This June we will celebrate National Trails Day and Great Outdoors Month. But, the danger of celebrating a day dedicated to trails and a month marked for outdoor enjoyment is that some might see the commemoration as a was to consolidate wilderness activities into a single activity or a short season of exploration.
Instead, we should view it as a national celebration of something we love and enjoy year-round and a good excuse to invite folks who don’t spend much time outdoors to join us for some free fun in the forest.
This June, my family and I celebrated National Trails Day with the American Hiking Society near Washington DC. We were part of a press event on June 4th that lauded the growth of our National Trail System and gave a mandate for more urban trails. increased user diversity, a call for completion of gaps in long distance paths and improved federal funding for our national trail system.
That all sounds good, right? But how do we turn the 2015 Trails Report into a reality? Well, I guess we’re gonna have to get our hands dirty... and our boots.
And that’s exactly what happened on Saturday, June 6th at a wildlife preserve for Canadian Geese. My family was honored to join fellow American Hiking Ambassador Kara Richardson-Whitely and her adorable daughters, along with the dedicated AHS staff, employees of Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary, Americorps volunteers, and most importantly a diverse representation of the general public for a day of trail work and hiking.
We started near the nature center where a group of families used shovels and fingers to dig into the dirt and plant milkweed bushes to host migrating monarch butterflies. From toddlers to tweens and teens it was awesome to see how much the kids enjoyed adding to the landscape. One boy liked to “slam-dunk his potted milkweed plant “like Lebron” into the holes he dug. My daughter, Charley, enjoyed jumping up and down on the shovels adding her 30 pounds of weight to the digging effort. (It helps that we bribed her with AHS temporary tattoos for every plant she helped with.)
After we planted nearly 40 seedlings, we celebrated with a hike through a pastoral landscape and into a dense forest filled with a patch of Pawpaw trees. Together we looked at flowers, listened to birds, chased after one another and bribed the young hikers with trail snacks. We concluded at a wetlands area where we petted frogs and admired a lone standing bald Cyprus tree.
My family departed Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary a little after 1 PM. Charley immediately fell asleep in the car, my husband started scoping out nearby lunch options, and I reflected on how a simple morning could feel so fulfilling.
In the end, National Trails Day reminded me that getting people involved in the wilderness is not difficult. It is fun and easy to do. The key to protecting, maintaining and funding trails is engagement. Our group outing at Merkle reminded me that nature tends to sell itself. All we need to do is facilitate an introduction.