Parents and children who want a less restricted summer program than some camps and classes provide have a number of opportunities in the Potomac area to explore nature and history while keeping up with their reading and writing skills. Two of those programs are the National Park Service Junior Ranger Program and Montgomery Public Library Summer Reading Program.
A trip to the Great Falls Tavern Visitors Center, 11710 MacArthur Blvd., is a great place to begin a day along the C&O Canal. The center offers displays showing life along the canal when it was in operation, an exhibit showing the workings of the canal locks, a checkerboard where visitors can relax and play a game or two and a place to pick up information on the Junior Ranger Program.
The program, offered at National Parks throughout the country, is an activity-based program. Activity books are available at the Visitor Center reception desk and children are encouraged to complete the activities during their visit to the park, show their work to the rangers or volunteers before leaving and receive a certificate naming them Junior Rangers for the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
The booklet contains information on locks and aqueducts found along the 184.5 miles of the canal, facts about the donkeys who pulled the canal boat, a game of Wildlife Bingo, basic information on the National Park Service Ranger Program, safety tips and a reminder to keep the park trash free.
Young rangers are reminded to,”Leave no Trace: Take only pictures, leave only footprints.”
The park also has a number of hiking trails, with distances noted, though the popular Olmstead Island and Great Falls Overlook trail is closed and not expected to open until July. During the summer – after June 2 - visitors can take a canal boat ride on the Charles F. Mercer and see firsthand how a lock works, while listening to park rangers in period costume tell stories of life along the canal. Cost is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and $5 for children ages 4-15. Children under 3 are free. Rides leave at 11 a.m., 1:30 and 3 p.m. Tickets can be purchased in the Visitors Center. Groups of 10 or more need reservations. Call 301-767-3714.
Knowledgeable volunteers work the Visitor Center desk and can answer questions about the canal and the park, including the hiking trails.
The visitor center at Great Falls is open year round Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information visit the National Park Service website at nps.org or call 301-767-3714.
Another opportunity for an “on your own” day this summer is a visit to The Potomac Library, 10101 Glenolden Drive. Though the summer 2017 reading theme has not been announced, Montgomery County Public Libraries uses Beanstack, an online program for creating a profile and keeping track of books read. The program also generates email with reading recommendations based on the profile and past reading history. Sign up now and start reading then be ready in June when Montgomery County Public Libraries announces the theme and special events for summer reading 2017. The website is montgomerycountymd.gov search libraries then search beanstack.