Discover the Forest

Before we had kids, Frank and I took for granted how much we would expose our future children to nature. It was easy for us to get up to the mountains on a regular basis. Nature and being outdoors is an important foundation of our family’s values – after all, we met on a snowshoe hike, went camping in national forests for our first dates, and honeymooned in a national park. When we are stressed, nature is a life-giving way to reconnect with each other and a reminder of what’s important.

Bea’s first hike was when she was 2 weeks old. We took her up to Golden Gate State Canyon, one of our favorite destinations. In fact, our hiking patterns didn’t change much her first year of life. I bought an Ergo jacket that fit around the carrier and we took her snowshoeing in the winter and hiking in the summer.

Hiking with Dad
Hiking with Dad

Things started slowing down as she got into a napping routine and we had one too many meltdowns on the drive home. But, we found closer hikes and continued to bribe her into the pack with snacks. Last year was the first year our hiking drastically changed. Bea no longer was interested in the pack and insisted on walking it all herself. We found beautiful two-mile hikes but it seemed like a lot of effort to drive all the way into the mountains for such a short excursion.

When we were looking to move last year, we never dreamed we would move away from the mountains. The reason we live in Colorado is to enjoy what it’s known for: hiking, nature, exploration. Even though our new home is just six miles east of our old house, it added just enough time to make the mountains feel even farther away.

So it was a pleasant surprise when we first drove over to Cherry Creek State Park, just 10 minutes from our house. We had been before on occasion, but not often. The past six months, it has become our go-to hiking destination. Having a state park so close has made a world of difference! We can go for a hike and be home by lunchtime. Plus, the park is filled with kid friendly trails. Our favorite is Butterfly Hill, a loop that Bea can easily do on her own.

We also found that we are within 2 miles of Jewell Wetlands, 50 acres of paths and overgrown trees. Bea loves exploring the seemingly endless trails, visiting the wildflower and butterfly garden, and feeling as though she is lost in the woods. It’s a good reminder that getting out and exploring doesn’t need a parks pass, a long drive, or a big time commitment. It can be an hour of tramping through the swamp, looking for spiders and bugs, and talking about nature.

We’re happy that we can continue to reinforce our family values of being out in nature, even if that nature is in the middle of the city.

Here’s the thing – getting out in nature isn’t just part of our family’s values. Research has shown that exposure to nature improves kids’ awareness, reasoning and observational skills. It helps build imagination and lowers their stress level.

Tomorrow, September 26, is National Public Lands Day. Families are encouraged to explore forested areas near their cities. Check out Discover the Forest to find a park near you!

Discover the Forest is a public service campaign created by the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council with the primary goal of inspiring kids and their parents to re-connect with nature. The campaign brings to life the joy and excitement kids have when they discover the wonders of nature, helping create lasting memories, interest in their environment and a lifelong relationship with it. The campaign website, www.DiscoverTheForest.org, includes an interactive tool that enables users to search for nearby forests and parks, as well as downloadable activities for them to print and take with them when they visit. The campaign also features online communities on Facebook and Instagram(search Discover the Forest) and Twitter (@cheecker).

You’ll most likely find us at Cherry Creek State Park tomorrow, hiking slowly with our girls. Where is your favorite place to enjoy nature?

Trip vs. Travel

Frank and I just returned from a quick trip to Santa Barbara over the weekend. We left Bea with Grandma and Grandpa, and since it’s tax season and Frank can only take one two-day weekend in the next three months, we flew in at 10:30 on Saturday and left at 2:30 on Sunday. It was fast but rejuvenating.

The weather was perfect: mid-70’s and we arrived just in time to change and drive our rented Mustang convertible to the courthouse, where the wedding ceremony was. We had a few hours between the ceremony and reception, so we headed back to our inn, which was a block from the beach. We walked to the wharf and found a tasting room, overlooking the ocean. We were able to taste some of the local wines and then headed back to the reception. After dinner and a bit of dancing, we had some time (and were kid-free!) so found a bar near the hotel and chatted over one last gin and tonic and Glenlivet.

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View while wine tasting

The next morning, we walked downtown to meet Frank’s family and to herd the kids toward the beach so they could run, splash, and fly a kite. After packing up, we had lunch overlooking the harbor, sipping local rosé and pinot noir before heading back to Denver.

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Lunchtime view of the harbor

We reflected that, even though it was fast, it was such a refreshing time to be together. We also wondered about the last time we traveled. Since Bea was born, we’ve taken trips to see family, to explore favorite National Parks, to get out in nature, but we haven’t had the sense of adventure, of the new. I think the last time we traveled – the last time we truly explored – was our safari in southern Africa, the summer before we had Bea. I had forgotten how soul-filling, how exciting it is to explore and discover brand new places.

This year, we celebrate our 5th anniversary and were thinking we should return to Yellowstone, where we honeymooned. After this excursion, I’m wondering if we need to find a place neither of us have been and do some exploring together.

Where do you feel rejuvenated? Where do you think we should go – Yellowstone or somewhere new?