Thursday, June 16, 2011

Kids and the Outdoors: The Appalachian Trail

One of my favorite places in the world is the Appalachian Trail. I was 14 years old the first time I ever set foot on it, and at the time, I was terrified at the 3 days of backpacking ahead of me. I loved nature and camping, but I didn't think I was physically up to the famed backpacking trip at the summer camp I went to every summer. I did it, and I couldn't wait to do it again.
 Over the years, I went on a few more of those backpacking trips and even led a few as a counselor. In college, I explored parts of the A.T. in other states through our Outdoor Recreation group on campus. After we got married, my husband and I took day-trips along the A.T. when we went camping. Now, I have the most wonderful gift of living a mere 2.5 miles from the trail. When I go on some of my runs, I run past it, or on days like yesterday when I felt like giving trail running a go, I run on it

I love the trail for so many reasons. I love it because of what I know I've accomplished along it, doing things I didn't think I could do. I love it for the memories and community I've created while walking along it. I love it for the way it immerses me in the natural world and for the immense beauty found in such diverse places along the way. I love the A.T. for just how awesome it is.

From the Appalachian Trail Conservancy:
The Appalachian Trail is the longest continuously marked footpath in the world, measuring roughly 2,180 miles in length. The Trail goes through fourteen states along the crests and valleys of the Appalachian mountain range from the southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia, to the Trail’s northern terminus at Katahdin, Maine.
Its very existence is just plain impressive. The community created among the thru-hikers who get to know each other as they make their way along the trail at their own paces, communicating through log-books at shelters and occasionally when they pass each other is striking. Similarly, the support gathered by communities adjacent to the trail for hikers reminds me the generosity and hospitality of which we are capable.

 The A.T. is a pretty cool place, and someday when the kids are grown I want to thru-hike it or at the very least section hike the entire thing. In the meantime, I am overjoyed to be able to share this sacred place with my kids. I am overjoyed to watch them explore and adventure. I can't help but grin when I ask my son what the white trail blaze means, and he excitedly exclaims, "we're on the Appalachian Trail!" It's neat to watch him connect the part of the trail we're one day to the others we've visited previously as he notices the blazes.

Every hike we take, whether on the A.T. or not, is a new adventure for both my kids and myself. We watch as the earth changes with the seasons and the weather. We begin to notice and identify plants or animals common to one area versus another. We find wild edibles and not-so-edibles. We listen to and watch the birds, and we begin to identify them learning the unique call of the oven bird, or that the red-winged black bird males were all impatiently waiting for the females to return from vacation in the spring. We stop at every single body of water grabbing a stink or a stone or twelve of each to drop into the water waiting for the satisfying splash it makes and then watching to see where it flows. We stop dead in our tracks and grin at each other as we both heard a lone frog make a big ol' gulp noise that we've come to know so well. We get muddy and messy and bit by bugs, but it is all completely worth it.

Getting out into nature has always been something that has been important to me, as it is a place where I connect with creation and God created it, but it is a new experience all together with my kids. I can hardly bear to think of how little nature so much of their generation will get, so instead of thinking about it, I get us out into nature as often as possible. It calms our souls, helps us to connect with each other and God, and provides for laughter and learning along the way.

 Great resources on kids and nature:


  1. Prior to having kids, Adam & I were avid backpackers, and did a lot on the AT! We even thought about thru-hiking once or twice. Three months is a long time to be "away" though. And now, with kids... well, it might be another few years. ;)

    I've added the NJ book to my Amazon list - thank you! We've started hiking more often with the kids now & I'm annoyed with & would like a better resource for local hikes.

    I love the photo of your boys with their platypus bags! :-D

  2. <3 I just love the pictures of the boys! reminds me of our kids! Our happiest weekends are hiking and camping! I did not realize that you were so close to the AT. How GREAT!


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