Review: Wescott Nature Preserve, New Jersey

Outdoor Appeal: 10
Setting: Grassy meadow paths slope down towards the wooded ravine that carries the Locatong Creek to the Delaware River.
Explorable Op's: A ton. Although the preserve is a relatively small swash of land, it still has a wilderness feel to it. The creek is perfect for exploring because it isn't exceptionally deep. The trails are just long enough to give kids a real sense of accomplishment. They will feel like they are miles from the car but in reality it's only a few minutes away.
Difficulty: Moderate. We parked on the eastern most parking area on Raven Rock Road and from this starting point most of the trail loops in a meadow and is grassy with slight up or down pitch depending on which way you're headed. Along the Locatong Creek the trail can be quite muddy. Also, the jump down the ravine into the creek bed is a steep 10 drop. So for those reasons this hike is moderate with kids.
Facilities: Primitive. No bathrooms. No water fountains. Not even a Starbucks. Review: Our trip to Wescott Nature Preserve was a short one for a reason I'll get to later on in the review. But the time we spent there up until the end of the adventure was darn nice. We were lucky enough to pull in the parking area about the same time as another car pulled in. A woman with a dog got out and I asked her for some suggestions about trekking through the preserve. She told me about the mud on the trail, the path to get to the creek bed and she let us use a few squirts of insect repellent, which I was thankful for. The meadow looked like the perfect place to pick up a deer tick. It was an impossibly beautiful July day when we went, with blue skies, a breeze and temperatures in the 70's. We made our way down the grassy trail and entered the woods. Before long the muddy section of the trail opened up before us and as the woman told me, I was definitely going to get muddy. Frank was on my back and Max handled walking through the mud pretty well. The path down to the Locatong Creek was only about a 30 second walk from the muddy section. This was a little bit of a challenge with Frank in the backpack and Max slipping down the slope, but all in all it was uneventful and no one got hurt - yet. The creek bed is perfect for kids to explore and it has the feel of a "secret spot" because it is nestled down in a ravine with the wall of the bank and the forest protecting it from the sun. You're maybe about a 1/4 mile from your car at this point but you feel like you're deep in the woods. I had enough foresight to put the boys in bathing suits so getting wet wouldn't be an issue. Frank, the one year old, had a good time walking in and out of the shadow pools, digging his hands into the tiny pebbles and, for one of the first times, throwing rocks into the creek. Max did a lot of the same but he felt he needed show his strength by choosing rocks about half the size of his head to throw in the creek. I have to admit, the splashes were impressive. But I tried to point out some more manageable stones for him to throw in while I was busy making sure Frank didn't take a header into the creek. But Max's luck ran out when he tried to maneuver over some large rocks while holding a long salami shaped stone. He slipped and fell and what was going to be a torpedo when launched into the water wound up smashing his fingers on the boulders he was walking over. It was obvious from the moment it happened that this was not a normal fall. He held his and out as if it was a foreign object that he just couldn't identify. On close inspect it turned out that his pinky finger got the weight of the stone. It was bleeding a little bit and turning purple and swollen. So the 1/4 back to the car, uphill, while carrying two kids - one in a bit of pain - seemed plenty long. We took Max to the doctor then the ER later in the day and he did indeed fracture the end of his finger, although we couldn't see anything on the X-ray. For many reason, Wescott Nature Preserve will always hold a special place in my mind. Besides the misadventure, we highly recommend the trip.
Recommendations: Little hands shouldn't throw big rocks! No, really, it could have happened anywhere and it was bound to happen sooner or later. But as always, I recommend taking your phone with you. Spraying everyone with insect repellent is also a good idea. Dress the kids in something that they can feel comfortable getting wet in and have a change of clothes back at the car. In light of the fractured finger, it's generally a good idea to have some first aid kit with you. But to be honest, if the injury is too big for cotton balls and band-aids then I'm heading to a hospital, quick! And even though Max did break his finger, there wasn't a whole lot anyone could do for it. They put a splint on it at the hospital just to keep him from bumping it. Finally, Dilly's Corner did wonders for everyone. Grandma and Grandpa met us there. We had ice-cream and french fries and the finger was forgotten about until our 3 o'clock appointment. All's well that ends in ice-cream. Happy trails.

