Family Fun & The Great Outdoors
Hello, Kelly Hampton here, your Outreach Coordinator for YWCA Greater Lafayette’s Domestic Violence Intervention & Prevention Program. Summer is supposed to be a time to rest and recharge batteries after a long school year, a stressful winter, chaotic holidays, and months without sunshine, but 2020 has thrown us a curve ball. This summer, our community has been quarantined, families have been out of work, and everyone has been doing their best to follow the CDC’s recommendation to practice social distancing. Times are tough, but that doesn’t mean this summer can’t be fun. With warmer weather here and cabin fever setting in, there has never been a better time to get outside and explore what Tippecanoe County has to offer.
The Great Outdoors, Mental Health, & Violence Prevention
Proximity to green spaces, nature, and sunlight have all been associated with lower levels of stress and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. Interacting with nature can improve cognition for children with attention deficits and improve behavioral challenges in children with a diagnosis of ADD, ADHD, ODD, & ASD. These benefits of the outdoors can help in violence reduction, too, as studies have shown that domestic violence is often triggered by financial and environmental stress, mental health problems, and a breakdown of the family unit. Being outside with your family and experiencing nature regularly can change the entire dynamic of your household and provide countless opportunities for you to focus on your own self care and empowering your children.
Interested in learning more about how green spaces can prevent violence in our community? Check out what the National Recreation and Parks Association has to say here or how some communities are making a conscious effort to create small green spaces to proactively reduce violence here.
Money Is Tight, Free Is Fabulous
Believe me, I know that money is tight right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun this summer and keep your children active and entertained without screens. While there are certainly state parks that offer bigger spaces to explore, transportation and state park fees can be barriers to accessing these outdoor spaces. Now, as a lifelong resident of Tippecanoe County, I will be the first to admit that I had absolutely no clue what all there was to do here, in my hometown. It wasn’t until I became a single parent, juggling parenthood, work, and school, that I had to start stretching my paychecks and getting creative with fun outings. I want to share some of my family’s favorite free local outdoor activities and adventure tips with you.
It is so easy to fall victim to the fast food drive drive-thru, but you don’t have to! Save your money and pack your own food, snacks, and drinks for your outdoor adventure. Full tummies will reduce the potential for full-blown meltdowns and tantrums. There is nothing worse than a HANGRY child, especially when you’re trying to have a fun and meaningful outing. I always try to pack a backpack or tote bag, something that is easy and comfortable to carry, with snacks and water. We don’t buy many individually wrapped snacks, so I fill sandwich bags with pretzel sticks, goldfish crackers, cheese cubes, grapes, dry cereal – whatever we have handy that I know my family will eat. I typically pack PB&Js on whole grain bread in an attempt to keep tummies full for longer and energize the whole crew. Lastly, HYDRATE. Keep everyone drinking water, even if it means adding flavor to the water to get everyone drinking. We like pouring Crystal Lite single packets into our reusable water bottles – the pink lemonade is delicious! Wraps, Lunchables, and tuna are all solid choices, as well. Pack what works for your family.
Dress For The Adventure
What you wear should depend on what you’re planning to do. It is rare for me to wear anything on my feet other than flip flops, but I have learned that flip flops are not the ideal shoe for trips to the creek, hiking in the woods, or really anything that involves walking longer distances than from my front door to the mailbox. Shoes can make or break a trip, so consider what you will be doing when choosing shoes for the family. Old sneakers or water shoes are best for the creek, good tennis shoes with solid arch support might be better for a hike. Our family frequents Goodwill of West Lafayette when we need shoes to get muddy. We have found the the selection there is usually pretty good and there are always a lot of size options and styles to choose from.
Remember to consider the weather and temperature when picking out the rest of your clothing, lather on sunscreen with a high SPF, and give everyone a hat to wear. I hear the ticks are out in full force this year and wearing a hat can protect everyone from those pesky little bugs.
Socialize While Educating
Exploring nature is such a wonderful experience and a nice break from the technology we are all tied to. It’s also a great opportunity to talk with your children about other cultures, current events, history, and our society. In my household, we have ongoing conversations with our 9-year-old son about race, religion, science, bullying, oppression – you name it, we talk about it. Is he always attentive? No. Video games, YouTube, and toys are always on his mind. However, when we are outside and exploring together, we have the most wonderful conversations. Try it out. Ask your children if there is anything happening in the world that they’re concerned about. Tell them about the things that you have on your mind or feel passionately about. Seize the opportunity and create a safe space for your kids to share their thoughts and feelings with you.
