Friday, April 2, 2021

Get outside: Kid-friendly early spring activities

The Pismire Bluff Trail in the Raymond
 Community Forest can take hikers to an
unmatched view of Crescent Pond and
Sebago Lake, all nestling in the shadows
of Rattlesnake Mountain. 
By Briana Bizier

There’s no denying that the Lakes Region is a wonderful place to be, for children and adults alike, almost every month of the year. However, early spring can be a challenge in the best of times, and this year is hardly the best of times. One year ago this week, I posted on Facebook that my children would be out of school for two weeks. As we all know, those two weeks stretched into what felt like an unimaginably long period of staying at home, maintaining social distance, making panicked attempts to find toilet paper, and wiping down bags of groceries with bleach.

Even though we now have toilet paper and are no longer sterilizing the cereal boxes, the coronavirus pandemic still casts a long shadow over this season of renewal. For many people, kid-friendly indoor activities are still off-limits due to health concerns, and spring’s welcome warmer temperatures mean that favorite winter activities like skiing, ice fishing, and snowmobiling are coming to an end. Yet there are still plenty of fun adventures to be had, even in the mud and slush of early springtime.

One early spring adventure doesn’t even require going very far outside. If your far-flung friends posting pictures of spring flowers on social media has you itching for a bit of color, you can “force” spring blossoms in your own house. If you have a beautiful blooming tree or shrub in your yard, such as apple, forsythia, or lilac, you can cut off a few branches in one- or two-foot lengths. Be sure you cut the branches on a day when the temperature is above freezing, and choose a branch with a lot of fat, little buds; flower buds tend to be fatter than leaf buds.

Once your branches are inside, place them in a vase or bowl of room-temperature water, keep them away from direct sunlight, and be patient. Forsythia branches should bloom in about a week, while apples and lilac will take several weeks longer. If you start now, you might just have fresh blossoms in time for Easter!

We don’t typically associate March with hiking here in the Pine Tree State, but there is a huge advantage to exploring the woods in the Windham-Raymond community in early spring: No bugs! Last April, in the height of lockdown, my fourth-grade daughter and I decided to explore the snowmobile trails behind our house. It was a long, muddy hike, but we managed to follow the trails all the way to Little Sebago Lake without encountering a single mosquito. If there’s a mysterious trail near your house that you’ve never had time to explore, spring could be the perfect time to investigate the forest before the black flies descend.

If you don’t feel like setting out blindly into the woods, the Lakes Region offers plenty of clearly marked trails in our nature preserves. Raymond Community Forest off Conesca Road has something for everyone. The Pismire Bluff Trail, our family favorite, leads hikers to a beautiful view of Crescent Pond, Panther Pond, and Sebago Lake, all nestling in the shadows of Rattlesnake Mountain, while the flat and kid-friendly Spiller Homestead Loop contains colorful signs to help budding naturalists identify local plants and animals.

In Windham, Black Brook Nature Preserve on Windham Center Road is a wonderful local gem with clearly marked, kid-friendly trails that wind through a deciduous forest and explore a marsh. This would be the perfect place to go on a family “signs of spring” scavenger hunt. For older children, this scavenger hunt could even be a competition.

Whether you’re setting out to explore a nature preserve or poking around your own backyard, be sure to dress appropriately. March means slush and mud, so wear boots that can take a beating while still keeping your toes warm. March can also bring drastic temperature changes; it makes sense to carry a backpack with extra layers, as well as water and snacks, in case the sun dips behind the trees while you’re still adventuring.

Finally, a sunny spring day can be a perfect opportunity to take advantage of another one of Maine’s treasures: the beach! Lower temperatures and smaller crowds make spring a great time to go beach-combing for sea glass or special shells, and many beaches allow dogs during the off-season, so the entire family can join you on your seaside adventure.

Whether your outdoor spring adventures take you to the shore, to the trails, or just into your own backyard, I encourage you to get outside and discover for yourself that the Lakes Region has plenty to offer in every season… even mud season. <

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