School and many workplaces may be out indefinitely during the coronavirus-induced statewide quarantine, and families may be struggling to find creative ways to engage their children during a time of stress and uncertainty.
“We like to tell people that nature is not closed,” said Susquehanna Greenways Executive Director Corey Ellison. “There are so many opportunities throughout our region for families to reconnect with nature and create positive memories – you just need to be careful where you are going and avoid places where groups typically gather, like playgrounds.”
There are many benefits of finding creative ways to get outdoors, especially the therapeutic aspect of being in nature, according to Jon Beam, a longtime naturalist and assistant director of the Montour Area Recreation Commission and the Montour Preserve.
“Time outdoors in nature can relieve stress and be very relaxing,” he said. “It is a great time being outside with spring things happening all around and changing almost daily.”
Van Wagner, a longtime outdoors educator and musician, has done quite a bit of hiking so far with his family, noting that it is a great time of year for a hike.
“There is a low risk of poison ivy, stinging insects and snakes,” he said. “I just came in from a five-mile trek on the Montour Ridge. It is also nice that it isn’t any major hunting season, so while you are hunting, you are not disrupting anyone’s hunt.”
While most buildings – including bathrooms – have been closed at state parks, many of the trails and other amenities remain open and barely used. Private parks, such as the Montour Preserve, offer similar opportunities.
“The lake remains open to fishing from shore (it is closed to watercraft due to waterfowl nesting season), and the fossil pit and trails all remain open (at the Montour Preserve),” said Montour Area Recreation Commission President Bob Stoudt, who added that the visitor’s center has been closed for the time being. “We are encouraging families to recreate close to home and avoid traveling long distances to parks and trails across the state. We are also recommending that you avoid playgrounds, play equipment, benches, picnic tables and other high-touch surfaces.”
Kayaking and other boating opportunities abound, according to Ellison, and the Susquehanna Greenway website offers numerous tools, including an interactive map, that can help you plan your trip along the Susquehanna Water Trails system. Check it out at www.susquehannagreenway.org
“You can naturally distance yourself on the water from other people,” she said. “There are places that offer a chance to launch and return to the same boat launch thanks to stiller water. There are more opportunities for those when the (Adam T. Bower Memorial) dam goes up. One important thing to remember is that if you go out over the next couple weeks, you need to wear your life jacket until April 1 due to cold water concerns.”
Ellison recommends, for those looking for drier ways to embrace nature, a variety of hiking opportunities in the region, including the 3.5-mile North Branch Canal Trail near Danville and the Bloomsburg rail-trail – along with a network of cross-country rails near Bloomsburg University.
For those hoping to stay closer to home, there are ample opportunities within even our backyards, according to former Sinnemahoning State Park outdoor educator Jessica Deluccia.
“Try a backyard safari with your kids where they search for the smallest animals like spiders, insects, worms, slugs, etc.,” she said. “Build a garden in containers you can bring inside. Start a home composter to reduce waste in landfills. You can go for a night drive and look for nocturnal animals, check out the live wildlife camera online and even listen for spring birds outside your windows and try to identify the species.”
Anne Katona Linn, an avid paddler and mental health consultant, suggested a nature scavenger hunt.
“Make the best art project with that you find outside,” she said. “Plant some flower seeds or bulbs and take pictures each week to observe how they are growing.”
According to Wagner, it can be a fun time to explore local creeks and runoffs.
“Try some natural bridge crossing, using fallen logs and other natural items – just be sure to not do it alone,” he said. “Also, look for fossils. The rocks in our area are 350-440 million years old – three times older than most dinosaurs. Go on a fossil hunt – they are everywhere!”
Wagner added that it can be a lot of fun for kids to build a fort in the woods – if you have easy access to them – and it is an ideal time to look for shed deer antlers.
“These can be really cool to find and share the excitement with others,” said Ken Maurer, owner of the Southside Bait Shop in Sunbury. “Kids can also build a small bird house, or even take a flashlight and look for spring peepers, worms and other critters at night.”
Some local groups are offering an extra incentive to take the family outdoors. The Susquehanna Greenway is offering a photo contest starting April 1 that runs through the end of June. More information can be found at www.susquehannnagreenway.org.
Also, the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association is holding photo and poetry contests, encouraging people in three different age groups to turn in their best photos and poems from their spring outdoor adventures through Easter, with various prizes available. For more information, click here.
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.