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As the school year ends it is soon to be the lazy days of summer. Homework and textbooks will vanish, while beach towels and sunscreen become the staple accessory. Parents will find themselves shuttling kids to swimming pools and perhaps a vacation of their own! As we transition from cool spring weather to hot summer temperatures and indoor air conditioning, remember there is a lot we can do outdoors in the summer.

Plant Summer Vegetables

Home vegetable gardening is returning as a popular outdoor hobby. Both baby boomers and millennials find time spent growing food as a rewarding experience. A vegetable garden doesn't require a tiller or backbreaking labor. A couple of large containers on the patio will do for tomato or pepper plants. My favorite is planting herbs in pots. Whether cooking in the kitchen or on the grill, I can pluck some basil or thyme to add flavor to my dish. For all those veggies that you don't grow, visit your local farmers' market to support local growers.

Make Art from Natural Materials

Nature art activities get the family outside and doing something creative. The act of making whether it is art or functional is incredibly rewarding for youth or adults. Use flowers to make a smiley face, or moss and pinecones to build a miniature landscape. Encourage your family to explore different textures and colors found in the surrounding environment. Use grapevines to make bracelets or crowns adorned with flowers and different leaves. During our county 4-H fair, a creative young girl made bookmarks and greeting cards out of pressed and pounded flowers. And of course, you can always send the kiddos on a scavenger hunt to gather materials for a bouquet.

Go for a Hike

Pack a Saturday picnic and hit the trails. Take breaks during your walk to listen for birds or rustling leaves.

Come take a hike with University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalists as we celebrate National Trails Day on June 1st. Master Naturalists will be hosting hikers, outdoor enthusiasts, and families at Blackthorn Hill Nature Preserve located at 1590 Angling Road, Highway 4, Alexis, Illinois. Blackthorn Hill offers 110 acres of prairie and woodland with trails for all ages and skill levels.

Our celebration of National Trails Day includes activities for all ages, plus guided hikes, food, demonstrations, and speakers. The event kicks off at 8 AM and the final hike begins at noon. Guided hikes will leave at the top of every hour, with each hike consisting of its own theme.

Guided hikes will include:

  • 8 AM Birding Hike
  • 9 AM Invasive Species Hike
  • 10 AM Woodland Hike
  • 11 AM Prairie Hike
  • Noon Butterfly and Insect Hike

Education stations will be positioned at the trailhead in the shelter. Come learn outdoor skills and how we can be environmental stewards in our own backyards. Kids can participate in a wildlife scavenger hunt to find hidden silhouette shapes of wild animals along the trails. Find them all to win a prize! Check out the Blackthorn Hill Nature Preserve website for more information.

Can't make it to Blackthorn Hill Nature Preserve? Check out the American Hiking Society for a trail event near you.

Good Growing Tip of the Week: During a hike have family members pick out leaves of different shapes and preserve it as a memento of your adventure. Preserving a leaf can be as easy as placing it between two sheet of tissue paper and then inside a thick book.