Finding the fun in the real nature of a game

May 11, 2014 

Hopping on a game console is something many people do to unwind over a long weekend, but for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, why not plan your own real-life, action-packed adventure?

It’s easy to have fun in the outdoors. Characters in video games are usually out searching for something and the natural surroundings of Pacific Northwest nature provides all you need for a scavenger hunt.

Rather than watching Donkey Kong and his trusty companion Diddy Kong swing from tree to tree via jungle vines, get lost in your own adventure in one of Western Washington’s national parks. The old-growth forests at Olympic National Park are filled with ancient Douglas fir or Western hemlock trees that are more than 200 years old that support a world more magical than you’ll find in any video game.

Create your own scavenger hunt that helps unfold the mysteries of the forest. Give yourself 5 points for every nurse tree you find; these large downed trees provide nutrients that give other plants life. Now hunt for a snag. No fair counting the kind you find on your shirt when a branch catches you. Snags are dead or dying trees that are missing their tops and are favorite nesting spots for large birds, such as eagles. If you spot a snag, give yourself 10 points, and a 25-point bonus if you find one with an eagle in it.

In addition to its bountiful trees, Olympic National Forest is home to native plants in some of your favorite shapes and colors. Donkey Kong scores points by finding hidden coins in the plants throughout his jungle. Give yourself 5 points if you snap a photo of the Northwest’s false lily of the valley. Look for the heart-shaped leaves of this abundant plant found in the forest understory. Check out this website — wnps.org/education/resources/plantid_cn.html — to find other native plants you want to search for, such as huckleberry and ocean spray. Cellphone reception can be spotty in the forest, so prep for your adventure by printing out plant identification cards that will help you identify plants you want to find.

Donkey Kong often uses his senses to maneuver through the jungle and accomplish each mission. Take a cue from him. The greatest part about being in the forest is using all five your senses to experience nature. Close your eyes and stand silently for a while. What do you hear? Birds — how many different types? Can you hear a woodpecker tapping away with his beak on a tree. Water? Is there a stream nearby? Breathe deeply. What do you smell? Do the rocks in the streambed feel different than those you find in the forest? Collect 50 bonus points for documenting how you used all five senses during your adventure.

Want to earn a great prize? Just as players of video games earn rewards after completing each level, children visiting national parks can do the same. Put your outdoor skills to the test by studying to become a Junior Ranger. Mount Rainier, North Cascades and Olympic national parks all offer Junior Ranger programs. Pick up an instruction booklet at one of the visitor centers or lodges, complete the required activities and turn it in. After a ranger reviews your work with you, you’ll be sworn in and receive an official Junior Ranger badge.

Not able to get to one of our great national parks? Point Defiance Park offers more than 500 acres of old-growth forest you can explore in Tacoma. In addition to really interesting plants and trees, Point Defiance is home to a diverse wildlife population including deer, fox and eagles. In Olympia, options include Capital State Forest, and Burfoot and Frye Cove county parks.

It’s important to remember all of the free fun you can have outside by just unplugging. Donkey Kong traverses the outdoors in the warm jungle; you can do the same but in the temperate forests of the Pacific Northwest.

OUTDOOR SCAVENGER HUNT

You can create your own, or you can download a copy of “Northwest Wildlife Checklist” at metroparkstacoma.org/conservation. You also can find scavenger hunt ideas and checklists at nwf.org/kids/family-fun/outdoor-activities/backyard-scavenger-hunt.aspx.

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