Raising Happy, Healthy Kids Outdoors

During last year’s Memorial Day tornados, Stacie Koogler and her son, River Ruh, spent the evening braving the storms in a closet, wearing their bike helmets. The next morning, she and River were ready to help. Buying water, diapers, wipes and more for those who were displaced, Koogler was compelled to do something positive.


Since that day Koogler — along with a community of her downtown Dayton peers — has supported those affected by last summer’s tragic events. Her retreat when she needs to decompress and spend quality time with her son? Nature.

“Sometimes, I need a muddy creek under my feet,” Koogler says. “Sometimes, I have to be creative to find ways to involve River so I can do the things that I want to do, and I’m able to take him along on so many adventures because he likes being outdoors too.”

River has been hitting Five Rivers MetroParks’ trails with his mom before he could walk. Koogler would put him in a carrier and take short adventures with the group Hike It Baby. Now 3, River is at home in the outdoors, munching on veggies from his preschool’s garden, identifying plants and exploring more independently. Koogler also believes time spent outdoors has helped River grow developmentally.

“He’s a risk taker — he’s very good at thinking outside the box and problem solving,” Koogler says. “I love watching him experience things for the first time.”

River also has fused vertebrae and wears an orthopedic brace. Koogler says time outside provides him with extra physical therapy, which is important for his growth.

Indeed, nature-based experiences are crucial to those of all ages — especially early learners. According to the Child Mind Institute, children who regularly spend time outdoors experience myriad benefits, from building creativity and imagination to reducing stress and fatigue.

Adults share many of these same benefits when spending time in nature, and Koogler is a great example.

The single mom and Oregon District resident works at two of its female-owned businesses, Heart Mercantile and Beck + Call. Koogler and her co-workers led a charge to raise funds and gather supplies after 2019’s tornadoes and Oregon District mass shooting. Between work, helping rebuild a community and being a parent, Koogler still prioritizes time spent outside for her and River’s wellbeing.

They have visited all 18 MetroParks and regularly attend MetroParks’ special events and programs. They are also regulars at the 2nd Street Market, where vendors look forward to visits from River.

“The MetroParks are so diverse,” Koogler says. “There’s something different to do at each one.”

On deck for the mother-son adventure team? Koogler, who loves the water, wants to paddle more with River. Additionally, they look forward to volunteering with MetroParks.

A volunteer experience for those of all ages, Adopt-a-Park is a great way to introduce children to giving back to nature and the community. This year’s Adopt-a-Park is also part of MetroParks’ Healing Nature initiative, which will provide residents and municipalities affected by last year’s tornadoes with tree seedlings to rebuild greenspaces.

During Adopt-a-Park, volunteers will help plant trees in areas around Montgomery County that experienced extensive tree loss. Learn more by visiting metroparks.org/healing-nature.

Family Favorites

Don’t know where to start exploring with your family? Here are Stacie and River’s top MetroParks picks:

FAVORITE METROPARK: Koogler loves Cox Arboretum MetroPark, in addition to parks with ample hiking opportunities such as Germantown, Twin Creek and Taylorsville MetroParks. River is fond of Wesleyan, Wegerzyn, Carriage Hill and Possum Creek MetroParks.

FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Stacie loves kayaking, hiking, and relaxing by rivers and creeks. River loves the Children’s Discovery Garden at Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark and the farm animals at Possum Creek and Carriage Hill MetroParks. They both agree the best opportunity for playing in a creek is at Wesleyan MetroPark. Stacie considers Wesleyan a hidden gem, along with Possum Creek MetroPark.

FAVORITE PROGRAMS AND EVENTS: Stacie and River are regulars at the annual Wagner Subaru Outdoor Experience, held the first weekend in October, and at the Spooky Garden Celebration at Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark in late October. They walk to RiverScape MetroPark to enjoy summer festivals, special events and more. They particularly love Yoga in the Park. Stacie likes that it’s an outdoor experience so she doesn’t have to worry about River making noise and being a kid. He affectionately calls the pose downward dog “upside down face.”

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