Guest blog, by Eleanor Heidkamp-Young
We have been on the road more than four weeks and have visited some of the largest open spaces of America. In that time, we have taken the opportunity to be active in America’s great outdoors—in fact, as I write this blog, we are staying at DeGray’s State Park in Bismarck, Arkansas. Upon arrival in Alaska in mid-September, we drove north to Wasilla and went hiking in nearby Hatcher Pass. In the lower 48, we drove through North Cascades National Park on route to Glacier National Park. We spent two days exploring Glacier, including an all day spectacular hike on the Highland Trail, just east of Logan Pass.
After working with the Choteau, Montana Change Club, we drove south toward one of the nation’s oldest and most iconic National Parks—Yellowstone. Upon arrival, we discovered that our arrival date, Saturday, September 24, was National Public Lands Day, an annual event of the National Environmental Education Foundation that promotes visitation and conservation in the parks and one of a handful of days on which parks waive entrance fees. Yellowstone was bustling with visitors stopping to view Buffalo along the road, waiting to see Old Faithful’s next eruption, and cycling along the park’s many winding roads. Trying to make Jackson Hole by dinner, we continued south. Within an hour, the young, jagged Teton Range stood starkly across the shores of 25,000-acre Jackson Lake. Rebecca, Mim, and I took stunning hikes in Grand Tetons, primarily around lakes in the shadows of these great mountains.
Next, onto Colorado. After three productive days with the Change Club in Fort Collins, Mim and I headed to Boulder, just southeast of Rocky Mountain National Park. On our first day in Boulder, Mim’s niece, Lieko, and her fiancé, Nils, took Mim’s husband, Kin, Mim, and me on a strenuous hike to the top of Beak Peak, elevation 8,461, a gem within Boulder city limits that provided beautiful views of the Colorado Rockies. The following day, we headed to Rocky Mountain National Park. As we began our way up Flat Top Mountain, we had the trail almost entirely to ourselves. The trail gained steadily and took us about 2 ½ hours up to summit, elevation 12,324. Upon reaching the top, we were a little lightheaded from the altitude, but we were rewarded with spectacular views of neighboring Longs Peak (14,000+), Hallet Peak, and the park to the north of us.
At Rocky Mountain National Park, we interviewed two National Park Rangers. Michael Rupp has been a ranger for six years and currently works at the Bear Lake Trailhead. He agreed that parks, especially the National Parks, are a great resource for Americans to be active.
Veteran Ranger George Hockman, who has worked for the U.S. Park Service for over forty years, said he was disappointed with some of the changes he has seen since his first days at Rocky Mountain back in the early 1960s. Visitors used to stay in the park for a week or two, and they would come to the visitor’s center having researched numerous hikes prior to arrival. Today, many visitors simply swing through in a day or two and only to visit the park’s ‘highlights’ from their RV or a short walk. Hockman used to give evening fireside talks to hundreds and take small groups of visitors on long day hikes. Today, he tells us that many campers stay close to their cars or RVs. The job of the park ranger now involves PowerPoint presentations and a focus on the overall number of visitor contacts, even if for just a few seconds.
At the national level, there has been an increased effort to get Americans to access national resources and be more active in the parks. Let’s Move Outside, administered by the Department of Interior, was created to get kids and families to take advantage of American’s public lands. Http://www.letsmove.gov/lets-move-outside offers resources to connect citizens to the natural areas closest to them.
Neither George Hockman nor Michael Rupp were aware of Let’s Move Outside or any new emphasis by the U.S. Park Service to encourage people to be more active in the parks. Both, however, agreed that the parks certainly do provide that opportunity and hoped that more visitors would do so.
We feel very fortunate for the opportunity to visit city, state, and national parks and recreation lands during the StrongWomen Across America tour. The beauty of this country continues to astound us—the mountains, the lakes, the vast land and sky. The parks are such an excellent resource for us to experience these wonderful natural open spaces and to be active. No doubt, Mim and I wouldn’t have been able to keep up our daily average of over 10,000 steps without having visited the parks.
We hope that if you have the chance, you’ll join us and move more—outside.