What To Do With Kids in National Parks (Chris Rief)

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One of the best things about U.S. national and state parks is how accessible they are to every kind of user. Kids to Parks Day, organized by the National Parks Trust, looks to encourage families and kids into parks nationwide.

Chris Rief has made a project of taking his young daughter into the National Park units to do the Jr. Ranger program and collect the Jr. Ranger park cancellation stamps. In this episode Chris talks to us about what he’s learned about taking his own kid into the parks, how to make the most of the Jr. Ranger program and mistakes he’s made along the way.

Some of the good stuff:

[2:21] Chris Rief ’s favorite outdoor space

[3:32] How Chris became someone who likes to go outside

[6:31] How Chris became interested in the National Parks

[8:10] What is Park Geek?

[9:19] How many parks Chris has visited with and without his daughter

[14:30] Teaching his daughter to love the parks

[24:17] All about the Jr. Park stamps and Jr. Park Ranger program

[36:00] Biggest mistakes of visiting parks with kids

[39:40] How to do Jr. Ranger books and programs without driving yourself crazy

[44:21] Tips for making the most of parks with your kids

[46:26] Chris’s favorite and most essential outdoor gear

[48:50] Chris’s favorite outdoor moment

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Follow us on Instagram and share your outdoor life with the hashtag #humansoutside365.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on The Humans Outside Podcast.

Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

Amy Bushatz 0:06

Hitting the trails and heading into nature as an adult is pretty easy, all things considered. For the most part, you could just go. But when you add kids into the mix, things start to get complicated. Suddenly, there’s a whole host of kid-specific considerations, everything from making sure you’ve packed for them to finding a way to somehow balance your own desire to get out there and really experience a location and doing something that is friendly to what they can handle and will enjoy. Today’s guest has some great insight on not just getting out there into nature and parks with kids, but doing so in a way that’s enriching for everyone. In his day job, Chris Reif is a nonprofit professional in the Washington DC metro area. But in all the other hours, he’s a national parks enthusiast with a special passion for visiting the parks with his young daughter and helping her work through her Junior Ranger program, collecting the badges and the Junior Ranger Park stamps, something we love in my house, too. Chris, welcome to Humans Outside.

Chris Reif 1:57

Hi, thank you so much for having me.

AB 1:59

Oh, I’m so excited to talk to you today. Just before we started recording, I was nerding out about park stamps and this subject. So this is just going to be such a fun conversation. Why don’t you start by telling us where we’re talking to you today? We like to imagine ourselves having a conversation in our guest’s favorite outdoor space. So if we were doing that with you, where are we?

CR 2:21

Well, I’ve been to some very special places in my past, but I would say that some place that is dearly in my heart would probably be Shenandoah National Park. It’s not too far from where I live, and just outside of DC and Maryland. But it is definitely a place that I kind of crave. And I want to get back to as many times as possible.

AB 2:46

And it’s so it’s so beautiful there. And it’s magical in that it’s not far away. Right. Like you mentioned, it’s not very far away. But that’s what makes it so special is that it’s so it seems just really accessible.

CR 2:58

Yeah, and it’s, , I’ve lived in the DC area since 2006. And being here, I don’t know why I never went there. But I think as my park passion expanded, I felt like I could go a little bit further and further. But definitely within the past year, two years, it’s definitely been a common spot and definitely on the repeat adventure list.

AB 3:26

Yeah. How did you become someone who likes to go outside?

CR 3:32

I think growing up in South Florida, I was always outside playing. So I think I probably just enjoyed being outside in general. But when I kind of lived all over, but living in North Carolina for high school and college, I definitely went outside a lot. And being new to those areas, I think I created the passion for photography around that time as well. So I think just being outdoors, taking pictures, kind of exploring. And it all just started just like what was around my area, especially in North Carolina, you had the beach, you had the Piedmont, you had the mountains. So I think that there was such a range of different environments that it kind of allowed me to really expand but I think as I got older and had different jobs, I was lucky to work with some environmental nonprofits as well as before that I had retail jobs that dealt with outdoors. And I think they really opened my mind to more adventures and I was very lucky to have met some incredible athletes, like expedition athletes and ultra marathon athletes, so a lot of people that were outdoors so I think it kind of drove my passion.

