In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited or depressed, they would ask one of four questions. When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?
– Gabrielle Roth
When I walk, I pretty much stride directly from Point A to Point B. When my kids walk, they skip cracks, go backwards, splash in puddles, balance on curbs, run up steps and jump back down again. When did I stop walking this way? And why?
I feel like I’m just starting to remember how much I love novelty and adventure. Before I became a parent, I wasn’t even aware of those needs because I just did things whenever I wanted, and those needs were just folded into daily life, like going mountain biking whenever my husband and I felt like mountain biking. After I became a parent, my idea of living on the wild side meant going to storytime and grocery shopping in the same day. But the kids are a little older now and increasingly able to experience the world, and I’m more in touch with what my needs are. Enter Catamount Aerial Park, a ropes and zipline course set in the trees of the Catamount Ski Area. Going to the Catamount Aerial Park with our 9-year-old son is one of the best things I’ve ever done, both personally and as a mother.
Catamount Aerial Park was our first ropes course. We had no idea what to expect, but we were intrigued by the videos that we had seen in the lodge during ski season. We were fitted with harnesses, picked up our gloves, and then we attended a brief-but-thorough training right in the lodge. Since the ropes course is self-guided, it was important that I learn how the safety equipment worked, because there wouldn’t be someone doing it for me. Our trainer Stephanie emphasized that there was a practice area for clipping in and out, which I found reassuring.
Even though there were only three components: two carabiners and a zipline attachment, I worried whether I would remember how to clip in when I was up in the trees. I was concerned that I was in over my head. But I remembered the words from the Catamount website: “Your time in the Park is not a heart-pumping activity, and you do not have to be a bodybuilder to make it through the courses.”
Soon it was time to hike up into the ropes course area and begin our adventure. The Park was so quiet down below that I was shocked when we arrived at the main platform and we were surrounded by a buzz of activity in the trees. I honestly felt like we had entered into another world.
I spent some time practicing clipping in and out on the cable, still not completely understanding how this would all work. But once we started on a course and clipped into the first element, it all started to make sense. My hands knew what to do: clip into the new cable, unclip from the previous section. Easy-peasy, and I’m always tethered to something! Got it! I felt so safe climbing up ladders, zipping down short runs, clinging along a cargo net – good times!
At the end of the first trail, I experienced an entirely different way of thinking from when I began. My hands were a little clumsy clipping in and out, but they were habituated to the process. Since I was unable to predict what element we would encounter next, I couldn’t plan ahead and overthink it. I just had to be where I was, be in the moment, expect the unexpected (our son’s favorite expression). I was no longer concerned about being able to accomplish a trail; I was simply caught up in the wonderment of it. I was in a place of sheer joy. All I had to do was get from Point A to Point B, and I used a lot of muscles to do it.
We started on the easiest trails, which are marked Yellow, then progressed up to a couple of Green trails. I had naïvely assumed that the “easiest” trails meant that they would be easy. Well, relatively speaking, they were easier than the rest of the more challenging colors: They were not quite as high up in the trees as the other trails; the distances were shorter; and the tasks were not as daunting. But were they easy? Not exactly. But here’s the thing: They weren’t hard, either.
For me, the most challenging aspect was wanting to understand the course mentally before I started it. But I couldn’t approach it that way. I could just clip in, one feature at a time, and think about each aspect as I came to it. My son shouted advice back to me after he completed various sections: “Mom, don’t brake on this zipline; you won’t need it.” “To remain stable on these logs, keep your standing leg straight.”
I marveled about how we were both involved in the same ropes courses, but we were each having our own experience. We would come together to share or process, then we’d resume being on our own again. I loved that we were not part of a group, waiting for every person to complete a course before the next person could begin.
Our waiting times varied, depending on who was in front of us, such as families with younger children requiring assistance from parents at each end of the elements. Most of the time, we didn’t wait at all. We could just take our time, rest whenever we liked and pick up where we left off. When we were at the trapeze spot, where you hold onto a large beam while walking across a cable, the woman in front of us decided to get down. She wasn’t in crisis; she just didn’t think that she could do that particular element. But she needed help unclipping to get down. With the marvelous staff stationed at various points around the Park, it wasn’t long before she was hoisted back down safely to the ground.
My favorite part of the course was the Green trail of ziplines back to the lodge. These long stretches of cable were relaxing to me, like a reward after doing great work. Some people find the longer spans anxiety-inducing, but I think that it’s the perfect ending to the experience. If you’ve been to Catamount Aerial Park in years past, you may be happy to know that they now have an exit zipline to the lodge for ages 10 and under.
One of my favorite parts of doing this ropes course, and the thing that makes me want to return every year for more, is seeing our son navigate the courses. The way he made decisions about how to proceed, the way he shouted advice back to me, his independence in doing some of the trails on his own: I feel like there’s really no comparable experience with all of these physical and mental challenges, and I get a center seat to watch, whether I’m up in the trees with him or I’m watching from the bench by the ice-water cooler down below.
