Over the past couple of decades, the month of August changed for many Americans. Once the prime vacation month fueling the largest amount of gasoline consumption during the year, August now heralds the start of the school year in most areas. With the start of school comes the numerous sports and other activities that seem to occupy families for much of the year.

Increasingly, this means there are bargains to be had and activities to be enjoyed as destinations large and small work to lure travelers. Check out your favorite beach destination and you might find some surprising rates and packages.

August also is a great time for planning family or couples getaways for the fall, and this issue of Recreation News is full of ideas to help.

This month’s North Carolina section showers you with ideas about the Outer Banks, including a huge new water park, a wild horse tour in Corolla, and festivals that stretch into the fall. Rates on vacation homes can drop by 60 percent or more, making a getaway even more affordable.

We also look at the huge whirligigs going on display in a park in Wilson, N.C., and celebrating the state’s official folk art creator and native son, Vollis Simpson. Finally, enjoy a taste of a unique culinary creation, the sonker, along Surry County’s Sonker Trail.

In Pennsylvania, we’ll give you the inside scoop on touring Gettysburg and enjoying the unspoiled scenery of Raystown Lake from a boat or a bike. And, in Indiana County, we’ll preview the Northern Appalachian Folklife Festival.

You expect a university town to have culture, but the art offerings in Morgantown, W.Va., will surprise you.

While you probably associate Crisfield, Md., with crabs, we’ll show you the Trail Mix, which packages opportunities for paddling, biking, and walking in some great locales. Our music festival column highlights a new take on an old standby. The L’il Margaret’s Bluegrass Festival in St. Mary’s County, Md., has a new promoter who’s updated the annual August event.

In the Old Dominion, we trace the connections of America’s fifth president to his native state — places you can visit as we mark the bicentennial of his first term in office.

As always, we’ve done a lot of the work, so start planning that getaway today!

Travelers’ toolbox

Snappy Snoozers pet beds can be good traveling companions if your pet is used to sleeping in a pet bed. The bed consists of an inflatable mattress made of a claw-resistant PVC material (air pump included) and a washable sheet that snaps on for ease of cleaning.

Harney & Sons is a name familiar to tea drinkers and offers a variety of teas online and in luxury shops. Now, you can take that luxury with you during the summer with pitcher-sized tea bags for iced tea in flavors such as blood orange and black currant.

Thermacell offers a variety of mosquito repellent devices that create a zone of protection. The MR450 is a personal-size unit that still creates a 15-foot by 15-foot zone. There are also lanterns and torches available.

-If you mainly associate Assateague Island with wild ponies and a stretch of beach, photographer Mark Hendricks’ book Natural Wonders of Assateague Island will reveal a whole world you may have missed. Sure, there are ponies and beach pictures, but also prickly pear cacti that thrive on the island, snowy owls, and the threatened piping plover. It’s a beautiful tribute to a magical place.

Coming next month

-Oyster experiences and events

-Lancaster’s charm

-Musical Nelson County

-Garrett County fall

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