My Trip Photo Is in a National Wildlife Federation Article

Wow! One of my photos was selected by the National Wildlife Federation to use in their March 13, 2019 article, “Ten Big Wins For Land, Water and Wildlife.” The article celebrated the passage of the WILD ACT, which helped to create 30,000 acres of new wilderness in Oregon.

My photo was used on #6: A Path to Oregon’s Devil’s Staircase. The photo is of a Dark Grove giant from a trip I organized into the remote Devil’s Staircase area to help bring awareness to this amazing place. Here is my 2016 trip report with the image that was used in the NWF article. I’m so happy to have helped bring awareness to this beautiful area (in a small way) and to have spoken with the NWF while they were researching their article.

What’s in Your Backpack?


What gear do other backpackers use?

During the recent Backpackers’ Rendezvous 2017 held in Eugene, Oregon, I shared a printed spreadsheet detailing the various systems used by backpackers of all skills levels. Thinking in systems (rain system, footwear system, sleep system, etc.) is important because it can save you time, money, and reduce headaches. Enjoy the spreadsheet for yourself, may it help you better plan your own journeys. Thank you to everyone who contributed! Please note the spreadsheet is legal-sized and front and back. Download the PDF here.

Backpackers’ Rendezvous 2017

Volunteer Organizer: Mark Hougardy | Location: Eugene-based Hiking Group Lodge | Date: April 2017 | Duration: 1 day | Participants: 80+ | Type: Outreach Event

The Backpackers’ Rendezvous helps hikers, backpackers, and anyone curious about the trail to network, learn and do more with less. I’m happy to have organized the event and contributed to Eugene’s backpacking community.

An evening of rain, wind gusts, and downed trees could not deter seventy hearty folks of all ages and skill levels from attending the second Backpackers’ Rendezvous held at a local lodge in Eugene, Oregon.

The first hour included presentations from PCT and AT thru-hiker Chris “Scrub” Burke with tips on approaching a large hike, REI’s Mark “Jar-Jar” Lemaire on researching lightweight gear options, and Mark “Grub” Hougardy on five tips for starting a section hike on Oregon’s PCT.

Presenters from Left to Right: Mark “Grubb” Hougardy rendezvous organizer, Mark “Jar-Jar” Lemaire of REI, and Chris “Scrub” Burke a PCT/AT thru-hiker.

The second hour included knowledge tables, pack shakedowns, and interactions with local outdoor retailers and thought leaders, including lightweight ideas for the big three with REI-Eugene, staying warm and dry with Backcountry Gear; resources for making your own gear with the Rain Shed, staying safe outdoors with a hiking club’s safety committee, hiking Oregon’s coast with the National Coast Trail Association, and dry food options with Capella Market.

One of the best quotes during the event came from a woman in her thirties, “I want to go backpacking and don’t know where to start. I came here to find out more.” Thank you to everyone who helped enrich and strengthen the backpacking community in Eugene.

Chris “Scrub” Burke, PCT & AT thru-hiker shares his lightweight tips.

Mark “Jar-Jar” Lemaire of REI on “Lightweight Ideas for the Big Three, Starter Trips, & Navigation.”

Mark “Grub” Hougardy on “Want to Go Backpacking? Five Practical Ideas for Taking Those Next Steps”

America Needs You – Protect Laws That Help Wildlife Artwork

Science-based conservation is under attack! America’s environmental laws and natural treasures are under assault from the incoming administration in Washington. Laws like the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act along with agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency could be gutted – taking America back to a time when pollution and bad water were commonplace. Hard fought protections are going backward. I created this to help artwork to help stand up for the environment and protect future generations. The following artwork is available to friends of the park and related outdoor organizations to advance their local outreach and fundraising during these challenging times. The artist Mark Hougardy can help with products that will aid in these efforts. America and its beauty are worth fighting for! – Copyright Mark Hougardy.

Visiting the Dark Grove – Devil’s Staircase Wilderness 2016

Trip Report:
Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Date: June 12, 2016| Duration: 1 Day| Participants: 10 | Group: Eugene-based Hiking Club; As this was the first visit to a very remote location, for safety, I enlisted the help of Oregon Wild to introduce us to the area. | Hiking 5 miles (1,000-foot elevation loss/gain)
Type: Day Hike

The proposed Devil’s Staircase Wilderness is one of the most remote and inaccessible regions of rainforest left in the Coast Range. This impenetrable area has limited hiking trails or roads and is visited by only a few hundred people a year. Yet it remains unprotected despite the efforts of conservation groups and Oregon’s congressional delegation. To find out more about this compelling landscape, eleven hikers joined Chandra LeGue, the Western Oregon Field Coordinator at Oregon Wild, for a day of hiking to the Dark Grove. The Dark Grove has never been logged and is home to ancient trees that are 400-500 years old.