Review: Nockamixon State Park, Old Bethlehem Road

Outdoor Appeal: 8
Setting: Lake front visit, shallow gravel beach, view of pilings of an old dock and the Lake House Inn. Why not a 10 for Outdoor Appeal? Well despite the lake setting, it does have an abandoned feel to it. The details are below.

Explorable Op's: A few. There are hiking trails that are accessible from the parking area but this post is just about the lake access. It is a quick stop for a picnic or just to mess around near the water.

Difficulty: Easy. There are two place to access Lake Nockamixon from the parking area. The closest is a steep drop at the lakeside parking spots, but it is only a few feet down. The other way to get to the lake is simply by walking down the barricaded section of Old Bethlehem Road. About one football field from the barricade the road tapers into the lake.

Facilities: Primitive. Nothing but a garbage can.

Review: Old Bethlehem Road appears on both sides of the lake and it seems that the road actually did span the valley before Lake Nockamixon was created. Apparently at some later time there was a dock at the north side of Old Bethlehem Road because the pilings are still sticking out of the water like a miniature scene from an old seaport. This was a quick trip for us. We were on our way to grandmom's house and we just needed a little time out of the car to expend some energy and cool off. In many ways this was a perfect little trip. Walking the abandoned section of Old Bethlehem Road is easy for small kids, both down to the lake and back. You don't have to worry about traffic, meandering or even walking too far. It's only a football field in length so you can easily see the lake on the way down and the parking lot on the way back. The visual goal is good motivation for little kids. The lake is very shallow at both access points with knuckle size stones blanketing the wading area. It's a very manageable place for kids to explore and relatively worry free for parents. Plus the view of the lake is beautiful.

Recommendations: Bathing suits and a change of clothes. Even if you're not planning on getting wet, it's pretty tempting to dip your toes in the water. If you're looking to make the trip more worth your while, there are hiking trails that head out from the parking area. We ventured down the Quarry Trail through a few turns and then headed back. But the Quarry Trail looks to be a very short loop on the map - 3/4 of a mile at most. From our short trek we found out that it skirts the lake for 100 yards or so and is very manageable for kids. Hope you enjoy. Happy trails.


Review: Van Sant Airport

Outdoor Appeal: 10 (note: a 10 rating is usually given to a place that is primarily a natural setting. But Van Sant Airport is an outdoor gem that is worth a 10)

Setting: The park and airport sit on top of a ridge in Upper Bucks County. To the north is a view of another ridge. To the south and east the land falls away to the valley of the Delaware River. There are commanding views in all directions without the normal two dimensional sense you get from an airport on flat land. The runway is grass and planes typically take off towards the river, so it looks as though they are flying off the top of the ridge. It's a gorgeous setting.

Facilities: Civilized. The airport has restrooms, picnic tables and chairs in shaded areas and a very small area to sit inside the airport.

Review: It's sunny, in the mid 70's, a few puffy clouds in the sky and you're kicking back to watching the mirical of flight for a few hours. It's hard to beat Van Sant Airport on a sunny weekend. It's one of my favorite passive activities in Bucks County. We've been a few times and it's always been a treat. So what makes Van Sant Airport so different from other aiports? As I described above, the setting is phenomenal. Watching planes fly off the side of a mountain is just more exciting than taking flight from a flat stretch of land. Also, I mentioned the miracle of flight? Well the planes you see at Van Sant aren't your normal CESNA's and the like. It's a sports aviation airport, which I've gathered to mean that the planes are a bit unique and it truly is a miracle to see how some of these planes get off the ground and how they land. You'll see restored and vintage planes from the early part of the 20th century a la the Bloody Red Barron, gliders, ultra-lites, stunt planes and others that I can't identify. Many of them are brightly colored with bull's eyes and stars. Some look as though they couldn't possibly fly. We once saw an ultra-lite that had no sheet metal or fiberglass covering the body of the plane. It was just a series of triangulated pipes welded together, wings and a propeller - kind of like something the Wright brothers might have built. It was astonishing to see the thing land. Van Sant also attracts a large biker crowd which can be a show all in itself. By mid-day Harleys line up along the runway and it makes the whole place feel more festive. Plus, as pictured to the right, you can get a very close up view of the planes. There are picnic tables and chairs in the shade and sometimes on the weekends there is a grill going. It's a beautiful setting and a great atmosphere. Any given weekend day in the warmer months can make you feel like you are seeing a truly unique spectacle.
Recommendations: Bringing some picnic supplies is highly recommended. Although lots of planes go in and out of the airport, there are times when most of the planes are flying and the air-traffic slows down. Consider stocking up at the Kimberton Whole Foods in Ottsville. If you're coming from 611 it's on the way. There is plenty of shade to escape the sun but sunblock, a hat and sunglasses will go a long way. Staring at the sky for hours does funny things to your eyes and face. Happy trails.


