Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Silt, Tilt, Slide and Glide

Have you ever been to a ranger led program at a state or national park, to be bored to tears by a ranger who speaks in a monotone, or too loud or too quiet, or doesn't respond to questions? You may just shake your head and quietly wander away, with a bad feeling about ranger programs. Dick and I are both Certified Interpretive Guides, which trains us to avoid such situations when we are leading a hike or program. We have been trained to engage the attention of our visitors with questions, memorable sayings, and props they can handle and touch. Strangely enough, this topic has come up twice in the last two days, due to the CIG button on my hat. Our good friend and mentor, Wren Smith at Bernheim Forest, was our trainer for this certification.

This morning we attended a ranger led hike up Avalanche Creek to the lake. This young woman in the full ranger uniform, did everything right. She explained everything we needed to know about bears and why. As we walked along the trail she would yell, "Hey-Ho, coming down the trail!" at the top of her voice, since loud, non-natural noises are a good way to avoid sneaking up on a bear inadvertently. The first stop was at this funny looking rock, when turns out to be a fossilized stomatolite, the cyano bacteria which turned our atmosphere to oxygen about 1.6 billion years ago. She let us try to guess what the rock was and why we were looking at it (engaging us), before she explained the answer.

We hiked for a while, and just as the group got all strung out, she would take a break, so the laggers (usually including me, since I'd stopped for photos so often) could rejoin the group, and everyone could take a short breather, while she explained something else about how the park got to look the way it does.  The most common cause of death in the park is drowning, so please don't lean over too far to get that photo!  She gave us clues to a little poem to remember: silt, tilt, slide and glide. This describes the geologic forces at work to make the park over billions of years.

Many parts of the park have been subject to forest fires, but not this area, and some of the old growth trees are huge. The trees grow so closely together that little light reaches the forest floor, which keeps it cool and comfortable for hikers. But there is little or no understory growth such as we see in Kentucky. Even the spring wildflowers don't have much of a chance, since the conifers don't lose their needles in the winter.

At one point, we walked into an open sunny spot, stretching from shortly uphill of our position, down to the creek below. All the logs on the ground were pointing uphill. "What caused this?" the ranger asked. Would an avalanche make the trees point uphill, she replied to our suggestion.  Well...we scratched our heads. Yes, if the avalanche came down the other side of the valley! In fact, these great masses of speeding snow create a huge wind before themselves, and the wind blew all the trees down in front of the avalanche from the other side. This only happened in 2011, so she pointed out that the park is an every changing system. The light in this clearing allows young plants to grow, and the decaying trees add nutrients back into the soil. Plus, it gives hikers a much better view!

We reached Avalanche Lake, which is fed by runoff from Sperry Glacier. Here the ranger gave a lesson in glacial terminology - cirques, arretes and horns. In 1850, there were 150 glaciers in this area, and now there are...she asked us to guess. Only 25 glaciers remain now, and they are expected to be gone by 2020, or 2030 at the latest. People will still come, and it will still be called Glacier National Park. She closed with the Interpretive Guide's "call to action," -- what can you do to help? Even if you are only one person, you can help.  George Bird Grinnell was one person, who helped the creation of the park in the beginning.

As the group spread out to enjoy the lunches we brought, we approached Becca to praise her good interpretive skills.  It turns out that she has not been through the CIG training at all.  She must have been fortunate to receive her training from Park Services personnel who understood the CIG principles, because she did an outstanding job.  She was glad to hear our praise, since she usually doesn't get much specific feedback, and we certainly know how discouraging that can be.  So, Wren Smith, there are wonderful interpreters out there, but keep up the good work to train more of them!

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