Tag Archives: National Park Service

Take a Nature Break at Prince William Forest Park

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My kids are funny when it comes to hiking. Sometimes they are gung-ho, but every now and then when I suggest we hit the trail, there’s a little protest: “But it’s just walking!” is something I’ve heard more than once.

Then I explain that it’s much more than just walking. It’s observing the nature around us, enjoying some active recreation, getting out of the bustling city for peaceful surrounds, unplugging, spending quality time together. I relish a good hike and, at the risk of sounding eye rollingly cheesy, think it’s the perfect thing for a mini reboot. Taking even a little break from our busy, hurried city life to slow down and connect is good for all of us.

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The thing is, I can almost always guarantee that even when there is initial resistance to the hiking plan, they end up being happy trampers. (“Mom, you were right…” is not uncommon either 😉 ). Once we get to our destination, they’re excited to be there — racing each other down the path, looking out for wildlife, finding a perfect walking stick, and just exploring the environment around us.

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When we visited Prince William Forest Park in Northern Virginia this past fall, they were actually quite amenable to the idea. This mostly had to do with the fact that Owen had just been there for Nature Bridge , a three-day outdoor education program with school, and loved the location. I had been there myself a year before for a trail race and recalled it being a beautiful park with varied terrain and interesting trails. Collective enthusiasm to go someplace is never a bad thing!

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Prince William Forest Park stretches over 15,000 acres in Northern Virginia. The largest protected green space in the DC-Metro area, there are over 37 miles of trails to hike, plus miles of paved and gravel paths to cycle, rivers for fishing, and cabins and tent sites for camping.

There is a $15 entrance fee per vehicle (or $7 for walk- and bike-ins) that we paid at the Visitor Center upon our arrival. While we were there, we picked up a trail map, checked out the exhibits, and learned a little more about the park’s nature and history. A couple of tidbits: The area was a significant strategic point in the Civil War, and during the Great Depression when the park was called the Chopawamsic Recreation Area, it housed children’s relief camps.

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There are a few trail heads near the Visitor Center, and trails within the park are as short as a half mile and as long as almost 10. Many connect, so you can extend your hike and explore different areas. Our jaunt along the Laurel Loop Trail took us through the woods, which were vibrant with fall colors at the time, and along the Quantico Creek. Owen pointed out some of the spots he visited on his school trip, like a beaver dam and small waterfall, and we had a picnic lunch by the water.

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Then we hopped onto another trail that took us deeper into the woods, and eventually to small cemetery. We learned that there over 40 family cemeteries in the park, mostly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but some even earlier. It’s important to respect these sites and also illegal to alter them in any way. You can read about a couple of them here.

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While we didn’t see much wildlife besides birds, squirrels, and fish, plenty do live there. Deer, beavers, and black bears (!) are some of the other mammals you might encounter. And sightings of snakes, turtles, and frogs are pretty common.

The variety in trails makes Prince William Forest Park a great place to hike with young children, since there are plenty of short, flat trails. And if you’re with older kids who want more of a challenge, there are longer and more difficult trails, too. You even can make it a weekend trip — cabins are available May – October, and tent sites May – November. Whether you stay overnight or just go for a few hours,  it’s a perfect destination for an easy escape from the city.

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Prince William Forest Park is located in Triangle, VA, about a 45 minute drive from DC. It’s open daily from sunrise to sunset. The Visitor Center is open 8am – 4pm November – February, and 9am – 5pm March – October. Admission is $15/car or $7/walk- or bike-in.

 

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Filed under All ages, Animals, Educational, Exhibit, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend

Explore the Wild Side of Our National Parks at BioBlitz!

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Registration is open for the National Parks BioBlitz in DC this Friday and Saturday, May 20-21. Hosted by the National Park Service (NPS) and National Geographic, BioBlitz is a fast-paced expedition to discover and document the plants and animals that thrive in our national parks and celebrate the centennial of NPS.

You can register online to join a scientist-led inventory team in one of the area national parks. Most inventories are one to two hours and best suited for ages 8 and up. There are some great birding opportunities for those wanting to get an early start, fish counts in the creek, bugs, bats, plants, and more. Not only is this a cool way to explore and gain an appreciation for the natural resources in our parks, the verified data gets uploaded to NPS databases and gives valuable information to national park scientists.

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For those with younger kids, there will be a Biodiversity Festival at Constitution Gardens on the National Mall. The festival will run 9 am – 5 pm, both Friday and Saturday, May 20-21. From morning outdoor yoga, kid-oriented music performances and live-animals, to explorer talks, science and nature exhibits, there will be something for all ages at the festival.

All events are free, but to guarantee a spot on an inventory team, you need to register online.

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Filed under All ages, DC, Educational, Festival, Free, Maryland, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Spring, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend

Brighten Up the Holiday Season by Hitting the Lottery

A shot of the tree from Christmas past.

I know. It seems crazy to be discussing the holidays when the front yard is still covered in fake cobwebs, but some events require early action, and this is one of them. Yes, I’m talking about the 2011 National Christmas Tree Lighting.  And, yes, the early action required is entry into the lottery to win tickets to the celebration.

