People Make the Place

This past weekend I decided that it was time for me to try the hike to Kinsman Mountain with the hopes of surviving the climb and also coming up with an idea for my next post. While I was pondering, I realized that I have lived in New Hampshire for nearly 7 months! That’s over twice as long as I lived in New York City last summer. However this summer feels way different. Towards the end of my time in NYC I was completely ready to go back to Nebraska, I couldn’t get home fast enough. At the time I figured that maybe I wasn’t the kind of person that was able to be away from my home state that long. But I’ve been in New Hampshire since January, so my theory has changed.

Some of the falls along the Cascade Brook trail.
Some of the gorgeous falls along the Cascade Brook trail.

One vital part of my theory is the people. It’s hard to explain in a simple sentence of how important people can be in shaping your travel experiences. I came to New Hampshire knowing absolutely no one. No friends and no family; just living in the woods with 31 strangers. Of course over the past half year these strangers have become my great friends. By sharing this new experience we were able to bond on a deep level. Once we made the switch from education season to interpretation, I became very close with the other interpretive rangers. While the conservation crew and CLC leaders were working on chainsaw and rigging skills we led field trips, built carrot cake castles, and constructed blanket forts. As the time approached for us to move to our parks we joked about how cruel this program was to let us get so close just to scatter us across the state. Luckily I get to live in Franconia Notch State Park with Becki (my fellow interpreter), so it made the separation a lot easier. I was also happy to find that once I got to Franconia Notch, I would meet other fantastic people.

A grasshopper that I saved from drowning in Kinsman Pond
A grasshopper that I saved from drowning in Kinsman Pond

From day one at Franconia Notch I felt very welcome. Our supervisor took us on a brief tour of the park and introduced us to several staff members and helped us get our bearings. Every time I go to the camp store I am greeted with conversations and friendly smiles. The staff frequently check on us and strive to make sure we have everything we need. They found me some hiking poles to use on my hike to Kinsman Mountain, and they let me go on bear patrol with them sometimes. Having people like that around make it easier to live here away from my original New Hampshire family.

A White Admiral butterfly found along the Cascade Brook trail.
A White Admiral butterfly found along the Cascade Brook trail.

The kindness of people doesn’t stop at the staff level. There are some very interesting hikers and park visitors that I come across while roving around the park. On one of my off days I went up to Lonesome Lake and hung out for a while on the dock with this family that was also there. They had three boys that ranged from the age of 4 to 12. Fortunately I was able to have nice conversations with the whole family, although I found it entertaining how the subject matter changed from person to person. With the 4 year old we discussed the different colorings of his candy that he had stashed in his pocket. The 12 year old had recently been given a very nice camera as a birthday present so I inquired about his photography experiences. And with the mother we discussed my position at the park and what I planned to do in the future. They were such a friendly family and it was nice to get to know them for the brief time that we shared on the shores of Lonesome Lake.

A rainbow emerging from the summit of Mt. Lafayette
A rainbow emerging from Mt. Lafayette

I also meet some lovely families during my programs. During my night hike I was approached by a man carrying his son and being followed by his daughter, aged 7. He asked if Grace could tag along on the hike even though he couldn’t stick around and I accepted the task. During my program I made sure she was next to me and we discussed dragonflies, fireflies, and the bike rides she had been going on with her dad since she got here. She seemed to enjoy the Delight of Night program well enough and once I thanked the rest of the group for attending I walked her back to her campsite. Her father met us on the road and asked if I was the interpretive ranger. I was surprised that he knew what that was since typically people don’t know what it means or assume I speak another language. When I confirmed that I was an interpretive ranger he got very excited and said he read our blogs religiously. That statement alone was shocking to me and to add to it he shook my hand! I know that our pictures, bios, and blogs are online but I was amazed to see a stranger that recognized and appreciated our work. Our supervisor Clare flipped when she heard about it.

So if you’re reading this “Grace’s dad” thanks for bringing the family out to Franconia Notch! Hope all is well!

Kim Stockwell and "Gidget"
Kim Stockwell and “Gidget” at Lonesome Lake

The last visitor interaction I’ll write about I met yesterday afternoon. Once again I was hanging out at Lonesome Lake wondering what my blog would be about this time, when the answer whipped out a box of Grumbacher Deluxe Opaque watercolors. Her name is Kim Stockwell and she was on a hike with her friends and her adorable little dog named Gidget. I decided to be up front and tell her about my blog post and ask if she would like to be featured in it. Thankfully she agreed and I was able to walk away knowing a lot more about the combination of hiking and painting than I did before. Coming from a non-artistic background that consisted of being a pretty darn good face painter at a children’s museum, I am not hard to impress. Kim hails from Boston and is pursuing a Master’s degree in painting at the Museum of Fine Arts. I found it very interesting that she focuses more on colors than the subject matter when it comes to her work. She has been painting for a very long time and has begun to add hiking into her work. For her it is a great combination of exercise and pursuing her passion for painting. For her outdoor adventures Kim is using watercolors since they are lightweight and hiker-friendly (of course!). When I asked what brought her to Franconia Notch she mentioned how this was a unique setting and how everything changes here. That particular answer brought a smile to my face because I remembered watching the Franconia Notch video that they loop at the Flume Visitor’s Center. At least three times during that video the narrator mentions how Franconia is always changing and will never be the same again. This becomes truer the longer I reside here. I admire Kim’s ability to combine her love for painting with her love for the outdoors; it’s something I can relate to. Growing up I always thought it would be great to be a teacher, but I had no idea that you could be a teacher and also get to work outdoors! So now I am at a point where I, too, can combine my passion for teaching and interacting with people while still getting outside.

A state park is just that. A state park. What makes it a memorable place that is visited for generations are the people. Humans naturally have a connection with the outdoors. But when you have the ability to add a human connection it makes that experience significantly more special, in my opinion. I think that’s why I’ve lasted so long in New Hampshire. I constantly have the outdoors, I’m doing what I’m passionate about, and I am surrounded by friendly and interesting people. Even though I miss Nebraska like crazy, I’m surviving. Franconia Notch has been my home for a little over a month now and judging by the kind of people I’ve found here, these next few months are going to be something that will help shape me into the kind of person I’m trying to become.

By: Monica Casey, Interpretive Ranger at Franconia Notch State Park


Discover Power of Parks SCA Interpreters

Discover the Power of Parks is presented by New Hampshire State Parks in collaboration with the Student Conservation Association and made possible by generous financial support from Eversource. The program offers a look into the natural world through hands-on programming. Interpretive programs focus on connecting participants with nature and building appreciation for New Hampshire's unmatched natural heritage. Programs include guided hikes, interpretive tours, and imaginative environmental workshops for children and families. Programs are offered free to guests with paid park admission fee. No pre-registration is required.

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