By Shannon Beamon, Staff Writer
Sunday, February 2, 2014 —
Over the river and through the woods, along the trails they went.
The recent grand opening of Albemarle’s first TRACK trail took elementary school kids up and down the length of City Lake Park.
“Most hiking trails are aimed at a large audience,” Albemarle Parks and Recreation Director Toby Thorpe said.
“But this is targeted. This gets the youngsters involved. It’s shorter, it’s easier.”
And it comes with interactive brochures.
At the park’s trailhead, Parks and Rec unveiled a new kiosk featuring four different TRACK Trail Adventure brochures: Hikin’ to Find Lichen, Finding Ferns, The Need For Trees and Nature’s Hide and Seek.
“Inside each there’s a sort of checklist of things for kids to find,” Kids in Parks Naturalist Tony Geiger said.
“It gives them a new way to interact with the trail.”
After kids complete a trail, they can log it on the Kids in Park’s website to earn prizes.
“The more trails they log the better the prizes get,” Geiger said.
“After a while, the idea is that this gets them into it and after a while the hike itself becomes the reward.”
The TRACK Trail project is sponsored by the Kids in Parks program, an initiative of the Blue Ridge Foundation, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC.
While most of their trails are located in North Carolina, they have 70 trails nationwide.
Using existing hiking trails in an area, the program teams up with local communities to pick out a route, mark it and select the appropriate adventure brochures.
“We try to pick trails that aren’t too hard or too long,” Geiger said.
“We want kids to have fun, not scare them away.”
With the sponsorship of Stanly County Schools, Stanly County Partners in Health and the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, Kids in Parks teamed up with Albemarle Parks and Rec used sections of all three trails at City Lake Park to put together a 1.2 mile kid-friendly trail.
And at the grand opening on Jan. 17, they didn’t waste any time breaking it in.
After unveiling the new TRACK Trail kiosk, the kids split up into four groups, each one with a different brochure, and headed off into the woods.
The trail took them around the edge of the lake where they spotted beaver gnawed stumps, down to the dam many of them had never seen before, up the side of hills where they identified Christmas ferns and club moss, and past the old pump house where they learned a bit of history.
“City Lake Park has a nice mix of features,” Geiger said.
“That’s really exciting for kids. Seeing the lake right off the bat and the dam, I couldn’t believe how much they loved the dam.”
One girl even went so far as to say that she was going to get married there.
While a wedding may not have been what he had in mind, Geiger said that kind of enthusiasm is what he loves to see.
“I heard one kid talking about how he loved nature,” he said.
“That makes it all worth while.”
Thorpe said according to a study done by the Kaiser Group, kids spend eight hours a day interacting with electronic media. Meanwhile the Blue Ridge Parkway, the most visited unit of the National Park Service, reports that only 8 percent of its visitors bring children.
He hopes that the TRACK Trail will be a resource to offset this decline in outdoor activity as well the uprise in childhood obesity.
“I think those brochures are really going to benefit school field trips out here, too,” Brian Hinson, athletics program supervisor, said.
“And our Summer Challenge as well. Our 7 to 9 year olds, we take them on a hike. But if it’s more than a mile or so they’re not that into it. This’ll give them something to look forward to, something to do.”
Recreation Superintendent Oliver Webster pointed out that the large group of kids finished the trail in a half hour.
“That’s really a very good time,” he said.
“Some of them were so excited they were practically running... this really is something kids can get into.
To learn more about TRACK Trails visit www.kidsinparks.com.
To submit story ideas, contact Shannon Beamon at (704) 982-2121, ext. 24. or email email@example.com.