Our son Matt is now 22 years old, married and about to graduate from college with a degree in physics. He is in every sense of the word a success story for his parents. We feel so lucky for things to have turned out like this. The challenges of raising kids in the 21st century are so daunting that I just don’t know how we would have done it had Matt been born 10 or 15 years later.
It seems like families need something to be at the core of who and what they are. Something they can enjoy together – and even more so, be a rock that they can always return to. For our family, this has always been wilderness.
When Matt was 3 years old, we embarked on a 4 month journey with him. We spent 2 months on the Appalachian Trail, hiking with Matt in a 3-wheeled baby jogger from Springer Mtn. Georgia to Erwin Tennessee. We then bicycled on the roads from North Carolina to Bar Harbor Maine. When we tell people about this trip, they invariably ask if he remembers any of it. She says that he remembers bits and pieces. But that this trip formed a lot of who he is. Patient in solving problems, comfortable in the outdoors, adventurous in spirit and friendly with other people. We’ve also had a thread of summertime Buffalo River canoe camping trips dating back to when Matt was only 4 years old.
But I wonder if the types of experiences that Matt grew up with will slowly become some kind of old school Americana in the coming generations. There is evidence that suggests that families are embracing wilderness adventure less than prior generations. Between 1995 and 2005, overnight stays in national parks declined 20% overall, and camping and backcountry stays dropped by 24%, according to statistics compiled by the National Parks Service. This represents a drastic change in our society.
Whether this shift it is a bad change or not, I am not qualified to comment on. I can say that our experience in raising Matt would have been much more challenging and much less fulfilling without the experiences we shared in the outdoors.
Which brings me to the point of this blog. Even with the rise of the internet providing more information that you can handle, I still find families are struggling to figure out where to go for a wilderness experience. With summer coming, I thought that I would make a few suggestions for things to do with the kids:
Easy and fun trips close to home:
The Lafayette Nature Station is a great outing you can do several times during the summer. www.naturestation.org
The Vermilion River is Lafayette’s most serene get-away, running right through the middle of town. Thanks to Catherine at Bayou Vermilion District for reminding me of this great in-town getaway. www.bayouvermilion.org
Fausse Point State Park offers cabins if you don’t camp that are right over the water and beautiful. They have added a water fountain style playground that the kids would have a blast playing in. You can fish, walk the trails and much more. www.crt.state.la.us/parks/ilakefaus.aspx
Chicot State Park offers camping with bathrooms and showers as well as cabins to rent. There is a 20 mile hiking trail and 8 miles of canoe trails. www.crt.state.la.us/parks/ichicot.aspx
Also, you can stop by at Pack & Paddle to pick up maps to 5 or 6 great hiking areas that are a little more secluded if you are interested in that. We can suggest some day hikes, overnight backpack trips or places to car-camp. www.packpaddle.com
Great trips not so close to home:
The Buffalo National River is a federally designated Wild and Scenic river. It is an amazing asset to our country and you should go there if you have a chance. The Buffalo is a 8-10 hour drive from Lafayette, but worth the trip. www.nps.gov/buff/
Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas is a great place to go camp and hike with your family. You’ll find great camping and nice cabins. www.petitjeanstatepark.com/
The Nantahala Outdoor Center is an amazing place for older kids and families. Located where the Appalachian Trail crosses the Nantahala river, you’ll find world class whitewater rafting, mountain biking, hiking and much more. www.noc.com
When it gets hot in midsummer, I would suggest escaping to anywhere in northern New Mexico or to Colorado. We love Durango, Silverton, Ouray and, well, there’s too many spots to mention.
So make a plan this summer. The crowds are down. The scenery is beautiful. Adventures are ready to be made. Get out and build some memories with your kids. You will never, never ever regret it!