Ikes in Action: Youth Programming Brings Families to Virginia Chapter

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Children at a chapter event

Virginia >> Sounds of laughter rang through the park during the August dinner meeting of the Warren County Chapter. Several new families had joined our chapter, and the children could be heard running, playing, and discovering natural treasures. The older members of the chapter smiled and chuckled as we sat in the screened-in porch for our meeting. Outside, the children’s voices echoed off the mountains that surround our beautiful and serene chapter property.

Three years earlier, a few chapter members got together to brainstorm about ways to encourage young families to visit our park. We created a summer nature series for children ages 3-5 called “Walton Wednesdays.” The initiative was a hit! We began with 10 children in the classes. The next year, we raised the ages to 3-6 years old, and the class grew to about 20 children. In our third year, we raised the age range again to 3-10 years old and our classes were packed for the entire 8 weeks, with between 30 and 40 children each week and a waiting list for each class! Several of these families have become members of the chapter. Now we have families with small children using the park regularly, and the children are learning how to care for the land and wildlife.

Kids playing in stream
Kids hiking in the woods

These photos reflect a typical Walton Wednesday. Young visitors to the park begin the morning with free play while we check everyone in. Then we begin our lesson of the day and head out for a hike on our many nature trails. We finish the morning with a craft or activity, lunch, and more free play!

Considering the alarming trend of children spending less time outdoors and more time indoors on screens, our chapter felt that we could offer an opportunity that many parents want for their children: programs that provide youngsters more time outdoors in a safe environment, a connection with nature, and time to just be kids! No matter the weather, rain or shine, the children always have a great adventure with us at the park. We would love to expand the youth program even further and are exploring ways to do that. Funding is a challenge, but with such a great spirit of volunteerism at our chapter and increased membership among families with young children, we have every confidence that we will succeed in expanding our youth programs.

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Mary Cook is the Warren County Chapter 2nd Vice President and Youth Programs Coordinator.