Photos: Spring Afternoon in the Woods, Tips for Hikes with Kids
April is when Massachusetts' forests emerge from winter sleep. This is a great time for young and old to fall back in love with nature again.
Although the vernal equinox occurs in March, the woodlands of Massachusetts really seem to change in mid to late April. The ice and snow is gone except for a few patches hidden in the shadows beneath an outcrop or an old fallen tree. Small green shoots are pushing valiantly up through the leaf cover, spring peepers chirp loudly around the edges of vernal pools, and small brooks flow hardily through channels that will be dry by June.
Wakefield is close to some wonderful woodlands. The 600 acre Breakheart Reservation is partially within the town line and is worthy of exploration in all four seasons. To experience the hidden treasures of Breakheart, take some of the marked and un-marked foot paths that traverse and wind around the reservation. You'll find gentle brooks, rocky hill-top summits with expansive views, bog bridges, shadowy hemlock groves, fern-covered glades, and lakeside trails. Harold Parker State Forest is just a few miles north of Wakefield in Andover and well worth the drive. A mecca for hikers and mountain bikers, it boasts several lakes and ponds, miles of trails, a swimming beach, campground, and canoe and kayak paddling opportunities.
April is a great time to take children into the forest. Task them with finding signs of spring and they will joyously embrace the project. Ask, "how many kinds of leaf buds can you identify?" Hand out little sketch pads and pencils and suggest that they draw the symbols of spring. Build fairy houses out of sticks, pine cones and small stones.
You can also enjoy the spring time by simply sitting on a log and listening. Kids can do it too. Ask, "how many bird calls can you identify?" "Is that a woodpecker or the sound of two branches rubbing together?" Using a camera not only helps preserve your memories of the outing but also helps you isolate and appreciate the details of the forest. Finally, to really get the most from your trip to the woods, turn off your phone and leave the MP3 player in the car!