AB 5:02

I love connecting with those people too, because for the most part, the community is very welcoming among the that level of athlete and you feel that — I am not in the same space that they are, but at the same time, it’s such a welcoming, open arms experience that you start to feel like — Oh, like, this is not unaccessible to me, I could dabble in something similar to what they do, maybe? And it just, it makes me want to do it.

CR 5:37

Yeah, definitely, I think with some of the mountaineering athletes that I’ve been lucky to meet and watch them grow over the years. I’m like — Yeah, I don’t know about climbing that. But I will photograph that. I will do my part. Are you running a 50k race? Yeah, I can photograph. Yeah, water at the end?

AB 6:01

Absolutely. But it’s a team effort and what you’re doing is you’re accessing nature and the outdoors, the same space they are in, in a way that speaks to you. And that’s what’s great about going outside.

CR 6:18

Yeah, I agree.

AB 6:21

Okay, so, we’ve talked about how you love nature, but you’ve got a special place in your heart for the National Parks. So talk to us about where that came from. How did that start?

CR 6:31

I think when I got into some environmental nonprofit work, we were definitely involved with engaging kids to the outdoors, but also protecting public lands and National Park lands, building onto that. So I think my geekiness kind of came with also National Park Geek – discovering them, as far as well, you’re seeing all of these national parks, all these great people are out there exploring them documenting, photographing, and posting and sharing it. But I think combined with that, and being a little geeky, in the sense of creating spreadsheets, and like understanding the park system, like, I have my massive park list, and I think that was kind of building onto that and trying to understand what this list was, and what I could do with it. So I think just crossing off any parks that I can get to I think is kind of like exploding my passion to get into the National Park side, but also living in the DC metropolitan area, like, we’re covered with monuments, Civil War, American Revolution sites, just in nature. I’m definitely spoiled in this capital region.

AB 8:06

You mentioned National Park Geek, tell us what that is.

CR 8:10

National Park Geek is an organization that gives back to the outdoors through purchases of say, like apparel, or stickers. But they showcase photography and sites all over the US to kind of create inspiration and continue that inspiration for our love for the public lands. So even though there’s a focus on national parks, you can still sometimes see stuff in Canada, like Banf, and some of these places that allow us to daydream and create that bucket list of parks that we want to get to and see, plan that next trip.

AB 9:10

And you are an ambassador for them, as is one of our previous guests, Linda Mohamed.

CR 9:18

Yes, yes.

AB 9:19

So you mentioned your spreadsheet and I mentioned your daughter in the introduction. So tell us how many parks have you visited now, either designated National Parks, right, or quote unquote, other units, right, which are part of the national park system and include things like monuments and sea shores and battlefields but aren’t, quote unquote, national parks? How many of you visited and how many have you visited with your daughter?

CR 9:46

Oh, this is such a fun question. Because I feel like within my group of friends, that we have kind of a competing list if we’re keeping track. I saw recently, one of my friends traveled out to Saguaro and I was instantly jealous because of a canceled trip here, but I have my, like, top 10 list of where I want to be. But I think, overall, like, out of the 423 National Park Service units, I’ve been to 110.

AB 10:34

That’s not shabby at all!

CR 10:36

I feel like I’m a fourth of the way to the goal. I can’t think of right offhand, but I’m probably like, between 10 and 15 National Park designated sites. I just went to New River Gorge. So I went to the newest of the new.

AB 11:03

Right. So if you have not listened to our episode with Linda, which will have aired a couple of episodes before this, then you have not heard us talk about New River Gorge. We did talk about that in her episode, but it is the latest and greatest national park that has been added until New River Gorge was upgraded to a national park because it was a part of the system before, just not a National Park. There were 62. Correct? And now there are 63. Yes. And they added it in December 2020. Which is, which is awesome. Thank you for adding a national park. Great. But if you are a person who previously had visited all of the national parks, and now that’s no longer true, that’s sort of a bummer. And you visited a bunch of these with your daughter. So talk to us about that. How many of you visited with her?

CR 11:55

She’s been to 73. So I think I probably started deciding to count soon after she was born, within probably that first year. And she’s five now. I think when kind of kind of got us going to the parks, especially with her at a young age living in DC was REI’s Opt Outside for the Friday after Thanksgiving. And I was like — What can we do? I’m not a big shopper as far as malls and doing that. So I was like — Where can I be that I’m away from everyone? So the National Mall was definitely where we would go, for the first two or three years on that day. And it didn’t matter how cold it was, we would go and essentially just walk from Jefferson through FDR to Lincoln to the Washington Monument, and back.

