So school’s over for the day, and the kids have just walked in the door. What’s a mom to do?
Some turn on the TV.
Others, however, know that those magic hours between school and supper-and-homework provide a great time for a little outdoor recreation. It’s good for the kids. It’s good for you. Everybody wins!
With that in mind, here are some after-school outdoor activity possibilities that you and your kids will want to check out.
They’re all fun -- and kid (and mom) approved too!
Wills Park Disk Golf
My kids discovered disc golf years ago. We would go out and toss disks in the yard when they were little, and as they got a bit older they loved to go and “play a few holes” after school.
The routine went like this. They’d get off the school bus, grab a snack, and then walk over to Wills Park, home to a neat and very convenient disc golf course. Often they went with friends, and sometimes I’d go with them, too, even when they grew old enough to go by themselves.
The kids were pretty good at disc golf and could send the little flying disk flying straight and true, threading it between trees and even curving it around obstacles or glancing it off the grass.
But (truth be told) when it came to disc golf I was pretty lousy. It would take me four or five or ten tosses to get the disc even close to the basket, while the kids would do the same thing with just a couple of throws. However, it didn’t matter whether I was any good at it or not. We were outdoors, and we were having fun, and we were doing it together.
The nice thing about disc golf is that you don’t have to start at any particular point on a course. All you have to do is pick out a hole and start playing. That makes it perfect for an after-school outdoor adventure, and the Wills Park Disc Golf Course is laid out in a way that provides many points of access.
It’s easy to get started too. You can pick up a couple of basic golf discs at just about any sporting goods store, and then you can go to the park and play a few holes. If time is short, just a couple of holes will make for a great after-school outing; if you have more time, just keep playing till it’s time to head home for homework and supper.
The Wills Park Disc Golf Course can be accessed from many of the Wills Park parking areas, including the lot near the Equestrian Center off Wills Road. You might even see me out there, for I’ll still go out and toss a disk every now and then.
I’m easy to find too. I’m the one looking for a lost disc in the underbrush!
A Greenway excursion
One of the easiest after-school outdoor adventures is a quick hike on the Big Creek Greenway. The greenway covers a lot of ground, literally and figuratively, but it’s not hard to zoom in on some great after-school possibilities.
One of my favorites is a short loop hike that you can make from the parking area Rock Mill Park. From the parking area, follow the trail toward the creek and the road, where you’ll intersect the main greenway trail. Once you reach the intersection, turn around and wave because at that point you’re on the live rivercam which is focused on the trail near the bridge!
There’s something about being on the rivercam that can make your day. After a day of school, when you have to sit still and all that, it’s refreshing to be able to wave and jump up and down and all the rest – especially if you have alerted friends or family to be watching for you.
From there, turn left and follow the paved greenway to the next paved trail on your left; that will take you back to the parking area. It’s a nice little hike, and it’s a good choice if you’re looking for a short and easy bike ride too. Of course, you can also make more extended trips on the trail too.
Rock Mill Park is located at 3100 Kimball Bridge Road. The rivercam can be accessed at www2.usgs.gov/water/southatlantic/ga/rivercam/webcam-bigcreek.htm. Put them together, and it’s a great recipe for an hour or two outdoors.
Island Ford Rock Shelters
What is my favorite afternoon hike? That’s a good question, but one that’s always been near the top of the list is in-and-out hike to see the ancient Native American rock shelters at the Island Ford Unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
Island Ford is one of several “units” in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area; it’s also the headquarters location for the entire park. From the visitor center, a network of trails spiderwebs over wooded hillsides and across the river’s floodplain.
Where do the trails go? If you explore this area, you’ll find a variety of natural environments – but one of the most intriguing things you’ll encounter is a series of rock shelters used in times past by the Native Americans who once called this area home.
A hike to see those rock shelters is a perfect way to get outdoors following a day in a desk at school. The trail that takes you to them begins behind Hewlett Lodge, the park’s visitor center. From there, it follows the river downstream.
As you hike, look to the left side of the trail (away from the river) for the overhanging rocks which form the shelters. Several of these shelters are located right beside the trail, and you and your kids will have no trouble following the short side trails which take you to them.
There’s something truly special about standing in a spot where Native Americans stood centuries ago, and your kids will love the sense of mystery and adventure! I recall one day, years ago, when my daughter and I were hiking there and actually had to take refuge under one of the shelters when a late-summer thundershower threatened to drench us with rain. Yes, the shelter worked fine – and they still do too.
The entrance to the Island Ford Unit is at 8800 Roberts Drive in Sandy Springs. It’s easily accessible from either Georgia 400 or Highway 9/Roswell Road. You’ll turn onto Island Ford Parkway at the large entrance sign; then drive to the end of the road and the visitor center. Follow the trail around the left side of the building toward the river and the Riverside Trail; then hike downstream (away from the visitor center) to find the rock shelters.
The only tough part may be getting the kids to turn around and head for home once the hiking is done. It really is that much fun.
A hike at Big Trees Preserve
If you live more toward Roswell and Sandy Springs, you’ll enjoy exploring the Big Trees Preserve, a 30-acre forest preserve located just off Roswell Road about four miles north of I-285 and next to the North Fulton County Government Annex facility. Put 7645 Roswell Road into your GPS, and you’ll get there without any trouble.
For an after-school outing, Big Trees is close to ideal. It’s easy to get to. There’s plenty of parking. The trailhead (located at the south end of the parking area) is easy to find.
And once you start walking, you’ll almost forget that you’re just a stone’s throw from auto dealerships, businesses and traffic.
You may decide to visit Big Trees for a little bit of low-key environmental education. There’s a 15-stop self-guided interpretive hike which focuses on learning about watersheds and how humans can impact them. You can download the nature trail guide at bigtreesforest.com/learn.html. It’s something that kids of all ages will enjoy.
Or you can just hike for the sheer joy of hiking. Trails crisscross the area – and since there are a number of trails at Big Trees, you can mix and match to suit that particular day’s schedule. I like to hike the big loop, if I have time, but numerous short hikes are possible too. And here’s a challenge: See if you can find the decorated Christmas tree alongside one of the trails.
Look for goats at Buford Dam
Who doesn’t love goats? They’ve been much in the news lately, especially since it’s become common knowledge that goats make short work of undergrowth. They’re nature’s own land clearing machines, to be sure, and as a result you’ll find them hard at work in all sorts of places these days.
Some of the most interesting working goats you’ll find are the “goats with a mission” on Buford Dam.
Yes, that Buford Dam.
Sure enough, there really are goats at the dam – and looking for them is a great way to enjoy some outdoor time before it’s time to settle down for homework.
These goats are charged with keeping the undergrowth under control on parts of the dam that are too steep to safely mow. It would be a risky thing to tackle those slopes with a mower or a bushhog, but for the sure-footed goats it’s a piece of cake (and a free lunch too).
You can often see the goats from Buford Dam Road, the winding two-lane road that goes across the top of the dam. But the best goat-viewing spot (if the goats are feeling cooperative) may be at the far end of the parking area at Lower Pool East Park. This area is accessible from the east end of the dam via Buford Dam Road or from the west end of the dam via Lower Pool Road by crossing the footbridge over the spillway. Sometimes the goats seem shy and won’t approach the nearby fence, but at other times they’ll walk right up as if to say hello.
In addition to the goats, you may see the resident mule, too. It’s the mule’s job to protect the goats from coyotes or other threats.
Looking for these four-footed lawn mowers is a great way to enjoy some after-school outdoor time, and they’re there year-round.