By TMoM Team Member Sydney D. Richardson, Ph. D.

Fall has set and we’ve entered the confusing weather days. Some days are extremely cold and others hover in the middle where the mornings are freezing and the afternoons are rather pleasant. In my household, this means that the children want to get out of the house and head to a park somewhere. This is usually because they feel that there are less bugs so that they can enjoy the outdoors. While we have visited many parks over the years, I decided to take a different approach this year and I encourage others to do the same. Travel to and explore local and national parks.

On the National Parks website, there is a Junior Park Ranger program. This program, which is self-paced and completely free, challenges youth to explore their state’s national parks. The website even has a booklet for children to complete and at the end of the program, your child becomes a Junior Park Ranger. While we did not start this program, we did decide to explore a “mini” park to get our feet wet, as we are new to these types of exploratory events.

My children and I decided to stay close to home and explore the Gateway Nature Preserve in Winston-Salem. The website describes the preserve as having 19 acres of wildlife habitat. While we did not walk all of it (we didn’t even get close), we did take our time to explore the first part of it. This preserve is tucked back into downtown Winston-Salem. As we traveled, I actually thought that we were driving the wrong way through a neighborhood. Then the street that appeared to be a dead end opened into a large parking lot surrounded by what looked to be a large park. As soon as the children saw it, they were shocked and excited to discover it. It’s important to know that there are multiple ways to get to the preserve and certain paths lead one to different parking lots. Therefore, be sure to remember where you parked and which path you are near once you leave your car. We decided to start with the trail adjacent to our car.

The first paved trail that we walked along allowed us to survey a creek. Luckily, it was a clear, sunny day so we could view the bottom of the creek to see everything in it. As we kept walking, we then stumbled upon a workout area. At first, we were confused, thinking that the blue pieces we were near were playground equipment. However, the different signs in the boundary area showed us how to use each piece and we realized that it was a workout center. My children walked along the balance beam, tried to lift their body weights on the pull up bars, and even tried to swing their bodies on the parallel bars. I even walked along the balance beam myself and quickly realized that walking on a mid-air balance beam in my mid-forties was not a great idea. Equilibrium is not my friend anymore.

After that, we saw numerous bikers and runners crossing a bridge into another part of the preserve. Seeing that most were families with children at various ages, we decided to follow suit. Another point to note is that anyone can run, ride their bikes, or even skate around the preserve, as the majority of the paths are paved. The bridge led us across another creek and into a different part of the preserve, which is where the real fun for my children began. Crossing the bridge, we came upon a dog park. Because we love animals and have a dog ourselves, we were excited to see a place where could bring our own pet. The two gated dog parks provided plenty of space for animals to run and families to sit and watch. Surrounding the dog parks were additional paths to explore other areas of Gateway. As we chose a new path, we stumbled upon something a bit squishy. My children and I looked down and tried to decipher what we just stepped on. I looked up at what was falling from the tree and the three of us immediately screamed, “It’s a persimmon tree!” My children squealed and began picking up the persimmons. My family follows the story of using persimmon seeds to predict weather (although we’ve never done it), so we were incredibly excited to see a real persimmon tree.

According to tradition/folklore, is one cuts open a persimmon seed, the seed will tell the person what kind of winter will occur. If the person sees a fork in the seed, the winter won’t be so bad and pretty mild. If one sees a knife in the cut seed, the winter will be extremely cold (like a sharp cold). If one sees a spoon when they cut the seed, the winter will hold much snow. Again, this is according to farm tradition (from what we’ve been told growing up), so it was exciting to see the actual fruit that held the tradition.

Along the paths, we also paid attention to the changing leaf colors. The changing colors, even changes in greenery were interesting to note, as well as water patterns, soil, rocks, and more. All of these things should be noted when trying to understand what it’s like to be a Ranger. After an hour and a half, it was time for us to leave; however, we did not explore as much as we could, so we agreed to visit again and continue along the paths. Even if your children are not interested in becoming Junior Rangers, exploring preserves, local parks, and national parks provides an element of excitement for all involved.

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