Review: Peace Valley Park, Indian Path trail

Outdoor Appeal: 10

Lake Galena -Image via Wikipedia

Setting: Lake Galena, nature center, hiking trails, hike/bike path, Neshaminy Creek

Explorable Op's: A ton. Outside of the organized sports realm, Lake Galena and Peace Valley Park together have most outdoor activities that someone in the Delaware Valley would care to take on with kids. Hiking, biking, paddling, sailing, birding, picnic areas, playgrounds. With the exception of camping, the park has as much to offer as most state parks.

Facilities: Civilized. The nature center has restrooms, changing tables for infants, a learning center, taxidermed wild animals, gift shop, views of the lake as well as coffee, tea and hot chocolate for a nominal donation.
Review: There are lots of different trails in the park to explore. So when looking at the trail map it may seem a bit daunting to try to figure out what might be a managable hike for you and them. Fear not! The trail system forms a lot of small loops that criss cross over one another so there is almost always a "short cut" back to the car if you need to end the hike quickly. The day we set out I wanted to make sure that we had a pretty short trail with a few neat destinations along the way. I've found that it is easier to keep the 2 year old walking when there is a surprise waiting around the bend - and I do try to hype the surprise and ask him what he thinks it might be to spur him on when the trail gets "tough." The one this particular day I chose to hike Indian Path to Pond Path, a short zigzag on Woods Edge and finish up the loop on Pine Path. I'm guessing it might be a half mile total. I chose this loop because it has three surprises along the way. On Indian Path there is a Indian shelter built out of saplings and tree bark for the siding. From the inside you can see how it was made - pretty neat! We spent about 20 minutes checking it out which seems like a long time to be contained in a small space but it was a real wonderland for both Max and Frank. From the shelter we headed to Pond Path and made our way towards Woods Pond. It happened to be very muddy the day we went so Max couldn't decide if he was all that excited about how sloppy the trail was. The pond wound up being a bit of a problem in that Frank, the one year old, wanted to go in and Max wanted to get take off his sandals to shake off the mud. So we didn't stay very long because I didn't really want to comply with either of their wishes. We started our walk back and came to a small stream that crossed over Pond Path. It was flowing nicely because of all the rain we had just had. It turned out to solve the broken dreams we left behind at Woods Pond. Max could take his sandals off and wash the mud off and Frank could easily walk in the water. The stream had a sandy bottom and was only a few inches deep. We spent another 20 minutes walking back and forth over the stream, gathering rocks, throwing rocks back in, setting leaves afloat and watching them get swept away by the currents. Neither of the boys wanted to leave, but time had marched on towards lunch and curiousity was taking us a little too far up the stream. So we packed ourselves up, took the zigzag on Woods Edge and headed back to the parking area by way of Pine Path.

Recommendations: Truth be told, it's not easy to hike with small children. They meander, tire quickly, want to be carried, have to go to the potty, trip, fall and all kinds of other dilemmas pop up along the way. But I think even a two year old gets a real sense of accomplishment when they see that they have made it back to the car - snacks and drinks awaiting. And time spent in the woods is never wasted in my opinion. So when hiking with kids it's always best to be prepared to do very little hiking. If it's possible, have a few neat stops along the way. And "neat" is a perception you will need to project to the kids. Give them time to exlpore, be patient when they don't want to walk further, flexible and above all else, make it a fun adventure. The woods is a great place to let kids' curiosity run wild - well, not too wild. There's poison ivy out there! But giving them some freedom will make it fun for everyone. And in the end it doesn't really matter what you do outdoors. Just getting out can be enough. Happy trails.

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Event, Delaware River Sojourn

The Delaware River at New Hope, PennsylvaniaImage via Wikipedia

The 15th Annual Delaware River Sojourn is coming up this weekend. What is it you ask? It's bunch of paddlers heading down the river. It covers the length of the Delaware River starting from Kittatinny's Pond Eddy Access, New York on Sunday June 21st extends all the way to Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Saturday, June 27th. As a parent of two small kids, I'm not ready for this type of outing yet. But it looks as though there may be quite a few people on the river during these days, which makes for a unique kind of river parade. The Sojourn hits Bucks County on Friday, June 26th. They'll be paddling from the Giving Pond Recreation Area and pulling out of the water at Bull's Island around 3:30 pm. The footbridge from Bull's Island to Lumberville would be a great place to see the end of the "parade." Plus, Dilly's Corner is just south a bit on the PA side of Center Bridge. So the official @home.outside recommendation is to :

  1. park yourself at Bull's Island State Park on the Jersey side around 2:30 and explore the park a bit. It's a nice place. You'll like it.

