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The Bentley clan on one of their "quests," this time with Big Bone Lick State Historic Site's naturalist Todd Young.
Cold, snow, icy rain and just plain dreariness mark the first weeks of 2014. The seemingly never-ending days of clouds and gray lead one to think that spring and green will never get here. Then, lo and behold, a packet arrives with my results from last year’s Family Adventure Quest, a combo scavenger hunt/quiz/history, travel and natural sciences challenge organized by Kentucky State Parks. I’m not ashamed to admit my family and I got only 14 out of 25 “quests” correct. Hey, it was our first year!
The Family Adventure Quest, now in its ninth year, took us to places across the Commonwealth we’d never been before. Some of the suggested challenges, or quests, outlined in the provided booklet could be accomplished in the comfort of our home: “Many parks now have Naturalist Blogs … visit our website, parks.ky.gov, to find a recent naturalist blog and share something interesting you didn’t know before.” Who knew flowering dogwoods could treat malaria? The naturalist at Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park did! There also were quests that required us to load up the minivan and head out: “Kingdom Come State Park has the highest elevation of any park in Kentucky … Capture a photo of at least one team member at the stone gazebo looking out at Black Mountain in the distance.”
So, onward and forward we went last summer. We learned some new skills, met new people, and figured out why you shouldn’t leave your food on your picnic table overnight while camping, among other things. It was a summer my family will never forget.
June 21, 2013
Pine Mountain State Resort Park, Pineville
As required by the Quest’s official rules, we have to come up with a name for our team. It isn’t an easy decision among my three children, Shawn, Nick and Annie, and my husband, Eric. Tears are shed, voices raised, and threats to pull the minivan over are made a few times. But after a three-hour drive from Louisville, we reach a consensus. We are The B-Team.
In the midst of the “debate,” we go through the list of quests we have to accomplish. I didn’t realize that you could complete only two quests at each park. There goes my wonderful idea of just diving in and getting most of the items checked off this weekend.
Team REGS of Louisville, otherwise known as Dave and Joy Roelfs and Darren and Valerie Meyers, did its planning. In fact, it was a planning session that would have made any Kentuckian proud.
“We got together and had a good evening of bourbon drinking and scheming of what we’re going to do,” says Dave Roelfs. “I told them, ‘I think we could do them all. We can do this, right?’ So, we set a goal that we can do all 25 of these and do multiple quests at parks.”
That’s exactly what Dawn Garvan likes to hear. As the marketing specialist supervisor for the Kentucky Department of Parks, Garvan wanted to create a program that would be appealing to every Kentuckian. “The main goal was to simply make people aware of what we have to offer in-state and to just get them outside to enjoy it,” she says. “The secondary goal was obtaining photos of those people enjoying parks, so that we could share those with others to convince them of what they were missing.”
June 22, 2013
Pine Mountain State Resort Park and Kingdom Come State Park, Cumberland
Annie, 8, has discovered that she likes taking pictures. A lot of pictures. Once we embark on the half-mile Hemlock Garden Trail at Pine Mountain, she is snapping photos with her iPod Touch like crazy.
“Oh! That’s pretty!”
“Look! What kind of rock is that?”
“I like that leaf!”
And that was only five minutes and 20 feet into the trail.
“Annie, you have to stop looking at the world through your iPod!” Eric told her after the umpteenth pause and picture.
When she puts her iPod back into her pocket, I realize this excursion may teach my family that there IS life without gadgets.
I am rewarded when we stop to rest at a 1930s stone shelter house built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Eric and Shawn, 12, begin whistling to mimic the nearby birds. To our amazement, the birds sing back! That’s not something we city slickers normally hear over the hum of cars, flying planes and, well, just plain noise.
Later, we hop in the minivan for a jaunt to Kingdom Come State Park. It’s only a few miles away, yet far enough to necessitate grabbing a map out of the glove compartment. “What is THAT?” Eric asks as I unfold the old-fashioned, paper GPS. I ignore him.
Once we arrive at the park, we consult our quest booklet and
notice a bonus quest of checking out nearby Log Rock, a natural sandstone bridge.
“Whoa! Do you think we can walk on top of the tree?” asks Nick, 10, when we approach the geological formation.
“No, it’s a rock,” says his dad.
“So I can’t walk on top of it?”
“You can walk AROUND it.”
“Shawn! Annie! Dad says we can walk up to the tree!”
“For the last time, it is NOT a TREE!”
That fact doesn’t sink in until the kids walk up to the rock and touch it with their bare hands. The look in their eyes, when they realize just how phenomenal nature can be, is priceless.
