Hiking in the mountains | Spending time outside as a family

Spending time outside as a family can be one of the most enjoyable activities you can do together. Hitting the trails, the beach, or the mountains becomes a part of who you are as a family—and a way to teach your kids about the natural world. But just as important, it’s fun.

It’s easy to take these outdoor spaces for granted. That favorite trail, nature preserve, park, or zoo doesn’t exist without the help of the people who build and maintain its infrastructure. The reality is that it often takes a lot of volunteer hours to preserve the natural spaces everyone treasures.

What better way to take advantage of the outdoors than to contribute to its preservation on your next family outing? Chances are you can find an opportunity close to home that allows you to spend time outside while helping the community. You’ll teach your kids about conservation and responsibility—and let’s be honest—have a good time doing it. It’s a win-win all around.

Here are 10 activities to inspire your family’s next outdoor adventure.

1. Volunteer at a Nature Preserve

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Volunteering at your local nature preserve is a great family activity and gives back to the community. Shelley Pauls

Many organizations have created nature preserves to help us connect to the outside world while reminding us of the natural wonders in our own communities. They’re usually excellent spots for a hike, a picnic, or a game of Frisbee. But taking some time to help maintain that preserve can make a world of difference to keeping it safe and protected. Organizations like the Triangle Land Conservancy rely on volunteers for a variety of jobs to help improve the areas for visitors and to lead educational services.

Anyone can help with jobs like picking up trash, and people with more experience can help remove invasive plant species, build trails, and lead group outings. Get to know the stewards at your favorite preserve and see what they need.

2. Help Plant a Garden

What kid doesn’t like to get a little dirty? Planting a community garden is a fun, practical way to improve the neighborhood and promote healthy eating. The American Community Garden Association can help you find a garden near you or support you to start your own. Larger nonprofits like the North Carolina Botanical Garden are also great places to volunteer and learn more about plant life.

3. National Trails Day

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Take part in the National Trails Day to give back to the local trail systems you use and love. Joshua Woroniecki

The American Hiking Society’s annual National Trails Day is held the first Saturday in June, and it features events across the country to help maintain and promote the country’s trail system. Different than in past years for safety reasons, this year’s event is shifting from in-person events to a digital campaign.

The nonprofit is having participants sign a pledge to the American Hiking Society to commit to doing one thing to preserve trails and fight for equitable access to high-quality green spaces. They provide you with a variety of safe ways to keep this promise, such as committing to a trail work project in 2020 once it is deemed safe to do so, educate yourself on public lands and access issues and vote, or make a gift to a local trail nonprofit. You can also participate in a photo contest, start a fundraising project, and win prizes.

4. Clean Up a River

More of a paddling family? America’s rivers can use some help, too. The National River Cleanup promotes events that help improve our waterways. In North Carolina, the South Fork River Sweep and the Catawba River Sweep are two local options. You can also reach out to your county to find other organizations working locally.

5. Help Maintain Bike Trails

Mountain biking is one of the most fun ways to explore the outdoors, and the trails can’t exist without our helping hands. Almost all of the country’s trails rely on volunteers for maintenance. This activity is probably best for families with older kids, as it requires some strenuous physical labor.

Find a local bike group that works on trails in your area (the International Mountain Bike Association can help you track one down, like the Pisgah Area SORBA). Best of all, most volunteer days end with a ride.

6. Create More Places to Climb

Are you a family that likes to go rock climbing? Maintaining access to natural rock formations is an ongoing concern, and organizations like the Carolina Climbers’ Coalition work to ensure the next generation of climbers will be able to enjoy the sport. You’ll find lots of opportunities to help with site clean-ups and educational outreach.

7. Work with Animals

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Kids can volunteer to work with animals at shelters or other spots like the North Carolina Zoo. Brandon Griggs

Working with animals is an incredibly rewarding activity for all ages. Look for local animal rescues and shelters, which are always in need of volunteers. The North Carolina Zoo has a wide variety of volunteer positions, as well. For most volunteer opportunities that include direct contact with animals, volunteers need to be at least 16 years old. Many organizations allow people 12 years or older to volunteer with a parent accompanying them.

8. Clean Up a Beach

Beach vacations provide some of the longest-lasting family memories. But the coastline is constantly changing and in danger from a variety of factors. Get involved with a coastal clean-up project with the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

Litter is dangerous to wildlife and a safety hazard to humans. This organization hosts community organizations, school groups, and colleges from across the country to help keep North Carolina’s coast in good shape. It’s an excellent way to see salt marshes and natural coastal areas that may not be part of your typical beach trip.

9. Start Your Own Project at Home

While volunteering for an organization is wonderful, it’s not the only way to make a difference. Work with your kids to make simple changes in your own backyard to make your community stronger. Plant a pollinator garden to help attract bees. Build a bat house or bird feeder and teach your kids the role these creatures play in the ecosystem. Plant a vegetable garden to help children understand the work behind the food on the table. It doesn’t take long to see what little things can make a big difference in the world around you.

Written by Jeff Banowetz for Matcha in partnership with OrthoCarolina.

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