  2. wander on to the footbridge when the paddlers start coming in.

  3. let the kids slap a couple high-fives with the folks coming off the river

  4. head to Dilly's Corner for burgers, fries and a shake.

If you are interested in more info, check out http://www.state.nj.us/drbc/sojourn.htm It's appears there is still space left on the Sojourn if you are interested. Happy Trails.


Review: Doylestown Historical Society Public Park

Outdoor Appeal: 6
Setting: small downtown Doylestown park, reflecting pool, slate paved terraces, Canal mule statue, chess tables, some trees and flowers and a swash of grass flanked by an old stone wall

Explorable Op's: A few. This is a small park that's meant for respite and reflection so there isn't anything there specifically geared towards kids. Although the reflecting pool, the mule and the open running space provided by the slate slabs seem to be enough for 20 minutes or so.

Difficulty: Easy. The park is terraced but most surfaces are covered in slate slabs and are flat.

Facilities: None. But downtown Doylestown is just around the corner so you are never far from food, drink and restrooms.

Review: As far as I can tell this small park doesn't get a lot of use. There are chess matches played here once a month and on Friday and Saturday nights in the summer the park can get mobbed with kids who are looking to loiter. But usually we don't see anyone else while we stroll through. It really is a nice sanctuary tucked away from the rest of the downtown area. We go to the park often and we normally stop by on the way home from town. As I mentioned above, the reflecting pool, the mule and the open area of slate slabs seems to offer enough for my kids to run off some of the extra energy they may still have left in them. The park has a clean, finished look to it. Most of the park is covered in slate. There is a large tree that stands guard in the middle of the park and gives shade to the two chess tables. Uphill from the park is a gravel parking lot and the back of the shops on Oakland Avenue. The back of the shops are brick so it doesn't take away from the ambiance of the place. The place feels down right civilized!

Recommendations: This is definitely the place to take a cup of coffee from any one of the 6 (or is it 7 now?) cafe slinging shops in town and relax for a bit. The park provides a view and a calming sense of quiet - something Europeans seem to value but Americans are still a bit uncomfortable with. Jules Thin Crust Pizza is just down the street a few doors. I recommend picking up a pizza and some drinks there and walking up to the park with the family. Jules is usually mobbed so it will be nice to eat outdoors away from rest of town where you won't be bothering anyone and no one will be bothering you. Now, in the Review above I mentioned that kids frequent the park on Friday and Saturday nights. But I'm going to go ahead and recommend both nights for a family visit. Nothing scares an adolescent more than being around family on a Friday or Saturday night. When they see you coming with a pizza and your kids they'll realize that you are planning on staying and they'll scram in a hurry. Enjoy!


