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Boys and Outdoors

Enough energy for an entire family in Clay County, MO

By Jackie Tucker

“Race you to the top!” Ryan, my middle son, shouted as he and his two brothers began scrambling up the 40-foot-high rock climbing wall. As a mom of three boys—ages 10, 12 and 13—my days are filled with sports, roughhousing, and the inevitable bumps and bruises that come along with boys. “Active” is a tame adjective used to describe my crew. So, my husband, Scott, and I knew that our trip to Clay County, Missouri, would have to include some sort of physical activity to keep them all entertained.

We started our trip at RoKC Climbing Gym in North Kansas City, and the boys (Scott included) could not have been more pumped. Scott had climbed quite a bit when he was younger, and our boys have literally been climbing the walls in our house since they could walk. So, the one-day pass and rental gear offered to visitors was a perfect fit for us. Scott was a smidge rusty at first, but a little healthy competition with the boys quickly got him back in the groove.

“How did you do that?!” asked Drew, our oldest, as Scott flew past him on a tricky route along an overhang. Scott beamed with pride and talked Drew through the route. There were plenty of challenging routes throughout the gym, but thankfully—for my sake—there were also features for beginners. Having played various sports growing up, I’m fairly coordinated, but heights have never been my thing. So, I was a little nervous.

“You’ve got this, Mom!” Aaron, our youngest, cheered from 20 feet above my head as I started my ascent. “Just don’t look down,” he added with a mischievous grin. The RoKC instructor helping me was reassuring as he took time to teach me how to use the ropes and the Auto Belay system. I was pretty proud of myself when I made it to the top and didn’t pass out. And rappelling back down the wall was actually really fun!

We browsed around the Pro Shop, and Scott purchased climbing shoes for himself and the boys. His old passion for climbing had been renewed, and he was excited to start sharing this new adventure with the kids.

Lakeside golf fun

Ryan started showing an interest in golf after he dominated the entire family on a putt-putt course last summer. We signed him up for lessons shortly after, and he had been doing really well. So, a family golf outing at Paradise Pointe in Smithville was a must.

The public golf course offers two 18-hole courses, The Posse and The Outlaw, both awarded a 4-star rating by Golf Digest. After a quick and tasty lunch at The Clubhouse, we chose The Posse and were not disappointed. It’s a par-72 course laid out with beautiful blue grass that stays in good condition all year round, and the views from the lakeside holes along Smithville Lake are stunning.

“Mom, it’s your turn,” Aaron called out. I had gotten distracted by a deer family grazing along the edge of the trees at Hole 5. I pointed them out, then Drew noticed an eagle taking off from a nearby tree. We all stood in awe watching it soar over the lake.

Ryan knocked out birdies for the next four holes in a row, and I was so proud to watch him give tips and tricks to Aaron and Drew.

“Those golf lessons are really paying off,” Scott said as he gave Ryan a hearty pat on the back.

“Maybe you should start taking them, too, Dad,” Aaron teased as he looked down at Scott’s scorecard.

Things that go bump in the night

Scott and I love wine and were eager to explore the beautiful and historic Belvoir Winery. We told the boys we were headed to a winery in Liberty next, and the eye rolls were so big they were almost audible. Before they could claim that wineries were boring, though, I pulled up the website for the winery’s paranormal investigations to pique their interest in where we were going. Although we wouldn’t take the tour on this visit, the boys went nuts—they love all things spooky and creepy, and an actual haunted building is about as spooky and creepy as it gets.

“Will we see actual ghosts?” Ryan asked, jittery with excitement.

“You never know,” Scott replied with a sly grin. “Keep your eyes peeled!”

While at the winery we learned about the history of this property, which is steeped in local lore. The 170 acres in Liberty contain a former orphanage, nursing home, hospital and cemetery, and the place was run for more than a century by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a secret society that performed dark and secret rituals on the grounds.

Scott and I enjoyed our free wine tasting immensely, while the boys stayed alert watching for ghosts. Though they didn’t see any, Scott and I both discovered a new favorite red—Belvoir’s Lucky Pierre, and picked up a couple of bottles to bring home with us. The boys took every last opportunity to peek around corners for spooks as we headed for the car—in the end, they wanted to stay longer!

You’re never too old for a pumpkin patch

The next morning we went for something a little more outdoorsy and headed over to Carolyn’s Country Cousins pumpkin farm in Liberty. I knew it would have plenty of fun for all the boys, and that I was right. The boys reverted back to their early childhood when we got on the tractor-pulled hayride. Drew stuck a piece of hay in the corner of his mouth, adopted a thick Southern twang and entertained us with a silly story about a haunted pumpkin patch.

They all loved Uncle Lester’s pig races, where we cheered on piglets with names like Porkchop and Ham & Eggs as they raced each other around a fresh mud course. At the petting farm, our animal lover, Aaron, was in heaven. By the time we were done, he had almost—almost—convinced me that we needed a pet goat. Just what this mama needs—another kid!

I realized that Scott had disappeared and began looking around for him. A minute later, he was striding toward me with a box full of pumpkin donuts and a round of refreshing apple slushes for us all.

Hitting the trail

Our final destination was Watkins Woolen Mill National Historic Site near Lawson. It felt like stepping back into the 1800s as we toured Waltus Watkins’ perfectly preserved home and three-story woolen mill. We wandered through the parlor, reading room and bedrooms of the two-and-a-half story Classic Revival brick home. We even peeked into the basement where the butter and cheese were produced for the farm dairy.

The woolen mill, just like the house, was built with handmade brick and timbers cut directly from Watkins’ land. It is the only 19th century textile mill in the US that still has its original machinery intact. Scott was fascinated by the history and by Watkins’ use of his land and resources.

Nowadays, the land around the National Historic Site is part of the larger Watkins Mill State Park, which includes the 100-acre Williams Creek Lake with picnic and camping grounds and adventure trails. The nearly four-mile path around the lake is ideal for hiking and biking with easy slopes and scenic views. It was a perfect sunny day. So, we hit the trail.

The path meandered around the lake and through oak-hickory woods that occasionally opened up into stunning vistas across the water. After meandering over old wooden bridges and up a few small hills, we came across deer and wild turkey peering out of the woods, causing us to shush each other and slow down as we passed through the peaceful scenery.

Just north of the swim beach, we discovered a gorgeous waterfall in Williams Creek and stopped to rest on the wooden overlook deck. A tradition in our family is to do a “high point/low point” check in at the end of every trip, and this seemed like a good spot to do it. Scott started us off by talking about his high point—the climbing gym. But as far as I was concerned, the entire trip had been a high point. And I couldn’t think of a better way to end it than taking in the beautiful nature views around me with my four crazy boys.

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