Urban Wild Adventures – Trip Date: May 31 & June 2 2016

To know your city is to love your city, and Green Spiral has long known Saint Louis to be home to some of the most amazing parks and playgrounds in the country. As the world becomes a more hectic place, nature places and quiet oasis will play an increasing role in the identity of this Great City.

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We have many treasured parks in Saint Louis, but the crown jewel of parks is certainly Forest Park, recently named the #1 Best City Park in America: https://www.thrillist.com/travel/nation/the-15-best-city-parks-in-america.

2012-09-15 art museum

World class destinations like the Zoo, Art Museum, History Museum and Muny are easy to find in Forest Park, but for those of you looking to get off the beaten track, here’s a short loop we’re calling the “Crawdaddy Walk”.  It’s a two hour excursion at a very leisurely pace, suitable for all ages, including the stroller set.

2016-06 Forest Park Map

Park and meet your playgroup at the Inclusion Playground next to the Visitor Center, and be sure to pack your own water, unless you like paying $2 for bottled water.  Know that the playground is the first inclusion playground built in the city and there is a secret pollinator’s garden nearby.

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Call up Jean Turney, education coordinator at Forest Park Forever, and have her meet you at the blueberries growing right next to the building. Jean’s job is to help folks learn how to use the park for fun and educational purposes, and she organizes Teacher Academies in the Summer.  561-3287

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Begin your walk between the parking lot and the tennis courts and head for the Mary Orr MacCarthy Bridge, or the “Love Lock Bridge”. On your way, you can have kids pick clover; tie them together to make some clover crowns!  Know that there is a famous bridge in Paris, the Pont des Arts, which has grill-work laden with locks.  Lovers carve their initials into padlocks, affix the locks to the bridge, and throw the key into the river, thereby sealing their love forever.  Looks like we now have a “Love Lock Bridge” in Forest Park, so if you’re a lover, go ahead and affix your lock, it’s the “good kind of trouble” to get into.

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Continue walking along between the creek  and the Boathouse, an area we call “Cottonwood Corridor”.  If you travel through in June, the cotton puffs will be floating through the air like snow; see if kids can catch some cottonpuffs.

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Stop and sample the service berries growing on bushes to your right.  Service berries are important bird food, and edible for humans too.  The service berries ripen in early summer, and get their name from the “olden days” when the ground was too frozen to bury the dead.  When the service berries came ripe in late May, the ground was warm enough to excavate a deep hole, and a service could finally be performed. Thus the name” service-berry.  Thank you Bellefontaine Cemetery for the story!

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Continue following the path until you find the water-play area on your right.  This is a great area to play in the water.  Our creeks and waterways are in bad shape, and questionable for young children for a multiplicity of reasons including sewage and radioactive contamination. But because the River des Peres was long ago used as an open sewer and buried under the park in advance of the World’s Fair in 1904, the surface water in Forest Park today is pretty close to tap water, and the cleanest natural water-play area we can find for kids.  It’s kind of sad that we’ve contaminated so many waterways as a society; therefore, it’s important to educate yourself and thus join the fight to clean up and protect our waterways, if nothing but our own enjoyment. Technically, there is “no swimming” in Forest Park, but Green Spiral happens to know that the park rangers will turn a blind eye towards kids frolicking in the water.  If you do get in trouble, put big tears in your eyes, and say “…but I want my kids to touch a creek at least one time in their lives before they grow up,” and put on your best and most sad pouting face…  Back to the self-guided tour:

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“Crawdaddy Cove” is a great place to fish for crayfish.  Bring a paperclip on a string, and fix some cheese to the open “hook” of the paperclip.  Drop the paperclip in the water, and when a crawfish clamps on to it, hoist the little feller out of the water. We forgot our paper clips, but did find a dead crayfish. By the way, Missouri is a hot-spot for crayfish biodiversity, due to our plethora of magnificent spring-fed rivers.

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“Crawdaddy Cove” is a great area for a family picnic, and you can almost always find frogs, turtles, minnows, green herons and egrets. This is the best place for spying wildlife with kids that we’ve found in Forest Park so far. Remember to bring your hand sanitizer and sun protection. This is a wonderful destination for a picnic dinner in the evening, thus avoiding the “witching hour” at home. On the official map, this place is really called the “Post Dispatch Lake Riffles”, but we think “Crawdaddy Cove” is more romantic.

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When you are ready to depart, walk towards the main road, and over the “Bridge of Swallows”, which has lots of swallow nesting under it.  Continue walking past the Dwight Davis Tennis Center, and ultimately back to your car.  This is about a two hour adventure, conducted at a leisurely pace. Many thanks to talented nature guide Angela Wildermuth for scouting and leading this adventure with her Spring series of adventures called “Urban Wild Adventures”, which takes families on nature hunts at parks and playgrounds all over the Saint Louis area.

