We went for a hike yesterday, on Victoria Day. It was a gorgeous holiday Monday, and the first solid taste of Spring warmth that we’ve had, with April and May being cold and wet thus far. We went with great friends of ours, so we had three kids with us, all in the four to seven age range. And as with most situations as a parent, some teachable moments presented themselves.
The conservation area that we went to was very busy, full of crowds of people, dogs, and picnic baskets. We hiked along the trail, admiring the views, and listening to the chatter of our children as they ran back and forth, finding walking sticks and leaves, weeds and wildflowers. We searched for chipmunks, talked about the plants lining the path, and stopped for a picnic lunch under the shade of a tree. The ultimate destination of our hike was a waterfall, which made for great motivation to keep little legs moving forward and not lagging behind.
The trail led us towards a lookout platform, whereby we could see dozens of people at the base of the waterfall, sticking their feet in the cool water of the stream and admiring the force of the water as it cascaded down. “Let’s see if we can get down there,” we agreed. The kids were anxious to explore, and when I had read about this spot online, people talked about the ability to get up close and walk behind the falls. It was something I’d mentioned to our children in the car on the way there, and that adventure was a big reason that they were so excited.
We continued along the path toward where we thought the access point to the base would be; but when we got there, we found that a black metal fence surrounded the entire area, and the stairs that led to the base of the gorge were roped off. “No fence jumping” yellow signage was everywhere, and “Danger: stairs are unsafe” was clearly marked behind the double-barricade at the staircase entrance.
“We can’t go down there after all,” we told the kids. “It’s not safe, and look at the signs.” Yet as we explained the whys and why-nots to our disappointed crew, we watched dozens upon dozens of people jump the fence and go around the barricades. The pathway that they walked, along the outside of the “no fence jumping” fence, was no wider than two feet across in some areas and traced the edge of the gorge’s 79-foot dropoff. My heart raced as I saw women in wobbly high heels and preschoolers holding their parent’s hands trek precariously along this narrow route and down the “Danger: unsafe stairs” to the waterfall’s base. There was a steady stream of people doing this, and we were the clear minority by choosing not to.
To their credit, the kids took this turn of events well. They were mostly content to watch from the lookout, to have a snack by the bridge, and to climb trees. But my seven-year-old did press the issue, and I found myself in a “I need to handle this well” parenting moment. He’s an adventurous, curious boy who loves nature and exploring, and to miss the chance to go behind a waterfall when hundreds of others were doing it right in front of him was a hard lesson to learn.
In hindsight, I’m sure he and I could’ve made the trek down safely, and I bet some of you are questioning why I didn’t let him have that chance.
It’s because I don’t think that was the right lesson to teach.