This year’s National Christmas Tree Lighting will take place on December 1 at 5pm.  In case you’re new to this DC holiday tradition, here’s the scoop: Every year, the National Christmas Tree is illuminated on the Ellipse in a big ceremony  presented by the National Park Service and National Park Foundation. The President of the United States delivers a message of peace, big-name entertainers perform, and the whole event is televised (and webcast) for the world to witness. And every year, tickets to the ceremony are issued to the public via an online lottery  –  this year 3,000 seats and 14,000 standing admissions (4,000 more than last year) are distributed to the lucky winners.

And here’s the info that I know you’re waiting for: The lottery for the 2011 National Christmas Tree Lighting will open this Thursday, November 3, at 10am and will run until November 7 at 9:59pm. To enter, go to Recreation.gov. (Ticket seekers without access to a computer may also call 877.444.6777 or for TDD 877.833.6777.) Be sure to apply for enough tickets (limit five per entry), as every attendee, including children, must have one. Lottery results will be available starting Thursday, November 10 — you can check back on the website then to see if you hit the DC holiday jackpot.

Good Luck!


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Filed under Annual, Babies, Christmas, DC, Free, Gradeschoolers, Holidays, Live Entertainment, Outdoor, Preschoolers, Preteens, Seasonal, Toddlers

Memorial Day Events and More this Weekend

Whether you seek events that honor those who have served and sacrificed for our nation, are ready to get your summer started, or just want to enjoy some quality time with the kids over the holiday weekend, these suggestions for family recreation should have you covered.  Happy Weekend!

National Memorial Day Concert Why watch on TV when you can be there in person? The 2011 National Memorial Day Concert will take place on the west lawn of the Capitol on Sunday, May 29 from 8 – 9:30pm. Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna are hosting the event, and an all-star line-up of artists will join the National Symphony Orchestra in honoring those who have served and sacrificed for the U.S. Gates open at 5pm, admission is free.  If you’re planning to go, this FAQ page on the concert is worth a read.

National Memorial Day ParadeThe annual National Memorial Day Parade celebrates and honors American veterans with a grand procession through the city. On Monday, May 30, the procession of military units and vehicles, marching bands, flag teams, and hundreds of veterans will travel down Constitution Avenue from 7th to 17th Streets. The parade begins at 2pm. Watch from the sidewalk for free.

Joys of SummerJust posted yesterday, this list of activities exclusive to summer will prove useful as soon as, well, now. Jazz in the Garden kicks off this evening, The Yards Park presents Friday music shows along with special activities for kids, and…wait for it…DC public outdoor pools open this weekend!  For complete info on all of these summer pursuits and more, click here.

Sunset Celebration at Mount Vernon – Visit Mount Vernon after the daytime crowds have departed this Friday through Sunday from 6-9pm.  Guests can take evening tours of the Mansion, relax and enjoy wine and desserts available for purchase, and delight in 18th-century music, dancing, games, and wagon rides. Stroll the lantern-lit grounds and immerse yourself in the 18th century as the sun sets on the plantation and costumed residents like the charming Lady Washington and her granddaughter Nelly interact with visitors. This family-friendly event celebrates the beginning of summer on the plantation.  Admission is $18/adults, $12/ages 6-11, free for children 5 and under.

Memorials on the Mall – Tributes to those who have served our country will take place at the many memorials and monuments on the National Mall throughout the weekend. Times vary, but you can look for schedules on the National Park Service website. The Mall is guaranteed to be crowded, so plan accordingly.

Great Country Farm Strawberry JubileeThe largest U-pick strawberry festival will take place on Saturday and Sunday from 10am – 5pm rain or shine. Get ready for lots of fun activities for all ages, including the popular diaper derby, pie-eating contest, tart toss, strawberry princess, KidzArt, great food, live music, and Strawberry wine-tasting with Bluemont Vineyard.  That should be enough to keep the family entertained for the day. Admission is $10.

Delphane Strawberry FestivalGet your summer off to a “berry” good start at the 18th annual festival celebrating the spirit of the region. Head to Sky Meadows State Park on Saturday and Sunday from 10am – 5pm rain or shine for hay rides, live music, a petting zoo, pony rides, crafts, field games, and of course, strawberries will make it a fun day for everyone.  Admission is $20 per car at the gate.

Reap the FruitsA recent email from Homestead said their strawberry season is in full swing, and the rest of the area farms are right there with them. You can get in on the pick-your-own action; this post has all the info you need to get started.

The Potomac by TaxiMake your way from Old Town Alexandria to the National Harbor (or vice versa) on the river. Water taxis ferry between the two destinations several times throughout the day for a mini-adventure on the water and a fun time exploring on land.  This post has all the info you need to plan your river crossing.

Show Time“A Year with Frog and Toad” is delighting audiences at Adventure Theatre—read the recent KFDC review. And for more children’s entertainment in the area, check out this post about what’s on local stages this season.

The Great OutdoorsIf you and the kids want to take a hike, explore a garden, or check on new grounds for play,  this list has plenty of ideas for enjoying a beautiful day outdoors with the kids.

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Filed under All ages, Annual, DC, Farm, Festival, Free, Holidays, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Monuments & Memorials, Outdoor, Parade, Park, Seasonal, Spring, Summer, Theatre, Virginia, Weekend