AS SEEN IN Lynchburg Living: Written by Drew Menard
Family adventures near and far abound in the great outdoors.
You can’t put a price tag on vitality. Some aspects of life cannot be measured in terms of dollars and cents, numbers on a spreadsheet. So while work—the 40 to 50-plus hours that account for much of the average adult’s week—is a key component of a sustainable life, it is not the lone contributor to one’s quality of life. For the wealthy, poor and all in between, play—particularly outdoor recreation—is a vital aspect in maintaining a rich, enjoyable existence. Play may be over-emphasized by some, but it is too often under-emphasized in our society, where busyness and meaning can be mistakenly conjoined. It’s important to break away from the fluorescent lights, concrete and flat screens of daily work life and get outdoors.
“It is typically very gratifying just to spend time outdoors,” David Beasley, Lead Fisheries Biologist and Regional Manager of SOLitude Lake Management, said. “Working, you kind of get caught up in that side of life. You are able to reflect a little bit better when you spend time outdoors and have fun; really it’s almost a form of meditation where you are just having fun with loved ones.”
Studies also support this phenomenon, pointing to notable benefits of outdoor activities.
“Being outdoors has both physical and mental health benefits,” Debbie Hoffbeck, Chief Naturalist at Lynchburg Parks & Recreation, said, explaining that research shows that time outdoors contributes to greater productivity, improved moods and overall wellbeing. For children this includes developing better attention, concentration and socialization skills.
Beyond that, outdoor activities help a person connect with nature—an important part of fostering responsible stewardship and care for the environment.
As far as opportunities go, the Lynchburg region is a prime location for quality outdoor activities—one of the reasons Forbes listed it as a city with a high quality of life and one of the top places to retire in 2012. From hiking and biking to fishing and hunting, camping to canoeing, there is no shortage of ways for area residents—individuals, groups and families—to venture into the great outdoors and enjoy some of what nature has to offer.
“We are really fortunate where we are located, we just have so much,” Hoffbeck said.
Stretch Your Legs
The region is a treasure trove of outdoor recreation. Within an hour’s drive there are the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Appalachian Trail, national forests, state parks and more. Among other activities, adventure seekers can engage in day hikes, backpacking, biking, hunting and boating. But opportunities abound even within the city limits.
Hoffbeck explained Lynchburg’s parks and trails cover more than 3 percent of the land. This includes more than 1,000 acres of parkland—including Ivy Creek Park, Peaks View Park, Percival’s Island Natural Area and more—and about 36 miles of trails, both paved and unpaved. There are plenty of playgrounds and picnic areas, as well as a sprayground at Riverside Park where kids can splash around and cool off.
“I really love to see the parents interacting with the kids out on nature hikes,” Hoffbeck said. “I think it is important that parents may be try something new. . . with their children, so they can see their parents as an example. Even if their parent has tried it before, it is another way for the kids to share an activity with their parent, just going for a hike in the woods.”
Make a Splash
Whether in or around it, recreation at a body of water makes for a great balance of enjoying the sun and still cooling off. Activities like boating, fishing and canoeing combine leisure and sport while kayaking and tubing can add an adrenaline rush to the mix.
The James River is a great resource for outdoor activities, and the James River Association (JRA) hosts events to get the community out on the water. Two paddling trips will be led by the JRA on July 28 and August 26. Both are from 6 to 8 p.m. and require pre-registration and for parties to bring their own canoe or kayak.
A great combination of water and land recreation—the JRA’s annual Splash and Dash—will be held in Lynchburg on August 1. The two-mile race begins with trail running (or walking) before participants pick up a tube and float a portion of the James and then climb out of the river and dash back to the finish line. A celebration featuring plenty of food and live music follows the race.
For a day out on the lake, many residents look to Smith Mountain Lake, but Leesville Lake, less than an hour southeast from Lynchburg proper, provides a less crowded and less expensive alternative from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
“[The lake] is big enough to go and have a great time, [but also] there is not a lot of traffic, so you don’t have the safety risk that you have on the other lakes, and the marina has some of the best service in the area,” said Ben Phillips, Leesville Lake’s Events and Marketing Manager.
The marina features new, fast boats for tubing and skiing. Pontoon boats are available for rental by the hour, half day and full day, giving a family or group of up to eight the opportunity to swim, float and relax. Also available for rental are fishing skiffs, jet skis, paddleboards (an excellent form of exercise) and NuCanoes (a form of canoe/kayak that does not tip as easily).