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Now here’s your homework:

  1. Count how many creatures you can find on your walk and have the kids make a note in a journal you keep in the car.
  2. See if you can name any plants, or make a crown made of clover.  Simply tie them together as you would make a “daisy chain.”
  3. Come back to the Visitor Center someday and ask for the free ipod walking tour that teaches you about the history of Forest Park, and walks you past the Art Museum and Picnic Island. It’s very well done; many thanks to the Trio Foundation.
  4. Comment below with your observations and improvements on the map and adventure for the benefit of others.
  5. Love your City. Get out and get to know it. To know it, is to love it.
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This is Angela Wildermuth. She’s an amazing family nature guide.

Her last name means “wild spirit”.

2016 Angela Notepad

Angela is inspired to take families “into the wild” places at the edges of parks and playgrounds all over the Saint Louis area.  Green Spiral has now hosted two series of playground adventures that we are calling “Urban Wild Adventures”.

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In the wilds of Maplewood…

 

This blog debriefs “Winter Wild Adventures” in hopes of getting kids outside in all kinds of weather. You definitely need proper clothing, and friends, to help keep you warm, and overcome that indoor inertia.

If you can find REAL felt or alpaca foot inserts for kids (NOT polyester), and put them inside standard wellie-type rain boots, you’ve just created a pair of warm kid boots for a fraction of the cost of snow boots. Wear wool socks for extra measure.  Buy rain boots a size too big in fall, and as kids grow, take out the wool inserts for spring and summer.

Fit for a prince...

Fit for a prince…

The weather is not likely to settle down anytime in the near future, and families who follow Green Spiral know all about raising resilient kids.  Green Spiral field trips are not for everybody; they’re kind of like “Outdoor Leadership School” for toddlers, kids and families.  But for those who do follow the wild spirit into the woods, the magic and the misadventure makes every extra effort worthwhile.

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The colder the winter the sweeter the spring, and even rain feels nice compared to ice. Getting outside in cold weather is good for you — and here’s an introduction to the fairly new concept of “brown fat”.  Brown fat is abundant in hibernating animals and newborns, it’s function is to keep the body warm.  But “brown fat” has also recently been discovered in adults as a response to cold exposure.  Brown fat keeps you warm, and it also burns “white fat”.  In short, being outside in winter causes you to build brown fat, which eventually keeps you warmer, WHILE, it makes you thinner!

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Nature doesn’t hibernate in winter, and there is plenty to do. The first three “Urban Wild Adventures”, to the Webster Sculpture Garden, Memorial Park and Tower Grove Park were cold, cold, cold. Kids have less body mass than adults, and thus get dangerously cold faster, so bundle little ones up well, wrap babies close to the body, and bring warm drinks in a thermos for when you get back to the car.  As the old saying goes, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

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Memorial Park in Brentwood (near the YMCA), is a fabulous destination for a short cold weather hike, as the secret paths are easier to find in winter, mulched with recycled Christmas trees.  Be careful not to fall into the creek when crossing the stepping stones, and make your way to the bridge with the arch.  Keep your eye on the creek — we had a magical moment when we spotted a great blue heron! It’s nice to have a tour guide who carries along bird books, and that nature guide could be you.

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Along with a moment of magic, every trip has a misadventure; the misadventure on this trip was the sad realization that trash along creeks is highly visible in winter.  On a positive note, mothers can’t stop themselves from cleaning up this pretty planet:  the moms found a lost garbage bag, spontaneously started cleaning up the place, and the kids jumped right in. The nice thing about winter hiking is that you don’t have to wash hands, just mittens! Panera would be your closest cozy stop, across the street in the same shopping center as Whole Foods.

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Here’s your map should you want to catch up with Green Spiral Tours, or simply organize your own playgroup adventure.

2016-01-25 map Memorial Park

 

The Tower Grove Park trip was even colder, with one or two misadventures. But know that Tower Grove has a secret natural playground, and Angela took us there. Our destination was these “gnarly knee trees” underneath a bald cypress tree.  This type of natural wonder cannot be landscaped – they’re very old and only grow in the wettest ground.

BUT! it snowed, covering up the gnarly knee destination! And, sadly, one of the cars got broken into —  so always remember “Adventure School Rules #3” – remain aware, and always lock valuables away and out of sight.

2016 Adventure School Rules

HOWEVER! Tower Grove has a pony! Who knew? AND, it was early February, so we saw the earliest sign of spring: witch hazel in bloom.

2015-02 Tower Grove pony

Tower Grove is a known birding destination along the “Mississippi Flyway”, so you might want to  return around Mother’s Day, with a picnic, when the songbirds pass through. We learned that a bird sanctuary is planned to be installed in Tower Grove Park soon. By the way, Hartford Coffee is a nice place to warm up, with quality coffee or hot chocolate.

 

Mr. Cypress Tree

Blackburn Park in Webster Groves is an amazing park to explore, and Angela & the families ventured forth in the rain, which seemed like  fun after the first three cold trips. Blackburn is famous for it’s sinkholes, and the kids had a blast jumping in and out of them; but be careful, what happens if the sinkhole doesn’t let you out? Remember, these are true off-the-beaten adventures and not sanitized, canned experiences, so you have to stop and assess the risks and hazards.  Fortunately, most kids have highly developed survival skills, and in this world, they need to be encouraged to take more risks, not fewer.  As always, use your own judgement.

