Balto Statue in Central Park

From the Belvedere Castle to a zoo, there is a lot for tourists and locals to enjoy in Central Park, but for us there was only one priority – to see the statue of Balto,’The Bravest Dog Ever’.

Our interest in the famous Alaskan sled dog began early this school year when our daughter’s first grade teacher gave her a book about famous dogs. The story featured Balto and the incredible mission to save children in the small town of Nome, Alaska from an outbreak of diphtheria in 1925.

This story captured our daughter’s imagination and soon we were ordering other versions of the book including ‘The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto (Step-Into-Reading)’ and ‘Balto of the Blue Dawn (Magic Tree House: Merlin Missions Book 26)’. Through our Balto research, we discovered that there is a bronze statue of Balto in Central Park. Since we were planning a trip to New Jersey to visit family, we decided to find the statue in New York City on our Spring Break trip.

On a Sunday morning, we took a train from New Jersey to Penn Station in New York. We were a little nervous to use busy public transportation with our kids, but they did great. Here is a map of the NJ Transit Rail System. At Penn Station we were able to get on the Subway (Subway Map) to Central Park and the Museum of Natural History.

We attempted to re-create a picture we took during our first trip to New York, which was six years ago. I wrote about our experience visiting New York with a baby stroller here.

At last, we found Balto! You can find out more information about ‘one the most beloved monuments in the Park’ from the Central Park Conservancy.

Eagle Watch Nature Trail at AEP-SWEPCO Flint Creek Power Plant

The Flint Creek Power Plant Eagle Watch Nature Trail is located near Gentry, Arkansas. According to on-site signage, the plant site contains a 500-acre cooling lake. There is a half mile trail with two pavilions and a viewing deck that are open to the public.

Link to AEP-SWEPCO trail map.

Eagles in Northwest Arkansas

Visitors come to see bald eagles that winter on the lake. According to SWEPCO’s website, ‘Although wintering bald eagles are the main attraction, many of the 144 bird species identified at the site also can be seen.’ For this reason, the site has been designated as an important bird area by Audubon Arkansas.

BirdingNorthwest Arkansas

Here is a list of birds that you might be able to see on your visit. We brought along our binoculars and cameras which turned this short hike into an adventure for our girls (ages 5 and 7). They were eager to get out and explore!

SWEPCO
Eagle Watch Nature Trail
Eagle Watch Nature Trail Flint Creek Power Plant
Eagle Watch Nature Trail Flint Creek Power Plant

Visit swepco.com for more information.

Interested in spotting more eagles? Check out the Audubon society’s Northwest Arkansas Winter Bald Eagle Auto Tour as well as a list of over 40 places to bird watch in Northwest Arkansas.

Arkansas Winter Hikes at Devil’s Den State Park

Today I’m looking back at a hike we did last January at Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas.

Yellow Rock

My husband and I were able to schedule a babysitter so that we could hike the Yellow Rock Trail (3 miles) and the Devil’s Den Self Guided Trail (1.5 miles) back-to-back.

Pairing these two hikes makes a great combination because you get the views from Yellow Rock and great waterfalls and caves/rock formations on the Devil’s Den Self-Guided Trail. In a short amount of time, you get a good taste of what makes Arkansas hiking so incredible.

January is typically cold in Arkansas, but when the sun is shining, winter is one of my favorite times to hike in the Natural State.

rock formations decorated with icicles.

Arkansas waterfalls

Melting icicles and snow led to more active water flow. We spotted extra waterfalls along the Self-Guided trail compared to when we hiked it during the hot summer months.

On previous trips to Devil’s Den State park, we hiked the Yellow Rock trail with our kids which I wrote about here. We also hiked the Self-Guided Trail and wrote about that here.

Devil’s Den State Park website includes hours, directions, and additional trail information.

Hike-it-baby’s website reviews the Yellow Rock trail and gives great pointers about hiking with children and pets on this trail.

6 Lessons from Renting Out Our Cabin in Estes Park, Colorado

A while back I shared six lessons we learned from buying and selling property in Estes Park, Colorado. I wanted to follow-up with the lessons we’ve learned from renting out our cabin. I’m going into a lot of detail in this post, but I hope that it is helpful for anyone who is considering buying a property in Estes Park with the idea of renting it out to offset costs or earn income. There are many ways to rent out your property, and I’m not an expert, but I hope you find this helpful.

