Lawrence never ceases to amaze me. On a recent Saturday morning, with no particular plan in mind, my daughter and I started our day with a short hike through Burcham Park. The cottonwoods by the river are as tall as redwoods and, to a 4-year-old, the paths through those woods are a magical kingdom.
We've been going there since she was 2 years old and we always hear the mad cackling of the pileated woodpecker, a raven-sized Goliath of a bird, taunting us just out of sight in the tall trees. But on this Saturday as soon as we hit the trail I saw him take off from the stump of a downed sycamore and the chase was on. We spent the next 20 minutes playing cat and mouse until the woodpecker landed ahead of us on a black futon mattress somebody had dumped by the old rail trestle at the north end of the park.
I picked up my daughter and we stalked slowly forward. When we got too close the pileated took off and my daughter shrieked, "Turkey! Daddy it's a turkey!"
Our next stop was South Park. We showed up just in time to participate in the HyVee Easter egg hunt. After spending an hour on the rides, getting her face painted, and, of course, finding Easter eggs, we wrapped up the morning with lunch at India Palace where my young Kansas-born daughter is fast becoming an expert in Tandoori, Samosas and Vindaloo.
Lawrence has a great slate of orchestrated activities for children but, even more importantly, our eclectic mix of people and the variety of outdoor opportunities close to town make stimulating the imagination of young kids a snap. For example, within a 15-minute drive of 23rd and Massachusetts streets you can look for flying squirrels and see the haunting glow of foxfire in the Baldwin woods, visit historic springs that never run dry such as Willow Springs or Hole in the Rock (but make sure to get permission first), search for Kansas oddities such as prickly pear cactus, fingerling scorpions, pink papershell mussels, and tarantulas in the Wakarusa Valley, count bald eagles along the Kaw in such numbers you might think they are starlings, or help salamanders cross the road at the Baker Wetlands.
As summer approaches, by all means take advantage of the great activities for children that are available from the city, KU and private organizations. But also use a little imagination, after all, for over a 150 years people have settled here because Lawrence is a little different, a little quirkier and less even-heeled than the rest of the state. This makes great fodder for the development of young imaginations.
- George Frazier is a software engineer who lives in Lawrence.