Park Quest Took My Family Back to Nature
In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. -John Muir
On a hot day in early summer 2010, Team Bay Bougheys went seeking Isabella at Cunningham Falls State Park in Western Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains. A swim in Little Hunting Creek — our second stop along the trail to find Isabella — was inviting. But we were on a mission, and our sweaty three-person team persisted in our mile-and-a-half quest.
We Bay Bougheys — husband Jon Boughey, daughter Mackenzie (better known to Bay Weekly readers as Grumpy) and me — were among 750 families who joined Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ 2010 Park Quest. Park Quest describes itself as an experience where a family becomes a team, and a team we became as we quested our way through 15 Maryland state parks from May to September.
We’ll do it again this year.
Team Time Travel
Park Quest 2010 covered 24 state parks from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore. Each park had its own quest, ranging from hiking trails, to answering questions, to using GPS to find caches, to kayaking and canoeing while keeping journey logs.
Growing up as Bill Burton’s daughter, I had camped, fished and hiked in many of Maryland’s state parks. But a few parks on the 2010 list were new to me, so Team Bay Bougheys made those parks our goal.
Our fifth quest put us in a water taxi heading across the Potomac River to St. Clements Island State Park. On the far side of that 40-acre island, Maryland’s first colonists landed on March 25, 1634. The spot is marked by a rebuilt lighthouse and a 40-foot cross dedicated to the memory of those settlers. This quest required us to take a team photo in front of the cross and the lighthouse.
A volunteer at Fort Frederick State Park prepares for a live-fire musket demonstration.
Many quests sent us stepping back in time. We found ourselves on the edges of the French and Indian war one July day as we quested in Fort Frederick. That quest began with a scavenger hunt for clues to lead us stop by stop to our destination, the old fort.
There we met a guide in period dress complete with musket. He walked us through the fort, teaching us about the buildings. We made small wampum belts with colored beads while he explained their significance. He even showed us that his old musket still shot.
Stacking up Quests
Rangers John Ohler and Gary Adelhardt conceived of Park Quest as a way to get families out of the house and into nature. In the first year, 2008, 160 teams quested in six Eastern Shore parks. In 2009, 300 teams joined in 14 quests in parks across Maryland. Last year’s quest expanded to 750 teams in 24 state parks. Park Quest 2011 invites 1,000 teams into 24 parks, some new and some repeats.
Teams can have up to 10 members but must include at least one adult and one child under 16. To qualify for the finale and its prizes, a team must complete 10 quests.
Quests can be undertaken in any order and timing. Often, we would take a questing weekend, camping in a location central to several parks.
One weekend, we set up camp at Rocky Gap State Park on a Friday and Saturday headed out to Deep Creek Lake for two quests in Western Maryland.
On the Deep Creek Lake State Park quest, we used a hand-held GPS (provided by the park) to find hidden metal markers and make rubbings of the designs on them. Eight-year-old Mackenzie quickly figured out how to use GPS and led Team Bay Bougheys on a successful hunt.
Mackenzie and Jon atop Muddy Creek Falls at Swallow Falls State Park.
From Deep Creek Lake, we headed to Swallow Falls State Park, a favorite of mine, filled with memories of childhood trips with my parents, hiking, fishing and playing in the falls.
Familiar as I was, I learned new things about Swallow Falls on our quest. On a moderate hike of just over a mile through the forest and along the falls, we had to answer a list of questions about the park by reading signs and information markers. Did you know Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone often visited the Swallow Falls? I didn’t, and that was just one of the new facts I learned questing in this old, beloved park.
We finished our weekend questing at Rocky Gap State Park, learning about the new things the park is doing to care for the environment. Quests at three parks in two days took us almost to our goal of 10 parks.
Sign up for Park Quest and you get a passport. Your passport lets you into quest parks at no charge and allows you free use of the canoes and kayaks needed for quests in certain parks. (There are a limited number of free ones, so on busy days you may have to wait.) At the end of each quest, your passport is stamped for that park. Each park has its own stamp design, and it’s fun watching your passport fill up.
Mackenzie makes cornmeal with an old-fashioned grinder at Wye Mills State Park.
By summer’s end, we had 15 stamps in our passport. We had completed quests from Deep Creek Lake in the west, to Assateague in the east, to St. Mary’s River in the south. Our team had canoed, hiked, biked and explored in the outdoors and learned much about our state, the Chesapeake and the rich history of Maryland state parks. And we had carried on the Bill Burton tradition.
On a beautiful September morning, we headed to Gunpowder State Park for the Park Quest Finale. There we competed in 18 mini-quests that tested our skills at Frisbee-golf, identifying state parks, working an Indian pack to put out a fire, identifying leaves and birds, using a compass to find clues and casting, where being a Burton gave me an edge. We were rewarded with a gift bag full of outdoor items. The day ended with the drawings for prizes, including bikes, tents, camping gear, and vacations around Maryland.
On that day of camaraderie, experienced teams joined new questers like us, describing favorite quests and comparing stories. Some of the teams sported matching T-shirts. Park rangers from all over the state were on hand to help and tell us they appreciated our enjoyment of their parks.
|Mackenzie and Jon try their skills at an Indian pack, used to put out fires, at the Park Quest finale at Gunpowder State Park.|
See You — and Isabella —
on Park Quest
Park Quest 2011 runs from May 7 through September 5, with registration beginning on April 25. Go to www.dnr.state.md.us and click on the Parks link for more information. Don’t delay. I was lucky with my 2010 timing, chancing on Park Quest the day registration opened. In just over two days, Park Quest 2010’s 750 team slots filled up.
If you see us out questing in our team T-shirts, give a wave and say hello.
As for Isabella, you’ll have to join Park Quest 2011 to find her.