Erin McMillan of Sedro-Woolley and her 7-year-old son, Mason, recently found a way to get outside and enjoy nature, have fun and learn something all at once on the Skagit Watershed Letterbox Trail.
Letterboxing is sort of a British treasure hunt that dates back nearly 150 years.
The McMillans' most recent escapade found them on the Pomona Grange Trail in Burlington, hunting boxes for clues.
The Skagit Conservation Education Alliance included three trails in its Letterbox Trail — Pomona Grange Trail in Burlington, Padilla Bay Upland Trail in Mount Vernon and Utopia Trail in Sedro-Woolley. The Skagit Watershed Letterbox Trail remains open until Oct. 4.
Anyone can participate just by printing a clue sheet downloaded from www.skagitcleanwater.org. Then grab a pen, dress for the conditions and head for a trail.
As participants find the letterboxes, they can draw what they see on their clue sheet.
Mason, a second-grader at Sedro-Woolley's Mary Purcell Elementary School, plans to visit all three trails. The McMillans hiked Utopia Trail first before visiting Pomona Grange.
"Padilla Bay will be the last hike," Erin McMillan said. "The beach is Mason's favorite."
Each trail gives kids an opportunity to explore and learn about local watersheds and the flora and fauna that thrive there.
"It's fun," Mason said as he hoofed it along the Pomona Grange path in search of letterbox clues in the form of laminated informational signs. "I like to collect sticks and stuff. But mostly sticks."
It didn't take him long to locate the first of seven letterboxes, this one titled: "The Many Benefits of Trees".
Mason was asked to rattle off some things trees do. He quickly said that they make oxygen, carve wood, grow moss and ferns and look cool.
The letterbox noted that trees are also important to salmon habitat.
Then it was time to draw what he saw. Mason chose the maple tree — covered in moss and licorice ferns — that towered above the letterbox.
As the clues to the next letterbox were read by his mom, Mason scampered ahead, finding letterbox stations pertaining to pollinators, food chains, spring boards, macroinvertibrates and the workings of the state's fish hatchery bordering Friday Creek. And sticks and snails, too.
"This is great," Erin said. "I'd rather have him outside doing stuff like this. And he hasn't complained about wearing a mask once."
To add to the experience, hikers can use a smartphone to scan QR codes for more discoveries.
Once two trails have been visited, participants can scan or send a photo of the clue sheet to enter a prize drawing.