Questing is Coming to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. So…What is it?

Towpath at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The towpath at Cuyahoga National Park. Photo by Cuyahoga jco via Creative Commons and Flicrk.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is on a Quest to encourage more visitors to learn about the park and the Great Outdoors. The park is introducing Questing—"a new interactive recreational activity"—to Northeast Ohio, and they're offering training about Questing to teachers and the general public. So… what is Questing?

Questing is type of “letterboxing” that involves following a rhyming trail of clues and a curious map to find a hidden box. Quests challenge their creators to discover what is truly unique about a certain place—could be a forest trail, a local museum, or a historic area—and share this with others in a fun, imaginative way.

Questers log their finds and collect unique stamps, and some quests can be done using a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit, allowing geocachers to get involved, too.

"Letterboxing," and "geocaching," like "Questing," may be unfamiliar terms, so here's a bit of explanation from the website geocaching.com.

Letterboxing is another form of treasure hunting that uses clues to direct hunters to a hidden container. Each letterbox contains a stamp which is the signature for that box. Most letterboxers have their own personal stamps and personal logbooks. They stamp the letterbox logbook with their personal stamp, and use the stamp contained in the letterbox to "sign" their personal logbook.

Geocaching (pronounced geo-cashing) is a worldwide game of hiding and seeking treasure. A geocacher can place a geocache in the world, pinpoint its location using GPS technology and then share the geocache's existence and location online. Anyone with a GPS device can then try to locate the geocache.

Geocaching has occasionally created some conflicts in NPS areas, although the "official" GPS Cache website cautions participants that cache sites are not allowed "on land managed by an agency that prohibits geocaches, such as the U.S. National Park Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."

What's the problem with geocaching in parks, and how is it different from questing? Information from Acadia National Park notes,

Unintentional damage caused by the inappropriate placement of a cache or by participants who develop social trails when they leave established trails to look for a cache can result in serious impacts on a park’s natural, historical, and cultural resources.

An NPS policy review from 2007 summarizes the key concerns arising from geocaching in parks.

Some parks, including Acadia, have worked with various groups to develop an alternative to geocaching known as EarthCaches.

Unlike geocaches, EarthCaches are a type of virtual (nonphysical) cache that teach something about the site—how it was formed geologically, why it is important scientifically, what it can tell us about our planet—without impacting the environment. There is no physical cache full of objects. With EarthCaches the knowledge gained is the treasure.

Questing appears to be closer to the EarthCache concept, although the Questing program does have a tangible destination. A key difference from geocaching is that under programs such as the one at Cuyahoga, appropriate sites are developed in cooperation with the land managing agency. There's also a clear "education" component to the activity. Perhaps Questing, like EarthCaches, will offer a way to accommodate both GPS fans and protection of park resources.

The Cuyahoga project is modeled on the successful Valley Quest program in New England, and is a partnership involving the park, Cleveland Metroparks, Cascade Locks Park Association, and Metro Parks.

National questing expert Steve Glazer will lead a series of two-day workshops to train volunteers, park staff, and teachers in developing the first 25 quests for the Ohio & Erie Canalway.

The training session for the general public will be held on Thursday and Friday, March 4-5, 2010 at the park's Boston Store Visitor Center. The Questing Workshop for Teachers will be held on Saturday and Sunday, March 6-7, at the Boston Store Visitor Center. Boston Store Visitor Center is located at 1548 Boston Mills Road, east of Riverview Road, in Peninsula, Ohio. All sessions will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The workshops are free, but a time commitment is involved. Working in pairs, workshop participants will create one or two quests during the spring. Stipends are available for teachers only. Volunteers are also needed to pilot the new quests in May and June.

David Sobel, author of Childhood and Nature, noted, "Steve Glazer is one of the true, great practitioners of place-based education in the western hemisphere. With his insight and perspicacity, he's made questing one of the unique vehicles for delving into local landscapes, culture, stories and history. He's the Pied Piper of finding our roots. Follow him and there's never a dull moment."

A website for Steve Glazer, the trainer for the workshops, offers some additional information about the activity.

Quests can be created by individuals or small groups, by classrooms or scout troops working as a group, and by youth groups and adult community partners working collaboratively. For each quest, participants create verse clues that guide and teach questers as they move through a site; Quest maps that illustrate the quest and prevent visitors from getting lost; and hidden treasure boxes at the end of the quest, which contain a scrapbook, a sign-in guest book and a unique hand-carved rubber stamp.

Once a quest has been created, children, families and adults search for the hidden boxes while they discover their community's landscape and heritage. Families can go questing on holiday outings and for children's birthday parties; daycare programs, schools and camps can utilize quests for educational field trips; tourists enjoy quests as well. All of these people benefit and learn from a quest.

Quests, in general, emphasize three things:

• Mapping the assets of our communities—our special places
• Teaching about these places in an integrated, multisensory and experiential way
• Deepening community interrelationships: between children and adults, schools and communities, newcomers and old-timers, and across the various constituencies of the community.

If you need more information about the Canalway project or want to register for a workshop, contact Arrye Rosser at (440) 546-5992 or . Accommodations are available for some teachers to attend the weekday workshop and for some non-teachers the weekend one, if those dates are preferred.

There's been plenty of discussion lately about the need to find new ways to entice youngsters—and adults—into the out-of-doors. Perhaps this will prove to be another way to do so.

Comments

Bravo to all involved in this project. If you'd like to hear David Sobel talk about place-based education and ideas for putting local culture, history, and nature back into schooling, join us for "Reading, Writing, and Thinking the Hudson Valley," July 27-29, at the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites in Hyde Park, NY. Get details: http://preview.tinyurl.com/yd5a6ph