Our new favorite thing to do is to spend time on the Wildcat Creek. I was hesitant to explore the wildcat for pretty much all of my life, partially because I don’t like trying new things and because I sunburn easily. The idea of cooking on the water didn’t really appeal to me! However, after shooting a number of family portraits in various places on the creek and getting suckered into a kayaking trip with my co-workers, I learned to love the Wildcat Creek and feel like I did myself a great disservice in not exploring it sooner.
There are so many fun things to do on the Wildcat Creek that are free and fun. Our favorite access point is at the Wildcat Park off of Eisenhower Road in Lafayette. The park includes bathrooms (our family appreciates toilets), picnic tables, and a lookout that is wheelchair accessible. It also includes several short trails that lead down to the creek. When the water is low, the sandbar is huge and it feels like you’re really at the beach. We take squirt guns, tubes, rafts, and beach blankets and can spend the entire day there. Please be advised that sometimes, there are folks who don’t use the family-friendly language and things can get rowdy, but there is plenty of space to move away from other groups of people. I recommend life jackets and strict adherence to the posted rules.
A short skip and jump away from the Wildcat Park is Clegg Memorial Garden. This park is tucked away and can be easily missed if you aren’t looking for it. The park includes about a mile of hiking trails and a unique ecosystem (that I just read about). It contains lush vegetation, wildlife, an offers a beautiful view of the Wildcat Creek. The trails are not difficult to walk and young children seem to do just fine navigating their way up and down the hills. Look for some cool bridges, beautiful flowers, and breathtaking caves!
Clegg Memorial Gardens is operated by NICHES Land Trust, which engages in conservation of natural areas in our community and works to protect the community’s ecosystems of native plants and animals by collaborating with local land owners to preserve community access and connection to natural spaces. If your family enjoys Clegg Memorial Garden, there are many more NICHES areas to explore. You can view a full list of properties in Tippecanoe County maintained by NICHES Land Trust here.
Affectionately called “Hort Park” in my family, Horticulture Park holds a great big chunk of my heart. My childhood home used to sit in the center of the park and the majority of my favorite childhood memories include different places and adventures throughout the park. As a child, singing on the cement benches, dancing on picnic tables, and searching for treasures kept me very busy. With many hiking trails, streams, trees, flowers, and space to roam – Horticulture Park is the perfect place for an afternoon picnic. There is a lovely gravel lot, which is my personal favorite spot to park. At the back side of the gravel lot is the entrance to one of the hiking trails, in front of the lot is a large open field, which is great for picnics, Frisbee, a game of catch, or just sunbathing. There are also a ton of trees with branches begging to be climbed! On one of our afternoon trips to the park, we spotted an entire family of deer walking through a clearing! The park is pet friendly and ideal for social distancing. Learn more here.
One cool part of Horticulture Park is that the trails lead to the back side of Purdue University’s Presidents’ Mansion! My grandmother worked there when President Beering was in charge, but the mansion is now home to Mitch Daniels.
Want to stay in town and still enjoy the great outdoors? Explore Haan Museum’s Sculptural Garden, located in the heart of Lafayette behind the historic Haan Museum. The Sculpture Garden includes a wheelchair accessible path and over 20 sculptures to enjoy. When there isn’t a pandemic, the museum itself offers a lot to look at, learn about, and enjoy indoors (for a small fee).
The Haan Museum, formerly the Potter Mansion, was originally the Connecticut State building. It was dismantled and moved to Lafayette after the St. Louis World’s Fair and is one of only fifteen buildings remaining from the Fair. In 2013, Bob and Ellie Haan started offering tours of the mansion and slowly started curating pieces and turning the mansion into a museum. In 2015, they donated the building and grounds to the non-profit Haan Museum of Indiana Art that they had created.
Our family spends a lot of time in and around Munger Park, as it has really great trails for walking, riding bikes, using scooters, and racing. The paved trail reaches all the way from Munger Park to Creasy Lane!
Munger Park is a pretty simple, no frills park, but it does offer a small playground, paved trails, and a small pond. The pond is ideal for novice fishermen or those who don’t have the time or equipment for a more adventurous fishing trip – just make sure you have your fishing license, as state laws do apply!
The Celery Bog and Lilly Nature Center are located off of Lindberg Road in West Lafayette. The Celery Bog is home to hundred of birds, animals, and vegetation. It contains 4.3 miles of paved trails and 2.5 miles of natural paths through the woods, savanna and prairie. Many sections of these trails take you right beside the marsh. For extra fun, pack some binoculars or bring a homemade scavenger hunt like the one here. Our family likes to take bicycles, roller skates, and scooters along.
When open, The Lilly Nature Center at the Celery Bog also has opportunities for structured opportunities and educational activities. Throughout the year, different programs are offered, and Family Environmental Fun Packs are available for checkout from the Lilly Nature Center.
