Posted on

Spring Activities: How to Enjoy the Outdoors More in the Spring

For many the call of spring means melting snow and cleaner homes. For others it’s a time of renewal and new-found motivation. And while temperatures still fluctuate between warm and brisk, there are plenty of reasons to enjoy the outdoors during the spring. In fact, there are many outdoor activities that are better done during a chilly spring morning or evening.

Camping during the spring can be a real treat due to the contrast of comfortable midday temperatures with brisk nighttime air. You may not notice this phenomenon as much if you live in the city, but those who reside in the country understand. Go hiking during the day in your shorts but then slide into your pants in the evening. By the time the sun has fully set, you’ll probably want to pull up a Chaheati and sit by the campfire. And in the morning you’ll be greeted to frosty or cold, dewy grass. If you’re prepared for both warm and cold temperatures, spring camping can be truly amazing.

While debatably a sport of opportunity, horseback riding ranks highly among spring activities for many of the same reasons. A cool spring morning is the perfect time to ride full gallop through a field or trot down a mountain trail. The chilly air racing across your face will remind you that you’re alive, while you fully enjoy the blossoming trees and flowers. If you don’t have horses of your own, planning an outdoor spring excursion with horses is still possible, especially through specialty travel agents like Hidden Trails.

When talking about spring outdoor activities, it’s difficult not to mention the barbeque. Lighting up the charcoal or gas grill for the first time acts as reminder that yes, spring is here. The first spring barbeque makes the perfect excuse to invite your friends and family over. When the cool night air arrives, pull up the camp chairs outside and keep the party warm by the fire pit. Share stories and catch up with what’s been going on with your friends. You may even feel inspired and begin planning your next spring outdoor vacation while your there.

This excellent springtime activity — great when the weather is still brisk — may surprise you: stream and river cleanups. The National River Cleanup initiative strives to keep citizens informed of the importance of the nation’s rivers and streams. With massive amounts of trash making its way into America’s streams and rivers each year, it’s important volunteers help with putting garbage where it belongs. Why is spring great for this? In early spring the ground is still slightly firm and easier to tread on in the morning, especially around waterways. Cleanups around the banks of rivers and streams are considerably easier when you’re not getting stuck in mud the entire time.

In all, there are plenty of reasons to enjoy spring outdoor activities. Don’t let a little bit of cool air indoors keep you inside. Let nature’s call of spring lead you out of the house and into the great outdoors.

Posted on

Support Your National Parks This Spring

Americans are increasingly turning to national park vacations as a cheaper travel alternative. In 2009, U.S. national parks nearly set a new record in overall attendance. And while numbers dipped again in 2010, overall attendance remains strong among the best national parks in the country. And for good reason: U.S. national parks are among the best in the world.

Despite the dip in attendance in 2010, several U.S. national parks set or nearly set new records. After seeing several years or attendance increases, Yellowstone National Park saw another record shatter last year, with over 3.6 million people visiting the park. Glacier National Park in Montana was another park that saw a surge of attendance in 2010, falling a mere 3,800 people short of its 1983 record of 2,203,847 visitors in 1983.

Yet whispers of a potential government shutdown are causing alarm, with concerns that a repeat of 1995’s nearly month-long closure of national parks could drastically affect those planning spring activities in those locations. Additional funding cuts to national parks are being proposed as part of the budgeting process occurring in Congress, drawing an even darker shadow. “We need to keep our national parks open and well-funded,” said John Gardner, a budget and legislation representative with the National Parks Conservation Association. “During a time of economic hardship, we need to adequately fund the places that protect our American heritage and draw tourists from throughout the world.”

It’s difficult not to agree with Mr. Gardner. Americans have been keeping travel more local over the last several years, meaning more tourist dollars for already cash-strapped states. It would be a shame if national parks had to shut down because of budget issues. That’s why it’s more important than ever to support your national parks. Grab your national parks pass, camp chair, and tent, and see America’s beauty. Let your representative know that national parks should be free of the whims of politicians. Tell them that national parks are not merely local draws: people from around the world wish to experience our natural wonders.

