Playing in the sprinkler, climbing trees, and catching lightning bugs make for happy childhood memories.
Nostalgic summer days include Tom Sawyer-like activities: expeditions across fields and through woods, splashing in creeks, and catching wily frogs.
These rushed modern times with tight, busy schedules don’t seem to lend themselves to those long hours of exploration and discovery. To address this need for quality time outdoors, the National Parks Foundation has partnered with organizations like the Ice Age Trail Alliance by awarding an Active Trails grant. This financial support sustains Saunters, an IATA program designed to get kids outside and connected to nature in a playful, active, and inspiring way as they hike segments of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.
“Saunters is based on the idea that if youth are immersed in natural settings they will learn experientially, naturally, and collaboratively while navigating the glacial landscape on foot,” says Luke Kloberdanz, Outreach and Education Manager for the Ice Age Trail Alliance. “In addition to this unique style of learning, two other major benefits of Sauntering are reducing childhood obesity and summertime learning loss.” Fun fact: In 2016, over 1,000 kids will participate in and reap the benefits of Saunters.
Enter, Brian Bednarek, an educator at the Montessori School of Waukesha, who was eager to participate in Saunters and took his advanced class of summer school kids hiking. Over the course of a week, they hiked 27 miles of the Ice Age Trail, where the students played at every creek or river crossing, and along the way, found geocache and ColdCache sites.
This mileage ensured they completed the Hall of Kamers hiker recognition program which covers the Greenbush Segment, Parnell Segment, and Milwaukee River Segment in Fond du Lac County. As, Bednarek reports, “Of course, the various animals we saw along the Trail were a big draw, but there were many times when the kids would just stop and stare at a tree or glacial feature with awe.”
Here, in their own words are some of the reflections the kids had about their adventures:
“My favorite part of my experience on the Ice Age Trail was holding a snake! I accidentally picked it up by the tail to catch it and it swung its head around to try and bite me! It did end up biting me but I could barely feel it. Eventually it was able to hold it around its mouth and everything was fine. I also got to hold a frog and a toad during hiking that week.”
“I liked everything, but my all-time favorite was the Parnell Tower. I really enjoyed looking at the view at the top of the tower. I liked how there was a geocache on the tower that looked like it was a bolt. It was really fun and I can’t wait to go back another time. I appreciate Mr. Bednarek taking us on the hikes this week.”
“Some of my favorite things along Ice Age Trail were the views and all the cool things along the trail. I never had a favorite spot because they were all very cool. There was one spot that was on top of a hill and you could see for miles, it was too cool. Also, know some of my friends also thought that the views were very cool. I hope to hike the rest of the trail and see some other cool sights when I hike it.”
“What I liked about the Parnell segment were the all the creeks or rivers because of all the amazing creatures. The second thing I liked about it was the geocaches because all the obstacles and when we were finding a geocache a garter snake popped out and we called it Mr. Snake. The third thing I liked was when we were putting back a geocache and a turkey vulture came out of nowhere and scared my friend and I. The last thing I liked was getting to do this with my teacher and friends. Thank you, trail creators.”
“My favorite thing about the Ice Age Trail was seeing all of the animals. The animals we saw were turkeys, deer, frogs, toads, and a snake. I especially liked catching the frogs. I think I caught around 6 of them. After I caught them every one wanted to see them. Thank you for taking the time to bring us on hikes.”
Fittingly, then, modern-day children echo the perspective of John Muir, co-founder of the Sierra Club and the “The Father of Our National Park System”. A visionary of his time, Muir spent his boyhood in Wisconsin, his views shaped, in part, by his own explorations along what is today’s Ice Age Trail. In his biography he wrote:
“This sudden splash into pure wildness — baptism in Nature’s warm heart — how utterly happy it made us! Nature streaming into us, wooingly teaching her wonderful glowing lessons, so unlike the dismal grammar ashes and cinders so long thrashed into us. Here without knowing it we still were at school; every wild lesson a love lesson, not whipped but charmed into us. Oh, that glorious Wisconsin wilderness!”