AB 13:01

It can get bitter cold out there. And I say this as someone who lives in Alaska, I feel like I’m allowed to proclaim things cold now, but that it can get real cold on the Mall. Windy.

CR 13:13

Yeah, I mean, it’s just an open space. We definitely have taken advantage of the parks within the capital region. I think this past year, I kind of like started really focusing on like — what are we doing each year with these adventures? And do we set realistic goals for future adventures? We have a lot of fun doing this. And it’s definitely been something we’ve enjoyed over the past few years. And it keeps getting better and better each year, because she’s getting older. I don’t have to carry her on my shoulders as much.

AB 14:03

Yeah. That’s the thing. And we’ll talk about this in a little bit. But what she can participate in changes over time, too. So we’ll touch on that in a second. But I’m hoping that you can talk to us about some of your favorites, or least favorites. Because we’ve talked to some other Park enthusiasts. And we’ve talked about their favorites and least favorites, but I’m wondering if you can specifically talk about your favorite and least favorite to visit with your daughter.

CR 14:30

Oh, definitely. I asked her the other day, I was like — hey, Quinn, what’s your favorite national… And before I even finished with Park, she was like — Shenandoah. She’s very amped. I’ll get to talking more about Shenandoah, but some of these other parks that we really enjoyed: we frequent Catoctin Mountain Park, Monocacy National Battlefield, Rock Creek Park, and Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, which is part of Anacostia Park. And that’s probably one of the most beautiful parks. But we frequent all of those parks a lot, as well as the National Mall and such, but when Shenandoah comes up, she gets like, really excited. We went there one time, and it was like in the dead of winter a couple years ago, so we really only got into a little portion of the park because all the trees were knocked down over Skyline Drive, which is a common thing during the winter. So we really just had our, like, half an hour of fun playing in front of the big brown sign outside and making silly videos and really enjoying that moment. And we did go to a site not too far away. But when we went back last year, we went and, funny story is she’s 4 at the time, we’re just kind of poking, we’ve done some hikes. The weather was great. Butterflies were everywhere. So it just seemed like every piece of National Park magic was hitting in Shenandoah that day. And we were walking part of the Appalachian Trail and, just, sparkles and unicorns in her mind were going off. We had lunch, and we were driving up and we went to the Visitor Center at Meadows, and we ended up talking to a park ranger. And we’re like — well, we still have some time in the day. Is there like a little hike that you would recommend? And I mean, he’s looking at me, he’s looking at her. And he was like — Yeah, yeah, there’s, there’s one about four miles from here. Head down that way, there’s a little bit of a rock scramble, but it’s fine. And, I was like — Alright, well, let’s give it a chance. My daughter’s nickname is Bear. And the trail that we did, and the spot we went to is Bearfence Mountain. So I think she was just like — this is my place. It’s named after me. And she was really excited. We get there. We started doing this little hike, and we’re like — oh, wow, it’s beautiful. And we ended up meeting a couple different people along the way. And we’re very, like, happy and coming up, butterflies are over here as well. We get up to the rocks. And I’m like — Oh, just kind of rock scramble with my, maybe three foot child. And so we start following the trail, and the rocks get bigger and bigger. And I’m like — wait, did the park ranger actually say this was like, a light hike? But this adventure kept building and building and seeing my daughter, she was very actively listening, which was great. And I had to pick her up. So essentially, I would get to a spot, pick her up, turn 180 degrees, put her on another rock. We got to the top where we had this gorgeous 360 view. But along the way, we saw so many people turning around and they’re like — we can’t do this. And this has happened on multiple hikes to this place, but when we got to the top of Bearfence where you can see the 360 views. I mean, it was just so beautiful. And it was definitely worth the hike. But since then we’ve been back a handful of times and each time tell her — you have to respect the land and the mountain is very strong, so pay attention. But she just like goes for it, and yeah, to watch, , my daughter, able to climb and do this mountain when people are turning back constantly. She’s amazing, but I think she loves being up there. So recently we went up there in the middle of January, and it was probably in the low 20s. And she was definitely enjoying it with the wind just blistering up there. But it makes for some mini summit photos.

