Category: Parenting

A Historic Hike Around Hemlock Overlook

One of the things I love most about working at Adventure Links at Hemlock Overlooking Regional Park is that I count all 400 acres as my backyard. When I’m not working in the office or facilitating programs, I often take to the trails to explore this gorgeous property. I wanted to be able to share with you some of the special places off the beaten path that are worth exploring with your family.

Park at the end of Yates Ford Road and walk past the yellow gates and into the Adventure Links parking lot area. Once the road turns to gravel you will see a small walking path off to your right heading parallel to the road. Take that and it will lead you on today’s adventure and many more. Troops marched along this path during the Civil War to the battle of Manassas/Bull Run. On the right side of the path, you can see trees that have grown around the old fence line.

Take the steep paved road down towards the pond. Walk either to your right along the wood boardwalk or take a left for a quicker but sometimes flooded path. You will reach large steps heading all the way up until you reach the farmhouse that Adventure Links uses as its office. The farmhouse has been around since the early 1900s and the owners of it built the first hydroelectric dam in Fairfax county which is located on our property along the blue trail and Bull Run river.

Just to the left of the farmhouse, you will see two gravestone markers. One is dated back to the Revolutionary War and marks the resting spot of Aaron Wickliffe. The memorial marker on the left is for the Wickliffe and Kincheloe burial sites that were destroyed when the Federal army camped in that exact spot. The Kincheloes have been a prominent family in this area for many years. You would have driven down or across Kincheloe road on your way to Hemlock Overlook Regional Park. The Kinchloes once owned all the land for miles around here. To this day the owner of Paradise Springs Winery is a Kincheloe.

Left of the gravestones you will see an ancient barn foundation from the late 1800s. Other foundations can be found in the area if you are up for further exploration.

Before heading back down the steps to the pond look to your right. You should see a break in the trees with a small trail. Follow that to one of my favorite spots on-site; Ye olde Beech tree. This has been a spiritual gathering place for many over the years. This beech tree is one of the oldest in this forest. It’s about 190 years old and based on the marks of decay won’t be around much longer. Look around you and imagine what this land would have looked like 150 years ago. Only this mighty beech and a few other trees stood. Everything else you see would be rolling hills used as pastureland.

Head back the way you entered. You will have seen just part of the beauty and history Hemlock Overlook has to offer.

I’ve recently joined the ranks of being a mom to not one but TWO teenage daughters. There’s no greater reward and ego-leveler than parenting! There are probably as many parenting models, tips, and sets of advice as there are diet fads. Just when we think one might work, our child or society switches on us and we lose our title of “Parent of the Year…”

Recently I came across an executive coach (Caroline Miller) as well as an article by a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania that assembled a term I’ve been trying to put to words for years. GRIT.

Something about the “everybody wins” psychology and self-esteem movement seemed to allow self-imposed helplessness in some children. Psychologist Angela Duckworth, Ph.D. introduced me to the term “grit”. She’s studied the role that character plays in success since 2005 and has identified that grit (the ability to push through or bounce back from failure) is a stronger indicator of success than intelligence or academic achievement. I realized that it was self-respect and GRIT that I most wanted to develop in my teenage girls! I can point directly to times when I tried to ease the bumpy road in front of them or make excuses for them to their detriment. I also realized that through both experiences they’ve had at home or with our very own summer camp we’ve created opportunities for the opposite! They’ve both ‘busted through barriers’ of their own, faced the potential of failing and came out ahead, or simply stayed dedicated to learn something difficult. The good news is that we have some ways to foster grit and I’ve listed those below. To explore in more depth- the Ted talk by Caroline Miller and the article by Angela Duckworth are below.

1) Put new challenges in front of your child

2) Promote perseverance- “Don’t Quite on a Bad Day”

3) Be a nudge

4) Be ok with boredom and frustration

5) Let failure unfold and model resilience

Good luck!

Anna Birch-Anna Birch | CEO

DSC02161My education philosophy perpetually changes the more I learn and experience. One of my core foundations that has remained throughout my entire professional career is that every child should have the opportunity to engage in meaningful play outside. In general, this can only be achieved if you are not afraid to get a little dirty.

I once had an art teacher that prior to making her first brush stroke would rub paint all over her hands and shirt. She claimed that in the past she was cautious about getting paint on herself while working which proved to be a creative distraction. She reasoned that if she was covered in paint before she started she could devote 100% of herself to her work.  This idea has resonated with me since and I apply the same rationale to working outside.

Throughout the years I have noticed more and more youth I work with are a bit timid and apprehensive when first exposed to an outdoor classroom. I believe some of this apprehension is due to that fact that getting dirty outside is sadly becoming less acceptable in the urbanized world.

To nip it in the bud, I like to ask the groups I work with to pick up a bunch of dirt and rub in into 20140807_123922their hands. This request is usually followed by nervous giggling and darting eyes; checking to see if mom or dad is around the corner.  I always tell my students, and my adult chaperones, that today it is okay to get dirty and if they overcome the anxiety of getting a grass stain on their knee they will be able to take full advantage of the day, learn a valuable lesson or two, and maybe just maybe have a little fun while doing it.

