The weather has been pretty stunning this week, hard to believe it’s February, but there you have it–60+ degrees and bright sunshine. Snow is melting, trails are opening up. What a perfect time to get outdoors on a blue-sky day! My challenge is that I don’t walk alone. My “usual suspects” were unavailable, but when I stopped by the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Bonnie Combs and Suzanne Buchannan urged me to stop back by Riverbend Farm where ranger Kathryn Parent was leading a walk. I felt sure I’d miss Kathryn, but she and a group of families with very young children were in the visitor center getting ready to head out. Success!
Numerous folks have asked me how I find places to walk locally. Others want to know about group walks, opportunities to take walks with other people. The answer to the first question is bound up in the answer to the second question.
I find places to walk by keeping my eyes open, noticing trail kiosks along roadsides in my travels, and simply talking to people who express interest in walking. Often these folks will know of a trail nearby that I was unaware of. Some local towns have done a great job of posting information, along with maps, of their open space. Other towns offer nothing online, so I’ve called up the conservation department and usually find helpful people who go out of their way to point me to trails that are nice places for families with younger children to visit.
I’ve also gotten connected, often through Facebook groups, with others who have banded together to walk together with friends. They usually welcome newcomers, and I’ve made some great friends in this way as well.
Coming from a teaching background myself, I always appreciate seeing how others work with groups of children. Kathryn told me she was an experienced teacher before she came to Riverbend Farm, and it shows. Her quiet manner, willingness to move slowly, drawing children in to look closer, stopping to see what the little ones discovered all spoke of a passionate teacher.
The discoveries on our walk were small, like our group. Kathryn pointed out crab apples, gypsy moth caterpillar egg casings, and remnants of birds nests. The littler ones on the walk were great about spotting animal prints in the snow.
A child called us over to examine some bones at the edge of the field. Kathryn pointed out the hollow bone, confirming it as a bird’s skeleton.
Some children hoped to see signs of beaver. Others wished for bobcats, and yet another was determined to see a tiger. We were able to find signs of woodpecker activity in a fallen log, and spotted bark chewed off branches by beavers, but no bobcats, coyotes, and definitely no tigers.
But the biggest success during the outing came in getting to the Blackstone River’s edge, where a gravel embankment awaited. For the next ten or fifteen minutes, older and younger children flung stones into the water. One child was so intent in his exploring he waded in, squatted down, and surely got the edge of his coat pretty damp. He was so focused he never noticed. His mother smiled and shrugged.
A simple walk, with no particular destination, no specific goal, an explore. Sometimes it helps to be in the right place at the right time. It also helps to keep in mind local places, and check with them about upcoming events, especially around school vacations. Here are some websites Kathryn pointed me to–and now you have them too 🙂
For the entire state of Massachusetts: http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks/programs-and-events/
Blackstone Heritage State Park’s Feb calendar: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dcr/events/february-black.pdf March:http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dcr/events/march-black.pdf
Marjorie Turner Hollman
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed two guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, “Easy Walks in Massachusetts 2nd edition,” and “More Easy Walks in Massachusetts.” A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! On the board of directors of the Association of Personal Historians, she is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project. http://www.marjorieturner.com