Recently, we discovered a program going on in our city called Charleston Explorers. Apparently, this has been going on for over a year but since it's only really marketed to visitors to Charleston, as opposed to residents, no one I know has even heard of it. We ourselves only stumbled upon it during an emergency bathroom visit to the downtown visitor's center. But we're so happy we did!
Essentially, it's a passport visiting program for kids. Each participant gets a passport and a list of participating venues. Every venue you visit stamps your passport, you enter the stamps' codes online, and you receive prizes after you visit so many sites. We also got a pail and shovel for each boy just for signing up. Many of the venues are free or places we visit regularly already, like the Children's Museum or county parks. Since we started two weeks ago, the boys and I have already visited 10 places (even whilst sick), and here is what we've learned so far:
--Angel Oak is between 300 and 400 years old and absolutely irresistible for climbing if you are between 1 and 4 despite the many signs and stern parental warnings telling you not to do so.
--The North Charleston & American LeFrance Fire Museum & Educational Center not only has the world's longest name but ALSO a real fire pole to slide down! AND it has one of the most truly terrifying exhibits I've ever seen, a house that simulates all the fire hazards one might find at home, complete with red lights and smoke and blasts of hot air. Both boys wouldn't let go of my hands during this little demonstration!
--The Charles Pinckney National Historic Site is staffed by a VERY lonely ranger who really, really wanted to chat, even though my kids were fairly unimpressed by this house of one of the main crafters and signers of the Constitution. They did, however, like the large holly tree outside and the plentiful Spanish Moss.
--Palmetto Islands County Park may contain perhaps the most dangerous playground I've ever encountered: it is surrounded by swamps on two sides, has a 25 foot tall slide accessible only by an ambitious climbing wall, and boasts two kinds of spinning balance toys that started spinning so quickly on their own, with no pushing whatsoever, that both my boys were tossed to the (thankfully padded) ground in no time. Of course, they loved this playground with abandon and want to return as soon as possible!
--Fort Moultrie is NOT stroller accessible, no matter what the ranger says, and is filled with underground tunnels that made my (admittedly feverish) 3 year old so nervous he went running as soon as we got outside, only to get caught on an unexpectedly steep down slope that resulted in his falling and skinning a knee and an elbow. Ours was a short visit to the fort!
We have also discovered that many of the sites are not accustomed to visits from Charleston Explorers. As a public service, we've spent some time helping various places locate their stamps so future Explorers won't have such a difficult job ahead of them! If we're still here in January, we will combine this program with the Tourists in Your Own Town promotion run every year and perhaps get ourselves into some of the more expensive sites, particularly those elusive plantations and the rest of the historical houses, which currently charge far too much for a casual visit. But we still have quite a few no or low cost options left, so more adventures await us!