Last week I brought a group of seven 4th and 5th graders to Rines Forest as part of OMP Camp (an outdoor after school program). This trip confirmed something that I've known in my heart for years. Something that has been made increasingly clear in the last two years of running this camp. Here it is:
If given natural spaces to explore and friends to be with, kids will not only create their own play, they will actually thrive. All on their own, with no adult intervention.
I've watched this happen over and over again. I'm here to tell you that kids are as brilliant, creative, and adventurous as they've always been - even in this age of digital overload, environmental stress and a pandemic that has increased our isolation. Kids have not lost their ability to play. Set them free with a group of other kids in the woods and watch what happens. I guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised.
In my experience, the thing that has been more powerful than providing interesting curriculum, structured games, or complicated art projects, is leading a group of kids to beautiful outdoor spaces and letting them have at it. Letting them lead the way. I've learned that kids crave unstructured, unplugged time and when given the opportunity for this, they become engaged and enthusiastic...and happy. Whether building forts, playing cops and robbers, floating sticks down a river, or floating themselves down a river, their inner creativity and joy for life surfaces. The added bonus is that they inevitably form strong connections with each other through the shared experience of adventuring in the wild. And we all know that social connections form the basis of a happy life.
So I'll move on to Rine's Forest, but I wanted to share that first. If you're struggling with how to provide balance for your kids in this age of technology (believe me, I'm struggling too...we all are), the natural world offers a solution. Watching these kids outdoors gives me hope. All is not lost.
This 268-acre woodland, located in the heart of Cumberland, is the largest forested area remaining there. Filled with diverse wildlife, waterfalls, and streams that flow to the Piscataqua River, these woods are tranquil and soul filling.
In 2003, the Town of Cumberland purchased 216 acres of the property from the Rines family. In 2005 they sign a conservation easement with the Chebeague Cumberland Land Trust to ensure that the forest would remain a natural area managed for wildlife habitat and public enjoyment forever. If you are new to the term "easement", here is a definition from the Land Trust Alliance, "A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. Landowners retain many of their rights, including the right to own and use the land, sell it and pass it on to their heirs."
In 2009, the Rines family sold an additional lot to the Town, which CCLT protected with another conservation easement, bringing the total area up to 268 acres.
This 2.5 mile trail network is rated as moderate and allows dogs. Recreational use includes hiking, horseback riding, x-country skiing, and snowshoeing. There is a trailhead and new (winter 2021/22) parking area on the north side of Range Road across the road from the entrance to Idlewood Drive (the Kiosk will be installed summer 2022). An additional trailhead is also located on Range Road, about 1.2 miles northwest of the intersection with Winn Road. That trailhead offers parking on the shoulder of the road. Both lead to the trails. For a printable scavenger hunt and trail map, visit the CCLT website.
From the shoulder parking on Range Road, we took the following route to the waterfall: blue trail, right on white trail, right on blue trail, right on purple. If you look at the map, this will make more sense...and there are paper maps at the trailhead kiosk. The total distance to the waterfall is about a mile. Once there, enjoy hours of entertainment.
I did not hide a Seek'em here, but there is plenty to discover. For all the flower lovers out there - we did find lady slippers on the white trail. You're guaranteed to discover something amazing on your journey. Play, explore, and enjoy.