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Grab some outdoor family fun

April 22, 2008
By Tyler Heath, Sentinel reporter,
Editor’s note: The Sentinel has partnered with Mifflin County Communities that Care to bring readers an in-depth look at National TV Turn-Off Week. The series looks at ways families can turn off the tube and use the extra time to engage in activities together. It will run from Monday through Saturday and today’s edition is the second installment in the series.

LEWISTOWN — Spring is here, and with Turn Off TV Week in full-swing, there is no better time to gather the family and venture outside to enjoy the beautiful weather with some good, old-fashioned outdoor fun.

“I think it is vital that parents set an example for their kids and make an effort at healthy lifestyle activities,” said Dr. Virginia Wray, director of Family Health Associates Center for Weight Management and Nutrition located at Lewistown Hospital.

“Whether they admit it or not, our kids are in need of quality time with us,” Wray said.

Representatives of Mifflin County Communities That Care and other local officials say they want area residents to use this week positively, and to literally hit the power button on all those different media and head out to the local park or recreation area.

There is no room for excuses in avoiding outdoor activities in the Juniata Valley. Local park representatives and township managers recently offered tips on where to go in the community to enjoy springtime with outdoor activities.

“We pretty much have everything open here for free,” said Don Coine, park manager of Greenwood Furnace State Park, located at 5795 Greenwood Rd. in Huntingdon.

At Greenwood Furnace, he said there are plenty of things to keep the family occupied for an entire day. Visitors to the park can spend time hiking the various trails or riding bicycles along the paved “biker-friendly” roadways.

For those hot and humid spring and summer days, Coine said visitors can take a free dip in the lake to cool off. Or even better, challenge a loved one to a swimming race, he said.

“An opportunity to go to Greenwood State Park or Reeds Gap can be huge,” Perkins said.

He explained that often times, children get their minds set on trips to places like Disney World when parents mention them. Perkins said for children, especially those who have not yet hit adolescence, trips to local landmarks or parks can be as much fun as spending a day in a major amusement park.

“There are things out there that we can do as a family that don’t take a large chunk of time and still are healthy and fun for all,” he said.

“With our busy lifestyles, a great way to combine the need for exercise with the need for time together is to be active together,” Wray said. “Walks in the park or hiking on trails together gives a tremendous opportunity to listen to what's on your child's mind without interruptions.”

Margaret Stewart, Derry Township manager, said Derry Township Community Park also has a lot to offer.

“There is the walking trail, of course, and the playground for those smaller children. The sand volleyball court is bring-your-own net, and visitors are welcome to use that during nice weather,” Stewart said.

“Things start to get busy in the park come mid-May, and for two days in the summer families can bring their children — age 14 or younger — to fish in the pond for free,” she said. No license is required for children on those days, which Stewart said will be announced at a later date.

Another area attraction recommended by CTC as a fun and healthy day trip for the entire family is the Thousand Steps.

Nestled in Jack’s Narrows along state Route 22, about two miles west of the traffic light at the northern end of Mount Union, the steps make for a “great adventure.”

“Families with small children or with individuals who are not physically fit, do not need to tackle rough, remote, hiking trails to enjoy our beautiful forest lands,” said Joe Clark, caretaker of the steps and a longtime member of the Keystone Trails Association.

“Our local state forests, specifically the Tuscarora, Rothrock and Bald Eagle state forests, have endless miles of state forest roads, many of which are (closed) to vehicular traffic,” he said.

State forests like the one’s Clark mentioned offer improved surfaces, easier grades and have the same “outstanding scenery and wildlife” as the more difficult hiking trails. Free maps are available on the Bureau of Forestry Web site at

“All you need is a pair of sturdy walking shoes,” Clark said.

Marie Mulvihill, executive director for United Way of Mifflin-Juniata, suggested looking into the many volunteer organizations — especially those related to the environment or finding cures for diseases — that have day-long activities that families can take part in once in a while. These include walk-a-thons, bike rides, cleanup days, or building homes for those in need, she said.

“Not only are these great ways to help, you can also get some exercise,” Mulvihill said.

Wray said the exercise also helps reduce stress levels and allows families to discuss things out in a “relaxed and fun atmosphere.”

“Springtime is a great time to start turning off the TV and making an investment in the physical and emotional health of your kids and yourself by getting out and doing something active together,” she said.


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