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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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.

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Paddle Day! – Sunday, August 19th 2012

I went to scout out what I would call “Paddle Day” at Riverlands,  the new Audubon Migratory Bird Center located near Alton.

http://riverlands.audubon.org/visit-us

This event was AMAZING!  The photo above is courtesy of St. Louis Sail and Paddle, a shop that sells kayaks and sailboats, and graciously brought all sorts of paddle toys for the public to try out.  They had paddleboards, which you stand up to paddle; they had kayaks that you pedal; they had sailboats you could put two whole families on.  It was a total blast to try out all the toys and enjoy the water on a beautiful day!   Evidently, until WWII, Saint Louis was quite the sailing hotspot; perhaps we need to build it back up.  Here’s a link to the St. Louis Sail & Paddle Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/StLouisSailandPaddle

‘Big Muddy,’ another Saint Louis outfitter was there, along with the Alpine Shop, and virtually every non-profit that has anything to do with rivers.  The US Fish and Wildlife Department was there with a box of interesting turtles, the Lewis and Clark re-enactors were there with period costumes, weapons and elk stew made in a cast iron pot; the US Army Corps of Engineers was there with a replica of the river on a table in a trailer.  Plus, there were geocaching activities, maps, treats and give-aways of all kinds.

This event was part of a federally funded program designed to encourage people, especially families, to be active and get outdoors.  The theme this year was ‘connecting with rivers and waterways’ and the whole program is called “Summer of Paddling;” it includes a series of paddle events up and down the length of the Mississippi River thanks to large and small collaborations between non-profits, government agencies and small businesses.  I have heard that next year the theme will be bicycling.

Here’s the official link to “Summer of Paddling;” in all honesty it took me a fair amount of work, and a lot of question asking, to figure out exactly what “Paddle Day” was about, so I’ve tried to describe it in this blog as clearly as possible.

http://www.sop2012.org/

I thought the timing was good, as school had just started, and sports had not yet called families to the ball fields for Saturday games.   It was a glorious day, and mid-August is a good time to play with water, and not let go of summer just quite yet.

THIS IS EXACTLY THE KIND OF THING WE NEED TO HELP NURTURE ALONG THE FAMILY-NATURE CONNECTION!  Sorry, I typically don’t shout, but again, it was simply AMAZING!  I regret I didn’t take any pictures; if I did, you would see that attendance was very light.  In fairness, you need hundreds if not thousands of families to fill up great nature spaces, but still, the event was definitely not overflowing with people, which was good, because you could easily get on any paddle toy without waiting.

I have written all over the Facebook Pages of every ‘Paddle Day’ organization I could find, encouraging them to please, please repeat this event next year.  Like Earth Day, it will grow and people will come.  One intriguing thing I learned about was the Mississippi River Water Trail: it’s like a hiking map, except for kayaks and canoes.  If you are an experienced paddler, you are familiar with them.  The idea is to create a national trail we can all use and be proud of, like the Appalachian Trail.   Our rivers define us here in Saint Louis especially, and we are right to be proud of them.

I’ll be monitoring this event for next year, and if it comes up over the horizon, you can be sure that I’ll give you a shout out via social media, and push it via the Green Spiral newsletter.   Until then, there’s still time to get out and paddle around before winter sets in!

A river runs through it…

Patch.com Post – August 2012

Family reunions call for equitable activities, meaning free activities, and nature is able to answer that call.  My mother called a family reunion, so we ventured down to the river, all 22 of us, plus a dog, in search of arrowheads and other treasures.  We had very young children and princesses in tow, along with several kids who don’t like to unplug for long.

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There was a moment of trepidation at the river’s edge, and then, in one glorious movement, everyone entered the shallow river, skipping rocks, flipping shells, happily exploring the river and it’s many wonders.  Nature is the great equalizer and the great individualizer: we each found something unique, and completely compelling to do, to the point of ignoring the first pouring rain in a 90-day drought.

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Watch the way children play outdoors very carefully, it’s easier to discern their learning modalities outdoors than it is indoors.  For example, if they are visual learners, they will be the first kids to spy the fish bones, or arrowheads.  If they are auditory learners, they will be the first to hear the airplane overhead.

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When visiting a river with extended family, always bring paperclips with you, for with paperclips, you can make “crawdad catchers’ and keep everyone entertained for hours. To make a “crawdad catcher” simply unfold a paperclip into the shape of a fishhook, tie a piece string to it, and fix a bit of meat to it.  Teenagers and toddlers alike can safely “fish” for crawdads, who pinch the meat with their claws and won’t let go, even when you lift them out of the water to watch their spiny legs claw frantically at thin air.

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The proper name for crawdad is crayfish, and surprisingly, Missouri is a biodiversity hotspot for them, largely due to our rivers, which are among the biggest and most beautiful spring-fed rivers in the world.  Sadly, our rivers are under siege, from many point sources, including monster vehicles with enormous wheels, that crush delicate creatures in their wake.

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Who will speak for the truffulla trees and crawling things, if no one takes kids crawdad fishing?

If not you, then who?

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What you can do:

Take your kids “crawdad fishing” – and remember to bring your paper clips.  Splash photos all over social media.

Start a family nature club – and bring all your friends crawdad fishing.  Make sure they bring their cameras.

Find restaurants that serve crayfish and ask where the crayfish come from.

Join any number of worthy organizations, like Missouri Stream Team, and help clean up our rivers.