by Jean Grant – We are a family of wanderers and nature lovers. Our lures: local trails, national parks, road trips, puddles, and oceans…or unique rock formations along the roadside. We reside in a state that is composed of 60 percent trees, with some towns in the western region over 90 percent forested.
Though we are the third most-densely populated state, our inhabitants literally live among trees. Not too far off the country road or city block our boots find trails lined with heady pines, lofty red maples, ancient oaks, and tangy hemlocks that are rich in history, geology, and culture.
Getting among the trees is our escape from the daily grind, where we can breathe in the verdant serenity and lose ourselves to ancient forests.
So when the director of a tree-to-tree adventure park invited my family for a day to visit in the Berkshires who was I to say no? My biggest hesitation, beside my own fear of heights, was my oldest son’s cautious approach to new things, especially physically-demanding adventure sports.
The director assured me that the tree-to-tree adventure park is designed for all comfort and fitness levels, so my child on the autism spectrum would be accommodated for and would experience it at his own level. In fact, the accessibility of the park is one of its hallmarks and what convinced me to give it a whirl. Though my son is willing to try some challenges, we’ve tended to walk the conservative path with our outdoor excursions. It was time to up our game…
Ramblewild’s Tree-to-Tree Aerial Adventure park is nestled in a quiet corner of northwestern Massachusetts on over ten acres in the middle of 1,400 acres of pristine New England forest. This park was fostered by parent company Feronia Forests and its nonprofit organization Feronia Forward.
The vision of Feronia Forward is to support innovative approaches to forestry and sustainability. They seek to create “a world where future generations are connected with nature and are responsible stewards of our forests.” Ramblewild tree-to-tree adventure park is a recreational destination where children and adults from all backgrounds and abilities can experience a living laboratory for learning.
Each year, Feronia Forward partners with urban and rural Berkshire County schools in on-site hands-on STEM programs that include nature hikes, team-building, outdoors meditative yoga, learning experiences on maple syrup production and Berkshire Wind Project turbine tours.
Additionally, they offer professional development for urban school teachers, and several times a year they host a private special-needs inclusion event for families. Since 2014, Feronia Forward has helped over 2,000 children.
When we arrived, I will admit I was nervous. This type of family adventure park was out of our usual comfort zone. We had a private session with the Ramblewild staff. The director explained the concept behind the park, then we were whisked off for our training and gearing up and ample time to practice using the Edelrid full-body harness with the Smart Belay locking system.
It’s a safe system that assured me nobody would be falling off a ten-foot-high platform or nose-diving from a zip line! There are eight courses designed with varying difficulty levels, each a step up from the previous. Staff are always in sight and ready to assist.
After our dry run, we ambled through Ramblewild, surrounded by a thick, enveloping forest equipped with intricate courses with platforms ranging in height. Each course contained 15-17 elements, including high wires, zip lines, balancing logs, rope ladders, cargo nets, and suspended bridges.
Four of the courses crossed over a 100-foot ravine via zip lines! No, we didn’t conquer those—for now.
We clicked in and went for it on the first, easiest course. My oldest son had a dedicated helper the entire time to be his support and cheerleader if he should get frustrated, while my husband and other son bounded ahead of us, tackling each element with assurance and skill.
I brought up the rear, always the mom wanting to make sure everyone was comfortable. A zip line brought us down the first Ramblewild course, and with it, though exhilarated, I ended my own experience, so I could walk along beneath the rest of my family as spectator and picture-taker.
My oldest son progressed with agility and confidence at his own pace through the second, more challenging course. He enjoyed being among the trees. The outdoors is his Zen. The other two zipped ahead of us but found that the third course tested their endurance and ability and wrapped up there. We all had our moments of fear-conquering and strategizing, but overall this tree-to-tree adventure park was an awe-inspiring experience. We all would love to return!
Riding the Ramblewild adrenaline buzz, we took a detour up nearby Mt. Greylock State Reservation, the highest point in Massachusetts. A range of trails meander around and up this 3,491-foot mountain. We decided to park closer to the top and do a loop trail that brought us to the summit monument and down again.
Though we’d received a special invitation to attend Ramblewild tree-to-tree adventure park, and the Feronia Forward urban school program currently only caters to Berkshire County, families outside of the region can take advantage of the scholarship program to enjoy their own in-the-trees experience.
Of the 10,000-15,000 visitors per year at Ramblewild, Feronia Forward sponsors 500 through their programs. They are also invested in continuing yearly special-needs inclusion events.
Our biggest take-homes from this adventure: nature rewards the spirit when you push yourself beyond your comfort zone, and sometimes our children surprise us, so leave the expectations and worries at home…go and get among the trees!
New to exploring with your special-needs or cautious child? Some pointers from us as we branch out into more challenging outdoors adventures:
- Set specific goals for your child. If they can help participate in planning, even better.
- Be willing to modify those set goals, again and again.
- Celebrate milestones, big or small.
- Start easier, and as they conquer new skills, broaden your horizons.
- Reach out to support groups or programs in your region—social media, organizations in your town, at school. The resources are endless. Ask around and you will be amazed at the opportunities out there for your child.
- Can’t find a group? Start your own. There are others like you in need. Sometimes we need to be the one to get the ball rolling.
- Nurture your child’s spirit the way that works for your family. Roll with it. Let your child lead. They may surprise you.
- Try, fail, and try again!
- Most importantly, have fun.
Jean M. Grant is a scientist, author, and mom to two active, nature-loving sons. She currently resides in Massachusetts. She writes where her heart takes her…from castles to craters to crags of all kinds, drawing inspiration from her love of family, history, and travel. She writes historical and contemporary romance, women’s fiction, and non-fiction family-oriented travel articles. Her website can be found at: jeanmgrant.com.