by Stony Brooks
There is fierce competition for recreational time for American kids today.Among other things, organized sports, digital media, computer games, and television swallow up the opportunity for children to experience the outdoors and commune with nature. For their health and well-being, and to develop an appreciation for our natural surroundings, children should see and experience wooded wilderness areas. It is incumbent upon parents, teachers, and youth leaders to find ways to maximize the quality of the time kids spend outdoors. One way to do that is to plan a fun and enriching hike in the woods.
Safe wilderness hikes that are unstructured, yet full of interesting hands-on experience and information, are going to be most enjoyable for kids. My lifelong love affair with the outdoors began more than a half century ago with hikes on the Appalachian Trail in the Northeast. Do you remember an experience as a child that shaped your attitude about the outdoors and conservation? Maybe someone took you fishing, camping, or on a hike or walk in the woods. If you have a favorable view of being in the woods, the experiences you recall were probably fun, engaging, and memorable. Hiking can engender all of these characteristics if it is age-appropriate, within the physical capabilities and attention spans of the children, and interesting. In fact, a hike can be educational without sacrificing enjoyment if it is properly planned. Picture a walk on wilderness trails along and across pristine mountain streams, armed with ready information on the natural wonders observed on the trail. Alternatively, a hike can be a trek, trudge, slog, or a bore. As a kid, would you rather be on a hike or on a trudge?
Where can adults readily find a location and the necessary information for a quality wilderness hiking experience for kids? With is question in mind, volunteers from Blue Ridge Mountain Trout Unlimited envisioned and developed the Trout Adventure Trail(r). In its simplest form, the Trout Adventure Trail(r) is a place where kids and their parents, teachers, or youth group leaders can hike in the woods and learn a little bit about the beautiful and wondrous places in which trout thrive. To help plan the experience, there is a handy website with information on where to go, how to get there, and the types of experiences available on different routes. Using the website, it is possible to plan a hike accounting for distance, degree of hiking difficulty, and observational opportunities along the way and to obtain supplementary educational information to enhance the experience. Depending on the route selected, hikers can experience portions of the storied Appalachian and Benton MacKaye trails, trout streams, a waterfall, and magnificent views. Hikers are given a free patch to commemorate the experience. This exciting program is the first of its kind.
Springer Mountain is the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and a location where the Appalachian Trail and Benton MacKaye Trail converge and cross, creating a myriad of potential day-hikes of considerable quality and variety. At nearby Three Forks, three trout streams merge to form Noontootla Creek, all of which are outstanding trout waters. Between Three Forks and Springer Mountain, both trails cross bubbling trout streams a number of times on the way up to the summit of Springer Mountain. Below Three Forks, the trails converge for the 1.1 mile pleasant walk along one of the trout streams (Long Creek) up to Long Creek Falls, a beautiful setting with a coveted waterfall view and experience. Best of all, this system of trails is virtually equidistant from the small towns of Blue Ridge, Blairsville, Ellijay, and Dahlonega in the midst of the Chattahoochee National Forest.
The TroutAdventureTrail.org website contains trail-related educational materials about trout, trout habitat, watersheds, flora and fauna, and outdoor-related subjects such as modern forestry and following a trail with handy links to more detailed information. However, the core of the trail experience is hands-on activity on the trails. For example, a child may learn that trout need cold, clean water to survive. Water above 70 degrees for sustained periods can be lethal to trout. Hikers can test the water temperature of streams with a thermometer or just by putting a hand or foot in the cold water. The website's information and links further details the interrelationship of temperature, oxygenation, and cleanliness of the water. This is one example of how kids and adult leaders or parents can explore detail on a given subject of interest using the website and linked materials.
Scout leaders and parents will appreciate this program, as the activities fit within achievement and experience objectives for scouts of all ages. However, the Trout Adventure Trail is available to any parent and their children, schools, summer camps, day camps, home school parents, and other youth organizations. All children and adults who hike the trails with them are eligible for the free commemorative patch. Most importantly, adults are getting kids out into the woods one kid or one group at a time for a fun and worthwhile outdoor experience.
The Trout Adventure Trail(r) officially opened in November, 2012. Go to TroutAdventureTrail.org and bring the outdoor experience to a child today.