Travel & recreation: Green summer on the cheap

Time to get over that nature-deficit disorder!

It’s too easy during these hot Sacramento summer months to burrow up inside, enveloped by air conditioning, with an ice chest full of popsicles next to your couch as you watch reruns of America’s Next Top Model. What about going for a hike instead? Yeah, not so much.

But spending all day indoors is no good. We’re talking huge repercussions. And not just in terms of wasted energy by cooling houses and offices at full-blast. We’re talking the future of the environmental movement as we know it. Perhaps author Richard Louv said it best: American children suffer from “nature-deficit disorder,” and should spend more time interacting with the natural world. In his book Last Child in the Woods, Louv identifies a link between increasing health problems suffered by children—attention difficulties, dulled senses, obesity—and the lack of time American youth spend outdoors.

But kids aren’t the only ones in need of a greater dose of outdoor loving. We could all benefit from an appreciation of Mother Nature; after all, it’s hard to value something—planet Earth, oceans, trees, nonhuman species—that you know little about, and it’s difficult to support a movement—the environmental one—if you’ve never experienced firsthand what it’s attempting to protect, or why it even matters.

Thankfully, Sacramento and the city’s outlining areas have several natural attractions worth a day spent in the extreme heat. The best part? Visiting these spots won’t cost you a dime. Or, at least, not more than a small entrance fee or donation.

Our city’s crown-jewel is the American River Parkway, which runs 23-miles long and covers 5,000 acres northeast of Sacramento. More than five million people visit the parkway annually. Sure, you can power-boat, but why not opt for an eco-friendly choice instead: take a guided tour and learn about birds and native plants, hike on paved trails, go white-water rafting or stop by the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve—an award-winning environmental and cultural education center located in Ancil Hoffman Park inside the parkway.

The Cosumnes River Preserve is another much-loved spot. About 250 bird species, 30 mammals and 18 reptile species have been identified at the 46,000-acre preserve, named one of the 75 “Last Great Places” by the Nature Conservancy. The free-flowing, 80-mile long Cosumnes River begins in the El Dorado National Forest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at an elevation of about 7,600 feet and joins the Mokelumne River on its way down to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which flows through San Francisco Bay into the Pacific Ocean. The preserve’s amazing wetlands, riprarian forests and river (ripe for kayaking) offer one of the most accurate looks at the valley’s landscape before the Gold Rush era.

Pick up a copy of Top Trails Sacramento, a guidebook featuring 43 trails throughout the Sacramento valley, Coast Range and the Sierra Nevada foothills. Among the destinations: The Bobelaine Audubon Sanctuary, located roughly 25 miles north of Sacramento. Explore the 430-acre’s sanctuary’s riprarian habitat and visit the banks of the Feather River and Lake Crandall. Or try Delta Meadows State Park, an undeveloped locale with rare public access to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The park features a scenic slough, open meadows, woodlands and riparian forests. About 30 miles from Sacramento, you’ll find Lake Natoma and the Folsom Lake State Recreation area, complete with a paved loop hiking trial, wooded bluffs and abundant waterfowl along the lake’s edge. Light rail will take you there so leave your car at home.

Sometimes, though, traveling to nature is a royal pain—the time, the gas-guzzingly modes of transportation to visit these spots—so why not bring nature to you? The Sacramento Tree Foundation recently launched efforts to plant 5 million trees in the region as part of its Greenprint initiative to grow our urban forest and is giving away free trees to city residents, who are eligible to receive up to 10 trees. Choose from more than 30 deciduous trees, which shed their leaves during the fall, allowing for the sun to warm your house. During the summer, the leaves provide shade, which helps cool your building and reduce electricity usage.

If, after all these outdoor excursions and the beautiful urban canopy you’ve created in your own backyard, you still feel a disconnect, try this: Rockstack. This artistic hobby, as the name suggests, involves carefully balancing rocks to create figures or mini-architectural structures using only rocks and pebbles found around you. Rockstacking is fun and easy, and allows you to see for yourself how the natural environment is quite a magnificent piece of art in its own right.