National Park Activities Enhance the Confidence of Young Visitors
Acadia National Park (2 of 3)
By Susie Johnston
National Parks offer new and challenging experiences for children. Activities may include hiking a hilly trail, exploring a natural area, canoeing along a lakeshore, or biking through the woods. This September, my husband Kevin and I joined the A Year in the Parks family on part of their year-long adventure in the US National Parks. We met them in Acadia National Park located along the coast of southern Maine (often called Down East).
On Day 1, we parked at Sand Beach parking for the start of our half-day hike. Equipped with daypacks filled with water, lunch, cameras, and sunscreen, we set out for our Gorham Mountain climb. We walked along the flat Ocean Path with spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean crashing along the rocky shore. About mile down the path, we crossed the tour road to join the Gorham Mountain Trail. Gorham Mountain’s is 525 feet above sea level, and the trail goes through a spruce forest. In autumn, the mosses and grasses turn orange and yellow offering beautiful contrasts with the gray granite stones.
Looking back, I can describe climbing the mountain as a challenge for Laney. At the time, the experience felt more like a family adventure. We had a new landscape to admire as our legs stepped up and up the stoney path. We had trail markers to follow and cairns to look for. Kevin explained to Laney that cairns are used to mark trails where there are no trees to mark with the trail color and stripe. Cairns are made using piles of stones, and the top stone points in the direction of the trail. We stopped at the false summit for lunch and photos. On the way down the mountain, we enjoyed meeting and speaking with a couple from both Pennsylvania and Florida.
From my perspective, Laney expressed joy and strength in making the 5 mile hike up Gorham Mountain. We took regular water and rest breaks and provided her with encouragement. To me, it seemed that Laney was sweetly determined to hike the mountain and she was successful.
On Day 3, we biked one of the popular carriage trails Witch Pond Loop. This is about a 6-mile ride with several hills to climb. Wow was I impressed with the get-up-and-go of Laney! Her legs are half the length of us adults but she kept on chugging. We stopped a few times to walk the hill with her. At one point, she said to me, “I’ve never seen such a big hill.” Michigan has hills but I don’t think Laney has been on any bike trails that traverse hilly terrain like Acadia’s. As a part of the NPS Junior Ranger program, Laney learned about the origin of the stones lining the carriage roads and the cutting method used to create them.
National Park activities like hiking and biking on hilly paths provide children with new and challenging experiences that they can later draw upon for strength. Kids get an opportunity to see new landscapes, learn about various ecosystems and the animals and plants dependent upon them, and meet visitors hailing from other US states and other countries. These are topics I’m sure Carol, Rich, and Laney will cover in their blog this year. I mostly wanted to say how great it was to see Laney meeting some physical challenges and pouring on through them with joy and excitement.
From a bit of an analytical standpoint, I say that education and learning happen in the parks. Children who have these park experiences will certainly be faced with future athletic, physical, and intellectual tests. By proving themselves through NPS activities, they will be better equipped to meet those new challenges.