By: Kate Seader, Interpretive Ranger at Franconia Notch State Park
It’s officially interpretation season for us Interpretive Rangers of the SCA NH AmeriCorps. With only one of us assigned to Bear Brook State Park – the rest of us have packed up our lives and headed out to our own parks. From Umbagog to Monadnock, we have spread out across New Hampshire and are settling into the parks that will be our homes until October.
My co-ranger Haley and I will be working in Franconia Notch State Park this summer. Our position is somewhat distinct from the rest; when we are not out and about conducting programs, one of us is stationed at the Hiker Cabin in front of Lafayette Campground to answer questions and help park guests make the most of their visits. When we first arrived at Franconia Notch State Park, we were overwhelmed — there is so much going on, and we had less than a week until we opened the Hiker Cabin. We needed to get to know Franconia Notch as well as possible so that we could tailor our programs to our site and make informed, personal recommendations for guests. And so I present to you:
How to Explore a New Park
Read up on where you are going; knowing the history behind the place you’ll be in can help you really connect with your park. Familiarizing yourself with the features of the park before arriving gives you more time to enjoy your visit. Researching trails you intend to hike helps you bring the right equipment and lets you know how early in the day you should start.
- Don’t Knock the Path Most Traveled By
Places are popular for a reason; check out what has people coming from all over. However, if something doesn’t hold your interest, don’t feel pressured to stay. To avoid the crowds, try going to the popular places early in the morning or during a weekday.
- Take to the Trails
Whether you use a shorter accessible path to a water feature, like the Basin, or a long mountain path up to Lafayette, trails are the best way to get to know our parks up close and personal. When I went to explore Echo Lake, I went on foot from the Hiker Cabin using the Pemi trail instead of driving. I was glad I did! The section of trail that borders Profile Lake is one of my new favorites.
- Go With a Friend
When you explore new places with a friend, you are exposed to things you wouldn’t be on your own. Something that doesn’t hold any special interest to you might be the most fascinating thing on earth to your companion, and that enthusiasm is contagious; soon enough, you are both excited over that shelf fungus that you didn’t even knew existed until today. I was fortunate enough to be given a summer-long companion in Haley. As we walk along the trails, she shows me signs of invasive species and teaches me about them; in return, she gets to see me do a little dance every time I spot a new wildflower.
- Go it Alone
Companions are great and open you up to new ideas. That said, make sure that you give yourself time to explore nature on your own. Solitude in wild places is a truly unique experience, and I find that when I go by myself, I slow down and notice small things I might have passed by before. I take longer moments to soak up a view, or I think of new ideas or solutions for problems that have been running around in the back of my mind. Whether you go on an overnight or just sit near the lake with a good book, take some time to be alone. If you do go on a longer trip alone, make sure you tell someone your plan and when you will be back, just in case.
- Make Connections
Whatever park you are exploring, there are sure to be people who know the place intimately and want to share their love of it with you. Insider knowledge and recommendations can help you see a side of the park that few get to experience. Talk to the people you see on the trails, make new friends, and chat up whoever is behind the information desk. They are just waiting to point you in the right direction–trust me, I’m one of them.