Our caravan of cars departed Eugene and meandered on back roads through the coast range. At one point, the green surroundings were cleaved from our sight as we drove through a wasteland of cut and darkened stumps: one member in the car likened the lifeless land to the desolated area at Mount St. Helens just after its eruption. This sight was a stark contrast to the lush biomass that we would encounter later that day.

About 15 miles northeast of Reedsport, we pulled off the pavement and slowly traveled up a single laned, overgrown backroad. Salmonberries grew in abundance here and scratched the sides of the car.

IMG_4548We parked at a junction and walked down an old logging road that was being reclaimed by the forest. Then we disappeared into the bushes, venturing down an elk trail. Posted on a tree was a sign that told us this was not the path to the Devil’s Staircase waterfall and unless you’re prepared to stay the night, and have Search and Rescue to look for you, to turn back. Fortunately, we had a guide for our inaugural visit.

The so-called “trail” was on loose soil and maintained a direct angle downward at 45-50 degrees. For the next hour and a half, we carefully descended 1,000 feet. Roots frequently caught our feet as we clamored over fallen logs and beneath large trees that had crashed across ravines and splintered. Ferns grew in abundance and they and helped us balance ourselves with their solid fronds. We quickly learned that ferns were our friends.

The weather that day was pleasant and sunny, though had our schedule been a day or two off, our visit might have been plagued with slippery trails.

Finally, the trail leveled out and we enjoyed lunch in an amphitheater-like area of fallen logs surrounded by a carpet of greenery. We saw a shadow over the canopy as a turkey vulture circled far overhead, no doubt curious to see if the humans had lost their way.

IMG_4571A forest of Salmonberries obstructed our path, so we made a trail straight up a ridge, then down into a forest of sword ferns. The ferns stood at five to six feet in height, so they engulfed us all and many of the shorter members traveled with their arms raised straight overhead. These tranquil glens often hid downed logs and it was easy to twist ankles or slam shins.

IMG_4577A fallen giant became our catwalk above the salmonberries, foxgloves, and ferns. We crossed a creek, but could barely see the water because of the thick undergrowth. Scampering down the side of the massive tree, we squatted and crawled through a small jungle, then emerged at the root base of the fallen giant – it was 25 feet tall!

IMG_4592In front of us was the Dark Grove, a cathedral of 8-foot wide Douglas Fir trees. The trees were dark in appearance, the result of fire about 150 years earlier. Touching the bark a charcoal residue was imprinted on fingers. The tree model is Becky Lipton.

blog-2016-06-dark-groveCrossing back across the fallen giant, we stood at the base of one of the largest trees we saw that day. Eight people stood at its base, arms outstretched and hands grasped. They counted one, two, three… their calls became muffled as they rounded the opposite side…the voices returned and the loop stopped – at seven and a half people! This immense tree was somewhere between 35 to 40 feet in circumference! Several hikers mentioned they felt like kids in a giant outdoor playground.

We continued through the ferns and back again along the ridge (which was unmarked on the Forest Service map). We lost the trail several times but finally found what we were looking for: a small rocky outcrop along Wasson Creek where the channeled water made a small waterfall for us to enjoy. We rested for half an hour in the sun.

The rest of the afternoon was spent returning via the same trail that we had descended earlier, which was a workout! At about 4 pm, we returned to our cars and started our two-hour drive back to Eugene.

This hike was a rugged and demanding off-trail experience, and all of us got scratched and dirty, some of us stung by insects, and one person had a fall (fortunately the ground was padded by an abundance of moss and there was no injury)! I understand why people get lost in this wilderness; even with directions, I could never have found this remote location. The sheer scale of the forest is very disorienting, but experiencing this place at ground level provides clarity as to why it needs to be protected.

Backpackers’ Rendezvous 2016

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Volunteer Organizer: Mark Hougardy | Location: Eugene-based Hiking Group Lodge | Date: April 30, 2016 | Duration: 1 day | Participants: 25 | Type: Outreach Event

Backpackers of all experience levels spread out their gear to share ideas and swap stories about backpacking. Of particular interest was the lightweight and ultra-light items and how they could help people do more with less. Twenty-five people attended to learn from other backpackers about what stove, sleeping bag or tent might best help them on the trail.

What’s in Your Water Bottle – Trip Report March, 2015

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Trip Report
Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Group: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: March 13, 2015 | Participants: 15 | Hiking: 2 Miles | Type: Day Hike

We have all turned on the kitchen tap and filled up a bottle in preparation for a hike, but have you ever wondered what was in your bottle? Think about it – we all live downstream from somebody.

