Why Your 1st National Park Experience Is Important

May 19, 2016Mellie DavisNPF Blog

Here’s the thing about doing something you have never done before - if you enjoyed your experience you will want to do it again and again. It stokes the embers that creates a fire in you that you weren’t necessarily aware was there.

Image of Mellie Davis on her \"Find Your Park Expedition\"

My trip with the National Park Foundation as part of the 2015 Find Your Park Expedition has made me “one of those people.”

One of those national park people who must get their NPS Passport stamped.

One of those people who, when they see the NPS Arrowhead, gets really excited.

One of those people who is in awe of all the information that the rangers hold and loves going on their tours.

Image of Great Sand Dunes sign photographed by Victor Wei

It all started with my experience at Great Sand Dunes. Seeing the expanse of sandy hills that looked like I was dropped in the middle of a desert was such an experience. I couldn’t make heads or tails of where I was. I was standing in the middle of what seemed like a place outside of the United States, yet surrounding this expanse of sand were tall mountains with snow. This was a moment of disequilibrium.

In education, we try to create moments of disequilibrium for our students where they are presented with a problem or situation that they don’t know what to do with and their process of figuring it out is the learning process.

Image of Junior Ranger \"Night Explorer\" Badge

I was presented with another moment of disequilibrium as we participated in a night sky presentation at Great Sand Dunes. Standing under the sky and being able to see the Milky Way with my naked eye took my breath away (or maybe that was the altitude!). The Milky Way, something that I had learned and taught about and had only seen at the planetarium at the Museum of Natural History, was really and truly before me.

When we headed to Mesa Verde and learned about the museum at the visitor center, I geeked out. As a student at Bank Street School of Education, working toward an MSEd in Museum Education I was really excited about the connection and concept of living artifacts and the natural environment being a place for learning. Seeing petroglyphs in real life, in front of my face was an experience I will never forget. Being able to explore cliff dwellings of ancient pueblo people made my teaching of Native American lands in the northeast to my fourth grade students richer.

Sign of Peabody Essex Museum

Sign of Salem Maritime National Park

Since our Find Your Park Expedition, I have been exploring NPS sites in different states and in my own backyard. On a recent trip to visit the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, I saw the NPS arrowhead logo and was adamant with my group about needing to go to the visitor center for the Salem Historic District. I needed to get my passport stamped and wanted to check out their Junior Ranger program. In an interesting turn of events, I also took a tour with a ranger of the sailing vessel Friendship which is a recreation of the actual vessel. It was a great experience.

Image of \"Friendship of Salem\" ship with ship title

Meanwhile, back in New York City, a group of Museum Education students from my program and I had a day at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. As I looked at the brochure, I again saw that arrowhead and learned that they are an affiliate of NPS.

I am now so aware of the National Park Service and have planned trips to Seattle, mainly to visit Mount Rainier and visit local sites. This is solely because of the experience I had at Great Sand Dunes and Mesa Verde with the Find Your Park Expedition.

Your first experience at a national park is an important one because it will change you. If you remain open, you will be forever changed. Now that I’m “one of those people,” I couldn’t be happier.

Mellie Davis participated in the National Park Foundation’s 2015 Find Your Park Expedition. She is an educator, currently teaching fourth graders, and blogs about plus size fashion, NYC living, restaurant reviews and so much more on TheFatAppleNYC.com. You can follow Mellie's adventures and connect with her on TwitterInstagramEpicurious, and Facebook.

Photo credits: Mellie Davis and Victor Wei

For ideas on visiting parks in your own backyard, you can download the National Park Foundation’s free guide Urban Playgrounds.

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