For an unforgettable family adventure, take to the water

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

This month's suggestion for family getaways may seem at first blush to be a little "out there." Maybe. But, if you please, hear me out.

In 1988, my then-husband John and I bought a 32-foot Freedom sailboat. Because we were inclined to make snap decisions (still are, alas!) we thought it would be fun to live on the boat. We moved aboard in May, planning to sail down the Intracoastal Waterway to Florida. We were docked in Sackett's Harbor, New York, right at the Canadian border in Lake Ontario.

I had never sailed before, but John had a lot of experience with all kinds of watercraft. We spent the summer practicing in Lake Ontario and in August, we took off. Before we left, we had to take down the mast and strap it flat on top of the boat, because many bridges on the Waterway would be too low for us to sail under. Because the sails and the mast were strapped to the top of the boat, we had a big diesel engine to move us along until the mast could be re-installed. My father flew up from Nashville to join our adventure, and we were a happy lot as we cast off, waving to our friends who had assembled on the dock.

We had tide charts, Waterway guides, and maintenance manuals, none of which I understood, but they were John's bibles. He studied them constantly. By early evening, we left the lake and entered the Oswego River. It wasn't long before we came upon the first lock.

I understood how a lock worked in theory, but having never seen or used one, it was scary. I walked to the lockmaster's quarters, and asked him for whatever help he might give us. He looked puzzled, but assured me everything would be just fine.

I felt better as we motored into the lock when I saw a tiny ski boat, with a girl sliding her hand on the wall as the water went down. John had attached lines to the ladder on the lock's wall to be moved down from one rung to the next as the water level dropped.

In the next few weeks, we entered and left many locks, and it was no longer scary, but still exciting. When darkness fell each night, we tied up to free docking sites, and the three of us slept soundly - rocked by the easy bobbing of the boat.

We installed the mast at a marina near Albany and sailed into the Hudson River to the New York Harbor. Bridges that were too low to sail under now opened as we glided under them.

The locks, the Waterway, and the historic Erie Canal fascinated me. I became a devotee when I discovered it was the canals that first moved goods from one place to another, and were a major contributor to the growth of our country. I had no idea of the importance of the Ohio and Erie canals. Farm crops from Ohio now reached New York in a matter of days rather than weeks, and Ohio became the third largest state in the country. It was 1825.

On our trip, we stayed in the Chesapeake Bay for a month before we headed south once more. We arrived in Eau Gallie, Florida, in late November.

Now, you're asking yourself if I am recommending a trip of many months for your family. No, but if you could manage it, you'd have the time of your life. It is a learning experience like no other. We had hundreds of unique and wonderful experiences.

Many boats had children aboard. We met one family with two toddlers. They had constructed "boat seats" for the little girls, and they took to it like - well - ducks to water.

I scoured the Internet looking for a shorter and less-expensive trek to recommend for a similar outing to give your family a new and exciting adventure. Something that would involve everyone. There are many trips from Lake Erie down the canal loop that winds its way back to the lake. There also are boats of all kinds for charter.

No trips I found are as easy or as close as the Muskingum River Parkway. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is Ohio's second recognized water trail. Its unique system of 10 locks and dams passing through four counties is used for recreational boating. The one-of-a-kind, hand-operated lock system provides access up and down a water corridor of 112 miles. It serves 7,000 boaters every year, who come to fish, camp, picnic and play in the beautiful Muskingum Valley.

In a day when our children's health, both of body and mind, is decreasing at an alarming rate, it's time for us to engage them in new and adventurous activities. I can think of no safer yet exciting adventure than the whole family taking to the River Parkway.

We may very well meet out there. My family is planning a trip. Be sure to wave if we pass one another.

See you on the river!