Chapter 4: Victim vs. Leader Perspective
10:50 AM. After departing a nearby wildlife preserve featuring over a dozen ponds, we arrive at our second location to scout for our family nature club. This location features a trail that runs along a shallow creek, weaving through woodlands teeming with waterfowl. The trail was recommended to me by a naturalist with the Open Space and Mountain Parks department, specifically for its designed access to the water. Children are always attracted to water, so I thought we should check it out.
About a hundred yards up the trail we come upon the first water access point. The sun and warming temperatures invite the children to take off their shoes and immediately enter the water. Nyla wades from a tiny beach towards a boulder. Moments later, Silas, still only two years old, follows as best he can, but they quickly come upon a deeper pool. Within a flash, Silas trips against the current and is sitting waist-deep in the creek. He’s soaked, and his laughter makes Nyla spring into imitation. Even though the sun provides much warmth at this elevation, the soaked children start to chill. With luck, I have an extra pair of clothes in the truck. After some play, we walk back to the trailhead, change clothes, and return to walking up the trail to scout the remaining areas of the location. It was fortunate that I was reminded of the cardinal rule of children and water—they almost always get wet. Learning this lesson again prompted me to include that note in my description for the upcoming event.
It’s easy to be a victim when you are out in nature if you are not prepared, but to run a quality family nature club, you’ll need to take some leadership in helping guests know what to expect. Scouting locations in advance is the best way to be sure that you’re leading your club into territory for which they are prepared. Scouting locations does take some time, but it is one of my favorite aspects of organizing our family nature club: Things almost always go wrong (err, unexpected) when scouting, which means it’s a real adventure! Having good knowledge about the location makes you a good leader, builds trust, and strengthens your community. It’s a perspective that will bring you a great deal of happiness and really ensure the success of your club.
How to Scout Events for Your Family Nature Club
Your process for scouting events for your family nature club will vary a great deal based on the type of event. For outings that you are leading in nature, it is important to visit the location yourself so you are familiar with the different aspects. Even if you’ve been to a location before, it may have been in a different season, which could impact the options. For example, I was interested in a mountain location that I knew had ample parking, but when I went in the winter, I discovered that the last mile of the road was closed during the snowy months. For outings where a naturalist or other third party is leading, it may be less important to visit the location, but you should still meet with the person in advance.
Here are the three steps to scout an event:
Preparing consists of two aspects. The first is doing your research so you know where to go and what you might do during the event. Research was discussed in detail in the previous chapter, and the one thing to keep in mind for scouting is that you’ll want to be sure you have a map, GPS, or other knowledge of how to get to where you are going. The second is bringing the right equipment. The equipment you need for scouting varies slightly from when you go out for the actual event because you don’t know what to expect on your first visit. I tend to bring more clothes, food, and water in case unexpected weather conditions take us by surprise or we end up exploring longer than planned. You should also bring a camera and possibly a notepad to make a record of what you find so you can include this in your documentation.
Scouting, as I mentioned, is my one of my favorite aspects of our family nature club. Sometimes our experience goes just as planned, but often things don’t turn out how we expect. I’ve found closed roads and dangerous waters, gone too far on trails I didn’t know, come across very muddy conditions, and experienced all sorts of aspects to a location that may be unappealing for a club event. Thus, it’s good to go into scouting without expectations—and, if you are bringing your family, which I like to do, to manage their expectations too. I always tell my children we’re going on an “adventure” when we’re scouting, and they love the freedom and surprise that brings. To scout a location, you simply go there and evaluate the location to see if it meets your goals.
Take photos of all of these aspects, ideally featuring your children in some of the shots so you can show the benefits of the location and event. I like to try to find a “hero shot” with my children at the location having a blast and showing off the most attractive aspects of the place.
In some cases, you will need to contact open space, park managers, or an agency that manages the locations you want to visit due to the regulations for visitations from groups. After you’ve scouted a location and decide you want to visit it with your group, contact the person in charge of the location by email or phone. Introduce your group and plans, and request permission to visit their location.
What I look for when scouting:
- Parking—Is there sufficient parking for my club members?
- Challenge—How difficult will it be for my club to navigate and have the kind of experience I want? Can they do it? If not everyone can do it, how do I help them understand the difficulty?
- Hazards—Is there deep water or frozen bodies of water that might present danger? Large rocks kids might climb on? Cliffs kids could fall down? What will I need to warn parents about?
- Attractions—What kind of features will be exciting for my club? Wildlife? Scenery? Any special plants or geological formations? What will make this place fun and memorable?
- Weather—How will changing weather impact the club experience? Is there shade for hot days? Is the location susceptible to high winds? What extra clothing is required, given the time of year?
- Independence—If someone else is guiding the event, how will that work for my club members? If it is a long adult-guided activity, what will the children be drawn to that might distract the event? How can I manage this in advance? How will this vary between the age ranges of the children in our group? Can I provide options for those not interested in the event, such as breaking it up and allowing free time? Will there be nearby places for those distracted to play without getting separated from the group?
What You’ve Learned
In this chapter, you’ve learned how to scout events for your family nature club. You’ve learned how to prepare, visit, and evaluate locations.