Reasons to take a family hike

Special to The Prairie Press
Posted 6/7/21

What’s an activity that gets the heart pumping (but not so much to prevent chatting), occupies the kids for a blessed while, costs little to nothing, involves no screens, provides an escape …

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Reasons to take a family hike


What’s an activity that gets the heart pumping (but not so much to prevent chatting), occupies the kids for a blessed while, costs little to nothing, involves no screens, provides an escape from large crowds, and maybe makes up, just a little, for those long months in lockdown?

It’s hiking. Some regard it as the perfect family activity, even for not-so-outdoorsy families, as well as kids who balk at the idea of trail tramping.

Hiking is not just for those who live near the mountains or national parks. There are plenty of opportunities to hike at three locations less than 30 minutes away from Paris.

At Lincoln Trail State Park south of Marshall, there are trails the entire family can enjoy. The Beech Tree Trail is a .5 mile long jaunt extending from the boat dock parking lot and concession stand, past the large picnic shelter, to Lakeside Campground. The trail includes a series of stairways and foot bridges, which provide an excellent view of the beech maple forest contained within the nature preserve.

For the adventurous, Sand Ford Nature Trail is an opportunity to experience the park's habitat changes while enjoying a two-mile hike through an oak-hickory forest.

Walnut Point State Park near Oakland offers trails — including one that is handicapped accessible. Hiking and nature-study enthusiasts will find 2.25 miles of trails weaving through the timber. By using the main park road and the Gray Squirrel-Twin Points connection trail, walkers and joggers can complete a 3-mile exercise loop. All trails are restricted to foot traffic only. The Lakeside Nature Trail (.5 mile) is handicapped accessible.

Mill Creek Park located on Mill Creek Lake has several trails and paths throughout the park. Grass paths along the tree lines are kept mowed for walkers and runners. There are also hiking trails in the woods.

The Lakeview Trail is behind the A Section of the campground. It offers easy/moderate walking and beautiful views of the lake. Rattlesnake trail is located near the Nature Center Shelter and is shared with portions of the Equestrian Trails. It offers more rugged to moderate hiking. Visitors to the park and trails may also notice a series of bird houses along their way. The Bluebird Trail is maintained by members of the East Central Illinois Bluebird Society, that was spearheaded by the late Loren Hughes. The group has been essential in re-establishing bluebird populations in Edgar and Clark Counties.

Here’s why it may just become a favorite way to spend a Saturday.

If the kids will be turned off by the H-word, feel free to reframe the trip as something a little more up their alley.

“We don’t call them walks or hikes in our family,” said Jessica Weit, of Portland, Oregon. “We call them adventures. My older son, Will, who’s 5, likes to pick a theme for each outing, like slug hunting, bird-watching or pinecone collecting.”

And don't stress out thinking the journey needs to be ambitious, said Rachel Hofstetter, of Salt Lake City, whose older son, Theo, 3, can't always handle a strenuous jaunt.

"We might go 30 feet, or 300, or 1,000, and that's fine,” said Hofstetter. “Plus, many areas can be considered trails to a little kid, like a path to a water tower or a stretch of woods behind a school playground. We've called both of those hikes."

Lex Gjurasic, of Tucson, also finds that terminology makes all the difference.

"We go rock hopping or stream wading," she said. "And there is never a goal or a destination in mind, so we allow ourselves to bail out at any time."

While some think hiking and walking are the same, what happens to the muscles, joints and heart during these activities is worlds apart. One can stroll on a flat surface while on autopilot, but on a trail, the uneven terrain can increase heart and metabolic rates, causing calories to burn faster. Shifting weight and rebalancing the body to tackle uncertain footing while hiking makes us engage muscles that may not commonly get used

Hiking offers great physical benefits for kids. Namely, the tons of energy that hiking allows them to release.

“It’s how we get our wiggles out,” Weit said. “We yell, run, jump, and if it’s the right kind of place, see who can throw a rock the farthest or run the fastest.”

Two parents also confided that it makes naptime go more smoothly.

Research suggests that organic compounds released by trees may boost our mood, and studies show that people who spend time walking in nature are less anxious and experience less rumination (thinking about the same worries or regrets over and over again), which may help them fend off depression. Vitamin D, which gets delivered in droves outside, also helps ward off depression. 

According to one study, being outdoors can increase attention span and creativity by as much as 50%, and it’s little wonder considering all that loose dirt to traverse, those low branches to duck beneath and the occasional animal darting across the path. Each of these unexpected forces causes a quick mental adjustment, and those snap decisions help the brain stay nimble. Add to that the new things a child sees and absorbs, and hiking becomes a recipe for serious enrichment.