Sometimes all you need to get kids outside is a little creativity. Enter the Venture Vermont Outdoor Challenge, a "statewide outdoor scavenger hunt" sponsored by the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation; download the 2011 score sheet after April 1 from vtstateparks.com.
The "challenge" is to earn points by completing activities. When you reach 250 points, you send your score sheet to the Vermont state parks office, along with photographic evidence that you followed through on the tasks. They'll send you a free day pass to all Vermont state parks for the remainder of 2011 and all of 2012.
Most of the activities are things you might do anyway: Hike a trail (5 points); skip stones across water (5 points); visit a playground (10 points). But others are more unusual: Build and fly a kite (10 points); write a nature poem (10 points); invent your own outside food recipe — one you enjoy cooking and eating outside (10 points).
Though state parks staff organize the challenge, now in its fourth year, not all the activities require park visitation. "Our goal for the program," says parks sales and service manager Rochelle Skinner, "was just to get kids outside."
Which activities are most popular? "Almost everybody swims," says Skinner. "Almost everybody hikes." Participants' favorite destinations include Sand Bar State Park, Waterbury Center, Mount Philo State Park and Owl's Head Mountain in Groton State Forest. Skinner also reports that her office receives "quite a few" poems and recipes.
In 2010, 350 people won free day passes through Venture Vermont, about 100 more than in 2009. No doubt many more participants started but never finished. My own family has attempted it every year. We didn't quite make it to 250 points in 2008, but we've gotten our free passes the last two years. We keep them handy in the car for spontaneous jaunts, along with a copy of the most recent score sheet. You never know when you might be able to check something off.
In my experience, the best thing about Venture Vermont isn't winning free passes; it's being outside with my family. The challenge gives us a sense of purpose. We might not feel like leaving the house, but because we have a goal, we're willing to make a little extra effort. Getting credit for that effort is a sweet bonus. Plus, because we have to take photos along the way, we end up with a bunch of pictures showing how much fun we had.
This year's Venture Vermont Outdoor Challenge kicks off on April 1; the deadline to submit completed score sheets is October 15. Trust me, even if you don't end up winning a free pass, there's really no way to lose.