Sink into the goodness...

Sink into the goodness…

By the way, ponchos are better for kids than umbrellas, because ponchos are cheaper and last longer than umbrellas, plus, nobody gets poked in the eye! Here’s a darling blog by a “Wild Mom” which tells you all about the adventure to Blackburn Park, and how to become a “Wild Family”. Imho, wild families have more fun, AND they are going to save this beautiful earth:

Becoming a Wild Family

The trip to Lindberg Park in Maplewood resulted in a great horned owl sighting as well as the welcome sight of wild purple crocus flowers — the first wink of spring! Also found: rabbit fur from owl hunting, as well as multiple groundhog burrows.  Teach kids to look up, down, and all around.

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Kids don’t learn about nature by osmosis or by magic; they must be taught directly how to pick up trash and put on wool socks.  Schools are not particularly set up to teach kids about nature, so the amazing nature teacher in your life is likely to be you. Hopefully this blog inspires you to get outside and shake off the winter doldrums.  As a tip to future trip leaders, it works well to meet your playgroup at the playground, to get the ya-ya’s out, so when the nature hike begins, everyone is in a calm mood of ready awareness.

Think on these things?

Think on these things?

In short, Winter Urban Wild Adventures, are good for you, good for kids, and good for Saint Louis. Be inspired to launch your own trips with the maps provided, or follow Angela Wildermuth on future “Urban Wild” adventures, by watching for future Green Spiral emails or following the Green Spiral Facebook Page.

Now here’s your homework:

  1. Go to your favorite park and get off the beaten track.  Look along the edges, where the wild things might be.  Look up, look down.  Collect nature items as you go, and arrange them in an interesting way at the end of your explorations.  Take a picture of it, along with the kids, for your photo journal.  Mark it with the date and location. This is a “Goldsworthy”; following in the footsteps of famous artist Andy Goldsworthy.
  2. Buy wool socks, rain boots & ponchos, and train your family to get outside in all kinds of weather.  Get your friends to come with you. Tell yourselves how resilient and awesome you are becoming with each passing day.
  3. Create a winter terrarium by collecting a small sample of soil, plus a small patch of frozen moss.  Put it inside a pretty jar with a lid, spritz it with water and set it on the kitchen table.  Prepare to be amazed at the tiny creatures and ferns that unfurl as the terrarium warms. Toss the soil and moss into the compost pile when the tiny riot of life has played itself out.

As with so many things in life, the trick to picking strawberries is to begin with the end in mind.

2014 Index Begin with End

 

In this case, the end begins in the kitchen, for a short trip to the strawberry fields, especially with industrious little helpers in tow, can easily leave you with hours of afternoon work in the kitchen, attempting to “preserve the harvest,” when you might rather be napping.  Here’s a simple smoothie recipe for those of you with young children at home, from one of our Green Spiral families:

 Insert Recipe Here

 

Located near Creve Couer Lake off Page Road and the Maryland Expressway, Thies Farm is a long favored Green Spiral strawberry picking destination, and it’s nice to watch their eco-tourism business grow.  2014 was the FIFTH year in a row that Green Spiral Tours hosted a field trip to Thies Farms.  It’s important to “Know Your Farmer” and deepen children’s understanding that food comes from the land.  Strawberry picking is a good first step in building ecoliteracy in children and it’s best to do it during preschool, or sometime during the “magic years”.

 

Miles of Smiles

Miles of Smiles

 

Thies Farm now has three locations; here is the GPS location for the strawberry fields in Maryland Heights as well as the phone number: 314-469-7559.  Call before you head out to make sure the strawberry fields are open. Farmers live outdoors, and they are getting better at using technology. Still, the phone beats Facebook on most days.  Green Spiral almost never cancels a trip due to weather, and neither should your adventure group, but do know that strawberry picking is one of the few things you can’t do in the rain. The fields open at 9 am and you will want to get there early to beat the heat.

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You will get hot, and you will get dirty.  Children’s clothing will get strawberry stained, and so will your knees.  Take a sunhat or hoodie, and a bottle of water per person.  Short rubber boots are nice for kids.  The strawberry window lasts for about two or three weeks, and it’s easy to miss during the busy, busy month of May. You can often catch strawberry season just as school lets out for summer, weather depending.  Strawberries need sunshine to ripen, but if it starts to get hot, know that your strawberry window is beginning to close.

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People want to know if it’s okay for kids to eat strawberries in the fields, and Farmer Dave once told me it was okay.  That said, there is a big difference between a toddler nibbling on one precious strawberry, and a teenager mowing through dozens of strawberries that belong to someone else (the farmer).  Obviously, the important thing is to teach children that strawberries are precious, and should not be thrown on the ground or carelessly dropped off the back of a wagon.

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Real Food Comes from Sunshine, and Dirt.