Finally, if national parks do get shut down this spring, don’t be afraid to turn to state parks or private museums for your vacation. State parks and attractions are having their share of budget woes. They often don’t have the same pizzazz as national parks, but there’s still plenty to be discovered.

Posted on

5 US Spring Festivals You Don’t Want to Miss

Spring is here, and with it comes thoughts of housecleaning, hikes among blossoming trees, and spring festivals. If you’ve been cooped up in the house this winter and are looking for a reason to get outdoors, here are five spring festivals worthy of enjoying.

Atlanta Dogwood Festival

The Atlanta Dogwood Festival is celebrating its seventy-fifth year in 2011. This lively spring festival runs April 15–17 and features an impressive collection of fine art, historical displays, and literary activities during the full blooming of the dogwoods. Fans of “Gone with the Wind” can also join the outdoor festivities as the famous novel also celebrates 75 years of existence. As part of the celebration, the Margaret Mitchell House is offering free admission to the museum. Stay up-to-date on the goings on by following the event on Facebook.

Austin’s South by Southwest Festival

Technically this music, film, and interactive festival occurs at the end of winter, but it’s still close enough to spring to include it here. Running from March 11–March 20, this spring music festival always draws huge crowds of people who grab a chair and watch some of the best music and film currently available. This year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) celebrates 25 years of all things music and film and is bound to include numerous interesting guest speakers and artists.

D.C.’s Cherry Blossom Festival

This spring festival is in its ninety-ninth year of celebration and gearing up for its centennial event in 2012. The Cherry Blossom Festival has its origins in the mass gifting of 3,000 cherry blossom trees to the U.S. by government officials in Tokyo, Japan. Since then, the people of Washington, D.C. have celebrated the Cherry Blossom Festival as a way to celebrate the coming of spring and honor the relationship between the two countries. This year’s festival takes place between March 26 and April 11 and provides the perfect excuse to enjoy the outdoors in the nation’s capital.

New Orleans Wine and Food Experience

In 1991, a group of New Orleans food and wine enthusiasts envisioned a large charity event celebrating the wine and cuisine of the region. A year later the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience was born. This is one of the biggest spring events in New Orleans, after its well-known Mardi Gras. This year’s event will be held from May 24–28, featuring big names like chefs John Besh and Susan Spice. Grab a chair, sit down, and enjoy a full-flavor experience. Who knows: maybe you’ll find a great wine to enjoy by the campfire.

Towsontown Spring Festival

Located about 20 to 30 minutes north of Baltimore, the community of Towson, MD has been hosting its spring festival since 1968. With humble beginnings in the local arts, the Towsontown Spring Festival is now one of the largest spring festivals on the East Coast. This outdoor festival is family-friendly, featuring a wide array of things for children and adults to do. This year’s events are scheduled to take place on April 30 and May 1 in Downtown Towson.

Posted on

Baseball Spring Training Action Is Heating Up

The crack of a bat, the smell of roasted peanuts, and the end of winter all signal the return of baseball in the United States. People are grabbing their camp chairs and loading up vehicles to head to spring training baseball games and catch a glimpse — or a souvenir — of an old familiar player or an up-and-coming rookie. It gives teams the opportunity to gauge how their minor league talent is developing, often giving more proven talent the opportunity to compete for a spot on their associated MLB team.

For those who don’t know, baseball spring training is split up into two leagues: Cactus League and Grapefruit League. The Cactus League games are played in Arizona, while the Grapefruit League games are played in Florida. Most East Coast teams have spring training complexes in Florida, and West Coast teams have theirs in Arizona. There are a few exceptions, however. The Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds are examples of teams closer to the East Coast with spring training complexes in Arizona.

Pitchers and catchers reported to camp for all MLB teams by February 17, with position players reporting in four to seven days later. The first spring training exhibition game began February 24 with Florida State University losing to the Philadelphia Phillies 8–0 in the Grapefruit League. Cactus League play revved up the next day, with the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants narrowly beating the Arizona Diamondbacks 7–6. Since then things have been really heating up in spring training in both leagues.

