LEITH RUN-Picture-perfect weather drew hundreds to the Leith Run Recreation Area in eastern Washington County for a couple of days in the great outdoors this weekend.
The Play Outside Weekend, sponsored by the Athens District of the Wayne National Forest, was part of of this year's National Get Outdoors Day.
"There were at least 200 people here Saturday- a lot of families who were experiencing their first camping trip," said Sarah Forrest, conservation education specialist with the Wayne's Athens District.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
A crowd of kids gathers Sunday as flying rings are distributed to by Sarah Forrest, at right, conservation education specialist with the Wayne National Forest Athens District. The district sponsored a Play Outside Weekend of activities at Leith Run Recreation Area Friday through Sunday.
The Leith Run campground was filled with tents and camper trailers over the weekend, and many local people simply drove from home to take part in a host of free activities Friday through Sunday.
"I really liked the horseback riding-I did that about eight times, and we went stargazing Friday night," said Kara Peck, 9, of Athens.
"We saw constellations and got to look through a telescope to see the rings of Saturn," she said.
Studies show outdoor time helps children grow lean and strong, enhances imaginations and attention spans, decreases aggression, and boosts classroom performance.
In addition, children who spend time in nature regularly are shown to become better stewards of the environment.
Children's stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces.
Play protects a child's emotional development whereas loss of free time and a hurried lifestyle can contribute to anxiety and depression.
Nature makes you nicer, enhancing social interactions, value for community and close relationships.
Source: National Wildlife Federation www.nwf.org
For more information on Ohio's Wayne National Forest, visit www.fs.usda.gov/wayne
A friend, Grace Brookover, 10, of Newport, also enjoyed the weekend activities.
"I liked the night hike. It was really cool," she said. "We couldn't use our flashlights so that our eyes could get used to the dark. And we tried to call in some owls and bats."
Other weekend events included archery, disc golf, fishing, bird watching and a campfire and bluegrass concert Saturday night.
Forrest said the purpose of the Play Outside Weekend was three-fold.
"We did healthy eating-an outdoor chef made delicious chicken tacos with homemade salsa and guacamole on Saturday," she said. "We also wanted to get more kids out into the woods, and just get people into the outdoors in general."
There are many benefits from spending time outdoors, Forrest explained.
"People are moving around, which is healthier than just sitting inside at home," she said. "And even more important, families were here, spending an entire weekend together."
Corey and Andrea Sites of Marietta brought their three children, Colton, Will and Cassie, to the campground.
"We've never camped out before-except in our backyard-and we really had a good time," Corey said. "In fact, we just came back from an expensive vacation, but the kids had a lot more fun right here."
It was Danny and Samantha Franchino's first venture into the world of camping, too. The Marietta couple set up a tent and spent the weekend with their three children, Lilly, 8, Ali, 5, and 3-year-old Tyson.
"I liked going fishing and riding the pony," Tyson said.
Danny said all of the activities were free, and most were available throughout the day on Saturday.
"It was nice-they even provided fishing poles if you didn't have one," he said. "We would probably come again next year, especially if we can plan ahead and get the time off work."
Forrest said in addition to getting families into the outdoors, the Play Outside Weekend is an outreach for the Athens District of the Wayne National Forest.
"This opens up more doors and opportunities for partnerships with local communities," she said.
Among others, the district partnered with Frontier Local Economic Development Association, Ohio Horsemen's Association, River Valley Mountain Biking Association, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and the Southeast Ohio Astronomical Society for the outdoor weekend event.
Seasoned campers Ellen and Danny Brookover of Newport said the weekend was great.
"We camp quite a lot-at least once a month-mostly here or at Wolf Run or Salt Fork state parks," Ellen said. "And we brought the grandkids this weekend. It's getting them outdoors where they can learn about wildlife. They learned all about fireflies last night, and they loved it."
But the biggest benefit is just being together with the family.
"We're making a lot of memories," she said.