Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


Baby Steps

I'm a park ranger and a new mother.
Can I raise an outdoors kid?

By Elizabeth Mary-Agpalo

April 2024 Issue

camp kiddo

Stuff for bottles? Check. Diapers? Check. Snacks? Check. Running through checklists to make sure my newborn daughter, husband and I were ready for our first state park experience ... check!

Not being raised going to state parks and not understanding the amount of supplies needed for a newborn, I was hesitant and nervous. “What kind of animals might we see? Do we need jackets … I mean it's Texas and the weather can change in a heartbeat, right?” You would think that as a park ranger I'd feel prepared, but as a new mom, I was far from it. While I was nervous, my husband and I knew we wanted to raise our daughter with a love of the outdoors.

Growing up, I knew I cared about animals, but in Dallas I did not see much wildlife. I learned about conservation from Steve Irwin and National Geographic and eventually earned degrees in biology and environmental science. After I discovered Texas State Parks, I became a park interpreter, where I teach all ages about the cultural and natural resources of Texas and the importance of being outside. While I teach these topics, I was nervous to apply them with our young daughter.

We triple-checked our lists, researched the park and started our new tradition at McKinney Falls State Park in Austin. With a diaper bag on hand and our daughter in a stroller, we began our adventure. State parks provide so many things for people of all ages. Our first stop was the visitor center where our daughter could touch displays and look at colorful pictures. Next, we decided to hit a trail and see how she did off-roading. With every tree, flower and bird we came across her head would jolt back and forth with her eyes so wide; you could tell she was trying desperately to take everything in. The park also has attractions like beach areas, campsites and waterfalls, but we wanted to start small and see how things went. We chose a shaded and short trail (we forgot sunscreen). Two poopy diapers and one bottle later we finished exploring her first state park, and she screamed in protest as we left. Since then, we have gone to multiple state parks, including Fairfield Lake, where she sat and watched ducks for 45 minutes, and Ray Roberts Lake, where she celebrated her first birthday. With every experience we are better prepared as parents, and she is more excited and adventurous about nature. We started this tradition because we wanted our daughter to be outdoorsy, but we also have created a tradition based on family time, adventure and curiosity.

Research has shown that allowing kids to have unrestricted play in the outdoors can improve their mental and physical health and boost creativity and problem-solving. State parks help us achieve this for our daughter. As a new mother, I was terrified, but a year and a half later I can tell that this tradition is going to help shape my daughter's life and provide her with the knowledge and passion for nature that we wanted.

Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine 
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