AB 20:31

Yeah. So what I love about this is that her favorite and sounds like it’s a favorite memory of yours, to have this place is something that you would not have necessarily chosen to do. Like, you never would have looked at a map of that and said — Yeah, I think I’ll take my four year old on this hike, that’s fine. But when you found yourself deep in it, you chose to keep going. And now it is an irreplaceable part of your family story and your memory and her memory. And just, I mean, it’s almost like family lore at this point, the way you’re telling it.

CR 21:05

Yeah, no, I mean, we got back from the hike. And I was so happy. And I was like telling her –, I’m so proud of you, you did amazing. And you could just see her little face light up.

AB 21:20

So great.

CR 21:20

And then we had our little dinner, late lunch, dinner, snack in the back of the truck. And that was great.

AB 21:31

Yeah, it’s just it’s such a good reminder to look at outdoor activities through the lens of not necessarily the challenge in the moment, although safety is an important consideration, and all of those things are true. But when we do hard things outside, when we create those memories, when we do those hard things, we are tackling something that we may not have chosen to do, necessarily, but we’re creating the ability to do that again somewhere else and to take that skill set into the rest of our lives. Because now like when you go out with her, you can say — Well, I mean, you did this other rock scramble, right? And she knows she did it. And that is a good memory, and then she can take that into other parts of her life. And I just think that’s just such a great gift of going outside that you just can’t get anywhere else. I love it.

CR 22:25

No, I agree. And I think, jokingly, to present time, I’ve taken her to a lot of national park sites and it’s been between zero and 20, not even above freezing. So, I think it’s definitely helped with her starting to learn how to play soccer and be out in the cold weather.

AB 22:44

Okay, so one of the things you’ve really gotten into is the Junior Ranger Park Cancellation Stamp Program with your daughter which is independent of the Park Cancellation Stamp Program. Um, but before we talk about that, I want to know do you personally collect the park cancellation stamps?

CR 23:57

I do. It’s something I’ve definitely enjoyed and I think I’ve definitely learned a lot from how to place cancellation stamps.

AB 24:17

Yeah. So I don’t want to go into what that program is too much here, because people can go back and listen to an entire episode on this. A couple of episodes back earlier in the season, but just real fast. They’re essentially rubber stamps for all practical purposes you buy or I guess you could bring your own book to put them in. Each Park unit has one or more. And they are typically, the ones that are currently in circulation at least, placed at a kiosk in the ranger station or Visitor Center, accessible with an ink pad. The idea is that you can roll in their stamp your stuff, and leave. And people like you and I, and other nerds nationwide, worldwide, collect them. And your level of obsession just depends on who you are. So they also, several years ago created a kids version of this, which had not previously existed. They created a Junior Park Ranger Book, and stamps to go with it. And so your daughter collects those or you collect those with her, right?

CR 25:32

Yeah, definitely. She does have like the little blue passport book. She knows it’s in the truck, she knows where it’s at. But we did purchase the other one when it came out. We were geeky about it. We preordered it. Those are a little harder to find. But the great thing about that booklet is, there’s the traditional cancellation stamp, but then there’s the Junior Ranger cancellation. So I found that it’s still in the new-ish stage. So moving forward, when you go up to a visitor center, or there’s someone working from one of the concessionaires they’re like — the what? So it’s definitely building and I know we’ll have some catch up to do to get all of her Junior Ranger badges, but we’ll get there.

AB 26:30

Yeah, so let’s talk about the Junior Badge Program, because that’s a separate standalone thing. So tell us a little bit about that program, as someone who uses it, and how our listeners can participate. And then I want to talk about tips and tricks for doing so and how you guys use that and how that’s enjoyable and all that good stuff. But first of all, talk to us. What is it?

CR 26:59

So a lot, I don’t want to say all of the National Park sites. There’s other agencies that do like a Junior Ranger program as well. But with the National Park Service, if you go on to the individual site, at the website, you can sometimes get a downloadable version of the booklets. And a booklet can range several pages, but depending on the age range of the child, there’s different levels of activities to complete. We just recently did one, trying to remember where it was – Great Falls Park. And they were cute. We actually had the book for several years, and we just finally completed it. That doesn’t normally take as long but we needed to do something at the park specifically in our little adventures, so we could finish up that but they have different things, whether it was like a turtle for a younger child, or an owl for an older child. So there’s different levels of the booklet that you can find. Some parks do booklets specific to age. And then you can get different badges as you kind of progress when you get older.

AB 28:25

So these are essentially like, gosh, I want to describe them kind of like coloring books that are more like activity books. And you can download them from the park website, which I actually did not know until you just said that. We just ask for them at the park.

