Tips for Tour Directors Who Lead Natural History Walks

Recently, I was asked to share ideas with a tour director who was new to leading natural history walks. Here are some simple tips:

When introducing folks to a natural area I like to include in my welcome, “Are there things on this walk that you’d like to know more about?” People almost always want to know about poison ivy/oak and if they will be encountering any. Answering this takes some of the uncertainty people might have about an area off the table and helps them better enjoy the walk.

You’re not there to be an encyclopedia.

Do know the “big idea” of your walk. A big idea is what you want them to take when they leave.

If you know of any good stories about the area, place names, or local colorful characters, share them.

Think of things where people can engage their senses: look, listen, and feel.

When you visit a neat spot (beaver pond, an interesting grove of trees, etc), ask, “What do you think you know about this?” Get them to respond and share information. Everything has a story; people of first nations or settlers could have used even an unassuming plant as an important resource.

If there is an area where people can be comfortable have them sit in silence for several minutes (3 is ok). Afterward, ask them what did they see, hear, smell, and feel.

Point our any temperature shifts, like when you enter a shaded or lighted area.

Compare the feel of different tree barks. Why might they be different?

People tend to look at big things, have them find a small area and just observe for a few minutes. Ask them what they saw. A lot is happening on the small scale and it is just an important as the big things.

You need to know where north is for this. Well into your walk ask them to point to the north. The results are often surprising and entertaining even when the sun is out. Bring a compass and have a young person confirm the direction.

At the end of the walk ask people to share what they saw, heard, and smelled, etc.

A Story on the Ground – Getting to Know Track Patterns

Understanding how animals move is a basic feature of tracking. When you start to see “the story” written upon the ground you see patterns, infer distances, visualize speed, and even what type of animal made the tracks. Recognizing the gait – the animal’s manner of walking– is key to knowing the story. Here is a simple PDF I developed called, “Getting to Know Track Patterns” to use in the field. I use when I’m interacting with kids (and adults too). It helps to have someone demonstrate these gaits on all fours to visualize the gait. Then try to walk that way for yourself.

Backpackers’ Rendezvous 2016

blog-2016-04-backpackers-rendezvous

Backpackers of all experience levels spread out their gear on the Obsidian Lodge floor 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. Organized by Mark Hougardy. Held April 30, 2016.

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)

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:

       

Environmental Conservation Outdoor Study (ECOS) Program

From 1990 to 1992 I ldeveloped and led the Environmental Conservation Outdoor Study (ECOS) program at the Sanborn Park Hostel. The hostel was located in a 2,000-acre redwood forested park. I loved sharing the story of this place. It is a land where the Ohone people once visited (and still do). They prepared food in an area that is underneath the modern floorboard of the hostel’s kitchen. It is a place where salmon once swam in the streams and condors flew overhead. In 1907 the Great San Francisco earthquake ripped a 40-foot scarp through a nearby orchard that most would never recognize today. It is a place where a uranium miner sold his fortune and created Walden West, a place where the early minds Silicon Valley gathered to grow an industry. Hidden among the trees and beneath the duff is a compelling story. Below is an early flier for the weekly programs.