I find that once they are comfortable with the fact that it is acceptable to get dirty, at least for the day, they truly start to relax, are more open to learning, and engage in meaningful play with one another and their surroundings. I believe kids need to be kids and we should be encouraging them to get outside and play. Parents and guardians be warned, if you send your child to Adventure Links they may just come home a little dirty, a bit tired, and a little bit more excited to interact with the natural world.

Read more about how getting dirty outdoors benefits kids

kyle halstead

-Kyle Halstead | Program Coordinator

Just the other day, we had the sad occasion of one of our leadership team members unexpectedly losing a childhood friend. The Facebook post/tribute he wrote to this friend was vivid, beautifully written and it read as if the memories were as fresh as yesterday. However, he hadn’t seen this friend since their childhood.

I realized in that moment that there were some of my own childhood memories more crisp, vivid and alive than things that occurred just yesterday. There’s just something about the mind of a child that holds images, feelings, words, wonderful friendships, and even scents!

In the midst of this nostalgia, I was out for my daily run on our property. Upon reaching our mailbox a mile away, I opened it to find my very own treasured piece of childhood. There it was, the smallest trigger flooded my eyes with tears and took over my face with a smile, I KNEW that handwriting! You see, back then (the 70’s and 80’s), we girls wrote notes to each other and LOTS of them! The boys? Not so much. Their notes went something like this:


Dee Dee's letter
Dee Dee’s letter

“Do you like me? Circle yes   or no. Don’t show anyone.”

But I had shoeboxes full of notes from my dearest, most cherished friend Dee Dee and I would recognize a note from her anywhere, anytime. We hadn’t corresponded in nearly 10 years and there it was… my very own note from her in my mailbox. The memories flooded back and I smiled and actually teared up even before opening her letter. I credit that ‘little girl’ and those wonderful notes for getting me through a tough childhood. I navigated the confusing ups, downs, and sideways of a dad battling bipolar.

Little did I know that years later a talented keynote, psychologist, and writer would explain what all of this meant to me. Michael Thompson wrote ‘Best Friends, Worst Enemies’ where he explores the crucial and hidden role that friendships play in the lives of children. I was sitting in a keynote session he delivered at the National Cathedral in 1996. Michael described the research that demonstrated that a key indicator to a child’s resilience was the existence of one, at least one, BEST friend. He began to list all sorts of qualifiers that determined BEST friend but frankly, it was all I could do to not leap out of my chair and scream “THAT’S IT! I GET IT NOW!! I had a best friend! We believed we could get each other through anything!”

I stayed in my seat that night but quite soon after that keynote session, I left my many years as a teacher and decided it was my time to create and pursue something, something bigger than me. I knew I could build a place for best friendships and personal journeys and a place where children could uncover their own courage. And now the exciting part is that it is now something much bigger than me and I WILL let my best friend Dee Dee know that she played an integral role in creating the magic behind this company.

That something is Adventure Links.

Childhood camp t-shirt of one of our leadership team members.


Anna Birch-Anna Birch | CEO


Our family took a magical, adventurous, and once in a lifetime journey together to Arizona in December. One of the trip highlights was a descent into Glen Canyon. The hike was not for the timid and we took extra precautions throughout to “take risks” in a safe and controlled environment. Both subtle and obvious lessons emerged on that journey- equally powerful.

The first lesson for our teen girls was: Commitment creates stability. It took several practice attempts for them to realize that in order to gain stability from footing on sandstone, you had to resist the urge to use your hands for stability. Instead- by digging deep into your courage and committing your weight fully into your feet- you establish connection with the sandstone. The result? There is an amazing feeling of strength and that you have solid ground beneath you.

climbing sandstone

The second lesson came when we approached some of the set “anchors” along the descent.

This second lesson: Be your OWN anchor first.Sandstone rock anchor

It was very clear at this crossroads that we were to resist the urge to blindly accept this as our anchor. Instead- we were sure that we could count on our own footing and only make moves that we could maintain our own safety.
The most breathtaking section of the trip was when we approached this cable and after some investigation by mom and dad- we decided to live our family mantra and lesson #3: If you’re not living life on the edge, you may be taking up too much room!cable over the edge

Lesson #4: The best gifts may be those you cannot wrap. The hike out was our best family gift of 2014 and was filled with moments to open over and over again. We took the “path less traveled” and this proved to create an adventure, a family memory, and a set of mantras and lessons to draw from as we go through life’s challenges and rewards together.