Strawberries are on the dirty dozen list, and many people ask if the strawberries are organic.  They are not, as it is difficult to grow organic strawberries at scale.  The best way to get organic strawberries is to be first in line at your local farmer’s market, or grow them yourself. Thies Farm is often spotted hanging out with EarthDance Farms, which is a stamp of organic approval.  Here’s what Farmer Dave has to say their IPM (Integrated Pest Management) practices. https://www.facebook.com/notes/thies-farm-greenhouses/integrated-pest-management/281999848483956

Thies Farm

Now in three locations!

Strangely, when researching the topic of eating strawberries fresh from the fields, it turns out that the greatest danger from strawberries comes from people “fingering” the strawberries in the grocery store, which is why strawberries now come in those clam-shell containers.  Gross!  As they say “dirt is not dirty, people are dirty;” so fear not the innocent strawberry in the field.

That's me, Jessie, and Virginia

That’s me, Jessie, and Virginia

 

As a nature teacher and busy mother, I encourage you to learn more about the many complex issues surrounding, say, the simple act of strawberry picking. In my estimation, the experience of picking strawberries as children is so indelible, and so important, that it might well be considered part of a “true core curriculum”.

 

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Nature education, because it occupies the long arc of a child’s life, (along with character development and spiritual practice), resides firmly in the family responsibility camp, and so it’s our job as parents to take the kids strawberry picking at least once. However, it is also true that whole classrooms often follow Green Spiral into the strawberry fields as a joyous end of year celebration, and schools can easily find their part to play in raising the ecoliteracy level of their community.

 

Strawberry Zentangle

Strawberry Zentangle

 

So put strawberry picking on your map, and make sure kids don’t grow up without strawberry picking at least once.  Take lots of pictures, and before you go, think about what will happen in the kitchen, and work backwards from there.

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Let's have a party!

Let’s have a party!

(#6) Red Solo Cups are not really recyclable, which is so sad, because the Red Solo Cup song is really fun.  Here’s the “bad boy” version of the song, in case you’ve not seen it:

Now, what we need to do is create a good green cup, and make up a great new song to go with it!

At 22 million views, “red cup living” is culturally drubbing those of us drinking from the “good green cup” — it’s just so much more fun to be naughty than nice! At some point, however, we’ll going to have to learn to be nice to ourselves and to our mother earth.

Yet, I digress from the central topic of green and sustainable field trips in the Saint Louis area.

Here’s a terrific field trip for teens, scouts, and greenies of all ages (except for little kids) — a trip to the recycling facility at Resource Management Company in Earth City.  Ask for Gary Gilliam. 314-770-9898, or send him an email at Gary_g@rmcrecycle.com.  Gary’s happy to offer field trips at any time, as field trips are good for growing the recycle business.  And here’s the really good news, not only is this field trip quite interesting, it’s absolutely free!

Many people are surprised to learn that Saint Louis has one of the most progressive recycling ecosystems in the country, and Gary is one of the “solutionaries” who helped figure out how to do it.

"All Together Now"

“All Together Now”

The short answer to recycling success is the rise of the “single stream” process, which means “throw it all in and let the recycling facility sort it out later”.

Gone are the days of sorting bottles from cans into little blue bins. Volume makes the economics work, and switching from little blue sorting bins to big green carts on wheels brings enough volume into the recycling game to make recycling sustainably profitable.

Less than 30% of Saint Louis households currently recycle their trash, so every field trip to a recycling center builds “customers,” thus bringing all of us, earth’s creatures included, into ever greater stability, success, and sustainability.

The original cave man

The original cave man

Our waste stream is valuable; and Gary is emphatic about it:  “There’s Treasure in Your Trash”!  While it’s important to understand the economics of sustainability from a macro-view, most people on this field trip will want to know exactly what can be recycled, and what cannot.

Here’s a link to the Saint Louis County Health Dept ‘Recycling Becomes Me’ website.  Download it, bookmark it, Facebook it, or pin it so you can find it when you want it, as these reference guides can be surprisingly hard to find.

2013-11-13 Recycling Becomes Me graphic.pdf

http://www.recyclingbecomesme.com/

When it doubt, throw it in.  That’s the beauty of single stream!2013-11-13 Whats in your Trash Infographic

Back to the economics for a minute:  aluminum cans are “infinitely recyclable”, and represent lots of ‘embodied energy’, thus they are the most valuable of recyclables. Metals like aluminum foil and tin cans are the “treasure in the trash”.  Because aluminum cans are made from bauxite, a finite mineral  strip-mined from the earth’s crust, it’s especially important to recycle them always.

After metals, plastic is the second most valuable material for recyclers, especially #1 (PET) and #2 (HDPE), which are recycled into furniture, playgrounds, puff clothing, and carpeting.

Now here’s where things get complicated, because I can’t help throwing children’s health into the economics mix. I think it’s so interesting that the most valuable recyclables, plastic #1 and #2, are also the safest for food. We don’t know much about plastic in our food supply, but what we do know isn’t good.  Of course true blue greenies reading this post will have been drinking from glass or metal containers for years.

Avoid plastic #3 PVC (sometimes called the ‘poison plastic’) as well as #6 and #7.

