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May 4, 2017

Earth Day Advice: Take a Hike

“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” – Henry David Thoreau

Hiking through the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest is always an inspirational experience. The trail choices are endless and each one seems more beautiful than the next. Walking through some of the trails can literally take your breath away. And it’s a calming experience –- as you start hiking you can feel your stress and worry melting away, and you always feel better for having done the hike.

Now add four kids 10 and under to the equation and the whole scenario changes. You still have the stunning nature, the soft breezes from the trees . . . and a whole lot of “Mom, I’m hungry,” “Mom, I have to pee,” “Mom, I can’t go another step.” By the time you’ve made sure everyone has the right shoes on, your bag is loaded with snacks and water, and your one twin has torn the house apart looking for the shirt she absolutely has to wear, you may feel like just staying home. I’ll concede that hiking with kids is totally different than hiking without kids, but it’s still a fantastic way to spend some family time together, despite the 1,001 ways they come up with to get you off track.

My family and I decided to explore the trails of Portland and also raise money for a non-profit that is a steward of the National Park system: the National Parks Foundation. As the Foundation’s website states: “The National Parks Foundation is the official charity of the National Park Service and enriches America’s national parks and programs through the support of private citizens, park lovers, stewards of nature, history enthusiasts, and wilderness adventurers. Chartered by Congress in 1967, the Foundation grew out of a legacy of park protection that began over a century ago, when ordinary citizens took action to establish and protect our national parks.”

As citizens, there is so much that we can do to help preserve our beautiful parks. We can teach our kids to cherish our park system and the outdoors. We can make sure that they understand that littering isn’t okay and that we need to leave the parks in the condition that we found them. We can teach them about the beauty and opportunity for exploration that resides in each distinct and unique National Park, as well as all of our parks in the U.S.

As we started our project, we were dismayed to find out that next year’s federal budget cuts $1.5 billion (12%) from the Department of Interior, which includes the Park Service. We don’t know the exact magnitude of the cuts, but it won’t be pretty. There are so many worthy causes out there –- child hunger, disease, etc, and many departments that are getting cut. After considering various charities, the kids chose this one because the concept of protecting our parks is a simple and worthy one. Even though our contribution is a drop in the bucket, we hope to inspire others to consider donating to whatever cause inspires them.

As a family, we’ve enjoyed exploring the trails in Portland. We’re fortunate that there are many trails within the city limits, and we’ve explored many of them. From Tyron Creek Park to Forest Park and even the trails right near our home that lead to the Zoo, we’ve been able to get out together and blow off some steam. Portland is notoriously rainy in the winter, and we often found ourselves sneaking in a hike when the weather forecast cleared up a bit or just throwing on our rain jackets and getting out there. The moss and lichen that thrives in our rainy climate is beautiful, and our trails are always lush and verdant in the winter. We mostly chose shorter hike — because we are always short on time and also they are more palatable for the kids. One of our favorite quick hikes is the hike up to the Stone House in Forest Park. It’s short and the kids like the gratification of arriving at a destination — an old structure that is the remains of a public restroom built in the 1930’s by the WPA.

Our hiking adventures culminated in a trip to Arizona where we spent some time hiking in Sedona and at the Grand Canyon. We took a hike to Devil’s Bridge in Sedona. The hike wasn’t too long – approximately 4 miles round trip. It started on a flat dusty road and after a mile or so, the elevation started to change. We scrambled up some rocks and came to a flat clearing with views of the red rock everywhere. Then we climbed up a bit more until we reached Devil’s Bridge. Devil’s Bridge is the largest natural sandstone arch in the Sedona area. The arch is 50 feet high and it’s a pretty long way down. Others were posing for pictures after walking out onto the arch, but as someone with a fear of heights that wasn’t for me – one misstep and that would be it! The views are staggering from the top – the blue sky contrasting against the red rocks is beautiful.

We also took a day trip recently to the Grand Canyon – one of the most spectacular national parks in the world. Standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon with some of the most amazing vistas in the world was indescribable. The weather was chilly and there was snow in the bushes lining the Canyon. The sky was cloudy, but you could still see for miles. At one point we saw a condor with a tremendous wingspan swooping and diving through the canyons. We then went to the visitor’s center where one of the volunteer rangers taught us about the unique geology of the area and the forces that shaped the Grand Canyon into what it is today. It was fascinating to learn about the power of water to erode and shape such large canyons. The kids were interested in what the ranger had to say but they were even more interested in the stories of all the deaths in the Grand Canyon and even bought a book on all the ways people have died there (not my idea of light reading!).

At this point, the weather changed drastically and it started to snow. The snow wiped out all visibility and we were disappointed to find we couldn’t see anything. We decided to call it a day and head back to Sedona. Despite our trip being cut short because of the weather, the Grand Canyon opened the kids’ eyes to the beauty and diverse landscapes of the different national parks. Now they want to visit Yosemite and Arches and Zion.

We chose Earth Day as a symbolic end to our campaign for the National Parks, but I know that our hiking adventures have only just begun. We are lucky to have some great trails practically at our doorstep, and we are excited to explore them all. Even though it takes some effort to get all four kids motivated and out the door, we always come back from our hikes feeling refreshed and calm.

“The earth has music for those who listen.” – Shakespeare

— Sarah Schubert

The Schubert Family is raising money to support the National Parks Foundation. Support their campaign by visiting their FlipGive Fundraising Page.

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