Monday, April 21, 2008

Get Outdoors with the Kids This Summer!

Our son Matt is now 22 years old, married and about to graduate from college with a degree in physics. He is in every sense of the word a success story for his parents. We feel so lucky for things to have turned out like this. The challenges of raising kids in the 21st century are so daunting that I just don’t know how we would have done it had Matt been born 10 or 15 years later.
It seems like families need something to be at the core of who and what they are. Something they can enjoy together - and even more so, be a rock that they can always return to. For our family, this has always been wilderness.
When Matt was 3 years old, we embarked on a 4 month journey with him. We spent 2 months on the Appalachian Trail, hiking with Matt in a 3-wheeled baby jogger from Springer Mtn. Georgia to Erwin Tennessee. We then bicycled on the roads from North Carolina to Bar Harbor Maine. When we tell people about this trip, they invariably ask if he remembers any of it. She says that he remembers bits and pieces. But that this trip formed a lot of who he is. Patient in solving problems, comfortable in the outdoors, adventurous in spirit and friendly with other people. We’ve also had a thread of summertime Buffalo River canoe camping trips dating back to when Matt was only 4 years old.
But I wonder if the types of experiences that Matt grew up with will slowly become some kind of old school Americana in the coming generations. There is evidence that suggests that families are embracing wilderness adventure less than prior generations. Between 1995 and 2005, overnight stays in national parks declined 20% overall, and camping and backcountry stays dropped by 24%, according to statistics compiled by the National Parks Service. This represents a drastic change in our society.
Whether this shift it is a bad change or not, I am not qualified to comment on. I can say that our experience in raising Matt would have been much more challenging and much less fulfilling without the experiences we shared in the outdoors.
Which brings me to the point of this blog. Even with the rise of the internet providing more information that you can handle, I still find families are struggling to figure out where to go for a wilderness experience. With summer coming, I thought that I would make a few suggestions for things to do with the kids:

Easy and fun trips close to home:
The Lafayette Nature Station is a great outing you can do several times during the summer.
The Vermilion River is Lafayette's most serene get-away, running right through the middle of town. Thanks to Catherine at Bayou Vermilion District for reminding me of this great in-town getaway.
Fausse Point State Park offers cabins if you don’t camp that are right over the water and beautiful. They have added a water fountain style playground that the kids would have a blast playing in. You can fish, walk the trails and much more.
Chicot State Park offers camping with bathrooms and showers as well as cabins to rent. There is a 20 mile hiking trail and 8 miles of canoe trails.
Also, you can stop by at Pack & Paddle to pick up maps to 5 or 6 great hiking areas that are a little more secluded if you are interested in that. We can suggest some day hikes, overnight backpack trips or places to car-camp.

Great trips not so close to home:
The Buffalo National River is a federally designated Wild and Scenic river. It is an amazing asset to our country and you should go there if you have a chance. The Buffalo is a 8-10 hour drive from Lafayette, but worth the trip.

Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas is a great place to go camp and hike with your family. You’ll find great camping and nice cabins.

The Nantahala Outdoor Center is an amazing place for older kids and families. Located where the Appalachian Trail crosses the Nantahala river, you’ll find world class whitewater rafting, mountain biking, hiking and much more.

When it gets hot in midsummer, I would suggest escaping to anywhere in northern New Mexico or to Colorado. We love Durango, Silverton, Ouray and, well, there’s too many spots to mention.

So make a plan this summer. The crowds are down. The scenery is beautiful. Adventures are ready to be made. Get out and build some memories with your kids. You will never, never ever regret it!

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Weekend Of Local Paddling

Becky and I were enjoying a cup of coffee at the coffee shop in Breaux Bridge with our friends Mike and Allison Purpera this past Saturday. We were on the way home from our paddle trip to Buffalo Cove. Mike and Allison have been paddlers for years. They have run whitewater rivers in their kayaks in Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Colorado and many other states. The interesting part of the conversation was about how amazing the paddle through Bayou Gravenburg and Buffalo Cove was, and how easy it is to overlook the beauty and paddling opportunities we have right here in our own backyards.

You'll hear the term "Sportsmans Paradise" tossed around describing Louisiana. This weekend kind of sums up some of the opportunity that out there for us living here in Lafayette.

Saturday morning found us leading a trip into Buffalo Cove - a legendary part of the basin known for it's serene beauty. Our trip began at Sandy Cove landing near Fausse Point State park and headed south on the GA cut. We did a portage over a small hump into Bayou Gravenburg and were soon immersed in a forest of Cypress and Tupelo, sliding through water that didn't have a ripple on it. We slid by a pair of Barred Owls sitting on a tree branch right above us. A Prothonotary Warbler was busily flying around a stump - not concerned in the least at the passing canoes. We met a crawfisherman and his wife in their boat who yelled out "Ya'll havin' a good time?!". When we asked if he had caught anything he held up a crawfish for us to see in a passing salute to 2 diverse groups of Atchafalaya Basin users. On the way home, Becky mentioned possibly going Kayak fishing on Sunday to round out a weekend on the water.

After some advice on where to go from our friend Michael Pears, we headed out early Sunday Morning for Sabine National Wildlife Refuge. Our plan was to fish the marsh, then head down to the coast to fish the jetties from our kayaks. If we had any time left, we planned to visit the Holleyman-Sheely Migratory Bird Sanctuary and do a little birding. We put in and headed out into the marshes. The marsh was alive with bird life and lots of fish. It wasn't long before POW! a big red took my bait and drug my little kayak around the marsh for a while. We caught our limit of redfish, 4 nice speckled trout and a couple of flounders. We saw lots of birds and heard a lot of birds we couldn't see. We stayed in the marsh way too late (having too much fun!) and we were still cleaning fish at 10:30pm.

Between the beauty of our own great wilderness of the Atchafalaya Basin, to the immense opportunity for kayak fishing and birding in the marsh, we truly do live in a "Sportsmans Paradise". While others may be able to rock climb an hour or two from their house, we have world class paddling opportunities all around us.