Jessica Karns is a teacher, librarian and mom who lives in Holton, Kansas. She loves all things summertime: Gardening, lazy days at the lake, farmers’ markets, and family vacations. We invited her to share her experiences from her recent trips to two Kansas State Parks. In this post, she discusses her family’s biking adventure at Prairie Spirit Trail State Park. You can also read about her trip to Prairie Dog State Park here.
I glanced over at the two boys snoring quietly next to me. Our nightly routine typically includes one more book, two trips for ice water and a struggle to find requisite soft animals. On this particular night, however, Curious George didn’t even have time to get into trouble before I closed the book and slipped down the hallway. After a full day planning snacks, loading gear and tackling a new bicycle trail, these sleepy kids were more than ready for bedtime.
My youngest son uses his toolbox to take things apart and put them together again. Recently, he added new parts to his bicycle and was anxious to put his tricked out wheels to the test. Meanwhile, I was exploring possibilities beyond the boundaries of our neighborhood – I wanted my kids to have freedom to ride for miles without traffic hazards or sidewalk obstacles. Together we planned an adventure to the Prairie Spirit Trail, a former railroad right-of-way now part of the Kansas State Park system. The trail, converted especially for hikers and bikers, spans about 52 miles from Ottawa to Iola where it meets the Southwind Rail Trail and continues on to Humboldt.
It’s important to mention that our bicycle fleet is a mishmash of hand-me-downs and castoff creations “fixed up” by my son. We are not seasoned cyclists. Nevertheless, I dug through the toy box to find a third bicycle helmet, we loaded up the bikes in the back of our pickup, tucked towels under the sharp edges, and set off with more enthusiasm than experience.
We invited some friends to join us at the trailhead in Ottawa where we found an information station, shaded picnic tables and a rest area with a water fountain. We began our journey with five boys, aged five to twelve, two moms, seven bikes, one picnic basket, and a lot of sunscreen. Our goal was to reach the community of Princeton, 6.7 miles to the south.
The adage about the journey being more important than the destination proved particularly relevant to our experience. Within ten minutes of our departure, we’d made two minor repairs, depleted two of our water bottles and shared most of our granola bars. But as we pedaled on, the boys gained confidence. For kids accustomed to riding in towns and cities, the trail offered an open, safe space to ride free from traffic (with the exceptions of well-marked road crossings). Portions of the trail near towns are paved, but they shift to packed limestone – no problem for novice cyclists with small tires. Although we chose a hot summer day to ride, the foliage forms beautiful shaded tunnels, and we were comfortable throughout the afternoon. We discussed basic trail etiquette and then felt comfortable letting the kids ride ahead to test their speed on the easy grade straightaways.
We cycled over bridges, across prairies, and alongside wandering streams. When we caught up with the boys, they had abandoned their bikes to chase toads and skip stones.
To be completely truthful, we didn’t quite reach our goal of Princeton, and the number of miles we pedaled changes with the storyteller (like a fish story). More importantly, we returned to the trailhead with our enthusiasm intact and with plans to ride the trail again. Our day on the Prairie Spirit Trail was a perfect mix of physical activity, exploration and laughter.
I was excited to hear Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas is partnering with Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to offer free access to Kansas State Parks on Oct. 1, 2016. They’re calling it “Healthy Trails Adventure Day.” I hope families all over the state will take advantage of it to experience the fun our state park trails have to offer. What a great way to get more families like mine out on the trails!