How does river water become the tap water we drink and how is wastewater made safe for wildlife and others downstream? To learn more, I organized a trip with a local hiking club to visit the local water intake and the wastewater facilities.

Our first visit was to the Hayden Bridge Water Filtration Plant, located adjacent to the McKenzie River, in Springfield. The facility is no small operation; it serves the needs of 200,000 people on a daily basis by removing water directly from the river, treating it, and finally delivering it to our taps.

Here are some observations from the visit:

  • The facility is very high-tech and water quality is measured at all stages of the process both by computer and by a human with hourly lab checks.
  • Security is paramount; the plant is gated with a security fence/gate, cameras are everywhere.
  • Our local water system has about two days of water reserves if there is a calamity.
  • On the day we visited the facility had processed and was sending out 16 million gallons (24 Olympic sized swimming pools) of water to the surrounding community.

Next, we traveled to the Eugene/Springfield Water Pollution Control Facility in Eugene. This is where all of the waste materials that go down the drain/flushed from our households and businesses in the greater Eugene metropolitan area (a quarter of a million people) are processed. The plant is located adjacent to the Willamette River. Our hour and a half visit was very informative:

  • More than 99% of what arrives at the facility is water; less than 1% are solid materials that need to be either removed or turned into bio-solids.
  • Most of the odoriferous gases are collected and used to power a generator that supplies 50-60% of the energy needs of the facility.
  • Waste materials can take up to 10 hours, once they leave your home until it reaches the wastewater facility; then wastewater can take another 10 hours to be processed. In short, waste materials take less than 24 hours until that water is returned to the river.
  • The amount of water being cleaned and being returned to the Willamette River that day was about 15 million gallons (roughly 23 Olympic swimming pools).
  • During the summer, the plant can process up to 70 million gallons per day (106 Olympic swimming pools) of wastewater!

I was fascinated to learn that on the Willamette River in Oregon there are about 25 wastewater treatment stations, and that does not include communities on the tributaries that flow into the Willamette! Just think about that…for every wastewater plant, there is likely a water intake facility that supplies drinking water for the next community downstream. If you live downstream you really want to know that the people upstream are taking care of your water – the water you drink, use for bathing, and for recreation.

If you’re curious about the water that goes into your water bottle start asking questions. Most water intake and wastewater plants are happy to host tours for small groups. Let them know you are interested in visiting.

Behind us is a 2-million gallons of water; the tank is actually a settling basin for any particulate matter.
Water Filtration Plant: Behind us is a 2-million gallon settling basin. This is used to settle any particulate matter in the water. This water was recently pulled from the McKenzie River.

A view an empty 2-million gallon setting tank.
Water Filtration Plant: A view an empty 2-million gallon setting basin.

Wastewater Treatment Facility: It looks like a really bad root-beer float, it is actually air being passed through the wastewater, this allows bacteria to better digest the waste.
Water Pollution Control Facility: It looks like a really bad root-beer float, it is actually air being passed through the wastewater, this allows bacteria to better digest the waste.

Treated water that is almost ready to be returned to the Willamette River.
Water Pollution Control Facility: Treated water that is almost ready to be returned to the Willamette River.

What about when the water is returned to the Willamette River? Find out more, read my post, Rafting the Upper Willamette River with the McKenzie River Trust; the majority of the photos were taken only a few miles downstream from Eugene’s wastewater treatment facility.

Increasing Volunteerism with the Nature Conservancy of Oregon

In the spring and summer of 2014, I enjoyed volunteering my services with the Nature Conservancy of Oregon (Southwest office). My role was to help grow participation by the local volunteering community. My services included upgrading their email management tool (to Constant Contact) and designing several newsletters.

Here are some examples:
> Saturday Spring Work Parties (pdf)
> June Newsletter “Thank You Table Rock Leaders” (pdf)
> July Newsletter “Freedom to Volunteer” (welcome article by Mark – pdf)

Rafting the Upper Willamette River with the McKenzie River Trust

Living near the Willamette River in Eugene, Oregon, offers some fun opportunities to be outside, yet after living in the area for two years I am surprised that I don’t know my local section of the river better. When the opportunity arose to experience 12+ miles of the upper Willamette (from Eugene downstream to Marshall Island) by raft and learn about important conservation work taking place, I could not refuse.

The morning of our departure, my family and I, along with about fifteen others were greeted by staff members of the McKenzie River Trust who had organized the event, and the Eugene Recreation Center who supplied the rafts, equipment and river guides. An interpretive river ranger from Oregon State Parks also joined our trio of rafts.

