Misc National Forests

Exploring Black Hills National Forest Through My Child’s Eyes

By Kim Peacock | July 25, 2016

In June, my family loaded into the car for a road trip. The hubby and I decided it was high time to return to the vacation destination rooted in both of our childhoods. South Dakota natives through and through, neither of us can recall a year of our youth that we didn’t go to the Black Hills. It had been so long since we had been out there, and we were excited to share with our 4-year-old son the place that held so many memories for us.

I knew we’d have fun, but I wasn’t prepared for the awesome experience I had seeing this natural wonderland through my child’s eyes. Passing time and the hustle and bustle of being a grownup had apparently dulled some of the magic from my memories. But it all came flooding back as my preschooler began to explore.

The cabin we stayed at offered a treasure trove of possibility for him. Collecting pine cones, finding the perfect stick for the campfire, hunting for the rocks with “glitter” on them, trying to find the tallest tree. It was a perfect replica of what I did at his age. We even found hunks of mica to peel apart!

Making our way to the top of Roughlock Falls

Making our way to the top of Roughlock Falls

And as we went from place to place, the little dude just kept getting more and more excited. Among his favorite adventures were hiking to waterfalls, picnicking in Custer State Park, paddle boating at Sylvan Lake, winding through the forest aboard the 1880 Train, and following the trail to the base of Mt. Rushmore.

At the Arbor Day Foundation, we talk a lot about the benefits of immersing children in nature. I’ve always understood the theory and tried to put it into practice. But watching my son experience a new, much more rugged version of nature opened my eyes even wider to the learning and growth that happens among the trees.

What did he learn? A lot. The questions flowed endlessly, and my husband and I were committed to answering them as well as we (and Google) could. But there were even bigger lessons in the experiences, including:

At the campfire

At the campfire

Courage – After slipping on pine needles and sliding about 6 feet down a hill, he had to find the courage to let go of my hand so he could start exploring again.

Curiosity – “Where is that bug going? Let’s follow it.”

Respect – He recognized that the forest was Squeak the Squirrel’s home, and we had to be careful not to hurt his home. (Yes, we named the squirrel…)

It was amazing to watch his world expand before our eyes. Top this off with a tummy full of s’mores, and I’d say we had quite a successful trip.


TIME TO SHARE: Do you have a favorite memory of your children (or yourself as a child) vacationing in nature? I’d love to hear it!



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  • Reply Stephanie Longwell August 10, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    Sounds like a vacation many of us would like to share with a child ready to explore!

  • Reply John Dechert August 10, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    My view point is too many people think of the land as a farm and plant as they please. I think this is totally wrong! Our land is for all the wild life and vegetation native to that area. The vegetation that has evolved with the wildlife and the Arbor Day Foundation see’s the land as farm land , plant what will grow. I do not support that attitude. Sincerely, John Dechert

  • Reply The Member Services Team August 11, 2016 at 10:44 am

    Hi John,

    Thank you for contacting the Arbor Day Foundation.

    Your thoughtfulness in taking time to share with us your concern for the wildlife, the land, and the native vegetation is much appreciated. Your passion for the environment is to be greatly admired. Together, we can achieve a greener, healthier world.

    The Arbor Day Foundation does not offer invasive trees or shrubs which appear on the USDA List of Invasive Species. We also work with state foresters to make that our trees are appropriate for their states. Many trees are considered locally invasive and may end up on a state’s watch list. We recommend that people check with their State Department of Agriculture if they have concerns about any of our trees being invasive locally.

    For more information on invasive trees and shrubs, please visit the USDA’s National Agricultural Library at: http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/plants/main.shtml

    If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact our Member Services team at 1-888-448-7337, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Central Time.

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