Chapter 5: FLY

Taking a snack break on the trail to our first summit with our family nature club.

Taking a snack break on the trail to our first summit with our family nature club.

10:50 AM. We move in bursts up the trail on the western slope towards the Green Mountain summit—sometimes running, sometimes meandering. There are a dozen of us, parents and children, and every few steps one of the children discovers something to admire: a fallen pine cone, a sticky bush, the peeling bark of an evergreen, a quartz stone that stirs their imagination into fantasy play of princesses, wizards, and gnomes. The day yawns into mid-morning as other hikers pass us with ease, admiring our group even with our lollygagging pace.

Shouts and waves from the tail of our long line of nature adventurers raise our attention—new friends have found us on the trail! They arrived late, but moving with such a big group makes it easy to catch us. A celebration is in order, and we promptly sit to enjoying a buffet of dried fruit, nuts, seaweed, and water. With perfectly blue skies, moderate temperatures, and the group’s pleasant energy, we make it—after hours—to the summit. Our friends who arrived late are there with us to rejoice in a reward full of vistas of the epic Rocky Mountains cascading down from the Continental Divide to the west, and to the east the plains rolling out across the horizon. Red-tailed hawks circle above us intermittently, catching drifts of warm winds, admiring the top of this great mountain. Without the right information ahead of time, our friends would not have found us and enjoyed this experience.

Your family nature club will crash and burn if you don’t adequately provide the necessary information for your members. With a little bit of work, you can quickly outline details of an event and ensure high quality experiences, allowing your club to really FLY! Researching and scouting will give you the necessary information you need to document your family nature club events. Then all you have to do is write up the details!

How to Document Events for Your Family Nature Club

While the details of what you include will vary a bit, you’ll find that you can use a template approach to make documenting events easy and quick. In some cases, you may be repeating an event—or doing something a very similar—which will make the process even easier. I’ve found that over time I got quicker and quicker at documenting (especially by using a template), so don’t be too anxious if the first few times you document an event it takes longer than you hope. Writing good descriptions will make it easier for people to participate and avoid problems that you or your members will encounter being unprepared.

Informed and prepared parents are more apt to attend your events and be happy when doing so. Giving them the right information—a day plan and checklist for a hassle-free event—in advance will increase the fun they have.

What you should include in your documentation is:

Photograph of the event that is at once descriptive and inspiring. I like to think of these as the hero shots. If you’re returning to a place you have visited before, you might have a wonderful photograph you can use. If not, you can find them easily on Google or other outdoor sites.

Title of the event that includes just enough information to tell the whole story. I like to include both the type of event—such as “unstructured nature play,” “hiking,” or “boating,” and the location. This gives your members a succinct summary that will help them determine their interests in a flash.

Date/time and expected duration of the event so that people know how the event will fit into their schedules. If you are posting your events using a system that supports start and stop time, this will be accomplished with just those two data points. Do not include driving time in the start and stop of the event because people will be arriving from different locations.

Description of the event or an about the area summary of the location. In both cases, I like to include why I like the activity and location, and why it is special (to help others see why they might have a good time). Spending a few minutes writing an enticing description or “about the area” section is a good way to attract people!

Hazards are always nice to include to help people properly prepare. In many cases, you might be able to omit this, but in some cases it is valuable. For example, if you’re planning to explore a stream in winter time, it is helpful to remind people that children will likely get wet, and so they should bring extra shoes and clothes and waterproof boots. Or, if you are boating, you’ll want to remind folks to bring life jackets, and help them figure out where to get that equipment. I like to include general notes such as calling out if there are big rocks children will likely scramble up, or if the area is notorious for high winds (in which case they should be sure to bring the right clothing to stay warm).

Where to meet, including driving directions, parking, and where the group will be while waiting for others to arrive. It is helpful to include a link to a map (such as Google Maps) that will make it easy for people to see where the parking lot is, as well as the trailhead. If the trailhead is not obvious, try to include some kind of landmark as reference, like a bridge, lake, or building. It is important in this section to let folks know about the buffer—what time to arrive and what time the event will start. For example, you should allow a 10–15 minute grace period for late arrivals; so if the plan is to meet at 9 AM, then let them know you will be departing from the meeting place at 9:10 AM or 9:15 AM.

Map of the trail or area is very helpful, especially for those who may be arriving late. Try to make a plan for where you will be going, and let people know how they might be able to find you if they arrive after the event start time. You can include specific landmarks or the names of trails you will travel; such as “we’ll be taking the South Mesa Trailhead towards Shadow Canyon heading towards Bear Mountain.”

