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Fall Is The Best Time To Make Discoveries At The National Parks


The Night Sky Festival at Acadia National Park is just one of the many workshops, festivals, and special activities going on in the park system this fall. Photo of night sky over Acadia by Tyler Nordgren.

If you’re in mood to travel, September and October are wonderful months to spend in the national parks. The crowds have departed, the animals are busy, and the fall color beckons.

Now is the time park friends and others host an array of special activities and workshops tailor-made for life-long learners. We’ve got a sampling here, but be sure to visit park and friends websites, and type in the words “fall workshops 2012.” You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

* Enjoy A Virginia BBQ At Shenandoah National Park

Skyland Resort is hosting the SeptemberFest Pig Roast all day long on Saturday, September 8. The BBQ will include three-meat chili, vegetable chili, or three pepper and meat chili, corn on the cob, and of course whole smoked hog, with a variety of sauces from traditional honey barbecue to roasted jalapeno.

Face painting, crafts and pony rides will be available for kids and wine and beer tasting for adults. Sunnyside Old Time Music, Stoneridge Blue Grass band, James River Cut-Ups and Debbie Zinn and Natural Grass will provide true mountain-style bluegrass entertainment that is sure to get the feet moving.

Date: September 8, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Where: Skyland Resort, Mile 41.7 on Skyline Drive

* Forge A Hook At The Blue Ridge Parkway

Get ready to fire up your imagination during the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation’s basic blacksmithing class at Mabry Mill this fall. The class will be held at a century-old smithy’s shop, where you’ll learn fundamentals of the trade and work on creating a hand-forged wall hook. Park rangers and master cultural volunteer demonstrators will lead the class. Mabry Mill is milepost 176 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Date: September 14

Tuition: Free

* Shoot For The Stars At Acadia National Park

Stargazing is one way to appreciate the night sky, another is to learn how to photograph the heavens. The Acadia Night Sky Festival, takes place September 13 through 17, at Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. The festival includes a host of activities, including a three-hour night sky photography workshop. Photographer/naturalist Bob Thayer will teach the technical and artistic steps you need to know to effectively capture the night sky.

Date: September 14 or 15

Tuition: $45

* Eat Your Way Across Cuyahoga Valley National Park

For those who would rather balance the beauty of nature with tasty food, the Cuyahoga Valley fall dining series might be just the ticket. Once a month from September through November, dishes and food stuffs reflecting rich diversity of the region will be featured. The French Canadian Concert and Cuisine focuses on French-Canadian cuisine followed by a classical concert. Cuyahoga Valley National Park offers a wide range of other activities too, from hiking and running events to the celebration of National Fossil Day. Don’t miss out.

Date: September 14

Fee: $45 (includes dinner & concert)

* Sketch Fall Colors At Yellowstone National Park

Fall is a beautiful time of year to capture the majestry of Yellowstone. The Yellowstone Association Institute offers this engaging workshop, one that will focus on sketching, journaling, and hiking as you travel around the park and capture it on paper. Taught by art instructor Suzie Garner, you’ll leave with special insights into sketching outdoors. Accommodations available at the Institute’s Yellowstone Overlook Field Campus in Gardiner. Other classes are also available.

Date: September 21-23

Tuition: $225 ($215 for members)

* Name That Plant At Great Smoky Mountains National Park

You might know what sassafras looks like, but what about bitterroot or common ninebark? In this class on identifying botanicals, you’ll learn about the plants Native Americans and early pioneers relied on for their existence in this lush region of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For 32 years, the Smoky Mountain Field School, through the University of Tennessee, has provided an interesting mix of workshops and hikes that explore many facets of this park. Classes taught by naturalists and friends of the park. Other classes available.

NOTE: Preregister 1 week in advance of program.

Date: September 22 and October 6

Fee: $49

* Weave A Basket At Yosemite National Park

It’s not often we get to sit at the feet of a master. But this class, which features the beautiful baskets created by Julia Parker and her family, certainly qualifies. Participants will learn alongside Parker, discovering traditional basket weaving techniques used in Miwok-Paiute basketry. Parker, one of the park’s longest-tenured employees, is often referred to as a “national treasure” for her cultural contributions to Yosemite’s lore. Thanks to Yosemite Conservancy , she’ll share her stories as you deepen your knowledge of this park’s rich cultural heritage.

DATE: September 28-30

Fee: $369

* Photograph The Ruins At Mesa Verde National Park

The windswept mesas and ancestral dwellings of Mesa Verde will provide rich subject matter for photographers at this special three-day fall photography workshop, led by popular Southwestern photographer, Gene Balzer. A professor emeritus of photography at Northern Arizona State University, Balzar knows how to work with light and best capture the vast landscapes of the West. Offered by the Mesa Verde Institute, this weekend promises to provide new tools for your photography tool kit. Balzer has led the workshop since 2006.

DATE: October 14-16, arrive noon Friday to 1 p.m. Sunday

Tuition: $675, includes three days of personalized instruction, two nights accommodations at Far View Lodge, and all meals, including two dinners at the Metate Room Restaurant. or call (800) 305-6053.

* Get Scared In Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park's Crystal Cave has been loved by countless visitors since its opening in 1940. It served as a winter home to Civilian Conservation Corps workers who were building trails inside and, of course, has hosted many explorers through the centuries, from Native peoples to National Park Service personnel. Do the spirits of these past visitors still roam the cave's marble passageways? Find out as experienced cave naturalists take you on a one-hour spooky Halloween tour inspired by Crystal Cave's human history. For tour schedule and ticket information, call (559) 565-4251 or visit this website.

Date: Oct 27 & 28

Cost: $20 per person; must be at least 8 years old.

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Do the prices of some of these activities seem excessive?? If the NPS wants people to become more interested and involved they need to stop charging fee's that most cannot afford. $369 to watch basket weaving??? LOL

These are participatory programs, so you're paying for the expertise of the people teaching them. You don't expect your plumber to do his work for free, why an artist?

I beleive all of the programs mentioned in the article are provided by non-governmental organizations. I know there are numerous less expensive options available as well.

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