Joyce Sexton of Isom loves those discovery moments, which is likely why she and her family have completed five Family Adventure Quests over the past eight years. Her family team, named the Colley Creek Goofy Gophers, consists of her husband, Jeff; daughter Madison; and an occasional grandparent, cousin, aunt or friend. Sexton says their quests have taken them to parks across eastern, northern and central Kentucky. Every moment is cherished because Madison is now a teenager and quickly growing up.
“I just think it’s fun because you have quality time with your family,” Joyce Sexton says. “Sometimes you are in a spot and there’s no phones or Internet service, and the kids have to do things that we did as a kid. They really don’t know how to play anymore.”
June 23, 2013
Chained Rock, Pineville, and Dr. Thomas Walker State Historic Site, Barbourville
Despite stiff and sore legs this morning after yesterday’s excursion, we look through the quest booklet again and discover we can knock out several more challenges at parks nearby.
Our first stop is Chained Rock. I almost cry when I see the park sign saying it is a half-mile trek. But the kids are excited to see the dangerous boulder chained to the mountain to protect the city of Pineville below.
“Look, Mom, it’s almost all downhill,” Annie says.
Do I tell them that it will be UPHILL on the way back? I decide to keep quiet, lest they turn around and see their mother crying.
We break through the trees and spy the path we need to take to see the monstrous chain. Yeah, not for the faint of heart, but, emboldened by a breathtaking view of the mountains, blue skies and trees, we plow ahead. Our determination is rewarded with a view of Pineville situated precariously at our feet.
Next, it’s on to Barbourville, home of the Dr. Thomas Walker State Historic Site, where we decide to take up a game of mini-golf. In hindsight, it may have not been a good idea to let the kids watch Happy Gilmore the night before. Shawn and Nick are yelling at the golf ball and quoting the satirical golfing movie every chance they get.
“Why don’t you just go home, ball!? That’s your home! Are you too good for your home?”
Eric and I can’t finish the game fast enough so we can snap some pictures of the replica cabin that stands on the site where physician/explorer Walker erected his home in 1750 and get away from the other visitors’ concerned stares. We may not win any parenting awards, yet we still have fun and look back on a weekend filled with new memories.
Dave Roelfs finds the new adventures and memories a hallmark of the Family Adventure Quest. He and his teammates have traveled to other parts of the state before, but by following the quests outlined in the program, so much more opportunity was available to them.
“The major thing that we found was that it encourages you to go to parks you otherwise wouldn’t have gone to,” he says. “It’s so easy to go back to the same ones all the time. That was the real big plus for this program. We’re glad we got to see so many more parks.”
Joyce Sexton didn’t even realize how close some parks were to her region.
“A lot of these places are within an hour’s drive, and I didn’t realize Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park was just 30 minutes from Hazard,” she says. “When a quest didn’t ask for the whole group picture, I would take Madison and a couple of her friends.”
July 19, 2013
Lake Barkley State Resort Park, Cadiz
After driving three hours to western Kentucky, we finally pull into the campground at Lake Barkley State Resort Park. We thought we were experienced campers, having pitched a tent many a time on my parents’ farm property. Granted, the house was just 50 feet away, and you could sleep in a comfortable bed if you changed your mind about “roughing it.” But camping is camping, right?
As we unload our coolers and picnic baskets, Nick expresses concern about our “stuff.”
“It’ll be fine, Nick.”
“But what about those total strangers over there?” he asks, pointing to the surrounding campsites.
“Nick, it’ll be okay. We’re camping. This is what you do.”
It doesn’t assuage his anxiety. Before we pile into the tent for a good night’s sleep, Nick picks up our coolers, picnic baskets and other belongings, puts them back in the minivan and locks it. But he forgets one little insulated bag set on the other side of the picnic table—the bag that holds the next day’s steak dinner. The bag the raccoons absolutely destroy while enjoying the booty inside. Lesson learned.
July 20, 2013
Lake Barkley State Resort Park
We have another unexpected visitor today at breakfast. It’s a precious little woodland creature, black and furry with a distinct white stripe down its back.
“Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. What do we do? What do we do?” asks my frantic niece, Alex, a Murray State University student, who decided to spend quality time with her aunt and family.
“I honestly don’t know, Alex,” I say as I get video of the varmint. But Alex doesn’t hear me. She and my kids have already dived into the tent and tightly zipped any openings.
The skunk eventually saunters away, arrogantly annoying the two remaining adults who could do nothing but stare at it. With the skunk incident safely behind us, we decide to hit the beach odor-free and ready to play.
