Playing outside: beyond the National Park

Fishing with a cane poleNational Parks are awesome. They represent some of the most gorgeous and amazing nature the world has to offer. But because so many people want to see them, and because they often enclose fragile and rare ecosystems, they generally come with some sensible restrictions on what you can and can’t do there.

Kids are generally less interested than we adults are in the vistas and grandeur of a typical national park. They want to get up close and personal with nature and touch it–and they aren’t snobs. Worms and moths can be just as enchanting as a bugling elk or giraffe on the horizon.

So it is worth trying out a few more hands-on adventures in other kinds of public lands: state, county and city parks, which all have different rules and regulations. And national forests and Bureau of Land Management land, where visitors can often wander off trail, collect mushrooms and Christmas trees (check if a permit is required) or camp wherever they like. cane pole with cork bobber

Our family enjoys mushroom hunting, and the local forest service office issues permits and gives us maps of where we are allowed to pick. We wander the woods (remember to take a compass!) and find all kinds of interesting things along the way. If we find a big sugar pine, the kids are totally allowed to take some monster cones home. And they later end up incorporated into backyard fairy houses. My kids also love to fish. Check out the regulations in your state, then buy a cheap pole, or make your own cane pole with a wine cork bobber. Then dig up some worms and head to the closest fishing spot! Calling your state fish and game office can help you identify the best spots. Throw your catch back or fry it up for dinner!

Plan a weekend trip

Identify a public area within a day’s drive where the crowds are thinner and the opportunities for interactive experience greater. In the U.S., start by contacting your local state fish and game office, forestry service office, or BLM office to learn more about fishing, hunting, swimming holes, mushroom picking, rock or pine cone collecting, and in some places, even making a bonfire on the beach!

State Fish & Game offices 

U.S. National Forests

Bureau of Land Management

Connect with an organization

Learn more about your local nature and meet other nature-seekers by connecting with organizations like these

The Children & Nature Network

Audubon Day Camp

Outdoor Afro

Texas Children in Nature

Children in Nature Collaborative

GirlVentures

Latino Outdoors

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