The Pedestrian Bridge connects West Lafayette to Lafayette (Wabash Landing to Riehle Plaza) and is a great place to walk outside without many bugs or other minor annoyances that nature sometimes offers. Children are invited to run, jump, and play and parents are able to sit and relax, as needed. A fountain can be found at the west end of the bridge and wishing well style steps are found at the opposite end. If you’re feeling compelled to, I strongly suggest checking out the Wabash Heritage Trail. The trail offers some amazing views of the Wabash River and is 13 miles long! If you plan to explore the trail, make sure you take your bug spray. Read more about the Wabash Heritage Trail here.
When COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and city playgrounds are open, Tapawingo Park is located just next to access to the trail system. Tapawingo Park has a playground structure and is great for little ones to play on before or after your walk or hike.
Fun fact, I used to live in the tiny white house across from entrance of Fort Ouiatenon, but still have to google “Ouiatenon” when I need to spell it. Home to my favorite annual event, The Feast of the Hunter’s Moon, Fort Quiatenon offers a unique look at our community’s history. Learn more about it here. Aside from the historical significance, the park offers a ton of space to explore and an up close and personal view of the Wabash River. If you have kiddos who like to run and need a lot of space to do it, this park is ideal! Pack a frisbee or a picnic lunch.
If you visit these areas be mindful of the history of the Indigenous people whose lands these are, and take some time to learn more about their history and culture. The block house, or Fort, contains information and literature available for visitors. Fort Ouiatenon was the first permanent European settlement in Indiana, built by French Canada in 1717, when it acted as a trading and communication post as well as a way to counter British expansion. It was surrendered to the British in 1761, occupied by Native Americans in 1763, and destroyed by Americans in 1791. For more information and block house hours of operation, visit Tippecanoe Historical Association’s website here.
The Tippecanoe Battlefield in Battleground offers hiking trails, a bridge that crosses the Burnett Creek, a nature center, and 96 acres to explore. There are also picnic tables tucked away throughout the park, which are great for a picnic lunch.
Again, YWCA Greater Lafayette hopes that while you enjoy the Tippecanoe Battlefield & Museum, you engage in meaningful conversations with your children and other family members about European expansion, settler-states, and the Indigenous people whose lands you are exploring. Click here to learn more about Tecumseh and the pan-Indian alliance that was destroyed in the Battle of Tippecanoe.
Another great resource to use when discussing indigenous lands with your children is https://native-land.ca/ . Enter your location to find out more about whose ancestral lands you are on, and learn more about each group. This interactive tool is a great way to introduce children of all ages to this uncomfortable aspect of our modern history.
Have Fun & Be Safe
Being outdoors can be such a wonderful experience, it can provide space to clear our minds and reduce the stress of every day life and alleviate some of that weight we, as parents and adults, carry around on our shoulders. It is important to remember that accidents can happen, therefore taking safety precautions are very important. Be aware of your surroundings, make sure your children stay close enough for you to see them, and talk with them about the potential dangers associated with the great outdoors.
Building Safe & Healthy Relationships In The Great Outdoors
Being in open outdoor spaces is a great space for children to let off steam and get a little rowdy. Do children misbehave, make mistakes, and act up in the great outdoors? Of course. Kids have not developed the skills or ability to regulate their feelings and most have very poor self-control, right? It’s a great learning opportunity for both and kids and parents in meeting expectations and being respectful guests to these natural areas. Hanging out and exploring the outdoors might be accompanied by meltdowns and tantrums, parents and adults can use these times to practice patient parenting and model the behaviors they hope to see from the kiddos.
A good idea is to pre-teach your children the behaviors you hope to see while you are exploring. Pre-teaching is simply explaining in terms that your children can easily understand what is acceptable, what is unacceptable, and what the consequences of both will be. “You need to follow my instructions. If you can’t follow my instructions, we will have to leave. The instructions are…” You can also pre-teach the safety rules you expect your children to follow. It is an unrealistic expectation for children to know, remember, and follow all of the rules without having been taught what the rules for a particular outing are. Be patient and be kind.
While you are busy enjoying nature and improving your mental and physical health, remember that safe and healthy relationships start with the family unit and you can empower your children and teach them that they are valuable and deserve to be treated with respect, kindness, and love. Tell your children how much you love being outside with them, remind them how strong and capable they are, act excited to see the treasures they have discovered, and interact with them. It is free to have fun with your children – make the most of it.
Keep us in the loop! Share pictures and stories from your adventures in the great outdoors to Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag #ywcafamilyfunandthegreatoutdoors and remember to go exploring, have fun, and help YWCA Greater Lafayette prevent violence in our community.