Review: Tyler Formal Gardens

Outdoor Appeal: 7

Setting: Hillside garden, sculptures, fountains, hedges, some trees and a trail overlooking the Neshaminy Creek
Explorable Op's: A lot. The area is truly beautiful. The fountains seemed to be a big draw for the kids. The hedges aren't really a maze but they do just fine for a bit of hide-and-seek. There is a trail that has some views down a steep drop to the Neshaminy Creek.
Facilities: Civilized. Although we didn't explore Tyler Hall further than the first floor and the balcony area, it is a gorgeous building and its exterior sets a regal backdrop to the gardens. There are restrooms in the hall and the student center isn't far away with just about anything you may need as a travelling parent.
Difficulty: Moderate. The terraces of the gardens are flat. But the garden is situated on a hillside. If you walk all the way down to the "tennis court" level of the gardens it is a nice little hike back up to Tyler Hall and the parking area.
Review: When you think "community college" most don't envision something like Tyler Formal Gardens. At one time this was some one's house - George F. Tyler and Stella Elkins to be exact. Tyler Hall is very collegial in a New England brownstone kind of way. The gardens are mostly grass and hedges at first glance. But as you walk through there are fountains, a gazebo and flowers, some hidden some in plain view. The time of year you visit has a lot to do with what's blooming and what you'll see. It is a beautiful setting but it's certainly not the Sound of Music Tour in Salzburg or Longwood Gardens. The gardens in themselves aren't much of an attraction in my opinion. But Tyler Hall and its commanding view, the college center and the gardens together can make for a very nice little trip. On the balcony of Tyler Hall there is a wrought iron sign of an Indian pointing towards the Neshaminy Creek. The sign says, "Indian Rock." If you follow the path down to its end you'll find the best view of the creek from the ground, although it is obstructed a bit by trees. Be careful on Indian Rock. After the rock the path drops off a cliff and it's a long way down.
Recommendations: Keep your self-guided tour moving. Kids probably won't be able to explore everything they want to. Max and Frank really wanted to go in the fountains but obviously Tyler Formal Gardens isn't the kind of place for that. Take a quick spin around Tyler Hall. Meander through the gardens. Hike back up the hill to the balcony of Tyler Hall. If you're sure of your ability to keep your kids safe, venture down to Indian Rock to have a look. From there head towards the student center. If you go during the warmer months you can grab something to eat and take it outside and sit at a table with an umbrella. Besides Indian Rock, this little trip has a very refined feel to it. I enjoyed being in a distinguished setting yet I still felt free to let my kids have fun exploring. Plus it's free. It's a tiny gem and well worth the hour or so you spend. Hope you enjoy. Happy trails.

Review: Eureka Stone Quarry, Roadside Attraction

ReOutdoor Appeal: 3
Setting: Big Digger!
Explorable Op's: Big Digger!

Difficulty: Easy, but watch out for big dump trucks.
Facilities: None.

Review: This is a quick stop on your way to someplace else. Eureka Stone Quarry - in Rushland near the intersection of Second Street Pike and Swamp Road - has a huge, old, black excavator that will turn heads of small boys while driving by. We've driven by a few times and today we decided to stop and attempt to take a look. There is parking on the right side of the entrance just beyond the excavator. We went to the depot in the middle of the entrance and proceeded to knock on the door even though there were signs that said "Authorized Personnel Only." Really, what could a middle-aged guy with two kids under the age of 3 be threatening anyway? We knocked on the door. There were two women inside. One came over to open the door. She looked hesitant until she spotted the boys. I asked if we could get a closer look at the big digger. I told her we weren't going to climb on it or even touch it. She said that would be fine and we were on our way. Huge dump trucks rolled in and out of the quarry every few seconds and it was pretty scary for our oldest son Max. He liked the trucks but the noise of it all was a bit much for him. We went over to the excavator and walked around it and took a few pictures. The digger was in constant competition with the dump truck the whole time. The boys didn't know which to look at. After about 5 minutes we were back in the car on our way. It was just a quick stop but quite a thrill.
Recommendations: Be sure to ask permission to look around if you stop in during working hours. I know, this place is just asking for it by putting a big digger out front of their entrance, but it is a bustling quarry and outsiders don't have any legal right to trespass. Also, the dump trucks are moving fast. Be very aware of where your kids are. The last thing the drivers are expecting to see is a kid running around the depot.


Review: Schofield Ford Covered Bridge, Tyler State Park

Outdoor Appeal: 10

Setting: Short access trail to Tyler State Park via Schofield Ford Covered Bridge, crosses the Neshaminy Creek with views of the bridge downstream on either side

Explorable Op's: A ton. The trail to the bridge is only about a 1/4 long but the Covered Bridge Trail does lead into the rest of Tyler State Park. The bridge is only accessible for hiking, biking and horseback riding so exploring the bridge is safe.

Difficulty: Easy. The trail to the bridge is actually a gravel road so it's plenty wide and there are no rock or roots to contend with. From the parking area off of Swamp Road there are two options to access the Bridge. You can follow the sign that says "Covered Bridge Trail" and take a steep set of stairs down the from the parking area or you can walk back out of the parking area and follow the road down to your left. Both options are easy but the stairs could present a problem for small hikers who are not yet totally aware of the absolute power of gravity.

Facilities: Primitive. No restrooms, water fountains or any other modern convenience nearby. But the trail is short so you're never far from the car.

