"We get a lot of visitors in the fall," said Allison Vaughn, natural resources steward at Big Oak Tree State Park. "I think it's just because it's not so hot and it's just such a calming place."
Not only is the time outdoors relaxing, it could be beneficial for children's health, Vaughn said. Recent studies have linked childhood depression and fears of the woods with spending less time outside. "They're not getting out in nature so they don't have that real connection," she said.
Vaughn also is interested in the future of the park's upkeep. "If these children are not getting out and appreciating nature, then as adults, they're not going to want to protect it," she said.
Leother Branch, conservation agent in Scott County, agreed that the outdoors is a good place to relax during this time of year. He pointed out two areas in Scott County -- the General Watkins Conservation Area near Benton, and Tywappity Lake at Chaffee.
General Watkins, with one of the highest elevations in the area, is a 1,200-
acre area, he said.
"It's designed for families to go out and enjoy the woods on a maintained trail," Branch said. The park includes several trails and "excellent fall foliage," he said, making it a good area for hiking or camping.
It's the place for people who want to see wildlife, too, Branch said. "We manage that area for deer and turkey, so we have food plots and water holes," he said. He urged people to simply observe the animals and not try to catch them.
At Big Oak, now is the time to see the monarch butterfly migration, which lasts until the end of the month, Vaughn said. There are also two trails there for hiking -- one of which is handicap accessible.
Big Oak, with 1,026 acres, is the only tract of uncut forest in all of southeast Missouri, Vaughn pointed out. The park has several national and state champion trees "the largest of their kind in both the state and the country," and many trees with great leaf colors.
Although the General Watkins area and Big Oak prohibit bikes, those wanting a scenic bike ride can go to the Tywappity Lake in Chaffee, Branch suggested. There is a maintained trail circling the lake for bikers and hikers. People can fish in the lake, and there are also pavilions and picnic tables set up.
While driving in those areas, Branch urged alertness, especially at night. "Deer season is coming up and they are starting to move a lot more," he said. "Put on your high beams for better visibility when driving through wooded areas."
Big Oak and other parks in the area provide an atmosphere for people to picnic, hike and do other activities at their own leisure, but for those who want a bit more structure, there are two local businesses that offer fun and learning to children and their families.
For the first year, Mueller's Greenhouses in Bertrand will host "Family Fun" from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Between 4 and 7 p.m., there will be family activities, said Lachele Brink, manager.
"We're just trying to add some new activities," Brink said. "We're selling mums and pumpkins and thought it would be nice to add something special for the kids."
The activities are geared toward pre-kindergarten through second grade students, Brink said. The experience should help them learn and see something new.
"A lot of these kids probably haven't been on a hay ride before," she said.
Near Blodgett, the Beggs Family Farm is open for the season, too. Tuesday through Friday, the farm is open to school groups, who learn while there.
"We do a little instructional video on growing corn and how the corn maze is actually designed," said co-owner Sheila Beggs. There is also information at the animal stations telling children what the animal is and what foods and other products come from it -- with some animals not even native to the area.
"It's about knowing that your products are coming from the farm, not the store," Beggs continued. "We're trying to educate the children a little bit but also not let them realize they're being educated."
Over the weekends, the farm is open to families. "Most families that come in will spend about four hours here," Beggs said. "There's a wide variety of activities for anyone, from your preschooler up to your teenager."
There are several activities and games offered for visitors, but it's still flexible, with all of them optional. One of the biggest draws in the Miner Max Maze, Beggs said.
"It's made out of fencing and it has slides and tunnels in it," she explained. "If you look in it, it looks like it might be easy, but anytime you put in bridges and tunnels where you're going over and under it really confuses you on where you've been and where you've got to go."
The maze is so popular that some families will come in the morning as a family, and the adults return at night -- with their wristbands still on -- to do the corn maze in the dark, Beggs said.
The theme of this year's maze in "Celebrating Freedom," a tribute to the military. And anyone who brings a military ID will be admitted for half price, Beggs said.
The biggest positives are spending time outdoors together, Beggs said of the farm. "Everything is an outdoor activity and family-oriented," she said. "And it's not geared toward Halloween, it's geared toward fall."
Big Oak Tree State Park
* Open from 6 a.m. to sunset, with the nature center opening at 6 a.m.
* Includes two trails, plus picnic tables, grills and a small lake for fishing
Mueller's "Family Fun"
* 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with family activities from 4 to 7 p.m., located at the greenhouses in Bertrand
* $5 per child, accompanied by a guardian. Includes a mini-hayride, discovery trail, small pumpkin and treat bag.
*?Pumpkin carving station available at no charge with the purchase of a pumpkin.
*?Scarecrow stuffing station for $10, child gets to take the scarecrow home.
*?Appointments are recommended and a must for school groups. For more information, call 573-683-6879.
Begg's Family Farm
*?Open to school groups on Tuesday through Friday
*?Open to families on the weekends, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday
*?Includes a maze, moonlight barnyard golf, pig races, a barnyard train, barnyard twister, wooden play fort, corn cannon, wagon rides, bonfires, milking cow, pumpkins available for purchase, monster slide, straw jump, farm animal displays and more
*?$8 per person ages 2 and up
*?For more information, go to www.beggsfamilyfarm.com or call 471-3879