While enjoying the excitement, nourishment is just around the corner—the marina restaurant has a revamped menu with different specials each weekend.
Take the First Step
Hoffbeck encourages people to try new outdoor experiences. Diversifying helps one to discover new interests—one that they may otherwise not have known they had—or, at the very least, exposes a person to something different. For families this has an added benefit of providing more opportunities for connection and shared interests.
The thought of testing out a new activity may sound good in theory, but the first step can often be daunting. There are costs to consider, as well as the apprehension of actually doing something new, potentially around others who know what they are doing.
Lynchburg Parks & Rec goes to great lengths to ease this transition. They offer a number of activities at low cost—with all the equipment provided—in a safe, friendly environment.
Hoffbeck said these have a “try it out and see if you like it” atmosphere. These include fishing, kayaking, archery and canoeing lessons, as well as nature hikes, evening hikes and campfires for both children and adults. Ivy Creek Park is a wonderful resource for these activities and an especially inviting atmosphere for families.
The creek includes some shorter nature trails—about half a mile—that are great for younger kids.
Though fishing may no longer be the crux of sustenance it once was, it remains a staple of outdoor recreation. Beasley, who manages several ponds and lakes in the region, stocking them for fishing and maintaining the ecology, recommended that when planning to fish with children, especially beginners, considerations should be made. When introducing kids to fishing, utilizing a stocked pond versus a public area—which may be overfished and likely requires more skill and experience for catches—is favorable. Though not everyone has access to private ponds, these are a prime choice for fishing introduction—they are usually stocked in abundance with fish, like bluegills, that are easier to catch. Setting up children for success helps them develop a love for the sport and maintain interest early on.
Beasley said there are many avenues to gain access to private ponds—he works with ponds owned by campgrounds, homeowners’ associations and farmers, for example, and some private organizations, like the Scouts, often have access to a private pond—and that doing so is a great way to branch out in the community.
When fishing, it is important to practice safety, especially with children present. Life vests are advised, even when fishing from land, and an adult should always supervise from a close distance.
While fishing has many benefits, from bridging generations to teaching children about patience, ecology and environmental awareness, it may not be for everyone. Beasley pointed out that the important thing with any activity is the valuable time spent—time with nature and time with loved ones. He recommends that anyone planning a day of outdoor recreation should be flexible and have some options.
If fish are not biting, for example, perhaps the kids might try to catch aquatic bugs, a frog or a turtle, which, like fishing, is a challenge.
“Let the kids get dirty and explore,” Beasley said. “It can ignite something inside somebody, inspire curiosity. Getting dirty exposes them to aspects of nature maybe they were supposed to (interact with).”
Whether going for a hike, fishing or just throwing a Frisbee around, individuals and families need to experience the outdoors, to break away from technology and the stresses of everyday life.
“Nature provides simplicity,” Beasley said. “Also gratification; there is a challenge in fishing—you are not always successful, which is what makes it exciting—and an adrenaline rush (in canoeing or kayaking).”
He added that for today’s youth, who are less outdoor-savvy than previous generations, emphasizing outdoor recreation is important.
“It helps kids find themselves as a person,” Beasley said.
Hoffbeck added that interaction with nature is one of the first steps in fostering a sense of stewardship for the environment.
“We all have a connection (with the environment),” she said. “Through outdoor recreation opportunities and nature programs, you start to develop that connection, you start to think about your place in the world.
“By being in nature you start to see how the systems are interconnected. The forest is connected to the animals, (water, trees and the land) is all connected to us. … The more you see those connections the more you can appreciate those connections. … By having that connection I think it does instill a sense of understanding and responsibility.”
People acting on this sentiment produces a ripple effect, improving the quality of life for more than just the individual, but for the community and the environment as well.
Contact the experts at 888-480-LAKE (5253) for all of your lake, pond and fisheries management needs.
Since 1998, SOLitude Lake Management has been committed to providing full service lake and pond management services that improve water quality, preserve natural resources, and reduce our environmental footprint. Lake, pond and fisheries management services, consulting, and aquatic products are available nationwide. Learn more about SOLitude Lake Management and purchase products at www.solitudelakemanagement.com.