Kayaking While Surrounded by an Ocean of Sand

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Date: May 2019 | Duration: 1 days | Participants: 7 | Type: kayaking

Kayaking Oregon’s Siltcoos River during the springtime is a treat, provided you can time it right. A day earlier dark clouds, lighting, and sheets of rain pelted the area. But, today, the temperature was warm and the sky was clear, allowing us to witness the Siltcoos in all its splendor. We were fortunate and very thankful. The Siltcoos is an interesting interplay of a riparian area within the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The dunes are one of the largest expanses of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world. When geologic forces created the dunes, the sand-choked off several coastal rivers and created about 30 lakes. Some of the rivers have found a way back to sea, the Siltcoos River is one of these rivers. Today, it is a slow-moving three-mile long waterway that holds the distinction of being a canoe trail. We were unable to visit the lower water dam because of a large fallen tree. A special thank you to the River House Outdoor Center of Eugene for the use of their kayaks and local guides. From the water, our group saw at least 18 animal species: bald eagle, osprey, a grey fox, swallows, killdeer, newt, bumble bee, heron, fish, stellar’s jay, crow, seals, egrets, mergansers, butterflies, dragonflies, spiders, and egrets. We also saw a dog at the bow of a kayak, and (not paying attention to posted signs) a human and dog in a protected area.

An 80-foot wall of sand along a bend in the river.
Upriver there were a number of fallen and downed trees we gave them a wide berth.
The dunes gave way to open spaces and a green marsh. Several ducks were flying overhead.
A large bird turned in our direction. As it approached we saw a white head and white tail feathers – it was a bald eagle! A magnificent sight, and seeing it was worth all the money in the world at that moment.
The river widened as we approached the mouth of the Siltcoos River.
At the mouth of the Siltcoos River. The Pacific Ocean had 4-6 foot swells that day. A bald eagle was observed looking for a mid-afternoon snack in the surf. Note the white tail feathers. The area before us (all the shoreline in the area) was closed to protect habitat for the Snowy Plover, a threatened species. Photo credit: Anna Hougardy.
A happy trip participant

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox at Lava Beds & Crater Lake

This was an exploration of two dramatic volcanic landscapes timed with the Autumnal Equinox.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Date: September 2018 | Duration: 4 days | Participants: 5 | Type: car camping, hiking, and caving

Upon arriving at the forbidding Lava Lands National Monument we made camp and then explored several accessible lava tube caves around the visitor center. We also climbed the conical shaped 5,302-foot tall Schonchin Butte where we enjoyed views 100 miles east to the Warner Mountains, near Nevada, and 50 miles west to Mount Shasta. In the evening, we walked along a dusty trail into the Schonchin Wilderness Area and encountered an entrance to a lava tube that was at least 4 stories tall.

The next morning we hiked from the campground to Skull Cave where a small ice pond can be viewed year round. We also hiked to several pictograph caves and enjoyed our lunch on the trail. As the afternoon warmed we spent our time underground where we explored three caves and partially a fourth. Back at camp, we were surprised to discover that several hundred bugs had descended upon the hood of one of the cars, possibly attracted by the metallic-blue color. They had apparently been engaged in a frenzied mating and exhausting themselves to death. Bugs that fell onto the ground were snapped up by an eager lizard. As the sun set, we hiked into the nearby wilderness and enjoyed a pastel sky.

On the third day, we packed up and drove through the northern section of the monument. Our last stop was to Petroglyph Point where a monolithic wall includes petroglyphs, raptor nests, and evidence of former wave action. Tule Lake was a gigantic, yet shallow inland lake that existed for millennia. The lake was drained in the early 1900s and the exposed land turned into farmland. The existing lake is far to the west and is one-sixth its original size. Future explorations to Lava Beds will include additional sites of the Modoc War and seeing the remnants of an imprisonment camp where Americans of Japanese ancestry were forced to live during WWII. In the afternoon we drove to Crater Lake and made camp. The Mazama Campground was closing for the season and this was its last weekend. Upon our arrival, the sky darkened and it rained for several minutes. After making camp we hiked to the Great Spring and down the picturesque Annie Creek trail loop. In the late afternoon, we made good use of the camp showers then drove the rim to enjoy the views from Discovery Point. At dinnertime, we made our way to the historic Crater Lake Lodge where we raised a glass to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox then enjoyed a meal. Back at the campground, a nearly full moon encouraged multiple parties at neighboring campsites and sleeping was difficult.

On day four we woke to a frosty 28 degrees Fahrenheit. We warmed up though at the local Annie Creek Restaurant with some hot coffee and breakfast. As we drove along the east rim to the Mount Scott trailhead the sky was blue and clear. We hiked for about an hour to this highest point in the park, which stands just less than 9,000 feet. The view of the once massive volcano Mount Mazama, now known as Crater Lake, was superb! We could see about 100 miles in each direction; to the north the Three Sisters, and to the south Mount Shasta. As noon approached we hiked back down the mountain and ended our trip with a late lunch. There was a definite chill in the air, fall had arrived.

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

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.