July 21, 2013
Lake Barkley State Resort Park
Who knew raccoons could open a cooler? Yeah, the one we leave out, thinking that no animal could figure out the mechanics of opening it. We can’t believe our eyes when, at 2 a.m., we look out from our tent and see the creatures opening the thing and feasting on what’s supposed to be our breakfast.
“Honey, should we do something?” I whisper to my husband.
“Yeah, sit here quietly and watch them. Those things can be vicious!” he says.
When dawn breaks, we pack up, say goodbye to Alex and head home.
Sure, on the surface, it appears we had a horrible weekend, but in all honesty, we learned how to improvise and laugh at setbacks.
The Adventure Quest has seen its share of setbacks. The recent recession resulted in a loss of advertising dollars, thus hampering marketing that would have attracted new adventurers over the years. But thanks to the Internet, Garvan says their numbers are bouncing back. “Social media has helped spike the numbers back up again. We share on Facebook and Twitter, and we’re really picking up now with more people signing up. We had 187 teams for 2013, and that’s our highest number since our 2006 opening.”
Garvan says nearly half of those who signed up last year had heard about the program through social media, the park’s website or the Kentucky State Parks’ e-newsletter. About one-third of the teams signed up after hearing from friends or even while visiting a state park.
August 10, 2013
Big Bone Lick State Park, Union
Eric’s sister and brother-in-law, Patty and Dave, join us for this one-day excursion to Big Bone Lick State Park for the Tomahawk Throwing demonstration.
If I had any trepidation about safety, it is quickly gone once park naturalist Todd Young and his assistant, Kristen Graves, begin the lessons. They are able to clearly explain the technique and keep an eagle eye on all the participants’ safety.
Annie, being too young to take part, is entertained by visiting flint-knapper Dave Galloway, who shares his knowledge of the stone-shaping technique and other Native American practices.
In fact, by the time he finishes his demonstrations, he has all seven of us sitting at his feet like little children, absorbing every word he speaks.
While the program’s title is Family Adventure Quest, Garvan says people from all walks of life have signed up to test their scavenger hunting skills. Of the more than 700 participants, everybody from newly married couples to retired senior citizens travel the Commonwealth. Garvan says quest-goers’ ages range from five months to 87 years old.
“You see [in the pictures] the love a young couple has as they explore new places together; and the joy of watching a baby touch their first wooly worm; or the satisfaction of a participant when they spot that flower they had been searching for,” says Garvan. “Most of our feedback is people telling us what a great time they had going places they hadn’t been before and bonding with their family. You can tell a lot from the pictures that are sent in. A pre-teen is maybe not too thrilled about being away from their WiFi in one shot but has come around on another visit to enjoy a breathtaking view of the mountains. You can also see when families truly enjoy spending time together around a campfire.”
October 5, 2013
Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Corbin
This is our last weekend trip of the Family Adventure Quest. Eric and I have been to Cumberland Falls before, and we can’t wait to show the kids. We all agree to take the shortest trail we can find, telling ourselves we want more time to walk to all the lookout points and explore the different rock configurations.
The Falls don’t disappoint. The kids are amazed they can hear the rushing and crashing water before even seeing it.
We spend a lot of time reading historic and informational markers, checking out the geological formations and giggling at Annie’s attempt to pronounce conglomerate, a type of rock prevalent along the Falls’ shores.
When first seeing the Falls from a lower lookout, my soon-to-be teenager, Shawn, pretty much summed up not only the weekend’s adventure but the entire Family Adventure Quest experience: “Now that is cool.”
Make Like Boone
Kentucky State Parks is now accepting adventurers’ applications for the 2014 Family Adventure Quest. While there typically hasn’t been a theme for the annual statewide scavenger hunt, this year does mark the 90th anniversary of the Kentucky State Parks system as well as Daniel Boone’s 280th birthday.
Dawn Garvan, parks marketing specialist, says nearly every quest this year will be tied to either occasion, and that participants need only to complete 25 of the 28 tasks to get to the highest prize level and nab a $50 Kentucky State Parks gift card, a free night at a state resort park lodge and free passes to park museums and forts.
“They only have to visit four parks to earn the first prize level, but it is a matter of planning their trips,” Garvan says.
Completing 10 or more quests correctly will earn a certificate for a one-night lodge stay and museum passes. Achieving 20 quests will garner a $25 gift card in addition to the stay and passes. Registration forms can be found at any Kentucky State Park or you can print out a mail-in form at the Kentucky State Parks website. The registration fee is $15 per team and includes a tote bag, quest booklet, a compass/flashlight keychain and a Parks BOGO coupon. To be eligible for prizes, completed booklets and digital photos must be submitted to the parks department by Dec. 1.
For more information, click on the Family Adventure Quest button at parks.ky.gov.