Review: There are lots of covered bridges in Bucks County. I think there are 12 total. Max loves to go through covered bridges when we're driving. But the problem with most of them is that the whole experience takes about 5 seconds from start to finish. The wonderful thing about Schofield Ford Covered Bridge is that you kids can explore the bridge for as long as they want. No vehicles are permitted on the bridge so it clear for inquiring minds to wander about. Kids can even walk up the sloping beams to the small porthole windows to look out onto the creek both up and down stream. There are areas on both sides of the bridge that are have more sparsely

placed tree growth so you can put some distance between you and the bridge to get a good look at it. On our visit we walked over the bridge and downstream to a rocky shore along the Neshaminy. The view of the bridge was great, there was a cliff embankment on the opposite shore and, perhaps most importantly for the kids, an abundant supply of flat skipping stones. We went in early spring so geese we flying low in gaggles of 3 to 5 up and down the creek which made for a good show. This is our favorite covered bridge to visit. The trail is a perfect length for kids under 5. The surprise of "finding" the bridge around the bend in the road is a real show stopper for this age group. If you have older kids the bridge will provides quick gratification for the beginning of a longer trek into Tyler State Park and a welcome and visible end to the journey upon returning.

Recommendations: This is a good place to have a camera. It's a quintessential Bucks County scene and whether you are a tourist or a local a picture of a covered bridge is quaint memoir of your time outdoors. The areas around the bridge have trees to provide shade but are open and grassy enough to spread a blanket and have a picnic. The area we explored downstream on the
Tyler Park side of the creek had a gradual slope into the water and the stones were small enough that they didn't cause too many stumbles while walking. So if the temperatures are warm enough you may want to wade into the creek a bit to explore or go fishing. Although water ways always pose a possible danger, this area was relatively safe for knee-high wading. Back at the parking area there are open fields that look to be vacant of human activity, with the exception dogs walking their owners, year round. It occurred to me that this might be an ideal place to fly a kite - especially if you are the one just learning or relearning how to fly. You should be free of audience here.


Review: Doylestown Airport

Outdoor Appeal: 5

Setting: Local small craft airport, flat land, not much of a geographic view outside of airport grounds although the sky is wide open. Small picnic area

Explorable Op's: Very few. The main attraction here is the air-traffic. The area to view the planes is very small.

Difficulty: NA. This is a place to view planes take off and land. There are about 50 yards of flat ground to cover.

Facilities: Civilized. The airport has restrooms, vending machines and an indoor seating area. All are within seconds of the picnic area.

Review: We've been to the Doylestown Airport dozens of times with the kids and it is always a sure way to get some free entertainment. Like most small craft airports, the best days to visit are on the weekends. Doylestown has planes taking off and landing every few minutes on most Saturdays and Sundays. The outdoor area to view the planes is a small fenced in grassy yard so it's ideal for small children. They have a sense of freedom to roam yet they can never get too far away. The staff and pilots are friendly and often wave to the kids as they taxi down the runway. It's a great way to spend an hour or so on a Saturday or Sunday.

Recommendations: The picnic area has plenty of tables so bring a snack, lunch or even dinner if the timing is right. There is very little shade so think about sunglasses, sunblock and hats. We've noticed that a helicopter lands on Wednesday nights around 6 pm. This may actually happen every evening but we just happen to go on Wednesdays. Also, if your kids are into it, bring a toy play or helicopter with you to play with. It's a real hit with everyone.


Review: Star Garden Scavenger Hunt

The Star Garden is a very small park in the center of Doylestown. It's just across from the outdoor bar area for Puck. The main attraction of the park is the mosaic wall, although my kids are also fascinated with the water fountains: the drinking fountain and the rock sculpture fountain. After a few trips to the park with both boys, I started to wonder how many words were on the mosaic wall. That's when I had the idea for a scavenger hunt. It's not a traditional scavenger hunt in that you're not going to gather anything to take somewhere to get a prize. But I think it's a fun little addition to your visit to the park and to Doylestown in general, especially for curious kids. See if you can make the observations and find the things listed below at the Star Garden. The answers are listed below the photos.

1. The tree in the middle of the park is a sweet gum tree. What shape are the leaves? Also, what shape is the fruit of the tree?

