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Our First Family Backpacking Trip

2010 November 16

My husband and I are avid outdoor adventurers and our love of backpacking, hiking, biking and rock climbing has taken us to some extraordinary places. As new parents, we’ve remained determined to get our fresh air fix, with the additional goal of exposing our son to the joy of the great outdoors. By the end of his second month, we had managed to take him camping and hiking and were ready to up the ante.

“Are we crazy?” I asked my husband as I tightened the shoulder straps on my backpack. “Yes,” he replied matter-of-factly as he finished tying his boots. Then we grinned at each other and laughed nervously as we looked down at our 3-month old son, Isaac, who was strapped to my chest in a carrier. I shook my head and pulled out my camera to document the moment. We were about to embark on our first backpacking trip as a new family. I was terrified.

My family (including 3-month old son, Isaac) at the start of our first family backpacking trip

My family (including 3-month old son, Isaac) at the start of our first family backpacking trip


The 2.5 mile hike to our campsite at the top of Annapolis Rocks, about an hour northwest of Washington, DC, was uneventful. We huffed and puffed and slowly made our way up the mountain as Isaac giggled and cooed at the trees. We set up camp and then headed over to the cliffs to eat dinner and catch the sunset. It was a cool, early-fall evening and the view across Cumberland Valley and Greenbriar Lake were surprisingly clear. The three of us had been to the top of the cliffs a few weeks earlier on a scouting mission and the view then was more typical of a hot, summer day along the East Coast: hazy and limited.

My family at the top of Black Rock, near Annapolis Rock

My family at the top of Black Rock, near Annapolis Rock


Visibility issues throughout the populated and industrialized East are particularly persistent.  The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, however, ushered in several new programs to help address the issue by reducing the amount of particulate matter emitted from a variety of sources. These programs include the Acid Rain Program, which reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) from power plants; mobile source regulations that require new cars and trucks to use cleaner gas and to run on cleaner engines (e.g. the Tier 2 Vehicle and Gasoline Sulfur Program); and several programs that reduce pollutant emissions from stationary sources (e.g. the New Source Performance Standards Program which requires new plants to meet certain emission levels). In the past 20 years, these programs have done a lot to improve visibility and I could see the results of these efforts as my family took in the views from the top of the mountain.

In the distance, we could just see the blue-gray peaks of Massanutten Mountain at the northern edge of the Shenandoah Valley, over 70 miles away. It was a wonderful view and I was surprised that we could see that far. A few years earlier, I remember reading a sign at a scenic overlook along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park that hinted at what used to be–on a clear day you could look east from the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and see the Washington Monument rising from the heart of Washington, DC, almost 100 miles away. If you’ve ever been to Shenandoah National Park, you know that such a view is the stuff of legend. Average visibility in the park in the summer is only 15-25 miles and on particularly hazy days, visibility plummets to barely 1 mile! People visit our National Parks to enjoy the scenic vistas and to discover landscapes that are the envy of people around the world. But, we have lost something intrinsic to the grand scale of America when we can only see one mile in our national parks and wilderness areas. The fact is that we’ve come a long way toward improving visibility in the East, but we still have quite a ways to go.

Our first backpacking trip with our son turned out to be a great success. We not only survived the night, but even managed to enjoy ourselves! Who knows if Isaac will end up loving this outdoor stuff as much as we do, but I can only hope that one day, if he takes his son or daughter to this place, that they’ll get to see the same clear view. And, if he and his family ever pull over to check out a scenic overlook in Shenandoah National Park, maybe they’ll even see the Washington Monument!

Goodnight sun
Goodnight sun


Erika Wilson works on communication issues in the Clean Air Markets Division. And despite the naysayers, still manages to enjoy all sorts of adventures with her husband and 6-month old son, Isaac.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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One Response leave one →
  1. November 16, 2010

    Great work and great blog, Erica! You three are so inspiring!

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