For many young players spring training baseball is a real opportunity to prove they’re ready to play in The Bigs. Take for example the St. Louis Cardinal’s recent loss of Adam Wainwright at the beginning of spring training. The Cardinals are talking about filling Wainwright’s role from within, meaning both veterans and young players will have a shot to compete. Similar competitions are occurring in other spring training camps right now, adding extra excitement to the sport.

There’s no doubt that people are excited about heading outdoors and enjoying the warmer weather of Florida and Arizona spring training. Baseball fans take this stuff seriously. You can find all sorts of spring training guides and early player reports on most any major sports network. Some fans are so serious about it that they’re not afraid to give their picks for the best food in Arizona and Florida. And with a reported 2.87 million reported fans in attendance in both leagues last year, the popularity of spring training baseball looks to remain strong.

Here are some additional resources that may help you keep up with the latest developments in MLB and MiLB spring training games:

Cactus League spring training schedule
Grapefruit League spring training schedule
Subscribe to the official Spring Training Newsletter

Posted on

Popular St. Patrick’s Day Parades Around the US

St. Patrick’s Day parades are soon approaching, and with it signs of the end of winter. People are grabbing their kids and camp chairs and heading out in droves to historic parades around the U.S. But where are some of the most popular St. Patrick’s Day parades going to be this year?

Chicago: Saturday, March 12, 2011, 12:00 p.m.

You know St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal in a city when the government allows a major waterway to be dyed green. This is exactly what happens at the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade. People head to Michigan Ave. and Wacker Dr. at the river a little before 10 a.m. to watch the dyeing. Afterwards everyone heads off to the parade route. This particular parade first started in 1843 and has since rapidly increased in popularity and attendance. Expect this year to be no less crowded than the past; get there early!

New York City: Thursday, March 17, 2011, 11:00 a.m.

The New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade is the longest-running annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world. It’s said that Irish soldiers serving under Great Britain/Ireland’s King George III first organized the parade in 1762 as a way to show pride for Ireland and its culture. Today the parade ranks as the most attended parade in the United States and lasts for between five and six hours. People grab their camp chairs and stake an early claim along Fifth Street to witness the legions of military and emergency personnel, marching bands, and floats.

Savannah: Thursday, March 17, 2011, 10:15 a.m.

The origins of this St. Patrick’s Day parade lie with the Hibernian Society of Savannah, Georgia. Back in 1813, a group of Irish protestants came together to celebrate St. Patrick and Irish culture. In 1824 the Hibernian’s invited the public to attend the first public Irish Day Parade in Savannah. The parade has been an annual event since, drawing over 300,000 people to sit down and watch the floats and bands, and sing classic Irish songs.

South Boston: Sunday, March 20, 2011, 1:00 p.m.

In 1737, the Charitable Irish Society of Boston was founded on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s said that this group gave its thanks to St. Patrick, making it one of the first recorded honors to the Saint in the U.S. (Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t appear that a parade was also held that year.) Fast forward to today, a time when nearly 24 percent of Boston’s population is made up of Irish decent. From this it’s easy to see why Boston takes its St. Patrick’s Day parade seriously, making it the second-most popular Irish Day Parade in America. Rain or shine, people head outdoors to catch glimpses of bagpipers, horse-drawn carriages, and floats.

St. Louis: Saturday, March 12, 2011, 12:00 p.m.

The St. Louis St. Patrick’s Day Parade may not be as old or steeped in tradition as other parades in the U.S., but the folks in St. Louis know how to do it right. This is year 42 for the parade, which runs down historic Market Street. The morning of the parade, the thirty-third annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade Run will take place, pitting nearly 12,000 people against each other in a five-mile run through the heart of the city. Afterwards, hundreds of thousands of people will head outside to watch bands, balloons, and floats pass by, followed by tons of fun at the Irish Village.