UD Extension Specialist Shares Favorite Spots for Outdoor Fun

May 31, 2013 under CANR News

Crystal and Quinn Phillips pick strawberriesDot Abbott has fond memories of picking strawberries with her dad as a child. They would head out on early summer weekends, with buckets that her grandfather had made, and not return home until they had 12 quarts – enough for homemade jam, shortcakes, and eating out of hand. She recalls spotting lady beetles on the plants, hearing birdsong in nearby woods, and noticing that the berries hidden under leaves weren’t fat, red and juicy the way that berries exposed to the sun were.

Today, on summer weekends, Abbott has a hunch that many kids are inside, in front of TV or computer screens, rather than outside enjoying activities with their families.

“Staying inside is the default mode; it’s the new norm for most kids. A child is three times more likely to play video games regularly than to ride a bike,” says Abbott, a renewable resources agent with University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. “But studies show that regular, unstructured playtime in nature makes kids smarter, calmer, more self-disciplined and cooperative.”

Plus, getting outside is just plain fun – especially during the long, sunny days of summer. If you’re short on ideas of where to go and what to do, Abbott is happy to help. Here’s what she suggests for outdoor fun this summer:

Eerie Evenings at Trap Pond

It looks like a lake [but] a short paddle away, it begins to turn into a swamp and there are loads of lily pads and bald cypress trees and the water starts looking really murky and it feels like you might run into an alligator or something. You definitely don’t want the canoe to tip over in here.

–Review of Trap Pond State Park on TripAdvisor.com

“Boating amid the bald cypress trees at Trap Pond is kind of eerie, especially at night or on foggy mornings,” says Abbott. “As they get older, it can be harder to get kids excited about family outings but even middle schoolers and teens should love a night boat ride at Trap.”

Families can learn about “the eerie sounds and spooky creatures” of Trap’s cypress swamp during special evening pontoon tours June 12, July 10 and Aug. 14.  The state park, near Laurel, is home to the northernmost natural stand of bald cypress trees in the U.S.

The park also offers daytime pontoon tours on weekends, as well as guided kayak and canoe eco-tours. Plus, you can rent rowboats, pedal boats, canoes and kayaks and go out on your own. Boat rides and rentals are available through Labor Day weekend.

For more info, call the park at 875-5153.

Who Knew? Fishing at State Forests

Delaware’s state forests are one of the best-kept secrets for family fun. They’re managed primarily for forest management, so don’t expect to see a concert stage or water park, like at some of the state parks. But you will find trails for walking, running, biking or horseback riding at Blackbird and Redden state forests, plus ponds for catch-and-release fishing. Taber, the smallest of the three state forests, is used most often for hunting. Abbott likes the fact that Blackbird, located on the border of New Castle and Kent counties, has a paved nature trail designed for wheelchair accessibility. To learn more about the state forests, go to http://dda.delaware.gov/forestry/forest.shtml/.

Forget Route 66 – Route 9 is Where It’s At 

If you’re bored some Sunday afternoon, hop in the car and head to Route 9. This 52-mile stretch of meandering country road parallels the western shore of the Delaware River and Bay and offers views of the largest area of preserved coastal marshland on the East Coast.

There are several great spots to stop and view wildlife on the route, says Abbott, including the Port Penn Interpretative Center, where she enjoys taking a short hike into the marsh. At the other end of Route 9, close to the John Dickinson Plantation in Dover, is the new Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve (DNERR) Education Center at St. Jones Reserve. Like Port Penn, it features a boardwalk into the marsh. And don’t miss Bombay Hook Wildlife Refuge, near Smyrna, says Abbott. There are several trails through this 16,000 acre refuge, including the Black Swamp Trail, which is handicapped accessible. Plus, kids will love the fact that three of the trails have observation towers.

Overnight Camping at State Parks

Tell ghost stories around a campfire on the beach. Gaze at the stars with a telescope (plus, with a naturalist who can tell exactly what you’re looking at). Snuggle into sleeping bags as your kids enjoy their first campout of the summer – or perhaps their first campout ever.

You can do all this with “Delaware Outdoor Family,” a new overnight camping program offered at Bellevue, Brandywine Creek and Delaware Seashore state parks this summer. It’s offered in conjunction with the Children in Nature/No Child Left Inside initiative, a state effort to get kids outside more.

