Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Exploring Local Adventures

Its all the rage these days to travel to far-off exotic places. People feel accomplished if they have visited a foreign country or a national point of interest.  There is noting wrong with those kinds of adventures. But they can leave other people feeling unsuccessful at life. Some never get the chance to travel to foreign or far away places. There is also the environmental impact to consider. The more people travel long distances just to see or 'experience' a place, the bigger impact it has on that place and on the wider world. Places can become overrun with too many visitors. Travel causes a lot of carbon emissions and other forms of pollution. Most importantly, you are actually missing out.

How well do we know our own city? How many of the parks have you visited within an hour of your home? When was the last time you explored your local city park, your own back yard? In many ways it seems a lot of us have traded far away, expensive adventures for those close to home. Many today decry the fact that kids play outside less and less. People move from one city or state to another so rapidly they barely get to know the areas where they live. You may be missing out on the wilderness right in your backyard. There are awesome adventures waiting in green spaces just around the corner.

After graduating college I moved to a new, unfamiliar city for my wife's new job. We moved from a city with many trails and mountains to one surrounded by flat-lands and urban sprawl. I felt down about our move because I didn't think there would be much opportunity for fun adventures. I started making plans for a big trip out West where we could see some grand National Parks. In the mean-time I consoled myself with weekend rides along the Natchez Trace, a popular local destination for bicyclists. As my wife and I explored this local road, we learned that it was designated a National Scenic Trail and over 400 miles long.

It is highly protected so that nothing can be built along it. It runs from Tennessee to Mississippi and there is not a single man-made object along its entire length. No buildings, gas stations, power-lines or advertisement signs can be seen from the road. Just trees, fields, and several historic locations. One day as we were bicycling along, we came upon a historic location of the burial place of Meriwether Lewis, the famed explorer of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the west coast. One of the most famous adventurers in American history was buried within an hours drive of my home city! I came to realize there were fantastic adventures to be had right in my own backyard!

If I had been absorbed solely with traveling to popular destinations in faraway places, I never would have discovered these amazing sites close to home. Perhaps you are looking for ideas for your next adventure on your own or with friends. Maybe you need an idea to get your kids excited about going outside. Here are several ideas to try:

For All Ages:

Maps - Scour a map of your local area. Look for green sections or areas designated as parks or forests. Printed maps are nice as they display all information at once. If you do not have one or prefer digital maps, try an online map service like Google Maps, Bing Maps, or OpenStreetMaps. For the more tech savvy try a digital topographic online map service like Caltopo or Gaia Maps.

Popular Destinations - Prefer to get recommendations before adventuring to a new location? Try an online search for local parks or historic points of interest. Reviews at sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google Maps provide a lot of info. Other places to check out are your State Park website, and lists of parks on your local county or municipal websites. If you prefer talking to a person, try calling your local chamber of commerce for info or talking to a neighbor or co-worker.

DIY - Sometimes the best adventures are had when you don't make any plans. Ditch the maps, the online recommendations, and ignore where everyone else says you 'have' to go. Just get on your bike, in your car, or use your own two feet and see where you end up! Have you ever walked around your own block? Why not check out that field or forest down the street?

Join a Group - Find a local adventure group to join or take a guided tour. An Internet search or word of mouth is the best way to find these. Meetup is a website that hosts thousands of local groups around the world. Alternatively, call a local outdoor shop or guiding company to see what they can recommend. Be sure to check your local State or city parks for guided trips and other group activities.

Go Highpointing -  Visiting the highest points in every State or even every continent is a popular goal among adventurers. How about visiting local high points in your State or County? Here again a little Internet research will pay off. I found out that the highest point in my County is only a 15 minute drive from my house! How far away is the highest point in your County?

Get Historical - Who were the people that started the town where you live? What is the oldest building in your city? Check out Wikipedia for a bit of local history. Then head out and visit some of the historical sites around town. Ever seen those big metal signs that mark significant historical sites? There are online databases for every one of those signs in the United States. This website, which is mobile device friendly, will show you ones closest to where you live! So get outside and learn.

For Kids:

Local Outlets - There are more and more organized events for getting kids outside. There is bound to be one near you. Checkout you local zoo, science center, and State, National, and local parks for kid oriented programs. Look for nature centers or outdoor centers. Many of these have regularly scheduled programs for kids often involving science. Check your kid's school for after-school programs that get them outside. Sometimes, local churches and community centers run similar programs so see what is available around you.

Let Them Lead - Kids love to explore. Sometimes we adults get in the way and try to manufacture or direct their exploration. Let your children or students lead the adventure for a change. You as the adult will tag along as administrative support making sure everyone stays safe. Put a map or guidebook in their hands and see where they take you. If they want to wander off the main path, follow them! Unless this is illegal or forbidden of course. Alternatively, try establishing a destination and letting the kids figure out how to get there.

Set A Goal: Give the kids, and adults too, an objective. A scavenger hunt is a great option. Provide a bag for objects or a camera for pictures.  Play a game to see who can find the most fascinating animal or plant. Have a contest to see who can pick up the most pieces of trash. Who can make the biggest fort, sand castle, or mud pie?

Run A Bioblitz: This is a great option for your own backyard. The goal is to learn what types of flora and fauna live where you do. You will help the kids explore their local biodiversity. Arm kids with a magnifying glass, a camera, a note pad, and a bag. Give them a task to collect a certain number or type of items. Alternatively, just let them explore and see what they find. After everything is collected, have them describe their finds orally and make notes in their notebook. Next you can help them identify what they found. Guidebooks are extremely helpful for this. There are apps that can help too such as Leafsnap and iNaturalist. This is exactly how naturalists discover new species! Perhaps your kids will too.

So what are you waiting for? There is a whole world to be discovered right outside your door. It's in your backyard and down the street. It is in your local neighborhood and park. You do not need to go across the country or half way around the world. Unique adventures await in your hometown, adventures you can have nowhere else in the world!

Here is a great quote to inspire you by famed environmentalist Sigurd Olson. “Some can find their wildernesses in tiny hidden corners where, through accident rather than design, man has saved just a breath of the primeval America. I know of a glen in the heart of a great city park system, a tiny roaring canyon where many seeking solitude and beauty can find release. It is dark in there, and damp, and in the heat of the summer it is cool. Ferns and lichens and liverworts cling to the rocks, and there grow flowers that thrive only in the shadows where the air is charged with mist. The water swirls through this canyon as it has for thousands of years, and the sounds are the sounds of a land far removed from civilization. A highway runs within a hundred yards and cars pass almost overhead, but the rocks and trees screen it from view and the only evidence of traffic is a vague hum that blends with the whisper of the wind and the music of rushing water. There, if a man wishes, he can regain in a swift moment the feeling of the wild, and steal, for a brief instant, respite from the noise and confusion of a big city. There, if he has perspective, he may recharge his soul.” - The Meaning of Wilderness by Sigurd Olson

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.
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Written by David F. Garner

Photo credit: top - Skitterphoto via
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