Back to that naughty red solo cup, which is polystyrene #6, a kind of styrofoam. Styrofoam has been listed by the EPA as a possible human carcinogen, and when it melts into your soup or coffee, you can taste the plastic.

Eco-Mama says: “Don’t drink plastic, kids”!  Try to avoid Styrofoam as graciously as possible so you don’t turn into one of those weird people with all sorts of annoying food rules that are impossible to follow.  Beyond health considerations, styrofoam is not recyclable.

The red solo cups, and other styrofoam pieces, are optically sorted out of the single stream process, and disposed of as true waste. Technically, red solo cups ARE recyclable, but you’ll have to organize your own field trip to find out for sure.

Do NOT throw grocery bags into the single stream receptacle (although the recycle facility will indeed sort them out later.)  Return your grocery bags to your friendly grocery store, or bring your own shopping bags to market, to market, to buy a fat pig.

Here’s a photo of a superior collapsible shopping “bag” you can buy at Schnucks for about $5.  As a bonus, the baggers in the check out line find the boxes much easier to load than bags, and if you keep to your grocery list and within the limits of the box, you will significantly reduce impulse purchases.

A box for your bagger

A box for your bagger

And to help you remember that plastic grocery bags have nowhere to go, here’s an amusing “mockumentary” about what happens to the “majestic plastic bag” as it searches for a home during it’s long lonely life:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLgh9h2ePYw

If you sneak a peak inside your own recycling bin, it comes as no surprise that paper and cardboard comprise the bulk of recycling waste stream by volume;  paper gets bundled and shipped to Iowa or deadheaded to China.  Bring on that dream of a truly paperless society!  Don’t make me upload pictures of clear-cut old growth forests turned into direct mail envelopes.

Enough about what to recycle, here are your tips for hosting a recycle field trip: A group of about 20 – 30 people seems to be the right number for this field trip; a smaller group works just as well.   It might be nice to team up with another organization to maximize numbers and enjoy the synergistic effects.

The first half of the field trip is a lecture by Gary in a nice conference room with video cameras, and the second half is a tour of the plant. Plan on spending about two hours, plus travel time to Earth City. The location is well marked on GPS maps: Resource Management Company; 4375 Ryder Trail North, Earth City, MO; 63045

Again, here’s the contact information for Gary Gilliam: 314-770-9898, Gary_g@rmcrecycle.com.

It’s fun to watch the bulldozers and dumpers come in; count the dumpers and turn it into a math exercise on volume.  Count the number of workmen pulling pieces from the line and make some calculations; labor is a big expense for recycling companies.  On the other hand, it also represents job creation in the new “green economy.”

Study each machine to fully understand its job, and challenge yourself to make a map of the assembly line after you come out.  Notice that the plastic grocery bags that have no place to go.  Look for red solo cups. Ponder the magnitude of our waste stream and wonder where it all comes from and where it all goes. Ask about the odd things that find their way into the recycle center. (hint: lots of eyeglasses and TV remote controls, which get recycled along with the newspapers!)

And for those of you who can’t make it out for a real field trip, here’s a nice arm-chair “film” trip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vf-cOs9JZc4

Again, there is something life-changing about real life experiences as opposed to watching video, so go in person if you can. If you go, be aware there is broken glass everywhere, and that a fine plastic dust fills the air; if you have asthma or are sensitive to respiratory issues, this may not be a good trip for you.  Bring sturdy shoes and maybe a N95 face mask.  The footing is fine, you will be walking on stairs with grates, sometimes covered with broken glass; but this is definitely not a place for high heels or fancy shoes.

I personally would not bring little kids on this field trip, due to the broken glass and air quality conditions.  This is a good tour to do when it’s too hot, or too cold, for comfortable outdoor adventures.  The work area is exposed; it was a cold day when we visited, and we were cold.  If you visit in summer, you will be hot.

I urge you to take a moment after the field trip to reflect on what you’ve learned, integrate it into your learning, and share that with those around you through blogging, Facebook, Instagram, graphic visuals, funny videos, etc.   Let me know if you go, by posting what I forgot to mention in the comment section below, thus helping future adventurers.

I leave you with this green coffee cup video by those smart and funny med students at Washington University:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bj-J9aryVTA

 

Postnote 2014:  Want to supercharge your recycling efforts?  Look what IDEO is doing:

http://www.openideo.com/challenge/recycle-challenge/research

Found it!  Here’s the scoop on what we’ve long been looking for:   the best time and place to go kayaking with kids.

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Missouri is home to some of the biggest and most beautiful spring-fed rivers in the world, and Labor Day Monday is the perfect time to go.  Sadly, families attempting to float our beautiful Missouri rivers are often disappointed by lewd and drunken behavior, obviously not suitable for children. It can all be rather frustrating, and legislation has been introduced to address the problem.

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Meanwhile, Green Spiral Tours has discovered that the Courtois River on Labor Day Monday is the perfect time and place to take kids on their first kayaking adventure.  Ponder this: if your city washes away, knowing how to kayak might save someone’s life someday.  It’s becoming increasingly important to raise resilient kids.