About Reviews

The @home.outdoors blog has had posts in several categories so far: Reviews, Day-Tripper, Bike Rides and Events. But Reviews and reviewing natural and cultural places is most of what the @home.outdoors blog is about. We go to a place, check it out and then write a review of our findings. This is a quick guide to help you understand how to use the reviews. Each review is made up of 7 sections: Outdoor Appeal, Setting, Explorable Op's, Difficulty, Facilities, Review and Recommendations. Why so many? The information is chunked in order for you to easily browse the review to find what's most important to you. If you are travelling with young children then it's likely you'll want to know how difficult the terrain is and if there is a place to get to a bathroom quickly. So you could quickly look at the Difficulty and Facilities sections to find out about both. If you have older kids you'll probably want to know if how much there is to do at the place. The Explorable Op's (Op's is short for "options") section will tell you how much there is to do and explore at a given place. Although most Review posts have all 7 categories, sometimes they are not all applicable and may be left out. For example, Van Sant Airport has no Difficulty section because it's a place to watch planes, not a place to hike and explore. Below is a quick description of each of the sections that you will find in a Review post.
Outdoor Appeal: This is a rating from 1-10 with 10 being the highest mark. Typically a place that gets high Outdoor Appeal has a beautiful natural setting, tons of options for outdoor exploration and varying difficulty levels that make it accessible (or challenging) to everyone. The Outdoor Appeal rating easily lets you know what to expect on your visit.
Setting: This sections gives a quick description of what you'll see when you visit. Delaware River, hiking trails, bird blind in a meadow, boulder strewn trails - these are typical short descriptions of some of the more important characteristics of a place.

Explorable Op's: As mentioned above, "Op's" is short for "options." This section always begins one of three ways: a few, a lot or a ton. This quickly gives you and idea of about how long you can expect to keep kids entertained at this place and if it's a place you'll want to visit very often or not. The section then continues on to give details about the major features of the place. For example: hiking trails, bike path, nature center, covered bridge, playground, creek, etc.

Difficulty: This section always begins with one of these three words: Easy, Moderate or Tough. Not too much explanation beyond this is usually necessary although there are almost always more details to follow. For example, you might want to know why Dark Hollow park is rated "tough" and rightfully so. The park is along the Neshaminy Creek and it would seem like any trails would be flat and easy to hike. But in reality the trails are often muddy or even underwater. This is good to know if you're heading out with kids.

Facilities: Depending on your kids' age, this may be the most important section of the post because it encompasses the conditions, or lack of a bathroom. This section starts out with one of these words: Civilized, Rustic or Primitive. Civilized means that you're going to feel rather at home with the bathrooms. There may also be places to eat, vending machines at the place. This might be a place that has a nature center. A place with Rustic facilities usually means, yeah, there's a potty, but... well you get the idea. Primitive means you're on your own - no bathroom, no water fountians, no changing tables, nada! Actually, a lot of times I find a Primitive places a bit more liberating than the Rustic ones because if there is no bathroom there's no obligation to enter the "stink-tank."

Review: This is the blogging part of the post. The review details what we did while we were at the place and gives our opinions as to what we found. This is a good section to read if you want to visit a new place with your kids but you don't know what there is to do there. This is an especially important section if you are trying to keep your visit within a time constraint. Some places have tons of explorable op's and it's hard to know what might be manageable during the time you have. The Review section can also give you a concrete game plan so you're not trying to make decisions while dealing with kids chomping at the bit to get out of the car and do something. It can also give you highlights of a place that you may not know about. For example, did you know there is an Indian Shelter along a trail at Peace Valley park? The Review section gives you all the details.

Recommendations: This is the final section of the Review Post and it gives you some helpful suggestions for your visit. It may tell you the best time of day or best time of year to plan your visit. It can tell you what's near by, what you shouldn't miss or what to stay away from.

We this helps you get the most out of reading @home.outdoors. If you have comments or suggestions please leave them below the post or email them to mattdsikora@gmail.com