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The family hike.

Think of why you go into the woods. For the quiet? To contemplate beauty? withdraw from the overstimulation of the city?

Then don't expect your kids to enjoy it. Those admirable incentives are exactly what your average small person would do anything to avoid. But that doesn't mean you have to get a sitter every time you want to go on a hike. With a few tricks of the parental trade, you and your children -even teenagers, believe it or not-can enjoy the wilderness. Below are some tips for taking a family day hike in the forest. (It's a good idea not to try anything more ambitious until you've got the day hike down to your satisfaction.)

First, though, my credentials for giving you this advice. I own nine acres in New Hampshire laced with woodland trails that connect with the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. I have two small children and have singlehandedly marched them up and down a few modest-sized mountains. And every year I lead groups of college freshmen into the northern New England wilderness.

Admittedly, I have not had much experience getting younger adolescents to do my bidding in the woods. But if you can get teenagers to do your bidding, you should be writing this article (or perhaps running the country-Ed.).

To get kids of any age to go along with a hike in the woods and enjoy it, you need to keep a few facts in mind:

You and your kids may see wilderness differently. To you, it may be a place for peace and quiet. For your kids (and for an alarming number of adults), it's a place to act up without breaking the furniture,

Water is not Coke. This point may seem obvious to you, but children risk dehydration if, like most kids in these days of fancy fruit juices and limitless sodas, they haven't had many encounters with water. It's not a bad idea to bring along those boxed fruit juices they sell in the supermarket. Otherwise, consider investing in a cool-looking container of your child's choice. To a young boy, water tastes infinitely better in a camo-colored canteen.

*What enthralls you may mean nothing to your kids. A friend once took his teenaged boy up the Lambert Ridge Trail not far from our place. When they got to the top, they saw a spectacular sunset behind the broad shoulders of the White Mountains. The breeze was soft, a pair of merlins flew by, and the teenager said, "You dragged me up here for this?" The place didn't hold a candle to Nintendo.

* Kids may be enthralled by things that mean nothing to you. My fiveyear-old still talks about the time two summers a o when, unable to find few budget items that can be cut. So, naturally, it will be. This vulnerability to parsimonious congressmen can't help but affect recreation quality and quantity.

The declining relative importance of federal recreation areas. Americans' propensity to take shorter, more frequent trips places more stress on urban recreation sites, which tend to be managed by state and local governments. People already spend three quarters of their away-from-home outdoor time in state and local parks. Federal lands get just 14 percent of the visiting time; private lands get the rest. One of the biggest planning headaches for recreation analysts is the small woodland owner, who controls a third of a billion acres of forest; 77 percent of that land is off-limits to the public, and the number of no-trespassing signs is increasing.

Liability laws. They're a major reason for those no-trespassing signs.

* Changing work patterns. Sociologists say that in 1989 20 million Americans composing 17 percent of the workforce held part-time as opposed to full-time jobs, and the number is growing. The length of the workweek could conceivably decline again, as it did from the 1920s to the 1970s, as working couples balance child rearing and careers.

*Communications technology. Computers, car faxes, and modems make it possible for increasing pages of a book-and scat, if you don't watch your kids closely.

Tracks also tell stories about animals. Last winter, while cross-country skiing, Dorothy Jr. and I came upon footprints in the snow that ended in a small bloody patch of feathers. We were able to piece together a violent tale of a coyote ambush on a partridge.

The landscape itself tells stories. Before you hike, try to find out the history of the local forest. Is there any virgin tree growth? Was the land in meadow once? Try to guess why species of trees grow where they do. In eastern Kentucky you can tell where the moonshiners grew their corn in the woods-stands of tulip poplar rise up where the corn patches used to be.

Out our way is a beautiful stone wall standing incongruously on a steep slope at an elevation of more than 2,000 feet. The slope used to be part of an 18th-century hill farm, established high up where the farmers could watch out for Indian raids.

When all else fails, plants themselves can supply the fun. Watch the ground for puffball fungi; give them a little kick, and pollen flies out like a cloud of smoke. In late summer, the species of wild impatiens called touch-me-not has seed pods that spring open when you touch them. I have trouble getting George out of patches of these little orange flowers.

Surprises: In case nature fails to provide enough, bring some of your own. Take some emergency candy bars for when the whining reaches its peak.

Environmental awareness: Your kids probably get a lot of this at school, but actually being in the woods is a different thing altogether. Make a game out of walking softly on the land. Pack all your own trash out, and pick up the trash of others.

If you have prepared properly, and don't have unrealistic expectations, your entire family just might enjoy itself. Just keep in mind that you may not all be enjoying the same things.

A while back, Dorothy Jr. and I were having a picnic breakfast at our favorite nearby lake. The sun was just peeking over Mt. Cardigan, and we sat on a couchlike rock with my arm around her shoulders and listened to the loons calling. It was a moment of great peace and joy, the greatest reward of fatherhood and love of the outdoors, and my little daughter turned her shining face to me and said, "Boy. This sure is good orange juice."

We both were having a good time. That's what counts, isn't it? AF
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Forests
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Heinrichs, Jay
Publication:American Forests
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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