Summer Hikes For Lots Of Fun And Serious Fitness Too

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As gas prices rise and concerns about the environment grow, many families are looking for vacations that are both less expensive and more natural. Taking a hike can be a fun - and very inexpensive - way to give your family quality time with each other and with nature at the same time. And, don't tell the kids, but hiking is also a fabulous way to get everyone off the couch and into good shape while enjoying the great outdoors.

"Montanans are really fortunate when it comes to hiking opportunities," says Thomas Baumeister, education bureau chief for the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) in Helena. "Our families can enjoy thousands of trail miles - right outside their front door or just a few minutes away in many cases. Taking a hike on a lovely summer day really is a very special opportunity - for family members to connect and to discover the natural wonder all around them."

In addition to the trails in local, state, and national parks, Montana's Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) offer abundant opportunities for hiking. The primary focus of WMAs is to provide vital habitat for elk, deer, ducks, geese, pheasants, grouse, and other wildlife. Many also allow for public recreational pursuits during the summer months.

Baumeister sees hiking as a powerful activity. "It's very different than many other things that we do with our kids, like watching them play ball or driving them to dance," he said. "On a hike, adults and kids are doing the same thing at the same time. In our hectic world, taking a hike cuts down on the background noise and allows us to really talk - and listen - to each other."

Here are a few of his thoughts on how to make family hikes successful adventures rather than intense ordeals:

* Take advantage of expert advice: If you are unfamiliar with an area, take a friend or family member who has been that way before. Go with a hiking club or talk to folks at the outdoor store, so you can be properly prepared for any risks.

* Choose the right distance: With young folks, it's not the distance you go, it's what you do along the way. Start with short, easy hikes and gradually move up to more adventurous ones, as everyone gets stronger and more confident.

* Make it fun: Children love to explore new areas - and to discover the details of seemingly unimportant rocks and pieces of wood. Let your child take the lead and take as much time as they need to smell the flowers or splash in the creek.

* Take plenty of treats: Hiking is hard work, especially when you have short legs! Bring plenty of water and snack choices, like string cheese, granola bars, and trail mix (nuts, sunflower seeds, dried fruit, cereal pieces, and chocolate bits).

"Taking a hike is a welcome excuse to get away from our stressful, over-scheduled lives," says Baumeister. "Probably the best, but often difficult, thing for adults is to let children set the pace for a hike. At a child's pace, you can observe the world in the same way that they do and see things that you might have otherwise missed. With a little attention and creativity, each person can have some time to enjoy and to share the inspiring natural world with the rest of the family."

Four Smart Ways to Take a Hike

Walking through beautiful surroundings is good for the body, mind, and spirit. Taking a hike in any of Montana's fifty-six counties is a wonderful way to get the physical activity your body needs, along with the connection to nature that all humans seem to crave. Getting kids into the hiking habit early can help to prepare them for many of life's challenges - both physical and mental. To avoid the agony of constant "are-we-there-yet" questions, keep children occupied with learning to observe their natural environment - by taking photographs or identifying plants, animals, insects, and/or birds. The secret to fun family hikes is plenty of well-timed breaks for rest, fluids, and food.

* Walk smart with the right shoes and socks. Happy feet are essential for happy hiking, especially for children. If you want children to grow up with a love of hiking, they need well-fitting shoes and breathable socks. Sturdy sneakers (with firm soles) may be fine for in-town walks and shorter hikes. However, boots or trail shoes with good ankle support are essential for longer hikes or rough paths. To avoid painful problems on a hike, try out shoes or boots (especially new ones) around the house before you hit the trail.

* Be sun smart with lotions, clothes, hats, and glasses. Smart sun protection is all about layers. The first layer is a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Cover all skin that may be exposed with plenty of sunscreen (reapply every 2 hours and after swimming). The next layer is loose-fitting clothing over as much as your body as is comfortable. The final is a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses that block 99-100 percent of UVA/UVB rays (check label).

# Enjoy plenty of smart beverages. Staying hydrated is one of the keys to enjoying any physical activity. Getting enough to drink will help your endurance and maintain a positive attitude. Refreshing water - brought from home or safely filtered from a stream - is your smartest bet. Sports drinks or powdered lemonade may be nice for those who won't drink enough plain water. A good rule of thumb is 1 quart every 2 hours for adults - more if you are in extreme hot, cold, or dry weather, or at higher altitudes.

# Bring along smart trail foods. Eating right on the trail means having plenty of easy-to-eat, high-energy snacks to carry your body throughout the hike. Make sure that your trail treats are foods that travel well and that your hikers really enjoy. Eating too little can lead to dizziness, nausea, and cramps. Some favorite food tips from veteran hikers: tuna (pop-top cans or pouches) on bagels or crackers; cheese (hard cheddar or string) with whole wheat crackers; nuts and dried fruit; and beef jerky.