CR 28:43

Yeah, that is one way. So I mean, I think like Yellowstone. For one, you have to make a small donation at Yellowstone, I think. I think with some of the bigger ones, they ask for a donation because they’re, they’re beautifully printed in color. And

AB 28:59

yeah, so sometimes they’re free. Sometimes they’re donations requested and/or not free.

CR 29:05

Yeah, and I mean, we’ve been lucky to live in the area where we’ve had a lot of opportunities to do the badges. And that’s where my spreadsheet comes in handy to try to figure out so we don’t necessarily repeat some of the same parks over and over.

AB 29:23

Right. So when you complete the book, in non-pandemic times – things are a little bit different now that not every visitor centers open all the time and hopefully we’ll go back to being open. If you’re doing this in a pandemic, standby for changes. In non pandemic times, you get the book, maybe they have one specific to your age group. Maybe they don’t. You complete the activities in the book, and then you turn the book into the ranger and then what happens?

CR 29:58

The ranger will ask you some questions. And then they will do a little like badge swearing in ceremony, which is definitely just like — repeat after me. Recently Quinn gave her best response ever at Great Falls Park the other day. So, the Rangers are very kind, and they definitely work and adjust to any situation. It’s a fun ceremony. It’s real quick, but you either get a plastic badge, a wooden badge, or a patch. So your Junior Ranger badge can vary.

AB 30:55

Mm hmm. People who are not juniors who do this program, right. Adults also can.

CR 31:09

Definitely. And I mean, I have a five year old, so I definitely invested a lot of time in it. But I think that with people using this, and even with their kids or without their kids, I mean, I see a lot of posts online, and these are adults that have it. But, for the most part, a lot of the park sites have great resources, and then you find you discover things about the park that you wouldn’t have necessarily known. Some parks are big, some parks are smaller. We visit Monocacy National Battlefield a lot and we utilize a lot for the nature portion of it. But there’s so many little different sections of it, that maybe we just want to go for a hike or we’re at Catoctin and we just want to play in the creeks or the streams. So we might not see or know that, hidden in the woods, there’s Camp David.

AB 32:15

Right, right. Yeah, that’s such a good point. Because these books have, well, your kid’s being asked questions to swear in, right? So they’re testing their knowledge in a way. But when you are completing the book, what it creates is an experience of intentionality in going through the park, because now you’re looking for the animals, or you’re learning about the different footprints, or you’re answering questions based off of the visitor signage, right, that you may not have even stopped with fully read, were you not looking for that information. We did the program at Yellowstone, and we found ourselves with a little bit of time to burn on a not overly nice day. And we had already hiked and done all of the walks around the geysers. We were there very early in the season. And so not a lot of the visitors stations were even open, we’ve kind of run out of new things to drive around and do. So we were just at the Old Faithful area again, and we went to the visitor center. And this was pre pandemic, but we went to the visitor center, we had used the Junior Ranger program, and we found out that they also had a whole science kit that we could check out and supplement the Junior Ranger program with. And we coughed up my husband’s driver’s license and we took that guy out there and we did this entire kid learning experience. It was amazing. And that’s a part of the Junior Ranger program.

CR 33:48

We’ve had experiences with Yellowstone, but also the past year has been crazy. And I think that we’ve probably amplified our outdoor adventures even more. So my foresight of picking up and making a nice donation to Yellowstone really came in handy because I had an adventure in Yellowstone and Grand Teton a few years back, I got the Junior Ranger program booklets knowing that one day I’m going to bring my daughter here. And that time came and had a trip planned out to Montana, and it was wonderful. But the government was shut down. And I was like — we’re still going to Yellowstone. And so on New Year’s Eve, we went to Yellowstone and we pretty much had Lamar Valley completely to ourselves. Besides bighorn sheep, bison and wolves. But we weren’t going to do the Junior Ranger program there obviously because nothing was open. Right? But a year later, I had the booklet and we sat down and we did the booklet. So, yeah. So I think the foresight helped there. But also, during these crazy pandemic times, we’ve tried to focus this year in 2021 on more of the Junior Ranger booklets, and I have a pile of them from past adventures, but also, we’ve emailed some of the parks, and they’ve been so kind to send us booklets. Or we print off the booklet, and then we mail it into the park. And then they’ll mail back the badge.

