Here’s the perfect way to earn prizes for exploring the great outdoors with your family. The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation has an incentive-based program to get kids away from screens and enjoying the outdoors called “Kids in Parks.” The best part – it’s FREE!
Introducing Kids in Parks
Here in the upstate we are definitely blessed with a lot of breathtaking outdoor destinations. Unfortunately, with younger children in tow and the absence of a play structure, it’s hard to know how to make the most of those natural gems. If you find yourself heading out to just such a place, getting out of the car, soaking in the beauty, and then a few minutes later looking around and saying “ok, now what?” Here is the solution.
Kids in Parks is a user-friendly website includes an always expanding list of nationwide locations that are considered TRACK trails. It allows families to search for locations near their hometown or even for an out of town adventure. That includes 160 TRACK Trails in 10 states, Washington DC, and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation with dozens of locations just a short drive away in North Carolina and Congaree National Park in South Carolina.
How Kids in Parks works
Once a particular park is chosen, all you need to do is head out! Everything you’ll need will already be at the park waiting for you. Every TRACK trail Park has an information sign with activity brochures for you to take. These self guided activities will turn what might have been viewed by young children as just a boring walk in the woods, into an educational adventure.
After you’ve completed one (or several) of the “Track Adventures” you can log on to the website from anywhere and begin logging your adventure. The process is very simple. You’ll need to create an account on the site that manages each child in the family. From there you’ll be able to track the children’s activities and what badges they have earned. It will even tell you how many miles have been hiked, based on the length of the trail you completed.
Your child will receive the first of six prizes after the first activity is logged! A pocket-sized trail tracker nature journal along with a trail tracker sticker unique to each official location or backyard adventure they log. Other prizes include a drawstring backpack, nature scavenger hunt bandanna, and more.
Where to use Kids in Parks
My family discovered this program on our first trip to Mt. Mitchell National park in Burnsville, North Carolina. This trip has become an annual event for my family.
Mt. Mitchell is breathtaking, and this is probably why it became one of our country’s first National parks. The summit is the highest point east of the Mississippi River at 6,684 feet above sea level. If I told you I hiked every year to the summit for my birthday you’d be impressed, wouldn’t you?
I’ll tell you a secret. The summit is very easily accessed by all. Makes for a great story though, you don’t have disclose that last part if you go. I won’t tell anyone our secret. From the summit platform you can see all the surrounding states, so don’t forget your camera.
Here’s a tip – turn your phone on airplane mode. There will not be a signal at the summit and your battery will go from hero to zero searching for one, before the first photo is taken.
Mt. Mitchell only has one “Track adventure,” called “Island In the Sky.” Due to the elevation of the mountain, its ecosystem is unlike anything at lower elevations. The drive of roughly two hours and fifteen minutes from the Upstate is worth it.
Other places to explore with Kids in Parks
On your way there you can also stop at TRACK trail locations in the surrounding area. The Asheville Visitor center on the Blue Ridge Parkway was the very first TRACK trail, installed in 2009 and it’s a perfect stop on your way to the mountain.
Several locations are within an attraction that requires an entry fee. Some of these include – Chimney Rock State Park, Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site and the North Carolina Arboretum. These venues having TRACK trail activities is great if you were already planning on going, but please don’t think that to participate you need to spend money.
Just to the north of us in Tryon, North Carolina is a TRACK trail park. Woodland park is a moderate trail that winds through forest and past a waterfall. It also includes what has been one of my favorite “track adventures” – “Hikin’ to find Lichen.” We had a blast searching and hunting for all different kinds of algae and fungus along the trail. My tip for this location is leave the stroller in the car. The path is narrow and not stroller friendly.
North of Boiling Springs in Rutherfordton, North Carolina their Historic Main Street is a TRACK trail location. Probably one of the few if not the only trails that guides you through city streets. Here You will walk in the footsteps of revolutionary war soldiers, view historic landmarks and even see the location where the nations first $1 gold coin was minted.
The Congaree National Park is just south of Columbia and two hours from the Upstate. This park is busy during the months of May and June, as it is a synchronous firefly viewing spot. The park which covers over 20,000 acres of wilderness can be explored by foot or paddle.
Aside from the regular TRACK Trail incentives you can earn, there are two more sets of unique prizes that can be earned by visiting the TRACK Trail bike and disc golf locations. Unfortunately there aren’t any biking TRACK trails near the upstate. However if your planning a summer trip near Asheville, there are a few disc golf locations in that area.
Explore close to home
One of the many things my family loves about this program is that you don’t have to travel any further than your own backyard to participate in it. The TRACK Trail adventure brochures are available online as printable PDF files. If you follow “Kids in Parks” on social media, I’ve seen them post additional TRACK trail brochures. You can utilize all of these in your backyard or your favorite local park.
Places locally my family likes to enjoy an adventure are the Tyger-10 nature park, Lake Cooley and the Milliken arboretum, all located in Spartanburg.
I really can’t say enough good things about this program and I’m so excited to share it with everyone!
Which park will your family visit to earn prizes?