Like 95 percent of Californians, I live in an urban region. But living in the Bay Area, we are the lucky ones. We don't have to go far to experience the great outdoors.
Even with all the parks nearby, getting the family outdoors isn't always so easy. No matter how many times I say, "What a great idea! Let's take the family to Muir Woods this weekend," the weekend comes and we're confronted by reality. The kids don't want to go.
"No," they say. "It's too far, hot, cold, wet, tiring, and I'd rather stay home."
And my heart slowly breaks.
Our kids' lives have moved from the outdoors to inside at an alarming pace. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, children spend about seven hours and 30 minutes a day using media devices, from TV to cell phones to computers. What's even crazier is that, according to the study, kids spend so much time multi-tasking they actually cram 10 hours and 45 minutes' worth of activity into that seven and a half hours.
I'll admit it can be challenging to coax your kids into a hike. When my boys were young, I could bribe them with jelly beans, but they're teens now, and on to my tricks. If there isn't a soccer ball to chase or friends or music involved, it's almost impossible to get them to join what they now refer to as "Dad's death marches."
But I've seen firsthand the overwhelmingly positive impact that nature has had upon my family. After a hike together, we're happier, we feel more connected and our bodies become stronger.
The research backs up our experience. Studies show that spending time outside reduces stress. People can concentrate better after spending time in nature, which could be a selling point to the family multi-taskers.
And then there's the "awe" factor. No YouTube video can arouse our sense of wonder quite like seeing an ancient redwood tree as tall as a 30-story building up close and in person.
Look past your children's objections and resolve to nurture their connection to nature, as well as your own. Get outdoors this summer and go hiking, biking or swimming. There are 280 California state parks waiting for you and your family to explore.
Here are three of my favorite close-to-home parks:
Oakland's Redwood Regional Park: Picnicking, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, kite flying, archery, camping, swimming, baseball, volleyball, dog walking along 1,829 acres.
Point Reyes National Seashore: Thirty miles north of San Francisco on Highway 1. Hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders have access to 150 miles of trails. Beaches, bird-watching and wildlife viewing.
Loma Mar Memorial Park: Eight miles of hiking trails from Pescadero Creek through the woods to Mt. Ellen summit (elevation 600 feet).
Sam Hodder is President and Chief Evangelist for the Outdoors (CEO) at Save the Redwoods League. He is a resident of Orinda.