Volume VI - Nos. 5 & 6
TRAIL TO WAYSIDE
BY CHARLES N. ELLIOTT,
Once I helped to build a park upon a mountainside. During the process I swung an axe to clear trail and I dug away into the thick humus with a mattock, making tread for human feet across the steep mountain slope. Another time I pushed through a steaming jungle, with yellow flies like dancing flecks of gold before my eyes, marking out trails and selecting sites for picnic tables and benches and comfort stations. For more than twelve years I have helped in one way or another in the selection, development and maintenance of recreational parks.
Now I have learned something new. I have learned the pleasure of using a park.
Several days ago a group of friends in Richmond, Virginia, invited me on a picnic dinner to Hanover Wayside Park, some twelve miles north of the city. I was delighted. The idea of using these facilities we had been developing for the past many years had somehow never occurred to me.
We rode out on Sunday afternoon. I found Hanover Wayside an attractive little place, not large and not outstanding for any particular reason of scenic or historic interest. It was a bit of typical Virginia woodland, forested with mixed hardwoods and pine trees. Its man-made attractions consisted of a small lake, several picnic sites with tables and outdoor fire places, trails and a central comfort station. There were no hotels, cabins, or beer and ice cream parlors.
We parked in one of the regulation parking areas. We gathered the groceries from the back of the automobile and deposited them on a rustic picnic table a few yards away. The place was neat as a pin. I was surprised to discover that these picnic tables, which seemed crowded from the road, were not crowded at all. Families at the adjoining tables could be seen but they were not near enough to interfere with elbow room.
The spot was a lovely one. The hillside was clothed in beech and oak and gum trees. Beyond the table, the earth broke away abruptly and fell to the edge of a little lake almost hidden by forested shores.
Since the afternoon was too warm to allow cooking over one of the stone and steel fire places, a member of our picnic parade had brought along a small charcoal stove. We fired up the black lumps and broiled steaks and toasted buns over the heap of red coals. The meal was delicious and satisfying.
We packed up the skeleton remains and set out to explore the vicinity of the picnic table. That does not sound like a huge assignment. It wasn't, but it was interesting and instructive to my own simple mind. A very attractive young lady of some four years and an inquisitive lad of about six, whose family was having its picnic at the next abbie, came over for a visit. We showed the youngsters how to entice doodle bugs out of their sand homes in the earth. Each of the budding naturalists transported a doodle bug across the intervening space to show the family.
That was rare sport, so they returned for more. Since no more doodle bug homes seemed to be available, we switched our attention to frogs. Down in a shallow ravine below the table, the ground was covered with the tiny reptiles. They were scarcely larger than a fair-sized wart and were hopping in all directions, without any special destination. We captured a couple of the terrified hoppers for the chubby fingers. These too, were returned to the adjoining table for inspection by the entire family, with much speculation as to whether small frogs would cause small warts and big frogs would make large warts.
By now we were well acquainted with our new juvenile friends. The little boy's name was Bart and his sister's name was Mary Beth. Bart had suddenly found the earth an intriguing place. Across its surface crawled a great many interesting creatures as crickets and lizards and oval-back bugs. He discovered a spider carrying an egg almost as large as herself upon her back. There were flowers growing close to the edge of the woods and the ground was studded with pebbles of many different kinds and shapes and colors. We collected a handful of flat stones and slid down the embankment to skim them across the surface of the water. We showed Bart how to throw a rock with his wrist as well as with his arm. His aim and distance improved so rapidly that we think he might be a twirler for one of the big league teams some day.
I had a few brief words with the father in the family. He was a young man who might have been any average American father. I asked him why he had brought the family out to picnic. The quick glance he shot at me said it wasn't any of my business, and I hastened to explain that I was interested only in the success of the park and in why people used it.
"I've been out here before," he said. "We often come out when it's hot in town, and have our dinner on one of the picnic tables. The family next door use this place and we heard them talk about it. Besides, it's only about twenty minutes ride from my house."
That question of time and distance again.
I walked down the trail through the picnic area, trying to get an idea of what those who used the picnic tables were talking and thinking about. I was really eaves-dropping but behind my unethical conduct was a noble purpose.
A couple of men at the third table were arguing about baseball scores, and at the next table a family was discussing the war beyond the seas. One table was making plans for the next week end and I heard the name "Westmoreland". Three couples had brought along a softball and a bat and were having a game in the open field above the parking lot.
Here was a group of average Americans, with average thoughts and conversations. They were relaxed and enjoying the coolness of this spot out in the forest, away from hot city streets. The ride out had not been expensive or fatiguing, because it was not far. With few exceptions everyone was dressed in comfortable clothes they never would have dared wear in a restaurant or hotel dining room in the city. In all the crowd I could not find one single person who appeared angry or displeased or uncomfortable.
I returned to my own table with the impression that perhaps the provision of recreational places such as this one was more important than I had ever realized. I had the thought that those families who had brought their dinners out into the forest to a place provided and maintained for them would carry away a sense of satisfaction, a feeling that some part of their being had been refreshed by this contact with sunshine and shadows of the forest and with being near the earth itself. They would not feel the same striking and dramatic flood of awe acquired by the grandeur of a national park. Probably not one of the estimated 300 persons who used Hanover Wayside during the short period we were there, would have the opportunity to visit a national park this summer.
The wind suddenly filled up the forest trees and we noticed that night had almost come. One by one the automobiles crunched out of the gravel driveway and turned their bumpers toward town. Perhaps they would come back to Hanover Wayside. Probably they would visit other parks, too, for a change. We knew that many of those autos carried home a new store of inspiration to be apportioned across the week, to help soften the daily grind by which we mortals live.
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