Activities that you expect to take place, such as boating, hiking, or exploring. This is a good point to remind people of the type of experience you are trying to create. For example, if the event is designed as unstructured nature play, you can remind them how a child-led event works (i.e., “we’ll let the children guide us, and will be moving slow”). This can help avoid frustration by parents who might be expecting a hike. For big hikes, it is helpful to include things like elevation gain, distance, whether the location is stroller friendly, etc.

What to bring in terms of clothes and food, and reminding folks to bring water. It’s also nice to point out other fun things to bring, such as basic first aid kit, field books, binoculars, tools, mosquito repellant, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc.

Additional photos are always nice if you have them. These can play a big role in inspiring folks to join the event, especially if you have some photos of children having fun and doing things that they otherwise would not be able to experience.

A note on liability, and that parents are always responsible for their own children.

Contact information for the leader, including your name and mobile phone number.

NOTE: What I do not include with each event description is basics, like outdoor safety and how to be prepared for the outdoors. Prepared families are more comfortable and happy! You can provide a participant checklist when they first join your club, and for some events, such as a camping trip, you can provide additional gear checklists in addition to the event descriptions.

Jason’s Picks

My event descriptions continue to evolve, but I try to follow a basic template format to make creating them more efficient. Here is an example of one of my event descriptions.

Unstructured Nature Play at Gregory Canyon Trailhead

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ABOUT THE AREA

Gregory Canyon is north of the Flatirons and terminates where Baseline Road turns into Flagstaff Road near Chautauqua. The Gregory Creek corridor is known to support apple and plum trees that attract bears (I saw one here last summer) and other wildlife.

The creek is tiny but splendid, and tucked away beneath the trees and sharp incline of the canyon. The trailhead is an access point to a couple of trails heading up into the hills. When it’s cold enough, the creek is frozen, and in the summer it gurgles in small pools—always wonderful and fun to explore.

HAZARDS

Because it’s winter, the area and surrounding trails are slippery. They are also steep in parts, and can be challenging. Kids love it, but for those carrying babies you’ll need to be mindful of where you step.

WHERE TO MEET

The Gregory Canyon Trailhead is next to the parking lot at the base of Flagstaff Mountain. There is a fee for non-Boulder County residents, unless you have a Mountain Parks pass. The parking lot is small and fills up early.

We’ll meet at the trailhead from 9:00 AM to 9:10 AM. This will also be basecamp. We’ll set down our stuff and the children will be able to range freely from there. However, depending on the interests of the children and group, we’ll either stick around at basecamp for the whole time, exploring the creek area, or we’ll hike up one of the trails—most likely some combination of the two.

Parking

At Gregory Canyon Trailhead

https://goo.gl/maps/TcJ4Z9HyZBn

Downloadable Gregory Canyon Area Trail Map

https://www-static.bouldercolorado.gov/docs/Chautauqua-trail-map-1-201504171350.pdf

GETTING TO BASECAMP

If you can’t park at the trailhead where basecamp is, alternative parking is at Chautauqua or along Baseline, both of which require an extra but pleasant walk across the meadow.

Alternative Parking Options

On Baseline

https://goo.gl/maps/sqjANNtwFuC2

At Chautauqua

https://goo.gl/maps/myH3jM7gJUo

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From Baseline or Chautauqua, get the Baseline Trail that runs parallel to Baseline from Chautauqua and head east towards Gregory Canyon Trailhead. It is about half a mile from Chautauqua to the trailhead, and includes a brief walk through the forest and then descending down a steep path and crossing where there used to be a bridge (washed out by the floods) to reach the creek.

This is basecamp.

If you arrive late, it may be that we have departed from basecamp, and it will be difficult to find us because we are not planning any specific route. Please RSVP so we know that you are coming.

WHAT WE’LL DO

This event is focused on unstructured nature play, but may include some hiking.

If you’re new to unstructured nature play, the idea is to provide time and space for children to play, explore, and discover nature. This event has no defined goals or rules.

WHAT TO BRING

  • Warm clothes and possibly a change of clothes and shoes in case of getting wet
  • Water shoes for summer, winter boots or other water resistant/proof boots
  • Snacks!! And WATER!
  • Binoculars (optional)
  • Bird, tree, animal identification books (optional)
  • Animal tracking books (optional)
  • Hatchet for possible ice digging (optional)
  • Basic first aid supplies
Two of the children mining for ice crystals in the mountain stream. They were so pleasant in trading the hatchet back and forth.

Two of the children mining for ice crystals in the mountain stream. They were so pleasant in trading the hatchet back and forth.

PARENTS/CAREGIVERS ARE SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SAFETY AND WELL-BEING OF THEIR CHILDREN AT ALL TIMES.

What You’ve Learned

In this chapter, you’ve learned how to make your family nature club events outstanding by giving participants the information they need for the specific event, and for events in general.

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