We were treated to hearing stories about river-lore, discovering the natural history, and learning about the McKenzie River Trust’s restoration work of 1,100-acres on Green Island. A highlight of the afternoon was a visit to the island where everyone enjoyed a fabulous lunch provided by the guides.

On the river that day we saw beaver signs of gnawed tree limbs, cranes stealthily stalking along the shore, and ospreys calling from overhead, though we ourselves were often under the watchful eyes of eagles.

There were many “take-aways” from the trip, lessons that stay with you after the trip is over. The big takeaway for me was that once we left Eugene how quickly the river became more of what I needed it to be: open and wild. I want to experience more.

Here are some pictures of the river-

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Learn more about Green Island and the work of the McKenzie River Trust visit:

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Using Tilden’s Interpretive Principles to Strengthen the Park Store

As a nonprofit marketer, you are focused on outreach, communications, engagement, and development activities. These actions are often intertwined through the products you produce: fundraising emails, education events, social activities, printed communications, signage etc. But, what binds all of this together in the mind of your audience? Is there a way to strengthen this messaging with emotional and intellectual connections? How do you make your organization’s message meaningful?

This can be accomplished with the help of a discipline called interpretation. Those who practice interpretation are “involved in the interpretation of natural and cultural heritage resources in settings such as parks, zoos, museums, nature centers, aquaria, botanical gardens, and historical sites.” Reference: National Association for Interpretation.

First, some definitions:

Marketing is about helping your audience to succeed in what they want to do and nurturing them so that when they are ready they think of your organization.

Interpretation is a “mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource. ”

So, how can marketing be strengthened with interpretation? Here are six of the original principles of interpretation developed by Freeman Tilden (shown above). To give these a more modern presence I have used the principles as stated in Beck and Cables,’ Interpretation for the 21st Century. Below the principles are my own observations about marketing. Also, I am using a general definition of “product” to be anything you might produce within your nonprofit, this could include: fundraising activities, events, social activities, communications, and signage, even items sold in your store etc.

Principle 1: To spark an interest, interpreters must relate the subject to the lives of the people in their audience.

  • Do the benefits of the product support personal discovery or a discovery situation?
  • Does the product allow the visitor to succeed by gaining new insights / or see previously known information in new ways?
  • Does the product relate to the experiences of the park visitor?

Principle 2: The purpose of interpretation goes beyond providing information to reveal deeper meaning and truth.

  • Does the product provide a quality opportunity for the visitor to support your organization’s programs?
  • Does the product support a connection between the tangible and intangible elements of an interpretive site?
  • Does the product reinforce information about the site in meaningful ways?

Principle 3: The interpretive presentation–as a work of art– should be designed as a story that informs, entertains and enlightens.

  • Can the product be localized with interpretive text, or customized to creatively support a park theme?
  • Is the product compelling as well as providing a vehicle for park themes?
  • Is the product in context with the site or program themes?

Principle 4: The purpose of the interpretive story is to inspire and to provoke people to broaden their horizons.

  • Does the product support awareness, understanding, or enthusiasm for the resource (your organization, local green space, etc)?
  • Can the product be used to make information meaningful?
  • Can the product support a behavioral change or reinforce existing behavior?
  • Does the product allow for experiential learning?

Principle 5: Interpretation should present a complete theme or thesis and address the whole person.

  • Is the product an extension of the unifying park or program theme?
  • Was the product produced with materials, or methods that support park themes?
  • Does the product activate the senses?
  • Does the product relate the visitor to current or future park activities?
  • Does the product meet tangible needs, emotional needs or transformational needs of visitors?

Principle 6: Interpretation for children, teenagers, and seniors-when these comprise uniform groups-should follow fundamentally different approaches.

If needed, can the product be tailored to support a specific age group or a range of age groups?
To learn more about Interpretation visit the National Association for Interpretation online, www.interpnet.com. The image of Tilden is sourced from the National Park Service.

Keeping It Wild – Camping 101 Event

Organization: Grand Opening Camping Festival at Little Basin
Date: April 20, 2102
Trip Facilitator: Mark Hougardy

In the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains is a beautiful area of redwoods that most people have never seen. Until recently the area was a retreat for employees of Hewlett-Packard. The area called, Little Basin is a new acquisition of the California state park system that has been annexed by Big Basin Redwoods State Park, yet run as a separate entity. In April of 2012 Little Basin, held a Grand Opening Camping Festival. I organized and facilitated a “Camping 101” event. Here are some photos:

       

Be a Savvy Customer at the Park Gift Store

National Parks represent many things – including the best of America. When families visit a gift store in a National Park they expect products that are well-made, durable and above all, safe. Sadly, some products at park gift stores do not represent the best of America. Like other places where you shop you need to be aware of what you are buying.

