Shawnee State Park's Jenny Richards Offers Tips on How to Hike Like a Naturalist

Six ways to make sure you don't miss the trees for the forest

Jack Long
Columbus Monthly
Shawnee State Park naturalist Jenny Richards watches as Portsmouth fourth graders examine bluets with their binoculars turned backwards and a hand lens.

With a forest before you, it’s easy to miss the smallest of life and the gentlest of vibrations happening on the ground beneath your feet. So, take a page from Shawnee State Park naturalist Jenny Richards, and learn how to discover more of the natural world. A quick 20-minute hike or walk through a favorite park can become an adventure, if only you don’t miss the trees for the forest.

More:The Magic, Love and Curiosity of Shawnee State Park Naturalist Jenny Richards

Tip #1: Be curious. Our first teacher was Mother Earth, Richards says, and she continues to be one of our best. Ask the obvious questions, take along a guidebook or two and don’t be afraid to roll a log over occasionally. Just be sure to carefully roll it back in place when done.

Tip #2: Be patient. Find a place and rest for a few minutes. Give yourself a moment to wait for the forest to welcome you in and get settled with your presence. You may see and hear much more.

Tip #3: Close your eyes. Let your other senses become more attentive and experience the world in a different way. How many birdsongs do you hear? How does the sun feel on your face? What do you smell?

Tip #4: Don’t be afraid to get lost. Some of the best moments are when you get off course and find something you weren’t even looking for. Just remember to stay on the paths.

Tip #5: Learn a couple of nature jokes. There’s no better way to break the ice with other hikers you might come along with a corny nature joke. Try this one: What bird comes to every meal? The swallow.

Tip #6: When in doubt, find a naturalist. Naturalists are some of the best hiking companions. Attend one of the many programs put on by the state parks.

Guide to Ohio State Parks:Discover Ohio's Vast and Diverse State Parks and Nature Preserves

This story is from the June 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.