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?

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