Scheduling our vacation time

We live out-of-state, so we wanted to take advantage of the time we are away from our cabin by earning rental income. Our property has on-site management that takes care of all the details for us from booking to cleaning. This means we don’t always know when our cabin is booked, so we must communicate with the management company to understand availability. There have been several times that we haven’t reserved our preferred weekend in advance and the cabin was booked. The summer and fall weekends can fill up quickly in Estes Park.

balancing income vs. personal use

We are still trying to figure out the best balance between using the cabin for ourselves and earning income on the property. Some years the rental income covered the cost of owning the property (homeowner association dues, cleaning fees, utilities, insurance, property taxes, and basic repairs). It wouldn’t cover the cost of a mortgage or larger maintenance projects in one year. However, we have been able to save income over a few years’ time and use that money to upgrade the flooring.

The issue of balancing income is something we expected based on the trade-off of having a significant percentage taken out of rental income with the turnkey on-site management, as well as our own personal use of the condo during peak season nights. Obviously, if you pay for the cabin in cash or pay off the mortgage, there is less ongoing costs to factor into this equation. Blending personal usage with your investment property can also have unique tax implications, so be sure to keep good records and consult with a tax professional to keep things straight.

Repairs and projects

We were a little concerned that renting out our property would result in extra expenses related to heavier usage. We are grateful that our guests have treated our cabin with care. We had to fix our fold-out couch which was covered under warranty. There were a few other minor issues like a shower door getting off track and a leg of a stool that needed repair. Overall, we’ve had good luck so far.

We invested in our property by staining the outside. The stain will help protect the wood from harsh winter conditions and keep the cabin looking beautiful. This cost was in addition to our normal HOA fees.

In 2021, we upgraded our flooring. We chose LVP which we hope will last longer and be more durable. Having work done in a mountain town can be more expensive and difficult to schedule. We were happy with the service and quality we received from a local company, Park Flooring.

New Flooring

The pandemic has had a positive impact on bookings as more people want to get outside and can work remotely. Based on this usage, we are anticipating additional repairs and budgeting for them.

Cleaning service (pros and cons)

As owners we pay a cleaning fee each time our property is rented. We feel like this is a better value for our guests, compared to other vacation rentals that tack on extra booking and cleaning fees. We also pay a cleaning fee for our own visits so that the property is always up to a rent-ready standard. It’s nice to be able to leave without worrying about washing and drying all the bed linens. At our first Estes Park condo, we often spent half a day cleaning before we left town.

Manage Financials

We have found it helpful to keep a spreadsheet of expenses and a separate bank account for this property for tracking purposes. It’s also important to understand the insurance/liability that comes with owning a rental property. Condo insurance can be complicated. We have separate coverage for ‘walls-in’ while the structure is covered by the HOA’s policy. With that much riding on the HOA, it’s important to understand the financial condition of the association to avoid any surprise expenses or assessments.

Pets and personal items

Many renters prefer pet-free units for allergy concerns. We are technically allowed to bring pets as owners, but the management company doesn’t allow renters to bring pets. Therefore, to make our cabin marketable we don’t bring our dog along with us on our trips. This adds a significant expense to our vacations. Dog boarding costs up to $40 a day. We are okay with this trade-off because the National Park doesn’t allow dogs on trails and that’s where we typically hike. However there are a lot of dog-friendly hikes in the area, and if you love to bring your dog on adventures, this is something to think through as you consider the rental process.

We also don’t put up a lot of personal items such as family photographs. If we didn’t rent out our cabin, I would love to add more personal touches. We have an owner’s closet and put away some personal items, but for the most part the cabin is furnished in a mountain theme with renters in mind.

the best fit

When we bought our first condo in Estes Park, we were able to go nearly once a month, sometimes on a whim. At that time, we didn’t put our property in the rental program. Now that our girls are in elementary school and we live further away, it makes sense to rent it out despite the trade-offs. We feel lucky to be a part of a solid management group that has a great reputation with guests that return year after year. We also have amazing guests who treat our property with care. I’m not sure what we will do in the future, but right now renting out our property in Estes Park has been a great decision for our family.