This kid is growing up, yet where else can he exercise his own judgment and be so independent, where I can get a glimpse of it? And with so many ability levels to choose from, I see us chipping away at these courses a little bit every year, as he navigates his growing body, developing mind, collective experience. I can’t wait to come back next year.
If it were up to me, I would have stopped after completing the Yellow series. But when he asked to go on one more Green trail before leaving, I knew that we could do it. I crawled on my knees or walked on logs or cables that shook and wobbled, and it felt like any other time that I had stressed over something in my parenting was released. These were physical manifestations of challenges in my own daily life that feel more mental than physical.
Experiencing this ropes course felt freeing. It felt like looking through a window into myself, discovering abilities that I had no idea I had. It felt thrilling because, as challenging as it was, it always felt entirely safe. I left that ropes course feeling transformed, knowing that I’d be back. It just feels like an important passage to experience with our son, and eventually our daughter. I wish that everyone would head up there this fall, whether as a family, as a group of youths or adults, and try it for yourselves.
Here are a few additional details for you: The Park thoughtfully has ice water available at the main platform, so it’s easy to stop and get a drink every time you complete a course. Participants are not allowed to wear backpacks while on the ropes course, but you can hang them up on the pegs near the ice water, or you can rent a locker at the lodge before you hike up. You can also bring coolers with your own food, or take advantage of the snack bar in the lodge.
Before I did this ropes course, I had no real reference for the pricing. Now that I’ve done it and seen how much we got out of it, I think that it’s a much better value than some of the amusements that we’ve done this summer. Rich Edwards, director of marketing of Catamount Ski Area and Catamount Aerial Adventure Park, told me, “Since we are reasonably priced and considerably less than a typical guided canopy tour, our visitors are provided with a more affordable way to enjoy this great outdoor family activity.”
I feel incredibly grateful that Catamount created this park, powered by your own body. No long lines for passive carnival rides; this was a chance for me to rely on and connect with my body in an entirely new way, with new discoveries to come. I wholeheartedly agree with Edwards: “As the Northeast’s largest self-guided aerial adventure park, our 12 challenge and zipline courses provide great variety for all abilities from age 7 to adult.” I saw that entire age range out in the trees, all enjoying at their own levels.
You can experience it for yourself on weekends this fall through October 28, or organize a group of 20 or more and schedule a midweek visit in fall or spring. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., weather permitting, and ticket sales end at 3 p.m. Admission is $51 for adults ages 12 years and older; $42 for youth ages 10 and 11 years; and $33 for children ages 7 through 9 years. Tickets are valid for three hours.
The Catamount Aerial Adventure Park is located at 2962 State Highway 23 in Hillsdale, about 55 minutes from the Kingston traffic circle. For more information, call (518) 325-3200 or visit www.catamounttrees.com.
“Walk & Wade” at Esopus Meadows
The outdoor swimming pools have closed for the season, but now’s the perfect time to rediscover the wonders of our Hudson River and local creeks, their critters and the plants that grow there. All month long, from September 8 through 30, it’s the 13th annual Hudson River Ramble, with activities such as walks, hikes, paddles and biking tours in our area.
This weekend, you and your family can go exploring at Esopus Meadows! Have you ever been to Esopus Meadows? It’s right on the river, and it’s such a fantastic place to visit with your family. On Saturday, September 8 at 11 a.m., the “Walk & Wade” program at Esopus Meadows Preserve is a perfect event for kids. It includes a one-mile hike along the Klein-Esopus Kill and learning about the fish who dwell there.
Tideline director Eli Schloss explained, “Esopus Meadows is a gorgeous preserve with many trails and a wonderful beach, perfect for our seine net. The fall is a great time of year to fish, as the Hudson River is a nursery for many species; we will hopefully catch many young-of-the-year fish, and maybe an eel or even blue crab. We have waders for 10-year-olds and up, and the little ones can help us pick the net clean. Adults will learn about the local history of the area. It will be a great day for the whole family.”
Esopus Meadows Preserve is located at 257 River Road in Ulster Park. For more information, call (845) 797-2847 or visit www.clearwater.org. To learn more about events associated with the Ramble, visit www.hudsonrivervalleyramble.com.
Sleuth Pro Poetry Slam in Po’town
Just like the quote at the start of this week’s Kids’ Almanac invites, when did you stop being enchanted by stories? How about stories told through poetry? Could this be an event that helps you and your teen connect? Head over to the Sleuth Pro Poetry Slam this Saturday, September 8 at 8 p.m. and hear what some of the best poets and spoken-word artists in New York State have to say. Tickets cost $10.
The Poetry Slam takes place at the Cunneen-Hackett Theater, located at 12 Vassar Street in Poughkeepsie. For more information, call (845) 224-3461 or visit www.cunneen-hackett.org or Neil SleuthPro Johnson on Facebook.
Erica Chase-Salerno lives, loves and laughs in New Paltz with her husband Mike and their two children: the inspirations behind hudsonvalleyparents.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.