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Get Kids Outside: Tracking

Ensuring that youth have their own places to explore—whether they live in a city, a rural community, or the edge of the wilderness—should be among the highest priorities for conservationists.

Want to go tracking? It’s really quite easy.

The great thing about looking for tracks is you don’t need any specialized equipment. Any slightly wild place — the edge of a suburb, a city park, abandoned lots — likely have various critters passing through.

Waterways like creeks, ponds and rivers are highways for all kinds of wild animals, and they often leave signs of their movements in the mud.

A good field guide helps, especially if you aren’t familiar with tracks. My old standby — which I wore out when I was a kid looking for my own tracks — is the Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracks by Olaus J. Murie. It includes not only tracks of every animal you’re likely to encounter, but also their scat and other signs they leave behind.

As we stared at the raccoon tracks, ice floated down the river, softly tinkling as it rubbed against rocks. An occasional eagle soared overhead. We stopped for a moment on this crisp holiday morning and Jacob pronounced it “a perfect day.” No argument here.

My nieces and nephews have a future with nearly unimaginable (to me, at least) technology and modes of communication. I hope they embrace it all and use it to their advantage.

I also hope they continue to have the time and interest in the wild things and wild places around them. I hope that their paths continue to cross, quite literally, with those of the deer and rabbit and the big old raccoon.

Matt Miller is director of communications for The Nature Conservancy’s Idaho program. A freelance outdoor writer and naturalist, Matt has traveled around the world in search of wildlife and stories. Opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

(Image: Raccoon tracks along a river in northeastern Iowa. Source: Jennifer Miller)

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3:01PM PDT on May 10, 2013


2:53AM PDT on Apr 26, 2013

Loved tracking as a kid - came in handy later in life too!

3:57PM PST on Feb 17, 2012

Thanks for this

3:56PM PST on Feb 17, 2012


1:11PM PST on Jan 30, 2012

Thanks for the article...great idea!

4:26AM PST on Jan 30, 2012


2:28PM PST on Jan 29, 2012

It's wonderful to hear about children being encouraged to really see the world around them.

12:56PM PST on Jan 29, 2012

My town has an elementary school that has a class after school just for this event. It's great we can teach our children that their backyard has so many wonderful creatures to learn about. The fun & learning they can have & it's free.

7:05AM PST on Jan 29, 2012

Much needed awareness to the fact that we are ALL PARTS of the ONE WHOLE, interconnected and interdependent for balance and survival ... with added features of bonding, thirst for further knowledge, etc.

Nature has no more dangers than the two-legged city-dwelling vipers we rub elbows with every day. Preplan for the adventure, if unfamiliar with the great outdoors, and appreciate another gift that although always there was never before embraced.

5:17PM PST on Jan 27, 2012

Great Story I think it is so important to get kids involved in nature and the outdoors, after all they are the ones who will inherit it

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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