2. How many sweet gum leaf tiles are there on the mosaic wall?

3. What are the "hidden" virtues listed on the mosaic wall?
4. What animals live in the towers?

5. How many chimneys can be seen from the Star Garden? (You may need to walk around to get a view of all of them.)
6. How many of these animals can you find on the mosaic wall? (you may find more than one)

  • worm

  • snail

  • clam

  • spider

  • dog

  • frog

  • snake

  • butterfly

  • flower

  • dragonfly

  • turtle

  • owl

  • crab

  • fish

  • duck
  • ladybug

  • cat

  • bee

  • person

ANSWERS: *Note, if you find different answers than I've come up with here please feel free to post them in the comments below. Hope you have fun.

1. a star, and the fruit of the tree also kind of looks like a star

2. seven

3. peace, justice, compassion, friendship, freedom

4. a bird and a squirrel

5. 24 chimneys

Review: Bulls Island State Park, New Jersery

Outdoor Appeal: 10

Setting: Relatively high Delaware River Bank, Serviced Canal Tow Path, Canal Lock/Dam which always has water flow, Foot Bridge to Lumberville Pennsylvania, Campground, Playground, Shaded Picnic Area with charcoal grills, Boat Launch

Explorable Op's: A ton. From my perspective, it's hard to go wrong in a state park with kids. Bulls Island is particularly good for exploration with kids because it's small. The playground, camping area, picnic area, canal, trails, park office and footbridge are all in a short distance from one another. The kids will feel as if they have a lot of freedom to explore and you can feel at ease that they won't be able to get too far away from you.

Difficulty: Easy. The roads and trails on Bulls Island are flat. The trails are wide open and free of roots and rocks.
Review: It's hard to imagine a better day for our visit. We had sparkling skies, a slight breeze and temperatures in the mid 70's. We started out at the playground to give the kids a chance to burn off some energy from being in the car for a bit. Max decided it was lunch time so he picked out a picnic table. The picnic tables are close to the playground, beneath some towering trees. It's a beautifully shaded area. While we had lunch we heard a woodpecker. It pecked out it's signature sound a few times and then swooped out of a tree and flew just behind our picnic table, calling out a warning the whole time. I've never seen one of these red-headed birds up close. They're big! Max was also thoroughly impressed. We went over to the pine tree where the woodpecker had flown from to see if we could find any holes in the tree. Sure enough we saw plenty of them. After lunch we headed to the park office to see if we could grab a map of the the trails at the park, but they only have a map of the camping area. So we headed down the path a bit that's right next to the canal. It starts just beyond the bridge over the canal. We were taken by two enormous black walnut trees at the entrance of the trail. The trails heads down a short decline to flank the canal. We stopped at a rock landing to throw some rocks and take in the scene. We only made it a short distance down the trail from there before we found a toad. I attempted to contain it on the trail with my feet so Max and Frank could get a good look at it (Frank was in the backpack so it wasn't easy for me to bend over to catch it). The toad peed on my foot! We thought that was kind of cute. Then Max decided it was time to head back the way we came. We got Max's bike out of the car and headed toward the bridge. Both Max and Frank had a fun time walking across the bridge. It has a tightly woven chain-link fence that is almost flush with the walk-way so there is no worry about falling over. There was a large American flag strung from the far side of the bridge and the breeze help it give us a show. We made it to the PA side and both boys were fascinated by the steel support ropes that are anchored into cement a pair of steps. We spent some time there just fooling around before we set back for the Jersey side. From the bridge we went straight to the car and decided it would be a good day to hit Dilly's Corner for some fries. According to me and the boys, the only thing missing from this outing was mom.

Recommendations: Whenever you are near Dilly's Corner take some time to stop in. It's really a treat. I don't have many recommendations for Bulls Island because it is small enough that you can do most of what I described above in just a few hours. The playground, picnic area, nature trail and foot bridge are most of what you can do in the day use area and make for a nice couple of hours outdoors. The nice thing about Bulls Island is that you can feel like you've seen the whole place without actually exhausting all the explorable options. There's a sense of satisfaction to be had just from walking the grounds knowing that you've trekked from one end of the island to the other. One general recommendation I do have is if you can swing it, head outdoors during the week. We always see lots of wildlife and I think one of the reason is because there aren't many people around Monday through Friday. Animals are hip to what the weekends bring and they tend to take cover.