Lesson #5: The best connections are from nature, not WIFI. We spent 5.5 hours on this journey as a family and when we did “find the car”, we treasured the fact that we did not see a single person the entire time- only us- the crazy, loving Birch family…


Camp Navigator has featured our Summer Camp Director Mark Diedering in their latest issue. Marks asks and answers the top questions you should ask when choosing an adventure camp. Check out the article here.

camp navigator, adventure camp, questions, mark diedering


Camp Navigator also phone interviewed Mark with some basic questions about Adventure Links’ Summer camp. You can hear the interview by clicking here. We are excited to not only offer summer camps to the DC Metro area, but to offer our experiences and advice for parents looking for the right summer option for their children.interview with mark

P1030692Have any other questions? Want more information about Adventure Links? Contact Mark at



I had absolutely no idea just how many hundreds of lives would be changed with that
fateful phone call on a beautiful Spring morning over a decade ago. It was a mother,
an unbelievably committed, energetic, and wise mother looking for a summer camp
program for her son. Little did I know that our conversation was launching a journey for
her son Brian, for our company, and for a gift in my life that still lives strong today.

I lost count of the number of times this mother called back to speak to me to “get
just a little more information” to make sure we were the right match for her child. I
was intrigued by her passion and she was not remotely hesitant to ask me the tough
questions. Eventually I learned that Brian’s mom was the founder of an advocacy
program for individuals with developmental disabilities—Starfish Savers. It’s no wonder
she knew all the right questions!

Finally, she signed Brian up for an overnight program and he arrived, duffel in hand, with
gratitude in his eyes that his mom was sending him on this adventure. It was not
long into the overnight camp that Brian is rumored to have said “I’m going to work here
one day—I like it here.” The good thing? We liked him too! Brian navigated the effects
of bi-polar every day of his life and with us had found a community and an emotional
embrace to explore his potential, his gifts, and ignite and focus his unquenchable
energy and zest for learning.

Year after year, Brian returned, he thrived, and as a company, it is an honor to consider
that we were a part of his journey through adolescence and were direct witness (and
beneficiaries) to the development of his passions. And we had only just begun…

Sometimes you just have no idea how powerful a role your child plays in another child’s life. It seemed like just another one of many play dates for my 5th grade daughter recently but this one ended quite differently!
The light conversation with her friend’s mother quickly gained depth and speed when we began sharing about our own childhoods (the good and the “bad”). We shared its impact on us as mothers and how we strive to support our daughters’ lives and whims.  She described how her daughter spent most of her early years with an inability to express emotion and did not speak a word until she was four years old. Upon reaching school age, she scored off the charts in testing but struggled to express herself verbally both academically and socially. She saw the look of surprise on my face as she described what sounded like a stranger to the little girl I had come to know as my daughter’s friend. She said “I don’t know who sent your daughter to us, but I am so thankful! She has changed our girl’s life and is her first friend ever.” She went on to describe how it has given her daughter confidence and a sense of belonging. I thought back to the lessons I was taught in my years as an elementary school teacher by the brilliant works of Michael Thompson. I realized that his philosophy on the impact a quality best friend has upon the ability to cope with adversity as a child was coming true right before my eyes.
I dug a little deeper to see what he meant by quality and it was EXACTLY what my daughter was giving to this girl:
Adolescents Definition of Quality:
“…an open ear to listen to me, don’t judge me, different perspective on me, gives me no slack, gives me the power to talk about anything, something to smile at, gives me hope, strength, courage, trust, self-confidence.” taken from: Best Friends, Worst Enemies by Michael Thompson
My resolution:
In the turn of this new year, I will reach out to those best friends from years past and those standing with me today and thank them for giving me hope, strength, courage, and trust. I will also continue to honor and provide opportunities for youth to experience quality friendships with Adventure Links as thousands pass through our life here.
Thank you and Happy 2013.


When did that magically become the answer to nearly every answer to every question I ask my pre-teen daughters?!

This past summer,  I picked up my girls up from our Adventure Links’ camp and I was bursting to ask them them all sorts of questions about their week.  Their response, even when it didn’t even quite match the question was  “fine.”

Dejected and uninformed, I surrendered and drove in silence.  What happened next was nothing short of magic for me — they broke the silence.  My girls launched, unprompted, into stories, laughter, jokes, and hilarious recollections of their adventures. Before one could take a breath, the other jumped in.  They had found their community, their voice, their power, and their story and I shifted in to a willing passenger and observer to the journey they chose.

“Mama, you’ve got to see this.”

We took the wonderful opportunity to camp out on our property with another family last month.  The hammocks were hung and we all climbed in to our cocoons for the night.

It was still dark when my daughter appeared next to me and climbed in to try to sleep a few more hours. A short while later, I hear a whisper: “Mama, you’ve got to see this…!”

When I opened my eyes, what I saw was perhaps the most intense and brilliant sunrise I’d ever experienced.  It truly appeared as if the woods had caught fire.  I could tell she was a tad hesitant to have awoken me, so I thanked her and distinctly let her know I was grateful to witness a view that I would have otherwise missed.

How many other moments would I miss without the reminders to share the unique perspective and sense of wonder that children bring to my life?  It hit me that as adults, parents, professionals, and contributors, we spend a lot of our time in “sunset” mode.  We reflect, project, and sometimes object.  How do I bring more “sunrise” people, moments, and attitudes in to my every day existence?

Because of that one spectacular sunrise, I challenge myself to sometimes discard the “what has happened” and open my eyes to what is possible.