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.
I’m happy to have been the leader on another great Road Scholar trip. This program introduced grandparents and grandkids to how fire helps forge every aspect of our life (homes/communities, food preparation, entertainment, arts, places we play, and our survival).
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Road Scholar | Date: June 2018 | Duration: 6 days | Participants: 28 | Type: Field Trips & Motorcoach
“Erupting volcanoes. Blacksmithing. Outdoor cooking. Glassblowing. Fire has countless uses, incarnations, and has been paramount to our way of life since the beginning of our time. You and your grandchild will spark your desire to safely learn more about fire through interactive experiences with professional firefighters, survivalists, welders and fire dancers. Discover how fire can create a delicate piece of artwork, as well as destroy entire forests and cities. Learn how to survive in the remote wilderness, and discover the inner workings of a city’s fire engine. Together with your grandchild, finally have the chance to play with fire as you discover why nothing can hold a candle to this learning adventure.”
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: January 2018 | Participants: 7 | Type: Urban Walking Tour
In 1978 a low-budget movie about a misfit fraternity who challenged authority was released. The movie “Animal House” prominently featured locations around the University of Oregon. Much to the chagrin of university officials, the movie brought an unwelcome attention to the UO; to others it is one of the greatest comedy films of all time. Forty years later, this small group of Animal House fans visited fifteen sites around campus featured in the movie. We enjoyed a pleasant walk in the light rain. Some areas on campus were similar while other locations, like a refurbished room 110 Fenton Hall where the courtroom scene was filmed, are unrecognizable. We ended our walk the former site of the Delta Tau Chi fraternity house, the Animal House. The dilapidated structure has since been demolished and replaced with an office building. Only a small plaque remains about its history from the 1800’s and uses in the movie. Thank you to everyone in the group for sharing their stories about the movie’s production.
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: September 10, 2017 | Participants: 7 | Type: Day hike and wayfinding
My nature travel group set out to solve a mystery, where is Camp Edith? The campsite was a favorite of Judge John Breckenridge Waldo, an Oregon man whose legacy is comparable in stature to John Muir or Henry David Thoreau. Like Waldo’s impact on America’s conservation movement, this camp has been generally overlooked by history. Over the years a few people have found the campsite, they keep its location guarded so others might enjoy making their own discovery.
John Waldo explored and documented the Cascades from 1877 to 1907, increased public awareness with his letters to state newspapers in support of forest conservation, and steadfastly pushed legislation to preserve the mountains for future generations. Today, Oregonians can appreciate six national forests, a national park, and at least eighteen wilderness areas because of Waldo’s vision and perseverance.
On his treks, Waldo would travel along the Cascades’ crest for months at a time. Although he traveled with a handful of colleagues and friends it is likely that he became homesick for his family. One of his most beloved destinations now bears his name, Waldo Lake, and it’s upon this magnificent shore where he christened the camp in honor of his daughter, Edith. Today, the campsite doesn’t appear on any maps, it quietly rests with only a century-old blazed tree to signify its human history.
I first learned about Camp Edith while studying Waldo’s journals at the UO Archives last year. In the archives were several photographs, including one photo from 1890 that was simply titled, “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake.” But where was it? I found a few references to the camp in his journals but nothing definitive. An online article said it was in the shadow of Mount Ray near the lake. I met one chiseled-faced man who said that it was somewhere on the south shore. It was helpful information, but since Waldo Lake has an area of 10 square miles, locating the camp would require some fieldwork.
On this trip, our only tools were a copy of the 1890 black and white photograph, several entries from the judge’s journal, and a 2004 Forest Service photo showing a tree with an inscription.
The hike started at Shadow Bay. We were fortunate that thick smoke from nearby fires was blowing in another direction, giving our day a striking clarity. After walking a bit studying the photo, we bushwhacked through the forest, crossed marshy fields, and clamored over downed trees. We made slow progress, partially to avoid stepping on a number of dime-sized toads. One plump toad was the size of an apple.
At the shoreline we again studied the older photo: it showed the campsite in the foreground, and in the distance were what appeared to be several shadowy outlines of land jutting across the lake. As we looked across the water, we could see similar landforms, but our angle was off the mark. We needed to explore further. Several hours after starting our hike one member of our group let out a joyous call: “I found it!”
The rest of us followed her voice through the woods to an area by the shore. Blazed on a tree was a heart-shaped mark. The bark’s growth had covered the outside letters, but the inscription was readable: “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake.”
We were excited about the find. We enjoyed lunch, shared our own stories, and even read a few of Waldo’s journal entries. We left agreeing to be discreet about the camp’s exact location and left it as we found it.
One of Waldo’s journal entries from 1890 was fitting for our hike that day,
“The lake stretches away up to the North; crags and peaks tower above us. It is a splendid scene – this source of rivers and cities, hid away, like pure trains of thought from vulgar observation – in the deep bosom of the wilderness buried. Camp Edith sends you greeting – greeting to Edith from ‘Papa’s Lake.’”
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Company: Road Scholar | Dates: Three trips, July-August, 2017 | Participants: 15-25 per group | Type: 6-days of field outings and motorcoach travel in western Oregon
<I enjoyed leading this Road Scholar trip for grandparents and grandchildren. It was a fun and educational opportunity for different generations to share time together exploring the world of animals. For my programs, I wanted to create a mentoring environment where, at the end of the program, everyone who is young at heart would think of themselves as a beginning zoologist. A zoologist is a curious person (a scientist) who loves to learn about animals and everything they can teach us.
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.