This article first appeared in the June 19, 2014 edition of the Vermont Standard.
Take It Outside, by Anne Richter Arnold
Moms, dads and caregivers: If you are looking for something to keep the kids entertained this summer and maybe even sneak in a little education, head right over to the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park for some fun. The rangers at MBRNHP would like you to know that there is a lot more to the park for kids than the nearby Billings Farm and the animals — so much more than you may even run out of time this summer to take part in all the great kids’ and family activities they have going on at the Park. There are many guided and independent programs for all ages and interests, and plenty that will keep the adults interested and learning about the environment and history of our area as well. You may have so much fun with the kids that you’ll be back for the adult-oriented programming for a little summer camp experience of your own.
Junior Ranger Programs
The highlight of summer’s programming at MBR has to be the ranger-led Junior Ranger Programs. Every Thursday from July 17 to Aug. 21, kids 6-12 can join in the one-and a- half hour program and learn about various topics each week, from art in nature to forestry. They’ll have a hands-on learning experience and earn a Junior Ranger badge at this free event.
Self-Guided Junior Ranger Program
Not able to make the Thursday programs? At MBR, like almost every other National Park, you can participate in the Junior Ranger Program through a self-guided activity that you can do any day. This free program is a great spur of the moment boredom buster aimed at families with 7-14 year-olds. The best part about it is that you get to do it with your child(ren), and you may also learn something about stewardship and the history of the park as well. Pick up a booklet at the Visitors Center or download one ahead of time from the MBR website. In it you’ll find a number of challenges that will take you along a trail about one mile long. You’ll go on a scavenger hunt, learn about everything from trees to composting, and get your child’s creativity going with sight, sound and touch activities. Plan for about 1-2 hours depending on the age of your children. When your child completes the challenges he or she will get a junior ranger badge. If your child is computer savvy, he can be a Junior Rangers at home too, through the online WebRangers program (www. nps.gov/kids/), a good activity to follow up a visit to the park. Register your child, have him pick a ranger name and he’ll soon have a “desk” with about 50 different activities all relating to nature and the national parks.
Go On A Quest
Thanks to Valley Quest, there are two great treasure hunts that you and your kids can participate in to discover and learn about the park. It’s simple to do — while following a map of the park, you and your kids answer challenging questions and solve riddles that will lead you to the Quest box. Choose from the Forest Quest or the Sustainability Quest, both available at the Visitors Center or Billings Farm desk. This activity will appeal to kids of various ages and is a great hands-on family activity.
Family Adventure Packs
The rangers at MBR have created four exciting backpacks filled with goodies to entertain kids of various ages that you can borrow for free while you explore the park and learn about nature. With themes like art, for the creative nature lovers, to wildlife, for those who want to learn more about the fauna of the park, these backpacks filled with books, activities and games for kids and families will have your kids wanting to come back for more.
Rainy Day Activities
The MBR Park is still a great option to visit even on a rainy day. Head to the Visitors Center for hands on learning about trees, wildlife, history, and the plants and trees that grow in the park. Their library of books, some well suited for little ones or teens, will keep your kids intrigued. Borrow a board game like National Park Monopoly or Pictionary to have some good oldfashioned family fun. Depending on the age of your children, art and history buffs will enjoy a guided tour of the Mansion to learn about all the residents who have influenced the Conservation Movement in America.
Special Tours, Hikes And Rambles
The summer calendar is filled with ranger-guided activities, and, depending on the ages of your children, many would be appropriate for families. Please note that some ranger led programs require a ticket ($8 for adults, 15 and under free) and reservations are recommended. Serious and budding artists may love to look at the paintings in the mansion on the Conservation. Through the Artist’s Eye Tour in the mansion. On the Hidden Spaces Unique Places Tour you’ll visit some of the historic buildings of the park and learn about preservation measures as well as get a sneak peek into areas of buildings most never see. The Lost Big Trees tour get you out and about in the forest with rangers looking for and learning about the background of the large trees of the park. If you have a military history buff in the family like. I do, the Civil War Walking Tour is a must, plus you’ll find out how life was back then on the home front in Woodstock. Take a three-mile moderate trek in the woods in the Appalachian Trails and Tales Guided Hike and learn about the history and stewardship of this other national park here in the area. Warblers, Woods and Watersheds is an easy three-mile hike where you can learn about how the park monitors the ecological conditions of the flora, fauna and water.
Discover The Park On Your Own
The Tree Walk is a good way for younger kids to see the park from a different perspective. Stop by the Visitors Center to pick up this self guided tour, where you can look for labeled trees on one part of the trail and use laminated cards to identify trees and learn about forestry. Other guides available at the Visitors Center include Gardens in bloom and North Woods Hike, where you can see the park as an ecologist. You can also do the Civil War Home Front walking tour on your own with a smartphone app to guide you.
Fun in the Forest Day Camp, in partnership with ArtisTree, is for 4-6 year olds and has nature exploration theme with art, music and movement activities. June 23-27. Fee.
Mountains and Rivers Forever: Arts in the Wild Day Camps, in partnership with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps and local teachers, is an art-based nature exploration experience for 11-15 year-olds. Aug. 4-10. Fee.
The Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historical Park is truly the people’s park, but this summer it is especially it is the kids’ park. You and your family will find so many options to learn more about nature, the environment, history and art. Nearly all the activities are free and many you can do it at your own speed on your schedule. Evenifyoujusttakethe family on a nice walk around the Pogue or sit on the mansion lawn with your kids and have a picnic, enjoy our wonderful ‘backyard national treasure’ this summer with your kids.
For a calendar of events and more information on all the great summer activities at MBR, visit www.nps. gov/mabi or call 802-457-3368 ext. 22
Anne Richter Arnold is an ACE certified fitness professional and local hiking guide. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.