Kids in Parks Program Encourages Nature Explorations and Play


Published:

A group examines the rings of a tree during a TRACK Trail adventure near Hendersonville.

Photo courtesy of Kids in Parks

Sadie Koppelberger, a Durham mother of three, describes a surprise that she and her son once encountered while hiking at Eno River State Park in Durham: “I took Sam and a friend on this hike, and it was a beautiful spring day. We were hiking on the Eno. Off in the distance, there was all of this yellow. We went to see what it was — and it was this old mill house and this huge field of daffodils … I have a vivid memory of the boys and our dog in this beautiful field of daffodils.”

The family was using a TRACK Trail — an outdoor Kids in Parks adventure. And the hike that Koppelberger describes is exactly the kind of experience this network of trails was designed to promote. The Kids in Parks program began in North Carolina and has expanded into 10 states across the nation and Washington, D.C. Its purpose is to bring families out into nature, thereby improving kids’ health and teaching them to love the natural world.

How It Works

Kids in Parks is run by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and funded in North Carolina by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. The program partners with state and local parks to identify kid-friendly trails underutilized by the local community and transforms them into TRACK Trails. These trails offer posted signs that tell families what to expect on the trail and provide brochures that guide children on adventures designed to excite and educate them about local wildlife.

Each child selects an adventure to pursue when their family sets out on a TRACK Trail. Participants who want to explore the Eno River State Park TRACK Trail, for example, may choose to do the Need for Trees adventure, in which they learn about trees in the local ecosystem. Or they might choose Birds of the Piedmont, through which they learn to identify common birds in the park. Kids in Parks works with each park to assign adventures to trails. The program also offers other kinds of adventure trails besides hiking, including biking, disc golf and even paddling trails.

Upon completing each TRACK Trail adventure, families sign into the Kids in Parks website to record that they have completed the hike and to answer questions about their adventure. Kids in Parks then sends each child a reward in the mail for having completed the adventure. The prizes can help motivate children who might otherwise prefer to stay indoors.

“When I suggest to my children that there will be a hike, sometimes they think that’s a great idea and sometimes they need a little more incentive,” says Koppelberger. “So when I can say to them that there’s a Kids in Parks hike, they are always enthusiastic … Having the prizes is a great incentive when they’re wondering whether they’d rather watch a movie.”

Prizes include trail stickers, nature journals, patches, TRACK sacks, bandanas, magnifying glasses and walking stick medallions.

Why Get Kids on the Trails?

Kids in Parks’ goal is to get families moving in nature. Jason Urroz, director of Kids in Parks, cites a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study that demonstrated that children and adolescents ages 8-18 spend an average of 7.65 hours per day engaged with electronic entertainment media, and notes that the amount of time children spend in unstructured outdoor play is shrinking. According to a 2011 Nature Conservancy survey, only about 10 percent of children say they play outdoors every day. These statistics are problematic, not just because children aren’t exercising enough, but also because an overwhelming body of research has shown that spending time in nature is good for children. Spending time in nature can help combat these trends.

“We try to create gateway experiences [on trails] and use them to move people through the spectrum of outdoor wilderness experiences,” Urroz says. “The idea is to create a network of trails connected through one common mission: to get kids and families outdoors.”

TRACKing Success

By all measures, Kids in Parks has been successful in getting families outside. Approximately 11 percent of kids who register their adventures are first-time hikers. That means Kids in Parks motivated those families to try hiking for the first time. About 55 percent of the kids who hiked Kids in Parks trails visited hosting parks because the TRACK Trails were there, and 51 percent percent had never visited those parks before. The TRACK Trails are encouraging kids to explore — and the kids aren’t hiking alone. The average group size is three to four people, which means the adults who accompany the kids are also getting in on the fun. More than 900,000 people have gone hiking on TRACK Trails since the program started.

The health care community is enthusiastic about the program. The American Academy of Pediatrics has endorsed it. “Doctors are writing prescriptions for kids to go hiking on TRACK Trails,” Urroz says.

Park systems in nine other states have begun using the program because it is both successful and easy to replicate. The signs and adventure brochures are based on templates that staff can revise for any natural area depending on what wildlife is present. The program’s current goal is to create at least one TRACK Trail in every county in North Carolina. With TRACK Trails in 81 locations, extending from the mountains to the coast (as of this spring), and 10 more set to open this summer, the program is well on its way to achieving its goal.

