Today, the Questing Sand Crabs ventured forth on our first Park Quest mission: Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis, right at the foot of the Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore. The park was massively crowded with boaters and families having Memorial Day picnics – in fact, not long after we arrived, it reached full capacity and closed. Fortunately, the Park Quest took us in the opposite direction from the crowds.
Sandy Point is a letterboxing Quest. We had a worksheet with clues leading us from the nature center, down a bumpy gravel road, and around a nature trail. At five points along the trail (presumably; we never found one of them), we had to find a small box holding a rubber stamp, a small notebook and pencils, and a card with wildlife information. Each time, we stamped our worksheet to prove we’d found the box. We were also asked to extract a number from each wildlife information card; for example, “How many species are in the squirrel family?”
The trail led us through some extremely buggy woods and on a raised boardwalk through a beautiful marsh. The trail ended at open water (they call it a pond, but it’s a big one) at the edge of the marsh. A rowboat was tied up to the shore. If you had correctly found all of the number clues, you had the combination to a padlocked oar locker. (Because we never found the second letterbox, we had to Google for the answer to the second clue.) You could then complete a “bonus Quest” by rowing out to a shoal marker with one final letterbox attached to it. That box had nice safety whistles for the kids, courtesy of the DNR police.
Michael wins Extreme Heroism Points for doing the rowing. It was hard. There were no cotter pins to hold the oars in the oarlocks, and they kept slipping out. The stiff breeze and the massive stands of marsh grass near the shore didn’t make it any easier. But it was wonderful, Alex’s and my favorite part of the Quest. (Colin’s: finding stampers. By the end of the Quest he was covered in stamps from head to toe.) When I was balancing at the tip of the bow, holding onto a chain with one hand and opening up the letterbox with the other, trying to keep everything together, I felt like I was on the Amazing Race.
When we returned to the nature center, a wonderful park ranger stamped our Park Quest passport, asked us carefully about any problems or suggestions, and took a team picture for us. Then she offered to let the kids hold a corn snake. They were thrilled!
Alex and Colin held up very well. I’m proud of them. Colin only needed to be carried a short distance, and there was only a small amount of sibling squabbles. (Alex: “Mom, make him stop wanting to get ahead of me!”) Finding the letterboxes provided enough motivation to get them past the parts that might have been hard for them: the heat, the bugs, and the distance. Our first Quest was a great success!