The Family Hike

By Heinrichs, Jay | American Forests, March-April 1991 | Go to article overview

The Family Hike


Heinrichs, Jay, American Forests


Think of why you go into the woods. For the quiet? To contemplate beauty? withdraw from the overstimulation of the city?

Then don't expect your kids to enjoy it. Those admirable incentives are exactly what your average small person would do anything to avoid. But that doesn't mean you have to get a sitter every time you want to go on a hike. With a few tricks of the parental trade, you and your children -even teenagers, believe it or not-can enjoy the wilderness. Below are some tips for taking a family day hike in the forest. (It's a good idea not to try anything more ambitious until you've got the day hike down to your satisfaction.)

First, though, my credentials for giving you this advice. I own nine acres in New Hampshire laced with woodland trails that connect with the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. I have two small children and have singlehandedly marched them up and down a few modest-sized mountains. And every year I lead groups of college freshmen into the northern New England wilderness.

Admittedly, I have not had much experience getting younger adolescents to do my bidding in the woods. But if you can get teenagers to do your bidding, you should be writing this article (or perhaps running the country-Ed.).

To get kids of any age to go along with a hike in the woods and enjoy it, you need to keep a few facts in mind:

You and your kids may see wilderness differently. To you, it may be a place for peace and quiet. For your kids (and for an alarming number of adults), it's a place to act up without breaking the furniture,

Water is not Coke. This point may seem obvious to you, but children risk dehydration if, like most kids in these days of fancy fruit juices and limitless sodas, they haven't had many encounters with water. It's not a bad idea to bring along those boxed fruit juices they sell in the supermarket. Otherwise, consider investing in a cool-looking container of your child's choice. To a young boy, water tastes infinitely better in a camo-colored canteen.

*What enthralls you may mean nothing to your kids. A friend once took his teenaged boy up the Lambert Ridge Trail not far from our place. When they got to the top, they saw a spectacular sunset behind the broad shoulders of the White Mountains. The breeze was soft, a pair of merlins flew by, and the teenager said, "You dragged me up here for this?" The place didn't hold a candle to Nintendo.

* Kids may be enthralled by things that mean nothing to you. My fiveyear-old still talks about the time two summers a o when, unable to find few budget items that can be cut. So, naturally, it will be. This vulnerability to parsimonious congressmen can't help but affect recreation quality and quantity.

The declining relative importance of federal recreation areas. Americans' propensity to take shorter, more frequent trips places more stress on urban recreation sites, which tend to be managed by state and local governments. People already spend three quarters of their away-from-home outdoor time in state and local parks. Federal lands get just 14 percent of the visiting time; private lands get the rest. One of the biggest planning headaches for recreation analysts is the small woodland owner, who controls a third of a billion acres of forest; 77 percent of that land is off-limits to the public, and the number of no-trespassing signs is increasing. …

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