July is National Parks and Recreation Month and families are being encouraged to get outside, get moving and get up close and personal with nature. My kids, Alex and Harper, and I spent a morning exploring Henderson Beach State Park on the Gulf of Mexico in Destin. This park has a campground, shower facilities, a beach and picnic pavilions, a playground and a nature trail.
Before we left, we downloaded the 2011 Outdoor Challenge and went in search of some adventure. The Outdoor Challenge is a checklist of 20 activities designed to help children and their families get the most out of their state park experience. Children are encouraged to choose five activities, document them via photograph or video and submit them to Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection. All completed entries will receive a free one-day pass for a state park. We managed to do six in a three-hour time.
The Henderson Beach State Park houses a three-quarter mile nature trail which wanders through pines, coastal scrubs and huge sand dunes. Before we began, I asked Alex (age six) and Harper (age three) what they wanted to see on the trail. Alex was excited to count lizards and Harper was looking for lions and bears. We found six lizards and zero bears. While Harper was disappointed, both Alex and I were glad to let the park ranger know there were no bears on the nature trail. We checked off our first activity.
Environmental stewardship and conservation is an important part of The Department of Environmental Protection Agency’s mission and picking up and properly disposing of litter was one of the agenda items (number five). The park was remarkably clean. I thought we might have to use some of our own picnic lunch (number three) litter to check this off, but we managed to find some wayward trash and dispose of it appropriately.
After we took care of snacks and litter, we were lucky enough to participate in a ranger program (number nine). The Emerald Coast Wildlife Rescue was holding a demonstration on some of the animals native to the Emerald Coast. The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge provides rescue and rehabilitation services for wild animals along Florida’s panhandle. Once again, Harper was disappointed that she couldn’t get up close and personal with some lions, but the kids had a chance to see Nona, a barn owl with a fractured leg, Landlord, a tortoise with a cracked shell, and Trike, a three legged squirrel.
Susan Jarvis Moody is a freelance writer, blogger, wife and mother of two. She lives in Destin Florida. For more information about Destin and the Emerald Coast, please log on to www.destin-fwb.com.