by Meredith Flory
Preparing for our move across the country last fall, we made the decision to treat the drive more like a family vacation than a marathon driving session. We spent a day at Vicksburg National Park, a beautiful, sprawling piece of land near the Mississippi River that memorializes a major turning point in the Civil War with monuments, museums and battlefield sites. At times, it was solemn and heartbreaking but it was also a day filled with memory making and down time to rest from the trip.
National parks make a great destination for longer vacations and right here in the CSRA you are surrounded with many state parks and historical sites that you can visit in an afternoon. As my children get older, I hope to take advantage of the parks that are within range for day trips of each place we live. There’s such a wide range of benefits that our family receives from spending time in nature. The chance to be among trees, beautiful vistas and flora and fauna can be awe inspiring for a child. Historical markers, memorials, ruins and replicas can be paired with reading or documentaries on our history for a chance to bring the page to life. Regardless of how a family chooses to spend time exploring, these parks can give us a chance to reconnect and step away from our indoor, technology-driven lives. Recently, I spoke with staff at Elijah Clark State Park and Mistletoe State Park, about how local families can continue to be “raising readers” over summer break while using state parks as a resource.
Both Brenda Bettross, the assistant manager at Elijah Clark State Park and Justin Bettross, the assistant manager at Mistletoe State Park, shared how the Junior Ranger program is an excellent opportunity for children ages six to 12 to learn about wildlife, outdoor activities and other things park rangers do. Brenda Bettross shared that Elijah Clark will have a Junior Ranger camp in June, and Justin Bettross points out that the, “Junior Rangers Book “ is standard for every park, but in the coming months they will be specific to each park so people can get different books at different Georgia state parks.” The Junior Ranger books have information and activities children can work through to earn badges as they explore the Georgia parks system, engaging them in science, history and reading.
If you are planning a trip to a state park, you can extend the educational component by choosing books to read ahead of time. For small children, picture books about forest life or animals common in Georgia that can be read ahead of time to explain what you might see. This allows the child to make connections between a book they have read and a new experience. For independent readers, children’s nature magazines or reference books can allow exploration at their own pace and will pair well with the Junior Rangers activities. For teens, novels or nonfiction stories about wilderness survival skills or wilderness conservation may help them understand the importance of preserving our natural resources. Brenda Bettross points out that, “There are many books written on Elijah Clark the Revolutionary war hero,” so consider teen appropriate books on historical figures or events for any historical markers you will see. Teens or parents may be inspired by books that focus on the benefits of spending time in nature. Justin Bettross suggests, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, which “details why children don’t go outside a much as they once did” as a moving book that can connect to park visits.
When planning a visit to a state park in Georgia or even in South Carolina, you can purchase a one day park pass or an annual park pass to be used at state parks throughout the same state. There are some discounted programs, such as those for senior citizens or veterans. For families on a tight budget, there are limited numbers of park passes available for loan through the public library system. For family members with limited mobility, the Georgia State Parks website states that, “Georgia’s State Parks & Historic Sites are committed to making facilities and programs accessible to everyone. All lodges have accessible rooms, meeting facilities and restaurants. Most parks offer accessible cottages, campsites, fishing piers, nature trails and picnic areas.” Families are encouraged to call to find out what may be available for your specific needs at the park you plan to visit.
While a park pass allows you to spontaneously visit and support our parks throughout the year, if you are choosing to plan ahead for a more involved trip, know that many of the parks have camping sites available for a longer stay. Many also have special events throughout the year, such as holiday celebrations, tours, concerts, crafting and other types of lessons. If you have a teen interested in environmental issues, they may be able to find ways to become involved in green efforts by supporting the parks system. Brenda Bettross pointed out that every quarter Elijah Clark State Park “…offers a clean up the park volunteer day, where the community can get involved in helping our picnic and beach area look the best it can be.”
The benefits of visiting a state park to your child’s education and mental health are innumerable. As Brenda Bettross expresses, “State parks offer a day of family bonding and fun at minimal cost. Families can experience the outdoors in many ways such as boating, hiking, backpacking, bike riding, walking, relaxing near the water, playgrounds, archery and more.” Justin Bettross shares that in addition to the camping and common recreation areas, “For people that want to get further off of the beaten path, Mistletoe has 12 miles of hiking trails and offers geo-caching and orienteering.” State parks and heritage sites protect our history, the beauty of our country and our historical record. There is always an activity or adventure waiting for every member of your family at a state park and as you look for ways to combat the summer slump. state parks offer an affordable way to raise your readers to appreciate the beauty of the CSRA and beyond.
More information on any of the programs listed here and others in our area can be found at www. gastateparks.org or www.southcarolinaparks.org. Many of the individual parks also have social media pages or newsletters you can sign up for to engage and share information with your family as well.
This article appears in the May 2018 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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