Here are several tips to help the savvy customer when visiting a National Park gift store.

Product Labeling

The savvy customer should know about product labels. Product labels are important because it tells you critical information about the product you will be buying – or what you will be buying for your child. Parks are family destinations; park gift stores should sell products that are made to safety standards that protect children.

For example, consider a Junior Ranger backpack. Backpacks, parks and kids go together, but are all Junior Ranger backpacks sold in park stores safe for kids? Just because it is sold in a park gift store does not mean it is safe, or a well-made product. What information would a savvy parent look for?

First, look for a hangtag. If you do not see a hangtag be very concerned. Let this absence of information be a big flag that waves a ‘be cautious’ warning in your mind. Such an absence means the park’s gift store does not have your best interest or safety in mind.

Second, if a hangtag is attached look for these key pieces of information:

  • In what country was it made?
  • What materials is it made from?
  • Who is the manufacturer?
  • Who is responsible?
  • Is there a web address to learn more about the product?
  • If a product states “Made exclusively for” and does not list the above information be concerned.

Third, look for a permanent label. Permanent labels are sewn inside backpacks and state who made it, where it was made, provide a unique identifier, and a web address or similar so customers can reach the manufacturer. Providing such a label is more than just identifying these key pieces of information, it is also the law.

An Act called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) requires that products “designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger” must meet certain rules for product safety including: acceptable levels of heavy metals like Lead, toxic chemicals as well as proper labeling to inform consumers about what they are buying. A permanent label is required in case of a recall and to help parents identify the product if it is determined to be unsafe. Both manufacturers and importers must comply with the Act for all products. As a savvy parent look for a permanent label as it demonstrates the manufacturer shows a higher degree of professionalism in their work.

Obviously a hangtag or permanent label might not be feasible or reasonable for some products; a book does not need a hangtag, but it still has information inside the first pages about who published the book, who is the author, and where it was made. Every product should have supporting information so customers can learn about it, but most importantly, help them identify who is responsible. Any product that does not include such information should never be bought by the park’s gift store in the first place and should never be offered for sale.

Sadly there are products, including Junior Ranger backpacks, being sold in National Park stores that omit or ignore the most basic product information as required by the CPSIA.

Transparency and Good Faith

The savvy park gift store customer will seek out products that offer transparency and good faith.

Transparency does not mean you can see through the physical product, rather you can see into the business processes and decisions that made the product. Transparency is about businesses openly disclosing information and being forthcoming. This can help customers know if a product supports ethics or values important to them like:

  • Was this product made not using sweatshop labor?
  • Was this product made with materials that are safe?
  • Will this be safe for my child?
  • Does the vendor publicly say who tests their products for Lead, Phthalates or other chemicals?

Good faith means ‘honest intentions.’ Some park gift stores focus so heavily on making a profit they do not effectively research the vendors who supply them with products. This means a savvy consumer will have to make up the difference in trying to determine if a product, or its manufacturer, has made a good faith attempt to make their product safer. Visit the website of the manufacturer, what does it say? A lack of information is also a clue. Here are some other tips:

  • Does the manufacturer follow any international standards like the ISO-9000 quality management standards, or the SA-8000 standards for minimizing sweatshop labor? What about other standards?
  • Does the manufacturer have any third-party green business certifications?
  • Does the manufacturer use a third-party forensics lab to test their products and do they post the results online?
  • If a manufacturer makes everything under the sun at low prices, but cannot document any of it, or state where it is made, or how – you should be concerned.

It is the responsibility of any manufacturer to, in good faith, continually work to improve their products so they are safer. As an example, I had a conversation several years ago with a vendor who made textile products and sold them directly to park gift stores. We were both exhibiting at the same national conference that park store buyers frequent. This vendor roughly stated their textiles did not need to list country of origin or list what materials it was made from because the Federal Trade Commission excluded this particular item from the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act. Regardless if this was legal or not, such a reason demonstrates a lack of good faith (honest intentions). At the show the vendor sold a lot; because he hid behind the law he could keep costs low. Unfortunately, many park store buyers just saw a low price point and did not look at how transparent the vendor was or if he was operating in good faith.

Sadly, there continues to be a myriad of products (mostly promotional items that are sold at low costs and made overseas with questionable labor) that continue to be sold at park gift stores. Many of these promotional items cannot demonstrate or communicate they have transparency or good faith intentions.