AB 35:42

That’s so cool. Okay, so let’s talk about kids in parks. You’ve been trotting around, you’ve got a five year old. And that’s no joke. I’ve had five year olds, they are a lot of work. So what’s the biggest mistake you’ve made or maybe even seen other people make when trying to do parks with kids?

CR 36:00

I mean, this one is, like, ingrained, it was New Year’s Day 2017. And we went to visit the battlefield, just to kind of look around, explore, it was cold. She’s only a couple years old at this point. She was able to walk. So we did the exploring and we had a fun day. And we’re like — let’s get a picture in front of the big brown sign. And her water spilled. And it spilled all over her, all over her car seat. And it was below freezing that day. But we made the mistake of not bringing extra clothes. So I think even to this day, if we go anywhere, there’s probably an extra pair of pants, underwear, shirt. So we just put that in our little adventure bag.

AB 37:16

Be prepared!

CR 37:18

Yeah, I think especially going to a park with a very young child, we were just excited to like, get out and do something. She could walk, so we knew we weren’t going to hike a five mile trail but we got to play around and explore a little bit. So she could walk around, and I think we just knew we had like an hour and some change on the road. Luckily we had a couple blankets. So we wrapped her up in some blankets on the way on the way back and that hasn’t happened since – so yeah, we’ve definitely learned.

AB 38:01

What I hear you saying is — don’t don’t think about your trip to a national park or out into nature with your kid as anything different than you would think about going anywhere with a kid right? Like have your essentials, in fact to have more of them than you normally would. Because stuff happens in nature. Your water spells, or you fall in a creek or whatever. And now you’ve got a wet kid, a sad kid, and no extra stuff and your trip is over. It’s over now.

CR 38:38

Yeah, luckily we were on our way back but we didn’t stop for any fun treats in a small town at that time.

AB 38:45

No, no, I’d say not. I think the other one I hear a lot is snacks. Snacks are good for adults too, like, let’s not discount that. We should always have extra snacks, but boy am I never sorry that I have them when it comes to my kids. Snacks save the day.

CR 39:08

When she’s amped to go on an adventure or if I say “Shenandoah” she’ll be like — Okay, I’m going to pack a snack bag.

AB 39:17

Smart kid. Trained so well.

CR 39:19

She will pick her favorite snacks for the road.

AB 39:22

Yeah, so we talked about the Junior Ranger program a little bit. My experience with that is, sort of being a little frustrated while doing it, right. Like my kid wants the badge. They just want to complete the book or whatever. How do you do this without driving yourself crazy?

CR 39:40

Quinn’s funny. She. She calls National Park Geek “Ranger Ranger” because we have obviously like the matching shirts. We got the gear that matches. But she calls the booklet, like she calls anything to do with outdoor “Ranger Ranger,” so maybe she’ll be a scientist Ranger one day, we’ll figure it out. We’ve done a lot of these booklets, she has like over 50 badges. So with that comes a lot of understanding of her tolerance of doing these. I think a lot of the time that we do it, it’s trying to set realistic expectations and, and how to do the booklet. We did like a three day Park adventure through Pennsylvania, like over Labor Day weekend, a few years ago. And we tried to get the booklets ahead of time because we would want to work on as much as we could ahead of time, so that we can really experience the park. And I think that comes with emailing the park and saying — Hey, we’re going to be visiting this time, do you have a downloadable document, we’ll print it, so you can save on your end. And then we kind of get an understanding of maybe like, where do we go, what do we look for? And when we’re doing the booklets, we try to understand, like, how many things are they looking at for this age range to complete. I know, when she gets older, she’s gonna finish that whole booklet. But, now it’s kind of, she finds the thing, she really loves word searches, like she’s on to words, that’s her thing. But she loves the drawing aspect, she loves the searching, and anything that’s like an educational piece. She loves learning about the history of the park, that’s something that definitely involves the parent and working through and more conversation, or learning about why is this park important? So I think, with any of these Junior Ranger booklets, I think it’s just figuring out like, how much do you want to learn about the park? How old is your kid with the tolerance? And how do you compromise? Since we’re doing a lot of these books, she went to a bunch of parks last year. And I think that she will get to a lot of parks this year. But I really wanted to focus this year on more of the booklets, we have a bunch of them. So on some of the rainy days, like it’s raining really hard today in Maryland. This would be something like on a day like this, we can’t get outside and do something today. So we would definitely utilize going through the booklet now. Do we sit down and do the whole booklet in one day? It might be a couple days.

