by Amanda Wheelock

Promoting Engagement and Future Stewardship through Family Hiking Day 2016

The weekend of September 24th, almost 1,200 people learned about or hiked on the A.T. thanks to volunteer efforts as part of Family Hiking Day on the Appalachian Trail. For the past six years, ATC has coordinated Family Hiking Day in conjunction with National Public Lands Day as a way to bring friends old and new out onto the Trail to explore their public lands. This year was our biggest year yet, as Trail Clubs, A.T. Communities, and other partners organized and led 30 events from Georgia to Maine!

Family Hiking Day events are designed to be family-friendly and unintimidating for young and/or new hikers.We gathered ideas and wisdom from Family Hiking Day event coordinators up and down the Trail that you can use if you’re hoping to encourage young or new hikers to experience the A.T.!

Partner with a local organization:

If you’re near an A.T. Community, reach out to the local Community Supporters to ask for support in sponsoring or publicizing your event. In the A.T. Community of Harrisonburg, Va., supporter Walkabout Outfitter co-sponsored the hike to Hightop Mountain. Leading up to the event, Walkabout helped with publicity in the store and through their Facebook page and website, and Vince Mier, the store’s manager, also helped lead the hike! In Boiling Springs, Pa., Community Supporter Karns put fliers in everyone’s grocery bags during the week leading up to Family Hiking Day.

Harrisonburg, VA

Local organizations that already work with youth and families can be great partners as well, even if they don’t traditionally offer hiking programs. Courtney Dragiff of the Hanover Conservancy in the A.T. Community of Hanover, NH, said that co-sponsoring their Family Hike to Velvet Rocks Shelter with the town’s Parks and Recreation department “really helped get the word out, [because] families already know to look at their site” to find activities. The word certainly got out, because they had 42 participants! Courtney added that families “loved having a guided trip to introduce them to a new trail,” giving many the confidence to return on their own for later trips!

Hanover, NH

Become “nature detectives”:

Many kids love to hike just for the sake of hiking, but for some, simply walking can make them feel a bit antsy. For these hikers, being out in nature is a great time to help them hone their observation skills by empowering them to become “nature detectives.” Jan Onan, an experienced youth leader from the Carolina Mountain Club who helped create the Youth Partnership Challenge, brought paint chips on her Max Patch Family Hike to play the Hip Pocket activity Color Search. Hikers were given a paint chip, which they had to match with something along the Trail before exchanging it for another color. The game encourages kids to look closer at what’s around them and notice the abundance of diversity in nature! For a more complete description of this and other fun games to play on the Trail, check out our Hiking Games and Activities.

Bring the Trail to families:

For those who have never hiked before, even a 2 mile loop can sound intimidating – especially with a toddler in tow. Many Family Hiking Day events included stationary opportunities, such as A.T.-themed crafts, games and stories, providing opportunities for those who either can’t hike or are nervous about hiking to experience the Appalachian Trail. In the Mid-Atlantic, ATC’s Kelly McGinley provided “tree-mendous” tree cookies that kids can color and make into necklaces, and ​invited local authors to read Hiking Tales. In Harpers Ferry, WV, the interpretive rangers of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail set up a station where the A.T. runs through town to offer games and Leave No Trace mini-lessons. Before the event, they created a nature bingo challenge, and many of the families that visited their station took off along the A.T. to play!

Kids getting creative making their “tree-mendous” tree cookie necklaces

Incorporate stewardship (in kid-friendly ways):

While young hikers aren’t quite mature enough to wield loppers and pick mattocks, you can easily inspire a sense of stewardship while out on the Trail. The hikers from the A.T. Community of Delaware Water Gap made sure to bring a trash bag with them and pick up litter they saw along the Trail, encouraging new hikers to do the same when they return to the Trail on their own. There are also many ways to teach young hikers to Leave No Trace. In Front Royal, Va., for example, the A.T. Community Committee and Samuels Public Library (an A.T. Community Supporter) invited a local Leave No Trace Trainer and Shenandoah National Park ranger to lead “Family Race to Leave No Trace!”, a series of games and activities that taught participants about outdoor ethics. In one game, each family was given a bag of props which they had to use to create a skit illustrating one of the Leave No Trace principles.

Delaware Water Gap trash clean up

Do you have a fool-proof method for encouraging families to explore the A.T.? Feel free to share it in the comments section. Family Hiking Day 2017 is already in the works, so mark your calendars for Saturday, September 23, and happy hiking!