Family camping on your own is available throughout the summer at Lums Pond, Killens Pond, Cape Henlopen, Delaware Seashore and Trap Pond state parks. But “Delaware Outdoor Family” is a guided experience, led by park staff, giving campers access to astronomy programs and other special experiences. For more info, go to www.destateparks.com.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Delaware nature-lovers share their favorite places to enjoy summer in the state

June 27, 2012 under Cooperative Extension

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time. — John Lubbock

Officially, June 20 was the first day of summer, even though the unofficial signs of the season — flip flops, hammocks, water ice — blossomed weeks ago. For most of us, the workaday routine means we’re stuck inside a lot more than we’d like. When the weekend rolls around, we’re itching to get outside.

So where should we spend our precious free hours? We asked area birders, entomologists, horticulturalists and other nature-lovers about their favorite places to enjoy summer in Delaware.

Here’s what they told us:

Nature with a side of history 

My favorite spot is Brandywine Springs Park, which was an amusement park in the early 20th century and is now a county natural area.  I enjoy the sound of the water rushing through Hyde Run, a tributary of the Red Clay Creek, as I take long walks among the old trees. Since I am a history buff and a member of Friends of Brandywine Springs, I especially like the historical aspect of walking the old boardwalk area. Spending a few hours taking in the sights and sounds there refreshes me.

Eileen Boyle, horticulturalist, Hagley Museum

Flitting dragonflies

I enjoy Millstone Pond in White Clay Creek State Park. There is a small rock outcrop overlooking the pond and a nice place to sit in the shade on a sultry summer afternoon contemplating of the world around — dragonflies coursing over the pond, birds in the trees, wild flowers blooming. Just outside Delaware in Caroline County, Md., is Idylwild Wildlife Management Area. When I want to see many rare dragonflies and damselflies native to the Delmarva Peninsula that is where I go. However, one may need to suffer to be rewarded. One needs to bring water, be willing to hike a ways, and carry insect repellant.

Hal White, University of Delaware professor and author of “Natural History of Delmarva: Dragonflies and Damselflies”

A riot of blooms 

In summer, I love the rainbow of blooms in the Color Trial Garden at UD’s Botanic Gardens. Mid- to late July, it’s probably at its peak. Commercial seed companies rely on trial gardens such as this one to provide unbiased feedback about new varieties. For the public, the garden provides a sneak peek at more than a hundred yet-to-be-introduced varieties of annuals and perennials. It’s not uncommon to see people wandering through the trial garden with pencil and paper in hand to write down their favorites.

Valann Budischak, volunteer and education coordinator, UD Botanic Gardens

Cool running 

I run a lot at White Clay Creek State Park but recently I also have been working out at Lums Pond.  Especially in the summer, it is really nice to run (or walk) near a body of water. Even if you aren’t in the water, the sight and sound of water is cooling. As to plants I enjoy now, Delaware is mostly green at this point. Ferns are probably the prettiest vegetation in the summer.

Sue Barton, triathlete and UD Cooperative Extension specialist in ornamental horticulture

Sunset on the water

I like canoeing up the headwaters of Haven Lake, outside of Milford, from a public boat ramp off Williamsville Road. It features narrow channels and small islands and teems with birds, beavers, dragonflies and damselflies. You can even see insectivorous sundew and pitcher plants. Sunset is my favorite time to be on the water.

Jason Beale, manager, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center in Milford

A park that’s got it all

I like to go to Bellevue State Park because as a family it meets all our needs. Bellevue has gardens, nature trails, meadows, a pond, playgrounds, horses, community vegetable garden plots and more. My daughter, Teagan, is almost 3 years old and she likes the diversity of so many different things to look at. She is just fascinated by the horses. I jog on the trails and I also like to check out the garden plots. Many Master Gardeners have plots at Bellevue and I love to see what people are growing and how they are growing it.

Carrie Murphy, horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension

Biking the by-ways

I moved to Delaware in January so I still consider myself new to the state. I enjoyed Cape Henlopen many times before I moved here and now I’m making new discoveries. On summer weekend mornings, I have found that the scenic by-ways following the Red Clay and Brandywine creeks are surprisingly quiet and great for road biking.  Traveling by bike, you see so much more of the creeks, historic homes, fields and forests than when traveling by car.

Brian Winslow, executive director, Delaware Nature Society 

Woodpecker and eagle hang-out 

My favorite place at Hagley is the area that extends from the steam engine display to the boat house. The view of the iron bridge, the Brandywine, the dam and the woods is spectacular. You may even see an eagle flying over the river or our pair of pileated woodpeckers feeding in the large maple next to the boat house.

Richard Pratt, supervisor of gardens and grounds, Hagley Museum 

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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