Know About the CPSIA

Savvy park gift store consumers should know about the CPSIA. Any product “designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger” must meet the rules of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). This means anything designed or intended for kids 12 or under – including Junior Ranger backpacks – must comply with this law. Become familiar with this law:

» Learn more about the CPSIA
» For an overview check out the Interpretation and Enforcement Of Section 103(a) of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act
» Learn more about tracking labels on child products

Report Unsafe Products

A savvy park gift store consumer will report unsafe products. The CPSIA law has now had several years for manufacturers to enact processes to become compliant. The act was passed in August, 2008, there is no excuse for a manufacturer or a park gift store to say ‘they did not know.’

If you know of an unsafe product report it to the Consumer Product Safety Commission at this website.
» https://www.saferproducts.gov/CPSRMSPublic/Incidents/ReportIncident.aspx

Walk the Talk

Until all park stores walk-their-talk it is up to you, the customer, to be informed, to ask basic questions, to demand and be willing to pay for safe well-made products.

A Park is What it Sells

National Park gift stores have hard-working people who want to represent the best of America. Sadly, some decision makers do not represent the best of America and allow for bad or unsafe products in these stores. Be a savvy customer and look for product labels, transparent business practices, and good faith actions. Be informed about product safety laws, report products that are unsafe, and most importantly, ask questions.

Quoted Source: http://www.cpsc.gov/about/cpsia/sect103policy.pdf

Helping to Build Awareness of California State Parks with 10K Patches

Mark Hougardy, of GlyphGuy LLC, is proud to have supplied California State Park volunteers, Junior Rangers, and enthusiasts with over 10,000 high-quality patches that represent the second largest park system in the United States.

This year (2009) is challenging to the existence of many State Parks in California as the state wrestles with a looming budget deficit and possibly closing over 80% of the parks!

Maintaining the California State Park brand will be key to keeping the park system in the minds and eyes of visitors and voters. We hope that our patches will continue to represent the image and quality deserving of California State Parks.

Mark Hougardy’s Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Image

For three years from 2005-2008 Mark Hougardy’s image of Mount St. Helens was used by the Northwest Interpretive Association to help fund visitor outreach and education services at Mount St. Helens, Washington. Discover Your Northwest (formerly Northwest Interpretive Association) promotes the discovery of Northwest public lands, enriches the experience of visitors, and encourages stewardship of these special places today and for generations to come. Copyright Mark Hougardy.

Junior Ranger Backpacks, Interpretation, and the Art of Merchandising

How should Junior Ranger backpacks be merchandised? Here are some successful park store experiences –

A family enters the Visitors Center of a Park. Inside the building are the standard features: information counter, maps, interpretive displays, camping information, and a chalkboard scribbled with the latest trail and weather conditions. A small store area entices visitors with a colorful arrangement of park products that include: clothes, a Junior Ranger backpack, bug viewer, journal, compass, field guides, and a Junior Ranger activity book.

The Dad notices a Coyote Junior Ranger backpack displayed on the wall. He takes a closer look. A sign on the backpack reads, ‘Try Me On.’ For a minute the Dad adjusts the pack over his shoulder; this middle-aged man looks silly trying on a Junior Ranger backpack but the kid in him cannot resist. The young daughter approaches and picks up a smaller, Chipmunk Junior Ranger backpack. Dad had not seen this backpack on the shelf, but his daughter did. Close to the backpack samples were several baskets filled with flat backpacks ready for sale. Peppered around the baskets are child-sized binoculars, compasses, and items that complement the Junior Ranger program.

The young girl tries on the smaller backpack. She twirls to show Dad then picks up a Junior Ranger activity book. She runs over to Mom. Dad studies his backpack: the stitching, the zippers even the embroidery. It was maybe a few dollars more than he wants to spend, but it is a solid backpack that will be used many times over. He reads the hangtag and is impressed that a backpack’s manufacturer donates a portion of the sale to the National Park Service.

An eye-catching note on the wall mentions an ‘adventure pack’ program where families can borrow an outfitted backpack and aspiring Junior Rangers could use the equipment to help with their own explorations. The girl came back with Mom in tow. The daughter was ready to earn her Junior Ranger badge, maybe even get a Junior Ranger backpack.

At the counter, the family chatted with the store employee for several minutes. The employee was very knowledgeable about the park and products in the store.

The family enjoyed the day. The information from the store employee, the good workmanship on the backpack and the Junior Ranger activities were combined to make the family’s time in the park relaxing, fun and relevant.

Merchandising any product is about finding the right combination of products, price, promotion, and place on the store shelf. The art of merchandising Junior Ranger backpacks is to remember that park visitors seek benefits provided by a product – not the product itself. Consider these points when merchandising your Junior Ranger backpacks:

A). Perspective
Keep a stuffed backpack at your audience’s eye level. If your audience is 4 to 6; or 7 to 12 place items for their perspective. Need a refresher course? Stand on your knees and look at the items in your store. How do you see things?

