Pisgah National Forest stream

Pisgah National Forest Stream, Guy Sagi, The Year Santa Came Back, chidren in the outdoors, Raeford North Carolina

Take a child outdoors, let them experience the wonders first-hand, and Mother Nature will have a new ally for life. Teach them to leave it cleaner than they found it so others can enjoy the experience. Glamorous locations aren’t mandatory, either. This Pisgah National Forest stream may not have a name, but I’m glad my grandson and I stumbled upon it. He now understands stewardship is important on every inch of public land, not just popular destinations swarming with tourists.

OK, OK, I know. In most cases both parents have jobs to make ends meet and leisure time is at a premium. Budgets are strained and working a picnic into the family’s schedule is a challenge.

I understand. I’m the parent of five and grandfather to six. I may’ve slowed down with age, but my work load never got the memo.

Short and Shorter

Start with quick picnics and make them close to home. When I lived in Arizona and two of the kids were in diapers it was up Mt. Lemmon with hot dogs. Round trip was perhaps four hours—including cooking, digesting and a little “exploring.”

It’s inexpensive, yet there are plenty of uncharted places like this Pisgah National Forest stream waiting to be discovered. The landscape usually changes daily, and it certainly does with the seasons.

Seeing is Believing

The key is discovery. Whether it’s ladybugs congregating on a boulder, quartz crystals or grazing wildlife, there’s something for everyone. Turn off the cell phone long enough and the odds are good memories to last a lifetime are in the making.

With my parents it started with camping, quickly grew to include rock collecting, then fishing, hiking, backpacking and finally when they were older I joined Search and Rescue. There my passion for the outdoors found a home, helping those whose wanderlust in the outdoors got the best of them, if only for a moment.

Knowledge is Power

Nearly all the people we helped survived, including the lost girl I wrote about in my children’s book, “The Year Santa Came Back.” Of course, she’d been outdoors with her parents so much that she recognized shelter was her only hope of making it through that deadly Christmas night storm.

Get outdoors, experience all it has to offer, but do it with respect. Leave it cleaner than you found it, and slowly pass on the skills to safely experience a lifetime of wilderness adventures—a journey that nearly always begins with picnics, hot dogs, smores and watchful loved ones.