Illustration by Timothy Cook
In an age when the average kid is likely to seek summertime adventure in front of a huge video-game screen, Chesterfield County's natural wonders provide an antidote.
Guided nature walks, paddling classes, wildlife education, kayaking expeditions and more — the array of programs offered at state and county parks cater to every age of kid, from toddlers to teens.
For the parent looking to give their child a great escape from the confines of home or gaming technology, this sampling of activities, camps and classes promises to open young eyes to another world.
James River Camp I / James River Camp II
Margaret Carlini, education supervisor at Henricus Historical Park, can't wait for kids to take part in the James River Camps being hosted by the living-history museum this summer. She has been working to expand the types of camps offered at Henricus, located on 32 acres along the James, ever since she started with the organization.
"Prior to my coming to the park five years ago, they did a river camp that was fairly successful," she says. "I decided to reprise that this year and to add a new dimension to the camps we offer."
The two camps on the James River offer hands-on exploration of the river's history, ecology and natural features.
"We are working with the naturalist at Chesterfield County Department of Parks and Recreation," Carlini says. "In James River Camp I, we will look at the river and how people used the river in the past; how they interacted with it. We will look at how Virginia Indians used it and then move into the Colonial era and up to today ... We will try to hit the different historical time periods along the river."
James River Camp II focuses on the environment and conservation. Campers not only learn to kayak but also will take a boat trip up the James to see eagles and egrets along with several historical sites. "We're also going to look at the geology of the area and how it developed," Carlini says.
James River Camp I, July 19; James River Camp II, Aug. 9. Both run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cost: $40; $30 for Henricus Foundation Patrons. Henricus Historical Park. Ages: 7 to 12. Contact: Victoria Sweeney at 318-8797 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Visit henricus.org for more details.
Mark Battista, the naturalist for the Chesterfield County Department of Parks and Recreation, finds that young teens really enjoy the Lighthouse Paddle, an approximately four-hour kayak paddle that launches from the tip of Mathews County, where the Mobjack Bay meets the Chesapeake Bay. "The paddle runs parallel with the shoreline, then heads out into open waters," he says. "It's a gorgeous view looking toward the mouth of the bay and seeing open water and the old, lone lighthouse."
Construction of the New Point Comfort Lighthouse was completed in 1805. "It was situated on the very tip of Mathews County, but a powerful nor'easter severed the tip of land," Battista says. "Other storms have eroded more of the point, making the lighthouse appear further out in the bay."
Along with learning about the lighthouse, participants get a chance to discover the bay's wildlife, from brown pelicans and horseshoe crabs to pipe fish and dolphins. "This trip is a perennial favorite, offering beautiful scenery along with cultural and natural history," Battista says.
Lighthouse Paddle, Aug. 11. Departs from the Chesterfield County Park Maintenance Center at 10 a.m.; returns around 7 p.m. Cost: $62 a person. Minimum age: 13; participants 13 to 15 years of age must be accompanied by an adult. For more information, call 318-8735.
Kayaking 101 / Whitewater Kayaking
The county's parks department's Kayaking 101 and Whitewater Kayaking programs have been offered for more than 20 years. "Both of our kayaking classes fill up," says Greg Velzy, adventure programmer for the parks and recreation department.
In Kayaking 101, students are introduced to calm-water paddling. The one-day basic class covers entries, exits, strokes, safety and the equipment needed to start kayaking. An optional tour of the Dutch Gap Conservation Area is included. "This is flat-water kayaking, so there is very little current," Velzy says. "The water is more stable and easy to negotiate."
Beginner whitewater classes span two days. The first day, students will practice on the lake. The second day they will take on the James River. "The class is very comprehensive," Velzy says, adding that people normally take follow-up classes to the beginner kayaking classes. "All of our instructors are trained in how to kayak and how to teach. They go through a certification process."
Kayaking 101 — Introduction to Calm Water Paddling.
9 a.m. to 4 p.m., various Saturdays and Sundays from June 3-Sept. 15. Cost: $60 ($70 with kayak and equipment rental). Dutch Gap Conservation Area. Minimum age: 11; ages 11-13 must be accompanied by an adult. For more information, call 748-1124.
Whitewater Kayaking: Beginner Class. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 2-3; June 23-24; July 7-8; July 28-29; Aug. 11-12 and Sept. 8-9. Cost: $140 (all equipment provided). Dutch Gap Conservation Area. Minimum age: 13. For more information, call 748-1124.
Toddler Time in Nature / Little Tots Nature Club
Although they may not be ready for more adventurous activities, younger children have plenty of outdoor options through the county's summer programs.
Toddler Time in Nature features songs, movement, stories and lots of outdoor fun for 1-year-olds with a new theme for each week of the four-week program, including: Hopping Frogs, Teddy Bears Picnic, Water Creatures and Animal Sounds.
Little Tots Nature Club is specifically for 2-year-olds and provides two different series from which to choose: I Live at the Pond and Who Lives in a Shell? (June 5 and June 12). Or Splish-Splash Beavers and Frog in the Pond (Aug. 7 and Aug. 21).
Toddler Time in Nature (1-year-olds only). 10 to 10:30 a.m. June 19, July 3, Aug. 7 and Aug. 21. Cost: $16 per child for the series. For more information, call 674-1629.
Little Tots Nature Club (2-year-olds only). 10 to 10:30 a.m. Cost $8 per child for a series of two classes. Rockwood Park, 3401 Courthouse Road. For more information, call 674-1629.
For a complete listing of classes and camps offered by Chesterfield County Department of Parks and Recreation, visit chesterfield.gov/parks/ or call 748-1623.