*This article originally appeared in the January 2, 2016 edition of the Alaska Dispatch News.
I’m not a huge fan of New Year resolutions, mostly because I seldom keep them. I gave up committing to things like losing 20 pounds or pledging to paint the living room a long time ago.
There is one aspect of a shifting calendar, however, for which I refuse to budge: Our annual here-there-and-everywhere-possible outdoor adventuring. Every family has its own value system, principles that provide a compass for living, and ours happens to embrace exploration, whether we camp beneath a canopy of spruce trees in Alaska or snorkel with sea lions in the warm waters of Baja California.
Our ethos is simple: provide opportunity. Try everything. Be an ambassador. Share. Kids don’t need luxury to be happy, nor do they need to venture far from home. Setting the pace for outdoor family adventure begins with a single step, so as the sun rises on 2016, here are a few inspirations to jump-start your new year.
CELEBRATE A NATIONAL PARK
Entering a centennial year, the National Park Service is launching a series of programs to encourage families with children to explore the 59 parks, historic landmarks, and monuments stretching across the country. Alaskans don’t have to leave the state for an array of choices: we have 15 national parks, preserves, monuments and historical parks, plus 13 national wild rivers and 49 national historic landmarks. Consider taking youngsters to America’s largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias, and visit Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark near the community of McCarthy. Here, visitors of all ages can wander the renovated buildings of this former copper mine community, hike scenic trails, climb on ice, and soar above the landscape on a flightseeing tour. We like to stay at Kennicott Glacier Lodge in the heart of the park, where hospitality and history blend in a delicious space of contentment. Its season runs May 28-September 11. Parents of fourth-grade students can secure a free national park pass for your child courtesy of the Every Kid in a Park campaign to encourage more kids to visit their public lands.
Find a national park anywhere in the U.S. using the Park Service’s search tool.
DIG INTO FAMILY ROOTS
Whether your ancestors came to the United States via airplane, automobile, steamship or on foot (effort to acknowledge the original Alaskans probably came across the Bering Sea Land Bridge), uncovering the history of fathers, mothers, and grandparents can make for an exciting family vacation. Our hot trip for 2016 entails flying to Forest City, Iowa, in May to retrace the steps of my grandfather, who traveled aboard an emigrant car at age 3 to the wheat fields and ranches of Montana. For Alaska kids who don’t often visit the Lower 48, the opportunity to experience a landscape different from home can be a treasure. Take a hike upon area trails, play at popular parks, or see a local festival. We’re camping the whole way in an RV rented from Great Alaskan Holidays’ Spring Adventure Package and utilizing KOA campgrounds, state parks, and a few national parks between the Hawkeye State and Alaska. It’s family adventure, unplugged and real.
GO BEYOND YOUR COMFORT ZONE
It can be mentally and physically challenging to venture into a new recreational space, especially for parents. That said, children who attempt feats of perceived daring with the support of willing moms and dads are empowered to become independent, self-reliant creatures more inclined to try new things as they grow up. Not an experienced outdoorsman or woman yourself? Take a class at REI, where instructors from the community teach everything from winter camping to mountain bike basics. Mothers and daughters age 18 and above may enjoy a weekend at the Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) program, sponsored by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Although the focus has been women, men can also enroll. With a statewide network of classes held all year, the BOW programs teach empowerment and independence in hunting, fishing, camp cooking, field-dressing game, and many other outdoor pursuits.
For kids age 10-12, Fish and Game offers Outdoor Youth Days, where tweens can learn the skills of gun safety, fishing, outdoor survival, watershed ecology, and boating safety. The 2016 schedules are not available yet, so keep tabs on the Fish and Game website.
Back in the 1800s, Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.” Whether your family adventure spirit is fiery red or meadow-green, take time this year to nurture within nature, and be glad about it.