B). Hands-on
The number one missed opportunity in park stores is leaving a sample backpack flat! Ever seen a flat backpack? It is boring – the benefits are hard to see. Provide your customers with a sample Junior Ranger backpack that is plump. Find some brown Kraft paper, or recycle newspaper, and stuff a backpack with the crumpled paper. This plump backpack will be a what customer can pick up and squeeze, grip the texture, look at the materials, observe the workmanship, feel the weight, see it on another family member, even try it themselves. These things are hard to do with a flat backpack. A plump Junior Ranger backpack allows people to visualize how it can benefit them.

C). Location
What are the first things people see when they enter your store? Do you have a display that is inviting? Do the products differentiate your store from another store – or associate your park to a larger park system? Are the products in context with the park? Do the products benefit or detract from the park experience?

D). Make the ‘buy’ decision easier
Make the decision to ‘buy’ easier for the customer. Take away as many objections as you can by providing a physical sample and offering helpful information about the backpack. Create opportunities for people to see how a Junior Ranger backpack can benefit their time in the park – even their experiences after they leave the park.

E) Pricing
Should Junior Ranger backpacks be priced higher or lower than the suggested retail? Are you in business to make money, further an interpretive mission or do both? These can only be answered at your store level. But consider what other parks have done. A handful of parks have sold Junior Ranger backpacks at low retail to increase program participation. Some heavily visited parks sell the backpacks at suggested retail to maximize revenue. The majority of parks sell the backpacks slightly less than suggested retail. They make less profit per unit but sell more.

F). Cross-merchandise
How do you want visitors to see the Junior Ranger backpacks? As just another backpack, or as a tool to help youth explore and gain a better appreciation of the park. Help visitors see that the backpack can be an extension of his or her own explorations. Provide a sample with a bug-box, binoculars, viewers, field guides, journals, and any items that might be appropriate.

G). Sell the Junior Ranger experience, not just a backpack
Do you have the ability or opportunity to link the backpacks into your Junior Ranger programming? Maybe the backpack becomes a reward item for completing a Junior Ranger activity. Possibly the backpacks are used as ‘discovery backpacks’ and loaned out to visitors to help them discover for themselves why your park is important. It is the larger Junior Ranger experience that should be marketed first; backpacks are a tool to help with the experience.

H). Increase Your Product Knowledge
Ten minutes of product knowledge can go a long way to benefit your sales. Visit these web pages for a quick read:

Mapping Park Store Products To Tilden’s Interpretive Principles
An interpretive product should help convey appreciation for or understanding of a site or park program. But, what is an interpretive product? These questions were developed as food-for-thought for park store staff…

A Strong Park Store Does Not Sell Products
A strong park store does not sell products, it sells benefits. During a visit to a National Park last summer I overheard a family refer to the products in the park store as ‘weak’. Looking at the shelves filled with plastic mementos and affixed logo items I knew what they meant…

GlyphGuy’s ‘Green’ Steps
GlyphGuy is a small, family-owned company that works to reduce waste, conserve energy and prevent pollution in all business activities. Since we began making backpacks in 2003 our ultimate goal was to become a zero-waste company…

Point Reyes National Seashores’ Tule Elk Design by Mark Hougardy

For eight years the Point Reyes National Seashore Association produced park stores items from Mark Hougardy’s Tule Elk image. An updated version of the image is shown. For thousands of years, vast numbers of tule elk thrived in the grasslands of central and coastal California. In the mid-1800s, following the gold rush, uncontrolled market hunting and rapid agricultural development nearly drove them to extinction. They were gone from the Point Reyes area by the 1860s. In 1874, the last surviving tule elk (possibly as few as two individuals) were discovered and protected in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Tule elk were reintroduced to Point Reyes National Seashore in 1978. Since then, the elk have grown from 10 animals to nearly 500. There are two separate herds of tule elk at Point Reyes, one in a reserve and one free-roaming herd. The reintroduction of this free-ranging herd is an important step in the ecological restoration in the park.

Family Time at Bear Gulch Cave – Pinnacles National Monument

Family Time at Bear Gulch Cave’ was published in the June 2008 issue of ‘Bay Area Parent Silicon Valley’.

Pinnacles National MonumentMy seven-year-old daughter Anna was first out of the car upon arriving at Pinnacles National Monument, “Come on slowpokes, let’s go!” We walked up a meandering canyon trail to the entrance of the Bear Gulch Cave.

Pinnacles National Monument is a two hours drive south of San Jose. This natural playground includes bizarre rock formations, house-sized boulders, and my daughter’s favorite, Bear Gulch Cave.

