This Land (Really) Is Your Land

by Christy Peterson

Blame the lame title on my folksong-drenched upbringing. There is a great deal of truth to those words, however. About 1/3 of land in the United States is federally owned. This means that you (and I and a few million other people) actually own a pretty nice chunk of the country.

Oh, and don’t forget all the smaller pieces of property you own too, like city and state parks and that cool public fountain your kids love. Whether you’re planning a big family trip to see the country or a good way to spend a couple of hours on a lazy sunny afternoon, you’ve got places to go!

Ten Things to Do on Your Land

Since your tax dollars pay to support your status as a land baron, you might as well take advantage of everything wonderful the land has to offer. Here are ten ideas for family fun on local, state, and federal land.

Play Catch

As we all cram closer together in urban and suburban areas, it’s not as easy as it used to be to get a good backyard game of catch going. Local parks have plenty of room for catch; maybe you can get an impromptu baseball game going with the neighbors!

Participate in Jr. Ranger Programs

Most of us live within a few hours of a National Park System park, monument, or historic site. Many of these places offer Jr. Ranger programs for kids. Participants in the programs receive a workbook with a number of tasks they must complete as they visit that location. When the tasks are complete, kids receive a pin or a badge and are sworn in as official Jr. Rangers.

Hike

Whether you plan a ten mile day hike or a stroll through a local park, there are all kinds of opportunities to hit the trail. Many cities and towns have trails in their local parks. State parks are a good source as well. The National Trails System administered by the National Parks Service has sites all over the country. You’ll find maps at http://www.nps.gov/hfc/carto/nps-trails.htm

Take a Picnic

Of course, you can do this in your own backyard. But how much more fun would it be to explore a new park or trail and take a picnic along? Surprise the kids—go on an adventure.

Go Geocaching

Now that my kids are officially “tweens,” they are less inclined to just go wander a trail. They like to have “a point” to the activity. Enter geocaching, where you search for hidden containers using the coordinates on a GPS and sometimes a couple of clues as well. You’ll find more details at http://www.geocaching.com/

Bike on a Trail

Have you tried taking your bike off the pavement and into the “wild?” Many hiking trails welcome mountain bikers as well. If your bike isn’t up to the off-road challenge, check out your parks and rec. department for local parks that have paved trails.

Go Wildlife Watching

– Go Fishing/Hunting
– Take a Boat Trip
– Find Some Water; Throw Some Rocks

Free Online Activities and Educational Resources

The National Park Service, The Bureau of Land Management, the National Wildlife Refuge System, and the National Forest Service all have web pages with activities for families and kids. (If you are a frugal homeschooling parent like me, these web pages are a great source of activities for unit studies.) Check out state parks’ web pages too, as well as national and state Fish & Wildlife Departments. In fact, most federal and state government offices have online resources for kids and families. Your tax dollars go to pay for all this cool stuff, so you might as well use it!

– National Park System’s Webpage for kids: http://www.nps.gov/webrangers/

– National Park System’s Webpage for teachers (and parents): http://www.nps.gov/learn/

– National Forest Service’s Natural Inquirer resources for middle school students, teachers, and parents: http://www.naturalinquirer.org/

- Discover the Forest, from the National Forest Service, for kids: http://www.discovertheforest.org/

- Finding My Forest, from the National Forest Service, for teachers: http://www.findingmyforest.org/

– National Wildlife Refuge System’s kids’ page: http://www.fws.gov/refuges/kids/index.html

– Bureau of Land Management Learning Landscapes: http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/res/Education_in_BLM/Learning_Landscapes.html

– The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s page for kids, families, and teachers: http://www.fws.gov/letsgooutside/

Christy Peterson

Christy Peterson is notorious for shouting “Look, LOOK” when she spots wildlife while riding in a car. Her husband begrudgingly admits that this can sometimes be useful, like when she spotted the grizzly bear in Yellowstone. When she isn’t nearly causing road accidents, she is a freelance writer. She lives in Vancouver, WA with the aforementioned husband, two kids, two dogs, three cats, two guinea pigs, one frog, three lizards, and some fish! She blogs at http://tweetsandtreefrogs.lutegrad.com/.