Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Seneca Creek State Park: Just Us and the Stink Bugs

I have to confess that Christopher Columbus was far from our thoughts on Monday. But all the same we were grateful that the for his holiday when we headed out with the kids. The sky was cerulean and almost cloudless and although it was a bit warm in the sun, the shade was dry, cool and comfortable. A perfect day to hike.

In reality, hiking with kids is never easy. No matter what the weather, both of my kids joyfully take to the trail for about a mile or so, then there’s an awful lot of whining that must be quieted until we get back to the end of the trail loop.

So although visions of Shenandoah and the Skyline Drive danced in my head I quickly did a reality check: a long drive causes as much whining as a long hike, so that seemed like a doubly bad proposition.

Instead we headed up to Seneca Creek State Park in Gaithersburg. Although this park is only a short distance from our house, we had never checked it out. Being a Baltimore girl I was always much more likely to head to Patapsco State Park when I wanted to get out in the woods and goof around. That just was more familiar.

What I learned on Monday, though, was that Seneca has a lot of offer, too, especially for a family with young kids. The lake is beautiful, and although we didn’t go for the fishing we saw a lot of families who were out with poles on Monday. As we took to the trails we found ourselves almost completely alone with the birds, including a few Pileated woodpeckers. Maybe Seneca is a kind of well-kept secret.

There is one kind of visitor that knows the place very well, though -- we were hounded by brown marmorated stink bugs for almost the entire hike. At one point I had at least ten of them on my shirt, as did each of my kids. There were smears of dead stink bugs on the parking lots, and as we drove off at the end of the day I had to pluck them off of my legs and shoes or risk stinking up the entire car.

I am not sure why I found this surprising. I kind of assumed that the stink bugs were mostly making themselves at home in suburban areas, where tidy, warm houses offer many places to tuck in on cold days. Our suburban neighborhood has seen its share of these invaders, but it was nothing compared to what we saw at Seneca.

In fact, it seemed like the deeper we went in the woods the more stink bugs we encountered. (We had the same experience at our favorite pick-your-own apple orchard last week as well, where the stink bugs had done a real number on the farmer’s lovely crops, putting corky pits into many of the nicest red apple skins.)

In spite of the stink bugs, we ended up walking for about three miles, which is actually pretty modest for our family hikes. And although those miles were pretty flat and easy, the kids did indeed whine for the last mile or so. And not because of the stink bugs.

My theory is that most of their whining on long hikes actually comes from an inability to fathom how much farther they have to go. I try to show them on the map but I think that they can’t really make relative comparisons for long distances. It just seems to them like it is never going to end. Then when it does they are always pretty proud of themselves. I think that the more they hike the more they will be able to mentally gauge the relativity of their endurance to a mile on a map.

Once we got home my theory seemed even more valid. While my husband and I both stretched out to take a rest on some big, comfy chairs, the kids saw some friends outside and went running up and down the block enthusiastically with their pals for several more hours. And I even heard them brag about the great hike we had just taken. So much for worrying that we’d exhausted them out in the woods!

Next time we go to Seneca I want to check out the historic one-room Seneca Schoolhouse Museum. Seems like it might make a great history field trip, especially if the stink bugs subside a bit.

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