While staying at the Lake Thompson Recreation Area near DeSmet, S.D., we discovered a fantastic (and free!) program for families: Kids in Parks TRACK Trails. According to the website, “TRACK Trails include hiking trails, biking trails, geocaching trails, paddling trails, nature trail disc golf courses, and even adventures you can do in your own back yard! In addition to getting prizes in the mail, you can TRACK your adventures in your own online nature journal and see how many trails you’ve visited, how many miles you’ve hiked, and more.”
Although the Kids in Parks program is currently only offered in seven states (plus D.C.), it has continued to expand since it started in 2009. And even if you don’t live near one of the current locations, if you happen to be camping or visiting the region, you can still participate.
At the Lake Thompson site there was a kid-friendly hiking trail where kids could work on four different TRACK Trail adventures related to bugs, birds, trees, and nature.
After completing the four adventures over the two days we were visiting, we headed over to the Kids in Parks website to log the adventures for each child. The program awards the kids prizes based on how many adventures they complete. (Fair warning: The website does ask you quite a few questions when logging each child’s adventure, so that was a bit time-consuming.) We were so impressed to get home from our trip, though, and discover the first set of prizes had already arrived! In addition to an award certificate, the kids each earned a Kids in Parks patch, nature journal, and site specific stickers to go in the journal.
The kids had so much fun doing this program that we hope to be able to log some more adventures on a future camping trip. We will also be watching to see if they expand this program to more states.