Learn more about where to find a Kids in Parks program near you at kidsinparks.com.

Elizabeth Brignac is a freelance writer and mother of two adventurous boys. She lives in Cary.


TRACK Trails in the Triangle

Eno River State Park (Durham): .5-mile loop trail along the Eno River Trace Trail. Access near the Fews Ford picnic area off the Cole Mill Road entrance to the park. Bonus feature: clean water for wading.

Town of Carrboro (Carrboro): 1.3-mile loop trail. Access from the Bolin Creek Greenway near the Wilson Park entrance.

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area (Apex/Chatham County): 1.4-mile loop trail along the Seaforth Pond Trail at the Seaforth Access Point. The trail begins at the beach parking lot (the section of the parking lot that is furthest from the road) and ends behind picnic area 9.

Lake Benson Park (Garner): 1-mile trail follows the Lake Benson Woodland Trail marked with orange blazes. Access near picnic shelter 3.

Prairie Ridge Ecostation (Raleigh): .5-mile trail that takes participants through a variety of natural habitats. Follow the signs to the Forrest Trail. Bonus features: The trail starts near a natural play space and, in the summer, kids can pick blackberries along the trail.

William B. Umstead State Park (Raleigh): 0.6-mile loop trail through the woods along the Oak Rock Trail. Enter the park at the Crabtree Creek entrance off U.S. Route 70/Glenwood Avenue and look for the trail near the Crabtree Creek picnic area. Bonus feature: an oak tree growing out of a rock outcropping.

Rolling View Recreation Area – Falls Lake (Wake Forest): .75-mile loop trail along the Neuse Bend Trail in the Rolling View section of Falls Lake State Recreation Area. Access from the large parking lot closest to shelter 12.

Beaverdam Recreation Area – Falls Lake (Wake Forest): .6-mile one-way (1.2 miles round-trip) hike along Duck Cove Trail overlooking Beaverdam Lake. Access from the small, round westernmost parking lot.

E. Carroll Joyner Park: Use the adventures for this park on any trail in the park. The paved trails are perfect for bicycling.

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

Great Wolf Lodge Offers Water Park Day Passes

Splash the day away at the indoor waterpark without booking an overnight stay.

Fun Things to Do With the Kids June 24-27

Check out “A Universe of Stories,” butterflies and moths, DIY Pajama Shorts and Firefly Frenzy.

Weekend Family Fun Across the Triangle

Enjoy the Longest Summer Day, Pollinator Palooza, DIY Fest and International SUNday.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

June 2019

Every year on June 21, we enjoy the most hours of sunlight during the whole year. Discover the science and cultural celebrations behind this special summer day. Make a pretty sun catcher to hang in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

This celebration of toys features interactive attractions, vendors, toy experiences and more. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: $12/person. Free for ages 2 and younger.

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy stories with Amy Godfrey.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Regulator Bookshop
720 Ninth St.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

More information

Enjoy food, activities, music, and water sprayer fun for kids. Sixteen vendors will offer African clothing, jewelry, beauty products, voter registration, HIV/AIDS education and testing,...

Cost: Free

Where:
East End Community
Wake Forest, NC  27587


Website »

More information

Learn more about our amazing star, the Sun. Safely view the Sun through a solar telescope, hear about how the Sun and other stars affect life on planets, and about current solar science...

Cost: Free

Where:
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
121 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »

More information

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 15.0px Calibri; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} Safely view the Sun through a solar telescope, hear about how...

Cost: Free

Where:
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Discover Historic Yates Mill - a place of business, community, and exciting local history! Watch a brief slideshow, then explore the inner workings of the mill itself and witness the power of water...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Free/Child (6 - under)

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy ice cream made by the Children's House program and splash in the water table and kiddie pool.

Cost: Free

Where:
Nido: Coworking & Childcare
902 Broad St.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

Durham Refugee Day celebrates the contributions and cultures of our refugee and immigrant communities and provides an opportunity to stand in solidarity with these neighbors. This is a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Central Park
501 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Make colorful jellyfish with wiggly tentacles. Age 2-6 with caregiver. Register online. Choose course #125005.