We felt a cool breeze from the cave’s mouth. Anna instructed us, “Mama, Papa, don’t forget your flashlights.” My wife, Christiane and I smiled and followed our young adventurer.

At first, the cave was dark then our eyes adjusted to the low light. We appeared silhouetted against shafts of light that pierced the ceiling. Small rocks crunched nosily under our feet as we walked. A bat darted overhead. Being mindful of the bat’s home we walked more quietly and lowered the beams from our flashlights. In the distance, we heard a low rushing noise from a waterfall. Several minutes later we stood next to a gushing spray of water. Our lights illuminated the waterfall that disappeared twenty feet below.

Pinnacles National MonumentFurther in the cave the trail dove underneath enormous boulders that were interlocked between the walls of the canyon. “These are as big as the house!” exclaimed Anna. The trail snaked between boulders to reveal a narrow staircase carved into the canyon wall. We climbed the stairs and out of the cave. We were greeted by a small reservoir surrounded by amazing and awkward shaped rocks. My daughter spotted our favorite picnic area across the water.

We enjoyed lunch in a shaded area. Overhead a vulture, or a condor, glided on thermals. In the distance rock climbers carefully made their ascent up a stone monolith. A hummingbird zipped in close, startling us, then quickly sped off. The rest of the afternoon we continued to explore the many trails of this natural playground.

Finally, the sun became low on the horizon and signaled the end of our day. We returned to the cave and back to the parking area.

As the family car turned onto the highway I asked, “So Anna, what was best about today?” No reply. Our young adventurer was asleep.

To continue your own explorations of Pinnacles National Monument visit: http://www.nps.gov/pinn

Hiking for Families Course 2004


Organization: Sunnyvale – Cupertino Adult Community Education
Instructor: Mark Hougardy
Participants: 7-12

Course Overview: Explore local parks and natural areas with other young families. Parks are within an hour’s drive. Provide your own transportation. Bring lunch, water, first aid kit, and whistle. Wear layered clothing, comfortable shoes and bring a hat. Trails are easy but not stroller friendly. Each hike is 2-3 miles and about 2 hours in duration. Destination parks will also have areas to explore and play. Meet at 9:50 AM. Hikes start promptly at 10:00 AM Restrooms are available at the parks!

The Instructor: Mark Hougardy has over ten years of experience developing and leading interpretive day hikes and overnight camping trips. He works closely with select National and California State Park associations to further their interpretive missions. Mark is a father and enjoys fostering experiences for families to enjoy the outdoors.

October 9, 2004: VILLA MONTALVO COUNTY PARK
Start Location: ACE classroom 4 C
Travel time from ACE: 20 minutes
Description: A pleasant hike in the grounds of the Villa Montalvo Estate. The hike will include a trip to Vista Point for views of Silicon Valley clear to San Francisco. The hike will end on the front lawn of the estate. Time will be available for an optional picnic and explore a nearby lawn-art structure.
Directions: From ACE travel South on Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road to downtown Saratoga. Continue straight (southeast) on Hwy 9 one-half mile. Turn Right onto Montalvo Road and follow signs. Park in Lot #4.

October 16, 2004: SANBORN-SKYLINE COUNTY PARK
Start Location: Meet at Sanborn Park Hostel. Located inside the park.
Travel time from 280/DeAnza Boulevard: 20-30 minutes.
Description: The hike emphasizes the natural history of the area, including the San Andreas Fault, the tallest organisms on the planet and the animals who inhabit(ed) the park. We will visit the junior museum.
Directions: From the 280/Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road intersection travel South on Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road to downtown Saratoga. Turn Right on Hwy 9; travel 2 miles into the mountains. Just past the Saratoga Springs Campground turn Left on Sanborn Road, travel 9/10 mile, make the first and only Right turn on Picks Road. Continue one-half mile until the road dead-ends. Turn Right into the Sanborn Park Hostel parking lot.

October 23, 2004: HUDDART COUNTY PARK
Start Location: Meet at Huddart Park, Werder parking lot.
Travel time from 280/DeAnza Boulevard: 30 minutes.
Description: Horses and riders frequent this park, riders often let children pet their horses but no sudden movements or noise, please. The hike includes redwoods and great trials. The hike will end at the children’s playground (Werder parking lot) where parents can enjoy a picnic lunch while the children play. Bring a picnic lunch. BBQ grills are available.
Directions:
From the 280/Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road intersection travel North on 280. Turn off at the Woodside Road (Highway 84) exit. Turn Left (westbound towards Woodside). Proceed approximately 1.5 miles through the Town of Woodside. Turn Right on Kings Mountain Road. Proceed up the hill to the main park entrance. Parking fee of $5.