AB 43:05

Yeah, yeah. No, but it’s what I hear you say is to be intentional about it. Coming back to the I word we use all the time here, at least this season on Humans Outside – to be intentional about it. But also to like, be relaxed about it. It’s not a schoolwork assigned, although, I guess if you’re homeschooling and you wanted to use it as well, you certainly could. But it’s not the school work assignment for you as the parent, it’s supposed to be a fun interactive thing to do. Nobody’s making you do it. And just to have fun with it.

CR 43:39

I agree with all of that. And that’s what we try to do. Understanding that, and understanding your child that you’re taking, because I mean, like her attention span, she’ll be like — Oh, look, a butterfly. And she’s like — I don’t want to do this. And that’s what I think, a lot of the times we try to do it ahead of time, especially for new parks. So if we were to go on a long road trip, we’d be like — Alright, this is what we’re going to be looking for. And we know some of the things you have to do at the park.

AB 44:15

Can you give us three or four just super general recommendations for making the most out of visiting a park with your kid?

CR 44:21

Oh, yes. Um, I think it’s making realistic goals on what the outing will be. We went to a lot of parks, I think she went to over like 40 different Park visits last year, and they all range. And I think it’s setting the expectation of what the day is going to be and I think there’s a lot of compromise. Some days, she is down to wear the Ranger Ranger National Park Geek t shirt, and she’s like — ready? Other days, she’s like — no, I want to wear a dress, I want to wear a skirt. I want it to have unicorns on it. I mean, so I think there’s compromise in that. It’s like, I still want to go to the battlefield and do some walking around. It’s beautiful weather. And when we’re headed out there, and she’s like — I want to wear a dress. And I’m like –okay, if that’s going to be the thing that’s going to get you out there, definitely do that. And I think also, she has her shows that she wants to watch. So I think part of the bribe is letting her watch a little bit of some of our shows, and when we get there, she just puts it away. And then she’s ready for full adventure. So she has that little mind gap. But also like, preparing I think snacks, obviously. Water? Definitely.

AB 46:22

Yeah, basic stuff. Yeah. I mean, even if you’re an adult, I think those things make sense. I do. I agree. Strongly, especially as relates to the snacks, because talk about relatable, right? Yeah. Okay, so at the end of our episodes, we always do some favorites, and that kind of thing. And I’m wondering if you could tell us what your favorite and most essential outdoor gear is?

CR 46:47

I’m a photographer by trade. So I’ve been photographing for 20 plus years. And I would say a camera is probably the most crucial item for me, and especially with adventures with my daughter, so, whether it’s my iPhoneor my DSLR with a handful of lenses, because I photograph in that long, and I’m like, I need a special lens for this. And also my GoPro camera. So I think I sacrifice more things on my end, I will probably sacrifice water and snacks so I can carry camera equipment, totally depending on my realistic expectations of the hiking adventure. But the camera has captured these wonderful moments of Quinn on top of Bearfence, and it was the wallpaper on my phone until it got replaced by a winter summit picture of her on Bearfence. So I get all of these wonderful memories and images. And one day, she can look back and see where we are and what we did. And what these adventures had. She’s really good with using any of those cameras as well. So sometimes she’ll make videos and she’s talking about her Park adventure. So she’ll record. I don’t know where she got that from, but she will record like — these are my Park adventures. This is what I saw today.

AB 48:35

It’s so cute. I love it. All right. So walk us out with your favorite outdoor moment. If you’re going to close your eyes, see yourself and your favorite outdoor space. Where are you? What are you doing?

CR 48:50

To separate myself from Shenandoah, I will close it out by being at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens inside of Washington DC. It’s just springtime coming in early summer. The beautiful lotus flowers are in full bloom, the water lilies, it’s just ponds on ponds on ponds of beautiful flowers. But in any season, I think that park is just beautiful and special. And that’s where one of Quinn’s first Junior Ranger badges were earned. She had a one on one interaction with a ranger on an October day and we just had so much fun playing in the water. So I think being in that space will always probably be one of the more special moments, just to see how happy she was just getting dirty and playing outside and learning at such a young age.

AB 49:56

Love it. Chris, thank you so much for being on Humans Outside with us today, I really appreciate it.

CR 50:01

Thank you so much. This was so much fun.

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