Cost: $10/resident, $13/nonresident

Where:
Bond Park Community Center
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Enjoy stories with Amy Godfrey.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Regulator Bookshop
720 Ninth St.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

Drop by the cybrary for storytime with a librarian. Activity Room 4. Preschool and kindergarten ages. No registration necessary. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Carrboro Cybrary
100 N Greensboro St
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-918-7387
Contact Name: Cybrary
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Enjoy stories with Amy Godfrey.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Regulator Bookshop
720 Ninth St.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 15.0px 'Times New Roman'; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 15.0px 'Times...

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 11 and older with special needs sing favorite songs, karaoke-style. Register online. Choose course #125030.

Cost: $3/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Enjoy stories with Amy Godfrey.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Regulator Bookshop
720 Ninth St.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

See a fun mashup of classic fairytales. 

Cost: $3/person

Where:
Carrboro Century Center
100 N. Greensboro St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Sally Ride will take audiences on the ride of their life in this dynamic performance about space exploration. Through music, audience participation, and narrative, kids will see just how far...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Orange County Main Library
Website »

More information

Enjoy tea time for the whole family. Samples of hot tea, cold tea, and kombucha will be provided, along with games and family fun.

Cost: Free

Where:
IngenuiTea Kombucha Coffee & Tea
514 E Williams St
APEX, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: IngenuiTea Brews
Telephone: 919-438-3684
Contact Name: Mark Poole
Website »

More information

Sally Ride will take audiences on the ride of their life in this dynamic performance about space exploration. Through music, audience participation, and narrative, kids will see just how far...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Orange County Main Library
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Meet a staff member at the information desk and follow your guide outside to the garden exhibit or into one of the museum galleries. Look around and listen to a history-related story. Ages 3...

Cost: Free

Where:
N.C. Museum of History
5 E. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids ages 6-9 discover the different types of turtles that live at the Preserve.  The focus will be hands-on outdoor investigation and the study of living things in their habitat.  In...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Marti Kane
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Explore the ocean through books and trivia. Make your own travel-sized magnetic fishing game. Grades 3-5.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 11 and older with special needs play bocce, cornhole, croquet and more on the lawn. Register online. Choose course #125353.

Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
Page-Walker Arts & History Center
119 Ambassador Loop
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Walk through the Cretaceous period, the Jurassic Period and the Triassic period and experience what it was like to be among living dinosaurs. See life-size replicas of adult and baby dinosaurs, dig...

Cost: $22-$36

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Meet live owls and other raptors, learn the secrets about their lives in the wild. Grades K-5.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Join the TreeRunner staff at Raleigh for a magical night in the park. Dress as your favorite prince, princess, wizard or another fairy tale character and come climb in the trees. Take pictures with...

Cost: General Admission

Where:
TreeRunner Raleigh
12804 Norwood Rd
Raleigh, NC  27613
View map »


Sponsor: N/A
Telephone: 919-410-7347

More information

Ages 4-10 enjoy an evening with hiking, crafts, music, games and s'mores. Register online. Choose course #124331.

Cost: $23/parent and child pair; $12 additional child

Where:
Bond Park, Kiwanis Shelter
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Walk through the Cretaceous period, the Jurassic Period and the Triassic period and experience what it was like to be among living dinosaurs. See life-size replicas of adult and baby dinosaurs, dig...

Cost: $22-$36

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 1-5 and caregiver delight in the discoveries of nature. Register online. Choose course #124952.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Take your family for a fun day of making slime, playing with slime, watching live demos on how to make slime, buying slime from Instagram slime stars, and much more! Kids under 3 admitted free....

Cost: $20-$70

Where:
Kerr Scott Building of NC State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Please join us for the SouthEast Crab Feast event this summer in Raleigh, NC.  This event offers the Low Country Coastal Heritage of outdoor cooking of fresh seafood.  This highly...

Cost: $10-$30

Where:
Lake Wheeler Park
6404 Lake Wheeler Rd
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: SouthEast Crab Feast Inc.
Telephone: 980-202-1142
Contact Name: Jamell Hamilton
Website »

More information

Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30 or 3 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the mill's...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Free/Child (ages 6-under)

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Search wetlands and forests for birds. Ages 13-15. Register online. Choose course #124934.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Hemlock Bluffs/Stevens Nature Center
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2018-19 Education Guide offers 678 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools, academic resources and an Exceptional Child special section.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.