An Open Letter of Apology to the Parks I Take for Granted

Strolling around Ridley Creek State Park
just as the leaves start to change.
I’ve used many a word in posts here on Adventure-Inspired to emphasize the importance of remembering that not all adventures need to be epic to be worth having, or worth sharing.

You don’t have to visit a waterfall paradise in the Grand Canyon, go skiing in British Columbia, or backpack 27 miles in two days to enjoy the outdoors. But the truth is, I don’t often take my own advice.

If I had a dollar for every time I thought about, or mentioned, how the hiking around Philadelphia just isn’t the great, or there aren’t enough places close to where I live that come close to what’s available further away, I’d have a whole ton of dollars. Enough dollars to travel to all of those places that seem to have superior outdoor adventure opportunities. And when I write about how wonderful close-to-home adventures are, part of me wonders how much of that effort is a result of my working to convince myself of that truth.

Hiking in the Poconos is quite different from hiking in places like the Grand Canyon, the Sierras, or the Rocky Mountains, true. But after a few recent trips to parks within an hour of home, I'm beginning to wonder how many local spots I've turned my nose up at because they just didn't seem awesome enough. As a result of those trips, I'm writing an open letter of apology to the local spots I was convinced couldn't possibly be worth spending time visiting.

To start, I owe an apology to Ridley Creek State Park (Media, Pennsylvania). Of my handful of visits there, I've chosen it a hiking destination either out of laziness, given its proximity to home and my lack of interest in driving long distances, or because the hiking is, for all intents and purposes, easy. But Ridley Creek shouldn't be my "I don't have any better plans" plan; it's a stunning park, and if you visit on a weekday or other non-peak times, you can find yourself completely alone. It's ideal for short, restorative hikes, for fall foliage viewing, and if you just want to get away from it all without going too far from home.

I still can't believe the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge is so close to Philadelphia, and Philadelphia International Airport.

I also owe a big apology to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Truth be told, it took me seven years of living in the Philadelphia area to get there because I couldn't imagine a place next to a major international airport being worth visiting. I couldn't have been more wrong.

On my first trip there this fall, I found a veritable natural paradise. It's not wilderness by any stretch of the imagination; planes, trains and automobiles are clearly audible in nearly every section of the refuge. But it's also home to an incredible variety of wildlife, particularly area bird species, beautiful ponds and marshes, and the ease of accessibility means you don't need an entire day to experience the refuge.

Yeah...I really need to spend more time in the Wissahickon, especially this time of year!
I owe my deepest apologies to the Wissahickon Gorge (Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). In the seven years I've lived less than a ten mile drive away, I can count my visits there on two hands. Every time I'd find myself with a few hours or a day to spend playing outside, I'd think, man, the Wissahickon is so close by, it's always crowded, it's so small, there's nothing that great about it I haven't already seen, and even if I haven't seen it, there's no point in going to a park that's wild or far away.

I'm always amazed you can find this 15 minutes from Philly!
One dreary weekend afternoon, I needed a serious dose of fall foliage and made an impromptu trip to the Wissahickon, despite having at least one million chores to do at home. I looked up directions to a landmark I'd been meaning to find in the park forever, but never did because I figured I'd get the chance another time. (Isn't that always the case?).

I spent two hours running around in the mud, scrambling up rocks, and crashing through fallen leaves in a part of the Wissahickon I'd never been to with a giant smile on my face; the kind of smile that makes you cheeks hurt. I saw exactly five people on the trail. My little solo walk in the woods turned out to be one of the best walks in the woods I've had in a long time.

I know there are at least a handful of other local outdoor destinations I haven't been to as well as a handful I have that I take for granted. Does any of this sound familiar to you? Do you pass up local barks because you know they'll always be there, and there's always something just a little bit better? Any parks you'd like to apologize to? Leave a comment, and I'm sure they'll forgive you!

Comments

Frank Kehl said…
It sounds familiar alright. Despite having grown up in Pennsylvania, there's still a long list of places I haven't been to. On the other hand, the scenery (especially in the fall) is a lot more interesting to me now, because it's so much different from what I've gotten used to in California. At least I always have something new to see whenever I come back for a visit...
Katie L said…
You bring up an interesting point, Frank! I wonder if, because I live here and feel like I'll always have a chance to visit the parks close to Philly, I focus my attention elsewhere. Hope you get back to Pennsylvania often, especially this time of year!
edupraz said…
I moved to Philly from Vermont, so not having amazingly beautiful hiking spots at my fingertips has been a huge adjustment. I've been frustrated by the hiking I've done "nearby" (i.e., 1.5-2 hours from Philly, battling traffic there and back), so I'm learning to adjust my expectations (everything can't be as amazing as a 4000-footer in the White Mountains, after all). I recently moved to Chestnut Hill to be as close as possible to the Wissahickon, and it's my (and my dog's) favorite part of living here. I visit at least twice a week most weeks. I feel very fortunate to be so close to that wonderful resource. Trail running and walking there totally gives me sanity.
Katie L said…
I can imagine that's been quite an adjustment, especially this time of year! And hiking here is definitely not the same as it is in Vermont, or the Rockies, or anywhere, but it sounds like we're both working to make the most of what we have! I absolutely love the Wissahickon; if you ever need a hiking buddy, let me know!
Darrin Menzo said…
Nice post. I'll add my apologies to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. I have been meaning to get down there for 10 years or so, but my natural inclination to go North and West has kept me from going South and seeing it. Thanks to this post, proper repirations are now included in my hiking plans.
Frank Kehl said…
I think it's very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the places closest to home will always be there. The problem is that *you* might not always be there. You never know when something is going to come up and you suddenly find yourself moving across the state, or across the country. Luckily, I will get back to PA this year, although for better or worse it will be over Thanksgiving - that dreary time of year that's after the leaves fall, but before the first snowfall. Luckily, my family lives very close to Ricketts Glen, and the trails will still be open. The Falls Trail is still my favorite hike on the east coast...
Katie L said…
YES! Nail -> head with that second sentence. I grew up in Ithaca, New York, and there are so many places I wish I went to more often before I left. You never know where life will take you, so you might as well make the most of what's close to home while it's still home!

And an early welcome back to PA! I'm a huge fan of Ricketts Glen as well. Have you been there in the winter? And hopefully it'll be a beautiful Thanksgiving season for your return!
Katie L said…
So glad to hear it, Darrin! I have the same inclinations to head north and west, but a little south isn't so bad either. Looking forward to hearing how your visit goes!
Frank Kehl said…
The last time I was in Ricketts Glen in the winter, we only made it up to Waters Meet on the Falls Trail. It gets *really* icy in winter. I believe they now close the trail in the winter, although you might be able to go in with an ice axe and crampons. There are other trails in the park that are also worthwhile, although none of them are as spectacular as the Falls Trail.
Garrett Hybarger said…
Wow these places are gorgeous! I need to come out East sometime! I myself am currently living in Utah. We also have some crazy beautiful locations! My friends and I are actually working on a blog related to the outdoors in Utah. We would love for you to check it out!

http://ruggedutah.com/
Douglas Rossi said…
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Play Outside Gal said…
Looks like there are some lovely places in your backyard! Awesome!
Katie L said…
There are, I'm pretty lucky! I didn't realize it at first, especially given how big Philadelphia is.
Katie L said…
Come visit any time! And man, I love Utah, thanks for passing on the link!