Quest best enjoyed with friends

Adventure should be shared.

What would Lewis be without Clark? Mason minus Dixon? Hillary sans Norgay?


Even that adventure stud Indiana Jones didn't go solo, although Harrison Ford once played Han Solo. But I digress.

So when it came time to compete in the Maryland Park Service's new Park Quest contest, I expected to be at the helm of Team Spartacus, with three trusty friends by my side.


Wishful thinking. Commitments - prior, last-minute and fabricated - reduced the hearty team to me. With apologies to Kirk Douglas, I was Spartacus.

But not to worry. When your friends abandon you, rent some.

That's why on a Chamber of Commerce kind of day last week, with blue skies, fluffy clouds and a fresh breeze out of the north, five kids, two adults and I scampered around Tuckahoe and Martinak state parks in search of clues.

Park Quest follows the blueprint of Connecticut's "The Great Park Pursuit," a part scavenger hunt, part trivia contest. Six Eastern Shore parks - Wye Island, Tuckahoe, Martinak, Janes Island, Pocomoke River and Assateague - are the game board.

Register online, go to a park, get a clue sheet and find the answers, which could be on a map, part of a sign, under your feet or over your head. The whole shebang is free.

(I signed an official "don't ask, don't tell" waiver, so I'm not at liberty to spill any Park Quest beans under pain of losing my Department of Natural Resources decoder ring.)

For last week's outing, my rented friends consisted of Team Wandering Wootens and Team Fearless Foxes, both of Ocean Pines. With two of six Park Quest challenges behind them, they were ringers.

Improving my chances, Papa Fox was Lt. Gary Adelhardt, a 22-year park service veteran, manager of Pocomoke River State Park and, with Tuckahoe park manager John Ohler, the driving force behind Quest.


Now, before you get your knickers in a twist, please note that Adelhardt and his three daughters are not eligible for prizes. The family just likes adventures and took pity on me.

More than 100 families signed up for the contest that began Memorial Day weekend and ends July 20. Contestants who finish all six quests are invited to Pocomoke River State Park on Aug. 2 for the finale to compete in the drawing for four theme packages: biking, camping, fishing and paddling.

At Tuckahoe, our first stop, Ranger Jessica Conley handed out the Quest packages, which contain the question sheet, a map and a compass.

The Wootens and Foxes had 90 minutes to answer the questions, which required a little bit of math, a little bit of map reading and a lot of teamwork.

Lessons came quickly.

Sassafras leaves are shaped like mittens. Red oak leaves have points while white oak leaves are rounded, Adelhardt explained.


"What kind of tree is this?" came the question.

"It's not. It's poison ivy," Adelhardt said, as everyone took a step back.

Crossing wooden bridges and padding along a carpet of pine needles, the kids told Quest tales.

Michael Wooten, 8, loved finding surprises in the woods, such as the old car buried up to its doors and chrome bumper in dirt.

Holly Adelhardt, 9, liked catching her first crabs at Janes Island. "We were fishing, but the crabs showed up instead."

Quest stories from other contestants appear on the DNR Web site as diary entries:


"We saw lots of little frogs by the waterfowl pond and a little fox napping on the road in the shade," Party of Seven wrote of the Wye Island adventure. "The hanging Osage trees made the last part of the journey spooky, but fun."

"After doing the question sheet and learning a few new things about crabs we went out to the dock," wrote Team Scharch of the Janes Island expedition. "We got lucky and the crabs were hungry that morning and caught three in no time. I almost wish it had taken longer so we would have had a reason to stay longer."

"Before setting out for our Corker's Creek Canoe Trail quest, we started our dinner cooking in the cast iron pot (pot roast with carrots and potatoes) which would cook all day until we returned from completing our quest," Team Voodoo's entry said about the Pocomoke challenge. "When we returned to our campsite, the smell of pot roast lingered throughout our camp loop. Boy was it awesome!"

The young Adelhardts said they weren't surprised that people liked the contest.

"We have friends at school who are doing it, too," said Kelly, 12. "They said since they're never going to be stars on Survivor, this is the next best thing."

If funding is available next year, Park Quest will move to another part of the state.


"We don't want to have it just here," Lt. Adelhardt said. "This is about getting people out in all our parks.

"I'm just getting a kick out of this, watching kids out and running around and families exploring together," he said. "That's what Park Quest is all about."

We finished the Tuckahoe challenge with eight minutes to spare. The Wootens beat the Foxes by the slimmest of margins. The scavenger hunt at Martinak - no time limit - ended in a tie and calls for a rematch.

Park Quest details are on the DNR Web site. There's still space and time to get on board.

And I know where you can rent some friends.