Have you ever been on a guided hike through the woods that was absolutely terrible because there was nothing to see and your guide didn’t point out enough fascinating facts about nature? Yeah, me neither. This is one of the points we try to get across to volunteers at our Field Trip 101 workshop, where Forest Society and UNH Cooperative Extension (UNHCE) staff provide participants with tips and techniques to help them lead successful nature walks for the public.
“People generally have a great time exploring nature and the outdoors, even if there’s not much in the way of formal instruction,” said Haley Andreozzi, UNHCE Wildlife Outreach Program Coordinator, “and they want you to succeed as a hike leader. They’re rooting for you.”
The latest Field Trip 101 class was held in late March at the Forest Society’s Conservation Center in Concord. Twenty-six participants reviewed the nuts and bolts of planning and implementing a nature walk, including getting the word out to ensure a good crowd of hikers, planning a route and talking points, safety considerations, and making sure you relax and have fun.
In exchange for the training, workshop attendees agree to lead or co-lead at least one walk on conservation land in the coming year.
“People are often afraid they don’t know enough to lead a hike because they’re not an expert or natural resource professional,” said Andreozzi, “but that’s just not true.”
Part of the workshop included a field exercise to put that myth to rest. The group broke into several teams, whose members scoured the area surrounding the parking lot (yes, that’s right, the gravel parking lot at the Forest Society) looking for things they might talk about on a nature walk. Unique talking points scored a point for each team. After five minutes, more than 50 interesting topics of discussion had been brainstormed.
“Here’s a white pine,” said one participant. "We could talk about how tall pines were used as masts for sailing ships in colonial America.”
“Or,” said another, “we could look at the pine’s needles and how they’re in bundles of five, just like the five letters in W-H-I-T-E.”
A third noted “Or we could mention how white pines are often one of the first trees to sprout in old fields or cleared areas in full sun.”
Any one of those would be great, or none of them, but everyone knows something they can share, and the possibilities are endless.
“Every guided hike gets new people out on conservation land, whether it’s private land with an easement, a town forest, a state park, or land owned by a land trust like the Forest Society,” says Dave Anderson, the Forest Society’s Director of Education. “When people can see the direct benefits of conservation land on their own lives, for recreation and clean water and wildlife habitat, they are much more likely to support future conservation projects in their own communities.”
Field Trip 101 is all about increasing capacity to get people out there, by getting volunteers hooked on leading nature walks in their own neighborhoods. Since the workshop’s inception six years ago, hundreds of walks have been led by Field Trip 101 graduates. It’s definitely a bit addictive. Usually as people are wrapping up leading their first hike, they’re already planning the second one in their heads.
If you are interested in learning about when the next Field Trip 101 workshop is scheduled, contact Carrie Deegan at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Carrie Deegan is Volunteer & Community Engagement Manager for the Forest Society.