Delicious Ways to Keep Fruits and Veggies Fresh

Farmers' markets are the ideal place to buy produce. The fruits and veggies are likely to be at peak freshness - and you can support local farmers and ranchers with your purchases. Wherever you buy produce, you can protect your investment - and keep food safe for your family - by following a few important strategies. (1) Reduce food waste by buying only as much as you can eat (or prepare) until your next shopping trip. (2) Take food from market to home as quickly as possible. (3) Wash produce with clean hands when you are ready to eat it, NOT when you bring it home. (4) Refrigerate all cut-up fruit or veggies (fresh or cooked) within two hours. And, remember, different fruits and vegetables require different temperature and humidity levels for optimal shelf life and food safety.

* Keep fruits and vegetables fresh on your counter tops. Many fruits do best when they are ripened on the counter, then refrigerated once fully ripe. Items in this category include melons, peaches, plums, and nectarines, as well as avocados and tomatoes (which are fruit in the botanical sense). It also works for more tropical fruits, such as bananas, papayas, and mangoes. Do not leave fruit in plastic bags on counters. This can slow the ripening process and may lead to rotten spots; paper bags allow better airflow and are fine for most fruits.

* Keep fruits and vegetables fresh in your refrigerator. Most other fresh fruits/veggies are best stored in a clean refrigerator at 40 degrees F or below - in plastic bags with holes to allow for air flow. Use crisper drawers for whole produce, storing fruits separately from vegetables. Fruits give off a gas that can shorten the storage life of other items, while vegetables (like broccoli) give off odors that can affect the taste and quality of fruits. To avoid cross contamination, be sure to keep meat, poultry, and fish separate from produce items.

* Keep fruits and vegetables fresh in your cupboards. Some produce items are best stored in a clean, dry, well-ventilated space with no direct light - like in a cupboard. Included in this category are potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and winter squash (acorn, butternut, Hubbard, etc.), as well as garlic and onions. When storing canned products in cupboards, use the FIFO rule: First In, First Out. Writing the month and year of purchase on top of the can or jar makes it easy to decide which products to use before others.

* Keep fruits and vegetables fresh in the freezer. Keep extra summer fruits and veggies in your freezer (where the FIFO rule also applies) with help from MSU Extension.

Super Summer Salad Fun

Along with ongoing healthy eating and active lifestyle tips, ERM is adding a new monthly feature for 2008 - an easy, delicious recipe. Our July recipe-of-the-month offers up a wide array of summer salad ideas.

Grocery store bins and farmers' market stands are bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables at this time of year. It's the perfect time to be creative, mix it up, and re-invent the summer salad!

Here is the 'backbone' for summer salad fun. Mix and match the ingredients to make a crunchy, healthful combination all your own. Try these as a side salad or as an entree with whole grain bread or crackers.

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Directions

1. Wash and chop (or tear) leafy greens.

2. Add chopped fruit or vegetables; cooked grains; beans, nuts, or seeds; or pieces of lean meat, fish, poultry, or tofu.

3. Toss with your favorite low-fat vinaigrette or dressing and serve on individual plates.

Top with crumbled or grated cheese.

4. Sprinkle with a teaspoon or two of freshly chopped summer herbs - parsley, basil, mint, thyme, or cilantro.

Salad with Sass (for 4)

1. 6 cups leafy greens (Red leaf, romaine, Swiss chard, endive and/or arugula)

2. 1 pear, cut/cubed or sliced very thin

3. 4 strawberries, sliced

4. 1 celery stalk, chopped

5. 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds

6. 1 tablespoon craisins or dried cherries

7. 1 ripe avocado, peeled and cut

8. Crumbled blue cheese

9. Chopped fresh parsley

Super Salad Combos

Here are a few salad ideas - just to get your taste buds excited about all the deliciously healthful possibilities!

* Montana Made: Wild rice, grilled trout, olive oil, and lightly drizzled honey.

* All American: Chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots, with grated cheddar cheese and low-fat ranch dressing.

* Go Greek: Black olives, sun dried tomatoes, chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, feta cheese, with oil and vinegar.

* Taco Time: Cooked corn, black beans, crushed tortilla chips, jalapenos, low-fat ranch dressing, and salsa.

* Un-Beet-able! Fresh beets (cooked, peeled, and cut), feta or blue cheese, and walnuts with low-fat vinaigrette.

* California Dreamin': Sliced chicken breast, mandarin orange segments, chopped avocado, sliced almonds, raisins, and low-fat French or Italian dressing.

* Fruitfully Fun: Strawberries, grapes, walnuts, and a poppy seed dressing.

* Good to the Root: Red potatoes (boiled, cooled, and cut), celery, carrots, dill, and coleslaw dressing.

* Christmas in July: Red and green peppers, broccoli florets, and radishes with low-fat ranch dressing.

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