Hiking with children creates great memories

Photo Provided
Spending time with your little ones outdoors can be a fun pastime, especially before they're not so little anymore.

Column by Brandon Butler

My daughters wanted to take our new puppy to a dog park we’d never been to before. When we arrived, the designated area was less than ideal. To my surprise, they headed out to the playground. My daughters are 13 and 12, and another 13-year-old friend was also with us. As they played on the swings, of course taking pictures for their Instagram and Snapchat accounts, I found a nice bench in the shade and reminisced.

Where has the time gone? When you have a baby, many people tell you not to blink because before you know it, they’ll be grown and gone. Of course that seems so distant, you don’t spend much time dwelling on the inevitable. Until one day you wake up to the realization your little ones aren’t so little anymore. My oldest is entering high school in August which gives me only four more years before she heads off to college. I hope to make the most of the time.

As I sat there on that bench, my mind drifted back to a camping trip we took to Shakamak State Park when the girls were really little. While I set up our tent, they rode their tiny little bikes with training wheels up and down the road. The pool at Shakamak is really nice so we spent a good amount of time swimming. We also rented a small boat and went fishing. But the most fun part of the trip was simply taking a nice wildlife and bird watching walk on a beautiful trail. I can still feel their tiny hands in mine, clinching at the slightest of sounds.

If it has been too long since you took a walk in the woods with your little ones, no matter how little or big they are today, Indiana’s State Parks offer great opportunities to do so. Shakamak has long been one of my favorites. If you’re looking for a park to visit, I encourage you to consider Shakamak. There are four hiking trails within the park. Trail 4 is a mile and a half long and is a really nice walk. In terms of difficulty, it is classified as moderate but with the exception of a few steep staircases, easy would be a fair assessment.

Much of the region was surface, or “strip,” mined. When a parcel of land is strip mined, long trenches are dug through seams of mineral rich ground. The resulting topography is generally numerous hills squeezed close together. The common name for these rippling hills, which resemble the vertebrate of a spine, is “stripper hills.” In the Shakamak region, you will also hear people speaking of “stripper pits.” These are the resulting lakes found where coal was once dug out of the earth. The southwestern portion of Indiana is home to thousands of such bodies of water.

The dense summer canopy of Shakamak’s thick woodlands shades the trail as it keeps temperatures cool, even in the afternoon heat of a summer day. Deciduous trees dominate the foliage, but conifers also grow amongst masses of hardwoods. A large pine, out of place amongst it’s maple neighbors, looms just off the trail to right as one rounds the first bend. To the left, vines weave through limbs high and low, creating the illusion of a gigantic spider web.

The path narrows as it dips through the lowlands at the east end of the lake. The trail crosses a wash formed by a dry creek that runs from deep within the shadows of the forest right into sunlight exposed water of Lenape. A layered outcropping of stone looms as a natural wall along the far side. Ridges lace the facade charting eternity. The romance of running one’s fingers across evidence of millions of years.

As you near the end of trail 4, and can literally see the light at the end of the tunnel, look to your right at the old rusted fence. This fence is the only representative along the trail of a time when the land that is now Shakamak State Park was not the beautiful landscape you just traversed. Let this fence serve as reminder that all is never lost. No matter the extent of destruction, nature, if allowed, will reclaim the land that is rightfully hers as time always prevails.

See you down the trail…




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