National Parks Revisited: CAS for the Whole Family

In the Upper School, an important part of our academic program — for both IB- and non-IB-Diploma candidates — is CAS.  The idea is simple: find your passion and engage with it through creativity, activity and/or service. Creativity is learning about and experiencing new things such as the arts and culture.  Activity (formerly called action) is engaging physically, whether it be team sports, individualized movement or project work.  Service is giving of your time and talents to benefit others without personal gain, including planning a project as well as implementing it.  Although we expect participation in CAS by our students, it can easily be a part of our lifelong learning and experiences — and it is something that my family achieves through the National Park Service.

Skyline Trail hike at Mount Rainier National Park.

This summer, my daughters and I ventured out on a seven-week cross-country camping trip and visited 19 national and state parks.  On the trip, there were numerous ways to achieve “creativity.”  First we start at the visitor centers. There are exhibits that explain the cultural, geological, and historical significance of each site.  The big theme this year seemed to be the geological forces that formed the Rocky Mountains, Colorado Plateau, “Grand Staircase,” and Cascade Volcanoes.  At each of the “Mighty 5” national parks of Utah (Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks), we learned about the process of uplift and erosion, which over the course of the last 300 million years, has created and formed these canyons and deserts, as well as arches, windows, and hoodoos.  In the Pacific Northwest, we learned the role of plate tectonics and volcanoes in the creation of Crater Lake, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and the North Cascades.

When we venture into the parks, we do more than drive the scenic road. Ranger talks at Canyonlands and Capitol Reef discussed the Ancient Puebloans and their hunting and gathering techniques, evidenced by artifacts and petroglyphs.  Ranger programs at Arches and Capitol Reef demonstrated how there are many features of other planets that are found in the parks (the ranger pointed out that Earth is part of the solar system, so we are technically in outer space).  Exhibits and a short video at Crater Lake explained how it is the purest unfiltered water in the world.  At North Cascades, the focus was educating the public on the reintroduction of grizzly bears to their lost habitat.  There was so much to learn about the effect of the changing climate on the main attraction at Glacier.  Each park had informative presentations on its wildlife and how they have adapted to their environment and how they continue to adapt as their world continues to change.

Summit of Mt. Evans (14,271 ft.) near Denver, Colorado.

Breakfast cruise to Elk Island on Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park.

To achieve “activity,” there are a variety of outdoor activities in which to participate that allow you to get closer to the features that make each park special.  We took a mule ride deep into Bryce Canyon, whitewater rafted on the Hoh River in Olympic, rode horses in the back country of Zion, and took a cruise on Jackson Lake in Grand Tetons.  And we hiked — a lot — to the remote Needles in Canyonlands, to the floor of Bryce, to the 20-foot snow drifts of Lassen Volcanic, across the Alpine Meadows of Mount Rainier, among the geysers at Yellowstone, to an original homestead in Rocky Mountain National Park, and along many trails with grizzly bears, elk, and moose.

As an extra bonus, creativity and activity can be combined with guided nature walks to learn about the flora and fauna of the area (and about how invasive species and climate change have an impact on them) as well as ranger hikes where significant geological features and landmarks are identified and discussed.

The national parks make achieving “service” easy.  Each park offers projects for organized groups as well as occasional visitors.  Some activities include clearing a trail covered with winter debris, helping clear campgrounds of litter, replacing old signs on hiking trails, or counting the number of visitors at park sites.  At many parks, there is a dedicated day each week or month for volunteers to show up and help.

Queens Garden trail ride at Bryce Canyon National Park.

No matter your interests, talents or strengths, there is a national park for you.  Please go explore and learn more about these beautiful treasures — and let the lifelong learning continue!

Learn more about Harrisburg Academy on our school website.