument plaza for a game of hide and seek. While hiking, learn about hiking safety, Leave No Trace, and the plants and animals surrounding the trail. Enjoy an afternoon in the middle of the Potomac River engaging in the great outdoors! The cost is $15 per family. To register, email
    This spring, make it a family goal to venture outside of your familiar comfort zone and embark on a hike or a walk, if that word feels more comfortable. Seek out the extraordinary amount of resources available both on the web and with organizations whose mission it is to get more people, including families, outdoors. Hiking isn’t a scary word in your family? Then, step it up a notch and venture to adventure on a new level or outdoor activity. Happy trails!

Trail Discovery for Kids

April Highlighted Hike
Billy Goat Trail, Part C
Potomac, MD
Hike Information
ü  2.5 mile circuit hike.
ü  Take the Caderock exit off the Clara Barton Parkway. Follow the signs to the Park. Drive to the last parking lot where the trail head kiosk is located.
ü  The Billy Goat Trail follows the Potomac River up and down the steep river bank. The trail tread is both rocky and smooth. Hikers will climb rocks and cross streams. The last third of the hike is on the wide and flat C&O tow path.
ü  Follow the blue blazers, even when the trail strays in different directions, particularly at a large bridge crossing half way and at the end of the Billy Goat Trail when it makes a sharp turn to the left.
ü  This trail is NOT jogging stroller passable.
ü  There is one creek crossing without a bridge.
ü  Link to the trail map, look at the trail in the lower right corner labeled Caderock.
Age Appropriateness
ü  This hike is best for kids five years and older due to the hills and rocky terrain.
What is fun for kids?
ü  Seeing wildlife – snakes, fish, blue heron, ducks, geese, turtles in the canal, skinks (look in dead tree trunks), toads, box turtles, and deer along the trail.
ü  Vernal pools and frogs.
ü  Many varieties of wild flowers in April (e.g. Virginia blue bells, phlox, may apples and many more).
ü  Lots of rocks to climb. This is an area known for rock climbing.
ü  After the stream crossing, there is a big, flat rock on the river’s edge for a rest, snack or picnic lunch. This is also a great spot for playing in or next to the water.
ü  Watching kayakers on the river.
ü  Seeing a waterfall.
ü  This area of Great Falls and the Canal is very busy on the weekends. There is some difficulty finding a parking spot.
ü  Many different user paths off the trail. Follow the blue blazes.
ü  Trash free park – pack your garbage out.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Trail Discovery for Kids

March 2011 Highlighted Hike
Graves Mill Trail
Madison County, Virginia
Hike Information
ü  2.5 miles out and back hike to the second water crossing or 4.2 miles out and back to the trail head at the Rapidan Fire Rd.
ü  Wide trail with easy, gradual elevation gain. There is one hill before the turnaround at the second water crossing. After the second water crossing, the trail gradually gains 200 feet.
ü  Continue straight on the Graves Mill Trail at .5 miles when it intersects the Staunton River Trail.
ü  The trail is not jogging stroller passable due to a stream crossing at .6 miles into the hike.
ü  Driving directions - From Culpeper, go south on U.S. 29 for about 20 miles. South of Madison, turn right at Route 230 West. Follow Route 230 for about four miles to Wolfton. Turn right at SR 662 and follow it to its end at the Shenandoah National Park boundary. Or access the trail from the Rapidan Fire Rd. at the end of Rt. 649 near Syria, Va.
ü  Trail map - no online resource. Purchase PATC Map #10 or see photo.
Age Appropriateness
ü  This hike is best for children five years and older. 
What is fun for kids?
ü  The trail follows the babbling Rapidan River with a few rapids, particularly upstream.
ü  At .75 miles on the trail, there is a great rock beach for a picnic lunch, rock throwing or skipping, and stream play in warmer weather or testing one’s balance on the ice.
ü  At .4 miles on the trail, one of nature’s wonders is on view, beaver’s awe-inspiring engineering. The evidence of two beaver dams and two large lodges is littered on the river banks by the many pencil-pointed tree stumps. Possible opportunities to see the beavers in action are best during a dawn or dusk hike but shhh, beavers are very shy!
ü  At the Rapidan Fire Rd. trail head, there is a great swimming hole.
ü  Try a little catch and release and bring a fishing pole. There are many brown trout in the river.
ü  Two first stream crossings are difficult for children. The stepping stones are adult stride. Waterproof sandals or shoes are a good option.
ü  Popular hiking area. SNP provides twelve parking spots with parking restricted on the road.
ü  There are no bathroom facilities.
ü  Trash free park – pack your garbage out.

Monday, January 24, 2011

History & Nature in One

Today, my kids would normally be in school but it was a work day for teachers; therefore, some friends and I took our children and went to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia for a night and two days. I rented a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club cabin, only one of nine cabins are modern (electricity/plumbing) while the other 31 cabins are primitive (a roof over your head with a fireplace). Highacre is a beautiful old house, built in the late 1800's, that sits high on the cliff above downtown Harpers Ferry with an incredible view of the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers with the high ridges that surround the rivers. If it wasn't six degrees this morning, watching the sunrise from the front porch would have been breathtaking. Instead we witnessed it in warmth from the big dinning room windows.

  Whether you go to Harpers Ferry in the winter or summer, there are many activities to do providing different opportunities and experiences. The summer invites families to play in the rivers along the rivers' edges or drifting in the river's flow on an inner tube. The winter offers a family time to observe the icy caps on the rivers and hear the crackle of the ice and enjoy all the activities of Harpers Ferry with minimal visitors.
  • Learn about Harpers Ferry in the 1800's, its abolitionist movement, and its place during the Civil War, in particular the John Brown raid, at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
  • Watch trains as you walk the bridge over the Potomac River.
  • Hike the Appalachian Trail into Maryland to Weaverton Cliffs or into Virginia to Loudon Heights.
  • Watch the sunset at Jefferson Rocks.
  • Hike the Maryland Heights Trail to experience an amazing view of the river's confluence and Harpers Ferry.
  • Bike or walk the C&O Canal path.
Even though it was a frigid day, the sun was shining with blue skies; we layered up, crossed the train bridge over the Potomac, walked the C&O Canal Path, to the trailhead of the Maryland Heights Trail and ascended the ridge. Even though, my little one couldn't make it to the amazing view at the top of the cliffs, the rest did. Walking back along the train bridge, we viewed the waving arms of my daughter and our friends on the cliffs. The hike and its spectacular views were the highlight of the staycation in Harpers Ferry. Harpers Ferry is definitely a historical and natural oasis in the Mid-Atlantic.