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You are headed for the Courtois River, which is really a creek.  “Courtois is french, meaning “polite river”. In Missouri, we pronounce it the “CODE-away”.  Kids should be old enough to swim, problem solve and respect wild rivers.  Middle School is the perfect age to learn to kayak, but of course people of any age will appreciate this trip.

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Paddle Courtois Jzka WEB

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Start by calculating your mileage to the GPS destination of Bass River Resorts at 204 Butts Road, 65565. Call Bass River Resorts at 800-392-3700 to check the price and reserve your kayak or canoe. You are headed out Highway 44, which also happens to be Route 66, the “Mother Road”. If you have a Green Spiral adventure map, the parade of water towers will help you pass some time along the way.  Exit 208 at Cuba will take you to Steelville, the jumping off point for many a river trip. Steelville is where you stop for food and gas.

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Kayaking COLOR 2017-08-24

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Stop for sandwiches at the Subway in either Cuba or Steelville, and gas up now for a quick get-away at the end of the day.  Then proceed to Bass River Resorts, just ten miles down the road.  If packing your own lunch, BYO+ is the way to go.  (Bring Your Own PLUS” something to share).  Cubed melon is refreshing on the river, as are carrots and frozen grapes.

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When kayaking, or on any adventure, it’s always good to bring friends, and a small group of less than 12 works best on the river. Remember that smaller groups move faster than large groups, canoes will travel faster than kayaks, and you will be limited by the slowest paddler in your group. Teenagers will sprint off and be gone before you know it, so make a plan with them to wait for you at the rope swing, until you get there.  The rope swing is about a third of the way into the trip.

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Bass River Resorts is a big operation; the rest rooms are clean, the sign in process is swift, and most importantly, you leave your car at the “take out” point.  This turns out to be important at the end of the day, when the sun is going down, and your tribe is getting hungry.  Always begin with the end in mind, and know when embarking on river adventures, there’s always a lot of “hurry up and wait”.  This particular trip minimizes the “hurry up and wait”, because your car will be waiting for you at the end of your paddling adventure.

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Unless you like wet car seats, bring a change of clothing and leave it in your car for when you get off the river. Free showers and changing rooms are available when you get off the river as well. Consider buying kids a face mask at the big Bass River store; they will love it.

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2013-09-02 fishing*

If you have coolers, big dogs, young children, or fishermen: get a canoe, and be sure to select the fiberglass “Old Towne” style, which slide more easily over the rocks.   Bringing a low slung chair for the canoe is not a bad idea, as a comfort measure for adults.  Put younger children in a tandem kayak with you, but let middle school kids try their own kayak, or perhaps they could tandem kayak with a friend. Be sure to bring friends for high school and college aged students.

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Two paddle

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Pay your money at Bass Rivers, sign the liability waiver, and ask for the “Blunt Trip” which is a 6 mile paddle, lasting about three hours — if you linger.  There is a longer trip, called the “Berryman Trip” which you can try later, when you have more time. You will be given a bus ticket, and directed to park just beyond the cabins and the horses at the river.  This is the “Take Out” point where you leave your car and jump on the bus.  Slather on sunscreen here, while you wait for the school bus, and use the restrooms one last time.

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Unless you like wet car seats, bring a change of clothing and leave it in your car for when you get off the river. Showers are also available here, where you parked your car. Consider buying kids a face mask at the big Bass River store as a spontaneous purchase. The kids will love it. Give your ticket to the bus driver and get on the school bus.

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Bass River

Bass River

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The bus will take you on a short ten minute drive to the “Put In” point.  The driver will then assign each paddler his or her kayak or canoe.  Ask for a life jacket for kids, and use your flotation device as a backrest in your kayak, unless you absolutely cannot swim, in which case you’ll feel more comfortable with a life-jacket.  You can see the bottom of the Courtois Creek on this whole trip, so fear not:  as the locals say,  “If you find yourself drowning, just stand up!”

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The kayaks are the “sit-upon” type, so wear quick dry shorts and flip-flops.  Bring a sunhat, polarized sunglasses, lunch, drinking water, your camera, field guides, and a bungie cord to lash your dry-bag to the kayak.  Or, go minimalist, leave valuables at home and simply use a plastic bag and a piece of string.

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Kayaks are highly maneuverable, they put you closer to the water, and you get stuck less often.  If you’ve never kayaked before, it’s easy to learn the unique swivel motion required to dip each paddle into the water. Take some time when you first begin kayaking, to practice maneuvering the kayak: go forward, backwards, practice spinning and get comfortable with the paddle. Then start paddling down the creek. In general, the Courtois starts out with high canyon walls, as well as swimming holes, rope swings and ledges; be sure to swim early in your trip, as the opportunities for swimming become fewer as you go along.

