Go Play Outside

Miriam kicking it

I moved to Oregon 12 years ago. I’ve been married for 11 of those years, and a parent for 10, so it’s worked out well for me. I love a lot of things about Oregon, but I think my favorite part of it is the outside part. And now that Summer is approaching, the outside promises to be less…well, wet. That means lots of family outings.

It may seem all too obvious that it’s good for kids to be outside. There are many compelling reasons for this, and author Richard Louv is eloquent about why that is so. In his book Last Child in the Woods, he details the recent shift away from allowing children to spend their most important developmental years outside. This shift, he writes, has resulted in a disconnection from the natural world that has brought with it a host of health problems, many of them new to the last couple of generations. His solution is simple, but widely ignored: kids, go play outside.

He writes, “…at the very moment that the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, a growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature—in positive ways. Several of these studies suggest that thoughtful exposure of youngsters to nature can even be a powerful form of therapy for attention-deficit disorders and other maladies. As one scientist puts it, we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature.”

Does this mean that we should be sending our kids to summer camp? Hiking, camping, fishing, hunting? Building lean-tos and snow caves? Sure, why not? But it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Nature is everywhere, after all. We noticed that when our family visits Portland, we tend to spend more time outside, walking downtown or along the river, catching the Max instead of driving. Even in the heart of the city we can get our fix of nature.

But we are also very fortunate to live in this beautiful valley, which is full of places to go, to walk and hike or just to wile away an afternoon. And many of them are absolutely free. For one thing, Oregon’s beaches are open to the public, a fact that natives may not realize is a rare and precious thing. But often even getting to the coast takes more time and gas money than we can manage. We live in Lebanon (which incidentally is home to more rainbows than I’ve ever seen in my life) and there are dozens of beautiful spots—heck, maybe hundreds—within a manageable distance.

Here are some of our favorites.

  • Cheadle Lake is just minutes away from us, and its looping paths are just right for a walk that requires as much commitment as we—short toddler legs included—are willing to invest. And there are ducks, and geese. And turtles!
  • Silver Falls State Park is a bit of a drive, but its spectacular waterfalls and sprawling trails have been only fractionally explored by our family on countless trips. Of the places on this list, Silver Falls is the only one that requires a day use fee.
  • We spend a lot of time in Corvallis, and there are a host of lovely spots nearby. Bald Hill and the OSU Forestry Department’s Peavy Arboretum are always a great place for a stroll. And on hot Summer days we like to sit on the creek at the Hesthavn Nature Center, maintained by the Audubon Society of Corvallis, and just hang out. Dipping is optional but very tempting.

I encourage you to explore the Willamette Valley and find your own favorite spots. When in doubt, just go outside.

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