On a muggy July evening, Libby Albers asks the question that the kids have been waiting for. "Are you ready to get wet?"
"YEAH!" they shout.
"Awesome!" Albers says as she walks with the group of about 25 children and parents down toward the creek at Wichita's Herman Hill Park. Along the way, she points out some plants that everyone should avoid and talks about some of the fish and other creatures they might find.
At a shallow edge of the creek, Albers, an environmental specialist at the city's Water Center, guides each member of the group into the water. The youngsters holler in surprise at how chilly the liquid is that's lapping around their ankles. Most of the younger children clutch tightly to the hand of a parent or older sibling, but some of the kids wade up near Albers to help her lead the way. One father carries a toddler in each arm, navigating the murky water with his pant legs rolled up.
As the water gradually gets deeper, Albers prepares the group to stay on the lookout for fish. "There are some really big fish," she says. "But don't worry. They're plant eaters, so unless you're a carrot, they won't try to eat you."
A grade schooler holds her dad's hand and hesitates until she sees her brother ahead of her in water that reaches his knees. "Come on, you can do it," her dad says. Splashing closer to her brother one step at a time, she calls back: "I'm brave, Daddy!"
This outdoor adventure is part of g2g (got to go) Outside, a program that serves Sedgwick County families by featuring events that encourage increased physical activity, family time and connection to nature. The Kansas Health Foundation gave a $22,500 grant to g2g Outside to help pay for staff, equipment and supplies.
The creek hike near the Water Center is a popular event along with free trips to Botanica and the zoo, but g2g also teaches families lots of games that they can play outside and urges kids to make physical activity a habit.
"We provide our events and also show them how to do their own things at home at very low cost. Going to a movie with the family for an evening is pretty pricey, so if a family can come out and play for an evening, that's more fun than sitting in a movie theater anyway," says Tonya Bronleewe, g2g project director and Sedgwick County Natural Resources Extension Agent.
"As you provide a common experience for a family, provide a connection point and shared experiences, they'll grow closer and have things to talk about and laugh about."
Back at Herman Hill Park, many of the children didn't want the creek hike to end. "Let's do it again!" they begged Albers. But there were more fun and games in store for this group. When the families got back to the Water Center, watermelon was waiting for them and then it was time to play Frisbee golf, look for fish in an outdoor aquarium or use paper to make colorful rubbings of bark or leaves.
"Rub, rub, rub hard," one mom coaches her daughter. "See, there's your leaf!"
Instead of using typical crayons, Albers tells the parents how she had recycled broken crayons by melting them and pouring the goop into ice cube trays to make larger, heavier colors that were easier for kids to use on projects like this.
"That is a great idea," a mother says. "I'm going to do that."
As the event draws to a close, a group of kids giggles as they chase Frisbees, a dad puts his toddlers into a stroller to walk them across the grass and a few families gather around a tree to learn more about leaves from Albers.
"Bye! See you later!" a couple of kids wave to Bronleewe and Albers on their way home, already looking forward to next week's activities.