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Look! No crowds!*

There is lots of wildlife to enjoy as this trip proceeds. There are tadpoles, craw-fish and frogs to catch, snakes to chase, and large fish to spy beneath your boat. If you stand in the water, little fishes will come to nibble and kiss at your feet.  The torch-shaped red flower you see near the water in September is called cardinal flower; migrating hummingbirds love it.  The bright red leaves you will see belong to the sumac, the first leaves to change, already in September. You will also see lots of dragonflies and blue swallowtail butterflies.

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The Courtois runs down to meet up with the Huzzah (an old English victory cry among sailors), which then quickly meets the Meramec River  (an Algonquian term meaning river of ugly fishes), before all joining the Mighty Mississippi – the Father of Waters.   French, English and Native American, we are a melting pot of waters. If you live in South Saint Louis, you’re floating on your drinking water, so be careful about what you put in it.

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Leaving Saint Louis at a lazy 9 am, you can easily be on the river by noon, including the Subway stop, returning home before 7 pm, including a stop for milkshakes and hamburgers.  On the way home, stop at Dairy Isle, a local independent ice cream shop in Steelville, located near the Subway where you first bought your sandwiches. It’s easy to find, and marked on your Green Spiral Adventure map.

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All scream for Ice Cream

All scream for Ice Cream

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You might or might not get caught in Ozark traffic on the way home Labor Day Monday, so enjoy the sun-kissed feeling, the people in the car and one long last day of being unplugged before fall arrives and school settles in for good.    Bass River Resorts is open all year long, so you can kayak through the changing of the leaves, and even join a paddle on New Year’s Eve!  (Bring long underwear.)

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Watch the Green Spiral Facebook Page for downloadable “Kayaking With Kids” Adventure Maps, and stay tuned for a future collection of family adventure maps featuring this adventure in Amazon books.

Viva le polite river!

Kayaking COLOR 2017-08-24

      

 

Friday, September 21, 2012 –

In Summary – Maplewood is attracting a constellation of businesses devoted to sustainable and healthy living, and children learn through their senses, so Green Spiral combined the two into a “Sustainable Sensory Tour” of the City of Maplewood.  Key “take aways” include how much you can learn on foot, and the power of small group learning.  You simply learn more, faster, on foot, and in a small learning group, than you can by driving to an establishment all by yourself.

Starting at The Salt Room, we learned about the salt caves in Poland, and about how salt is used therapeutically in other parts of the world to address respiratory issues.  From Clay, owner/operator of the Salt Room, we learned the story of bringing the Salt Room to Saint Louis as part of their family’s odyssey in addressing their daughter’s asthma.  The Salt Room is literally a room made of salt, with salt on the walls, and piled thickly on the floor.  Participants lie comfortably in lounge chairs, the lights are turned low, soft music plays, and pulverized salt is infused into the room.  It’s much like going to the beach.  Small children are given toys and allowed to play in the salt like sand.  The sessions last a little less than an hour, and the rates are quite reasonable, however, the Green Spiral walking tour allowed us only enough time to get a “taste” of the Salt Room before pressing on with our busy morning.    http://mysaltspa.com/

The sun and the sea Kakao  

Moving along to Kakao Chocolate, with chocolatier Brian Pelletier, we learned about FairTrade and sustainable chocolate practices.  Most of the world’s chocolate is grown on small farms, which means family farms, where child labor is essential, so issues surrounding certification and child labor are complex and filled with subtly. Brian knows his chocolate and is clearly devoted to bringing the finest and most ethical chocolates to market in Saint Louis.  Kakao adds value by blending chocolate, and using as many local and sustainable products as possible.  In the center of the chocolate shop is a long table, used for chocolate tasting parties after hours.  Chocolate Party dates are difficult to come by, as the tasting parties are popular.  The cost is $10/per person and you are allowed to bring your own wine, with no corking fee.  We were reminded that dark chocolate is one of the most antioxidant rich foods you can possibly eat, and that probably helps sell a bit more chocolate, but what a wonderful way to make people happy and support your local merchants.   http://www.kakaochocolate.com/Home.aspx

Around the corner, behind the Schlafly Bottleworks building, we found the gardeners of the Schlafly Gardenworks, Nolan and Jack.  Nolan gave us a tour of the gardens and everyone asked a lot of questions about what was growing in the newly planted fall garden.  The compost pile greets visitors on their way into the garden, and at this time of year, the compost pile is predictably full of spent hops and tomato plants.  As any gardener knows, healthy soil is the first rule in gardening success,  and the compost pile is key to feeding the soil.

