#OptOutside is bringing Mercer County residents closer to nature

Hikers at Baldpate Mountain in Hopewell Township from the 2018 #OptOutside event.

Mercer County residents will be able to work off their Thanksgiving meals through a local #OptOutside program on Black Friday.

The Nov. 29 event is a county park system program designed for participants to enjoy the outdoors from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. rather than spending the day inside or shopping in malls.

Officials said the program will have several activities throughout the park system.

“The whole purpose behind #OptOutside is to encourage people to get outside and enjoy nature instead of people being cooped up in shopping malls and lines on the day,” said Christy Athmejvar, a naturalist and creator of the #OptOutside program for Mercer County. “Prior to my involvement, the county had been providing a hike to Baldpate Mountain. I decided I wanted to offer programming that would appeal to different people of different abilities.”

Created three years ago, #OptOutside includes scavenger hunts on the trails in John A. Roebling Memorial Park just outside of Trenton and Mercer Meadows in Lawrence Township.

A five-mile hike to the summit of Baldpate Mountain in Hopewell Township is also part of the day for individuals who want more of a challenge, according to officials.

“I developed this scavenger hunt program to be as long as 15 minutes or four hours. It depends on how long you want to be outside and how far you want to walk,” Athmejvar said. “This makes it also friendly for parents with young children and seniors who may not be as mobile. The two parks we selected to have this event in have wide trails good for people with physical limitations.”

She said the Baldpate Mountain hike allows for people to choose whether to do the full five-mile hike or just parts of it.

The scavenger hunts referenced by Athmejvar will have clues through the trails of both Roebling Park and Mercer Meadows. Each participant on the day will need to go to either the Tulpehaking Nature Center in Hamilton Township or the Historic Hunt Barn in Pennington to pick up their ‘Choose your own Adventure Passport’ to begin the day’s event.

“We have had a few hundred people participate in this event and has seen an increase over the last few years,” Athmejvar said. “I have achieved so far what I have wanted for this program. I am constantly trying to find ways to get people outside to enjoy the outdoors. I know that only providing three options for three different parks is still limiting to some people. I would love to expand this into a few of our other parks.”

According to officials, #OptOutside is also a partnership with the Recreation Equipment Incorporated (REI) movement where winners of the scavenger hunts get to select prizes from REI that include backpacks and hiking gear. REI is a retail and outdoor recreation company that created the national #OptOutside movement to help people reconnect with nature over the holidays.

“We want people to be aware of their environment and surroundings with this event and enjoy it. We want people to be present in the moment and enjoy family, friends and even strangers while they are out in the parks,” Athmejvar said.

For more information about the #OptOutside program, visit www.mercercountyparks.org.