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Children's Forest of Central Oregon launches Kids in Parks program at three places in Prineville

HOLLY SCHOLZ - Barnes Butte Elementary fifth grader Brendan Jones-Cunningham shows the Nature's Hide and Seek brochure and some rabbit fur that he found during the Kids in Parks scavenger hunt.

Clutching the scavenger hunt brochure that they helped create, a class of fifth-graders walked the old horse track and scampered up and down the landscape in search of feathers, lizards and smelly plants.

"I found something special," a girl hollered. "I think it's rabbit fur."

Fifth-grader Natalia Ball picked up what she guessed was a bone.

Upon examining it, her classmate Brendan Jones-Cunningham agreed that it must be a piece of a bone.

"It has tissue," he pointed out.

Lisa Kelly's Barnes Butte Elementary class took an early-morning field trip to the Barnes Butte Property Friday to test out the three brochures they had helped create for the Kids in Parks program. They concluded their 1-mile hike with a Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the Kids in Parks program.

Starting this month, Prineville families have new resources to encourage children to learn and explore outdoors through the launch of the Kids in Parks program, which promotes children's health and the health of parks. The national network spans 10 states across the country. The Prineville TRACK Trails are the first to be established in Oregon.

The Children's Forest of Central Oregon is spearheading the project, with support from many community partners, including the City of Prineville, Crook County Park and Recreation District, Ochoco National Forest, Crook County On The Move, Barnes Butte Elementary School, and others.

"The mission of Children's Forest of Central Oregon is to get kids and families outside – learning, playing, exploring in nature," said Katie Chipko, executive director for the Children's Forest of Central Oregon.

"We found out about this great program called Kids in Parks," she said. "We thought it would be awesome to bring this program to Central Oregon."

A grant from Central Oregon Health Council to support cardiovascular disease and diabetes prevention in youth helped kickstart the program locally.

Chipko said they decided to start in the communities of Madras and Prineville and grow it to other communities in Central Oregon.

Three trails and parks have been designated as TRACK trails in Prineville, including the Barnes Butte trail system, the Crooked River Wetlands Complex and Rimrock Park.

"We really wanted to include places that were close in town or close to town so there wasn't this added barrier of driving and transportation for families. We wanted to choose things that were family-friendly, shorter hikes and outings," Chipko said. "We were especially excited about Barnes Butte because of the proximity to the school."

Now, when kids and families visit these places, there will be options for self-guided activities, which encourage children to take a closer look at nature and learn about the plants and animals that live there. Families can then track their adventures online at the Kids in Parks website to receive free prizes in the mail.

Forest Service Rangeland Management Specialist Tory Kurtz, who is on the Children's Forest of Central Oregon board, worked with Kelly's fifth graders to generate the content for three brochures.

"We're always looking for ways to support the community and find engaging curriculum for the kids. This project played into our science curriculum – the study of birds of prey, plants and animals in our area, etc., and they are things the kids can connect to," Kelly said.

Her students had visited the Barnes Butte Property a few times and were familiar with its flora and fauna. A designer from Kids in Parks created the brochures using their research.

The three brochures are available in the kiosk at the Barnes Butte Property parking lot. The Nature's Hide and Seek brochure is a scavenger hunt for things like butterflies, wildflowers and rabbit scat. The Birds of Oregon's High Desert brochure pictures the many bird species that can be spotted in the area. The Tracks and Traces brochure is about wildlife tracking.

Later this summer, the program will expand to include TRACK Rx, where local health care providers can prescribe time outdoors to their patients, using the Kids in Parks program.

"We're hopeful that health care providers can help to motivate children to be more active and experience all of the benefits that being outdoors provides," Chipko said. "The Kids in Parks program provides something fun and accessible for families to do together and is something that health care providers can easily refer their patients to participate in."

On Friday morning, Dr. Sarah Morrison of Mosaic Medical encouraged the students to spend less time on their screens and more time outside this summer before accompanying them on their hike.

The Children's Forest of Central Oregon will also offer family programs throughout the summer to raise awareness about the TRACK trails with local families. There are also two TRACK trails opening in Madras on June 22 at the M-Hill trail and Willow Creek trail.

"Our hope is that this becomes a community resource that families can use for years to come to build healthy habits with their children and to develop a deeper appreciation of the outdoors," Chipko said.


Kids in Parks

Families who want to participate in the program can visit to get information about the TRACK trails and directions to each location. Activity brochures can be picked up at each TRACK trail location at the newly installed kiosks.

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