Greening the National or State Park’s Interpretive Center

Parks and outdoor interpretive organizations are always looking to green their operations. But sometimes the enthusiasm of the moment results in a “Ready, Fire!, Aim” approach that has unexpected consequences.

Please use the following “Ready, Aim, Fire!” framework to generate additional discussion at your own location.

First, understand the purpose of greening your enterprise (Ready). What problem do you wish to solve?

This may sound counter-intuitive, but the purpose of greening your space is not about ‘saving the planet’ or ‘protecting the environment’. While individuals and organizations may be passionate about such issues, framing a discussion around these overmarketed hot-button slogans could have combustible results. Remember that a manager, co-worker, budget officer, a visitor, even a financial donor may have a very different perception about these words and their meanings.

The purpose of greening your organization should instead be grounded in measurable benefits like reducing waste, reusing-recycling materials and conserving energy. Any green activity must make sense financially.

Second, understand the business justification (Aim). What results or benefits do you wish to obtain from your green project? Here are three of my favorites:

– Obtain the marketing high ground.
– Gain a competitive advantage.
– A healthier bottom-line.

Obtain the marketing high-ground: By reducing waste, reusing-recycling materials and conserving energy you can market yourself as a good neighbor and a positive influence in the community. Good neighbors are hard to find. Good neighbors have value.

Gain a competitive advantage: You want to provide a potential visitor less of a reason to say ‘no’ about visiting your location. By demonstrating a healthy and clean place for families to visit and spend quality time you gain an advantage over competitors (competitors include anything that will distract a possible visitor from spending time at your site).

A healthier bottom line: If you measure the results of your green processes (reducing waste, reusing-recycling materials and conserving energy), review and make adjustments along the way, the long-term effect will be a healthier bottom line for your organization.

Third, now you have defined the purpose (Ready) and understand the business justification (Aim), you can pull-the-trigger (Fire!). Here are five helpful steps to consider:

Step 1: Scope
Document your project’s scope – this includes the project’s purpose and business justification. Imagine that you will sit down with a hard-nosed decision maker – you only have two minutes to answer their question, “Why should I care about this?” Open up a blank PowerPoint presentation and start typing; in 5-7 slides, no more than 10 you can make an executive level presentation – short, quick, to the point. Even if you never use this document in a presentation, you understand (and can communicate) the scope of the project.

Step 2: Assessment
The purpose of an assessment is to help establish a baseline for your green practices. A baseline is an original plan for a project, and any changes will be measured against the baseline. Here are two green business frameworks to help with your assessment. These frameworks were developed by the Santa Clara County – Bay Area Green Business Program (please look these up online for the latest versions).

Please note the Bay Area Green Business Program can only certify businesses and organizations within their territory (San Francisco Bay Area in California). Possibly the need exists for a national certification especially for interpretive centers and related organizations (hint).

Step 3: Implementation
This is an entire subject by itself of which future articles will be written. But here are some key points to remember when implementing your green processes.

» Build on small victories.
» Generate momentum (buy-in) for your project by demonstrating the economic benefits.
» Green activities should not be dictated from above – rather modeled.
» Don’t clutter up people’s lives with inconvenient solutions to small problems.
» Document processes.

Step 4: Communicate
Publish the processes on an intranet or another centralized internal website. Communicate with your donors and visitors about how you are reducing pollution, etc. Educate any front line staff to the advantages and goals of your project.

Step 5: Measure
Refer to your original baseline and track progress at least on a monthly basis.

When greening your own operation remember a “Ready, Aim, Fire!” approach before starting a project. Understanding the purpose and the justification of the project will help you in reaching your green goals.

Backpacking in the Marin Headlands

The Marin Headlands offers breathtaking views of the San Francisco area and Pacific Ocean. Join us on Saturday, May 16-17 as we explore the area around Point Bonita Lighthouse before hiking to Hawk Camp which overlooks the Gerbode valley. Sunday, we appreciate the 360 degree views of the bay area the Bobcat Trail offers before continuing to Rodeo Beach for an afternoon of beachcombing and exploration. One possible side trip includes the Marin Mammal Center which rehabiliatates marine creatures. Total hiking distance is 8 miles.

Organization: Sanborn Park Hostel
Date: Saturday, 16-17 May 1999
Trip leader: Mark Hougardy
Participants: 8

Above and Below Pinnacles National Monument

Join us for an 8-mile loop hike through the rugged spires of Pinnacles National Monument and caves. This is a fun but strenuous trip.

Flashlights are required. Be prepared to get your feet wet as a small stream will flow through the cave. The hike begins and ends at the Ranger Station. Be prepared for bright sun and temperatures on the warmer side, a light jacket may be needed for the caves.

Meet at the Sanborn Park Hostel where we will determine carpool arrangements and depart promptly at 7:30 am. Maps to PNM will be provided. Please allow for a two hour travel time. We’ll regroup at the Park Headquarters between 9:30 and 9:45 a.m. Day use fee of $5 per vehicle.

Organization: Sanborn Park Hostel
Date: Saturday, April 25, 1999
Trip leader: Mark Hougardy
Participants: 10