Camping, Hiking, and Canoeing with Teens: Harold Parker State Forest, Andover, MA

I love taking my Outdoor Adventures Club students into nature! It’s a great opportunity to get to know my students outside the classroom, and I love how excited they get when they hike their first mountain or glimpse wildlife they wouldn’t normally see in the inner-city.

Last weekend I took 11 members of the club to Harold Parker State Forest in Andover, MA, for an overnight camping trip. Gear is not easy to come by for my urban adventurers, but once again the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Youth Opportunities Program (YOP) came to the rescue! This phenomenal program provides our club with unbelievable support and access to the training and gear we need to run successful outdoor adventures.

Because we were a small group, the AMC Outdoor Adventure and Partnerships Coordinator for YOP – Nate Schumacher -picked us up with the YOP van. This particular trip was a custom adventure, so Nate accompanied us and helped facilitate the experience. He also brought all of the gear and equipment, which saved me a trip to Boston!

Day 1

Camping at Harold Parker State Forest in Andover, MA

We arrived at Harold Parker State Forest, unloaded and sorted the gear before playing a few name games. Most of the kids only knew one or two others in the group, so it was a good opportunity for them to learn a bit about their fellow adventurers.

Next, Nate and I demonstrated how to set up tents. It was hilarious to watch the kids as they set up theirs – it reminded me of my first time trying to figure out how to assemble a jumble of nylon and poles into some semblance of a tent. As one of my kids said, “The struggle… is real!”

After setting up camp, we hunkered down for a quick lunch, then headed out to explore the surrounding trails.

[box style=”rounded” border=”full”]Yellow Diamond Trail at Harold Parker State Forest in Andover, MALocation: Harold Parker State Forest, Andover, MA
Date: April 14, 2013
Distance: 4.21 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 160 feet
Our Hiking Time: 2 hour 35 minutes roundtrip
Trail Blaze: Yellow Diamonds
Difficulty: Easy

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From the campsite at Stearns Pond, we hiked along Upper Salem Pond Road, then followed the Yellow Diamond Trail around Salem Pond. As we walked, Nate gave impromptu lectures about various topic, such as lichen and algae, and the formations of rock walls on this former farmland. Every so often the sound of a hunter’s gunshot would ring out, disturbing our peaceful trek. At one point Nate turned to me and said, “and another tribute has fallen.” It did feel a bit like we were in the arena for “The Hunger Games.”

Lichen and algae Harold Parker State Forest in Andover, MA

Harold Parker State Forest in Andover, MA

The hike was fairly easy as the trail wound through tall pines along the banks of the pond.

Harold Parker State Forest in Andover, MA

Some of our less experienced hikers were worn out during the four-mile trek.

Harold Parker State Forest in Andover, MA

We spotted a beaver damn from afar!

Harold Parker State Forest in Andover, MA Harold Parker State Forest in Andover, MA Harold Parker State Forest in Andover, MA

When we returned from the hike, the kids explored the campsite, collected firewood, and played wiffle ball. As they worked up an appetite, the dinner crew began boiling water for our noodle bowls! (We have a huge Cambodian contingent in the club, resulting in a heavy asian influence on our camping cuisine.)

We wrapped up the evening with dessert and logic games around the fire. The kids especially loved playing “Through the Green Glass Door.” (It’s a fun one – you ask the kids what can go through the green glass doors, and then give examples. They have to figure out the pattern, and give an example of their own once they understand the riddle. The trick is that anything with a repeating letter in the word can go through – so a kitten or puppy can, but a cat or dog can’t.)

Day 2

Thanks to some early risers, we had an incredible breakfast of egg, cheese, and bacon bagel sandwiches. While we filled up on food, we also broke down camp.

It wasn’t long before Nate and I were demonstrating how to properly handle canoes! A few of the kids had been canoeing with us on a previous trip, but for most of them, it was their first time. Any trepidation gave way once we hit the water and the kids discovered the hundreds of tadpoles swimming in the clear pond. They were pretty cool – and it was my first time every seeing a tadpole in real life. I told Kendra about the experience a few days later, and her jaw dropped. I think she sometimes forgets my own inner-city roots.

We saw quite a bit of wildlife as we paddled along the banks of the pond, practiced our steering, and had a lot of laughs. It was another awesome outdoor adventure!

Tadpole swimming in Stearns Pond at Harold Parker State Forest

Tadpole swimming in Stearns Pond at Harold Parker State Forest

Canoeing at Harold Parker State Forest Canoeing at Harold Parker State Forest Stearns Pond at Harold Parker State Forest

A blue heron and a duck at Harold Parker State Forest

A blue heron and a duck at Harold Parker State Forest

Canoeing at Harold Parker State Forest

Directions to Stearns Pond:

Though there are several entrances to Harold Parker State Forest, we used the entrance off of Rt. 114 in Andover, MA. Stearns Pond os located just behind the headquarters.

From I-93: Take exit 41, follow 125 north (toward Andover), for about 4 miles to the State Police Barracks (on right). Turn right on Harold Parker Rd to Jenkins Rd.  Turn left on Jenkins Rd then right onto Salem Rd. Headquarters is approximately 1-1 ½ miles on the left.

From 495N: Take exit 42A, travel east on Rt. 114 for 6 miles.  Take a right at the Harold Parker State Forest sign, follow to the end of the road, then take a left to the headquarters.

 

About Jen

Outdoor adventurer and traveler. Writer, Photographer & Communications Professor. Wife. Mom of twins plus one. Tubbs Snowshoes Ambassador. Blogger at gayfamilytrips.com.

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