The Regional Review

Volume V - No. 1

July, 1940


Participant in First Institute Explains 'Why We Were There'

Greensboro, North Carolina

We were a band gathered in a little colony at one of the organized camping sites at Swift Creek Recreational Demonstration Area, Virginia. On our arrival, Sunday, June 23, we were total strangers from nine different states and the District of Columbia. At first sight we seemed to be a heterogeneous group; certainly we were all ages, from college students to mature men and women; and it took only a few minutes of conversation to discover that our walks in life were as diversified as our ages. There were park rangers and college professors, elementary school teachers and recreational leaders. There was a National Park Service research and planning supervisor and there was a district representative of the National Recreation Association. There were graduate students and undergraduates. There were high school teachers and scout leaders.

"What is the tie that binds?" I thought, as I looked around on that first night. "What is the call that has drawn to a focal point representatives from so many different groups?" It appeared strange to me that people of such varied types should have gathered here on the same spot, at the same time, each evidently expecting to derive benefits from the same source. Why We Are Here appealed to me as a caption worthy of elaboration. Accordingly, I decided to interview each member of the group with that in mind.

sketch of palm tree with moon casting
shadow on water

That there was a tie that bound, a strong one, was demonstrated immediately. Within 24 hours we had adjusted ourselves so perfectly to each other and to our environment that it seemed we had always belonged there. Nature had lost no time in making us her own. We were in the heart of the woods rejoicing in our carefree existence and missing not a bit the inconveniences and intricacies of modern civilization. The outside world, with its many distractions and complicated problems, had become a vague memory. We had almost forgotten even the wars abroad. We were absorbed in our new and simply way of living. We were a harmonious group working together for a common cause, and bound by good comradeship.

"Back to nature" was the keynote, as I am sure you have guessed by now. That is a slogan that will strike a responsive chord in every human breast. The natural environment of our earliest ancestors has a lure and a fascination that always exist, but they exist more clearly for some than for others. There are people so busily engrossed with the everyday duties of making a living that they have failed to notice the simple yet dramatic happenings in the natural world. Others, caught in the whirl of artificial pleasures, are totally unconscious of the world of wonder around them. Still others are starving for recreation; they have no means for expensive vacations, and are asleep to the realization of the recreational opportunities that are at their feet or in the very air they breathe---and that may be had for the asking. Finally there are those who are conscious in varying degrees of the wonders in nature, but who feel a need for guidance in discovering and interpreting their environment.

That brings us back where we started: "Why were we here?" I soon found the point of contact that had brought us together. It was a love for the out-or-doors, a belief in its recreational possibilities, and a desire to help interpret it to the public. We believed whole-heartedly in the recreational programs now emphasized throughout the country, and we were particularly interested in the nature aspects of those programs. We believed that there was a need for people more adequately trained in natural sciences to become leaders in this field. We believed that they should be people who looked with something of awe and wonder upon the natural processes operating in our world; and we believed that they should be able to transmit this feeling to others.

With this general purpose of the group as a background, let us consider the specific lines of approach in the minds of the individuals. The statement of one member, the district representative of the National Recreation Association, appears to be so clear-cut and vivid that I quote it:

My purpose is threefold. First, it is to explore possibilities of nature recreation for families, the possibilities in one's own backyard; second, to explore the wider possibilities of city recreational centers, and third, to increase my own personal skill.

The National Park Service state supervisor was interested particularly in better nature programs for parks, programs that would give a meaningful interpretation to these areas set aside for the preservation of wildlife and for the enjoyment of man. The city park nature and recreational leaders wanted to equip themselves better by getting a broader vision of their field. They were mingling with fellow workers, getting and giving new ideas. They were interested in the technique of group leadership, and were discovering possibilities for developing small recreational centers.

Some of the younger members of the group were looking forward to work in national or state parks. Here they were making valuable contacts and getting actual experience. Others of this group were trying to prepare themselves to do volunteer work or to become community recreational leaders. All were exploring the field of nature with the idea of better understanding and interpreting it.

The teacher group I left for the last because I an of it. The schools are emphasizing science in the elementary grades or science on the children's level, whatever the age. We were here to make a broader and better acquaintance with the field of nature. We wanted to live and experience what we were trying to teach. We wanted to learn more of the technique of field trips, nature crafts, and collections, Some of us were so enthusiastic about nature interpretation and so convinced of its value that we had dreams of using our long vacations in this delightful way, either in parks or in camps.

Among our most enthusiastic members was a park ranger who declared: "I shall never work another day. From now on my work will be my hobby.".

In conclusion, I should like to say that we consider this experiment of living and learning together to be even more successful than we had anticipated. Through wise planning, some of the best scientific talent in the country was brought directly to us. By these specialists, knowledge was given and interest aroused in new fields. In the great outdoor laboratory, rich in scientific materials, we observed and discovered many secrets of animal and plant life, secrets so fascinating and so full of meaning that I an sure we shall go on searching and discovering more and more.

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Date: 04-Jul-2002