 

At one point, Nolan pulled a “weed” from the garden, purslane, and held it up to us, exclaiming at how this little volunteer plant was probably the healthiest thing to eat from the garden, full of omegas and antioxidants. This is exactly why field trips are so important:  learning to identify purslane, or indeed, learning about anything important, like gardening, healthy food, and parenting, is almost impossible to do over the internet, and requires lots of face time mixed with real world experiences.  Most people don’t realize that Schlafly Bottleworks has a garden, located just around the corner from the patio, so if you haven’t found it yet, it’s totally okay to get a beer from the bar and wander out to enjoy the garden.  Also, know that food from the garden goes into both restaurants, and shows up mostly in the daily specials.   http://schlafly.com/bottleworks/gardenworks/

Finally, we found ourselves getting weary and were relieved to land on the soft couches in the reading room at Cheryl’s Herbs, located further down on Manchester.  Cheryl’s Herbs embodies a whole world of healing, healthy living and herbs, and we were honored and delighted that Cheryl herself came out to chat with us and share some of her deep knowledge with us.  She sprayed a hydrosol of orange blend mist into the air, and the children immediately settled down to nurse and play.   Cheryl’s Herbs offers free “Healing Night” forums, about once per month, which are very much worth attending.  Watch their web-site closely for these dates.  At these sessions, Cheryl gives a little talk, followed by short talks by other practicioners, who might be energy workers, therapists, etc. http://www.cherylsherbs.com/

Social Impact:  While many were interested and couldn’t make this exact date, 18 people came out to enjoy the field trip, along with the Maplewood editor of Patch, which is always a thrill.  In case you don’t know Patch.com, they are a “hyper-local” news service that reports on neighborhood events, including school board votes and football scores.  http://maplewood-brentwood.patch.com/search?keywords=green+spiral  Rachelle L’Ecuyer, the Director of Community Development in Maplewood, served as our tour guide; upon their request, Green Spiral made a $60 contribution to the Ryan Hummert Scholarship Fund, in honor of a young fallen fire-fighter, who died from a sniper attack in the line of duty.  As a note, the park across from Stone Spiral Coffee in Maplewood, is dedicated to Ryan Hummert.   www.cityofmaplewood.com/ryan.hummert  Green Spiral families clearly enjoyed the field trip as evidenced by the action provided to the merchants’ Facebook pages after the field trip. To be sure, a bit of cash was sprinkled along the way, enriching the Maplewood merchants by some small measure.

What you can do:  Watch the above establishments on Facebook.  Schlafly in particular is a nexus point for sustainable practices, with many groups including Slow Foods and Green Drinks meeting regularly in the Crown Room at the Bottleworks.  The best way to keep up with the Schlafly events and activites is to watch the Gardenworks Facebook page, and to check the physical announcement board for posters, located just inside the front door on the way into the restaurant.

You also might be inspired to host your own sustainable walking tour of Maplewood, by contacting the above merchants through their web-sites and referencing Green Spiral Tours.  Many other entrepreneurs came to our attention as a part of the walking tour, including Foundation Grounds, Pie Oh My!, Shana Watkins Photography, Scheidt Hardware, Saratoga Lanes and Mystic Valley.  Visiting four merchants in one busy morning worked out just fine, but you might consider exploring two locations in depth, followed by lunch!

 

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Sunday September 2, 2012 – Forest Park

Inspired by a real arrowhead hunt earlier in the summer, about four families came out for a crawdad and arrowhead hunt designed specifically for younger children in Forest Park.  The “River des Peres” was diverted shortly after the World’s Fair in 1904, and now runs beneath Forest Park; it runs south and empties out into the Mississippi River, and, like many of our rivers, currently functions as a combined storm water and sewage drain.

The “river” that now flows through Forest Park as part of the restoration effort is basically tap water from the city water supply, making it suitable for exploration by small children.  Swimming in Forest Park is prohibited for obvious reasons, but wading into the water is a bit of a question mark; I think most forest rangers would agree with the Green Spiral philosophy that we need to find a ways to let children touch a river before they grow up.

The River des Peres, from our rich french heritage meaning “River of the Fathers”, is a particularly fitting setting for this type of adventure, as Dads are especially good at catching crawdad after crawdad.  If you’ve read “Last Child in the Woods” you know that without frequent outdoor experiences, children are likely to grow up to be fearful of nature. Adults light up when provoked by memories of catching crawdads, but it’s hard to find many kids at all who are comfortable picking up, much less catching crawdads these days.   On our field trip, we made crawdad catchers from paper clips, plus we caught crawdads by hand, putting them into a bucket for closer observation.

One five-year-old, Clara, fearlessly plunged her hand into the bucket and pulled out a squirming crawdad.  Surprised, I asked her mother how she knew to do that, and the answer came back describing how the fishermen in Scotland taught little Clara to do it with lobsters!  Green Spiral families are adventurous people, and I am always pleasantly surprised to see them show up with things like river gear, hats, buckets and nets.

Later, we hid arrowheads, like easter eggs, to include two other families that showed up.  The arrowheads were not easy to find, yet the kids were persistent in their hunting until they were greeted with success. Along with developing a host of abilities, such as visual discrimination skills, real-life outdoor experiences are an easy way to stretch a child’s ability to persevere through difficult circumstances.  Green Spiral families tend understand the importance of developing persistence and resilience in children, and there’s no better classroom for that than the great outdoors.

What you can do:  Go crawdad catching with kids and friends! You can read how to make a simple crawdad catcher out of paper clips and string in earlier posts.  Find a centrally located clean stream suitable for small children and share it under the “comments” section for future Green Spiral field trips.  Locate restaurants that serve crayfish on the menu and ask them where their food comes from.  Champion the many organizations who are working hard to restore our waterways to good health.