Scaling a mountain or crossing a swamp certainly brings a sense of satisfaction. But learning a little bit along the way can only make the experience better.
Those small “signs” that just seem to sprout in unlikely places in state parks (we call them wayside exhibits) are designed to give visitors a better sense of place and call attention to a state park’s unique stories. Installing them is usually a routine matter – unless they’re to be perched several thousand feet up one of the state’s most rugged mountains.
Installing the first wayside exhibit in Grandfather Mountain State Park in October very nearly took on expedition status. Maintenance Mechanic Jason Jarrell led seasonal employees Derek Huss and Dallas Skeele and a BRIDGE program youth crew up the strenuous Profile Trail with the exhibit in pieces and all the tools they could carry. The operation involved others. Friends of High Country State Parks donated funds for the exhibit fame and pedestal. And, Eagle Scout Larkin Hawkins earlier had built a bench at a rare flat sretch on the trail that overlooks the valley community of Foscoe and the mountains beyond.
To some degree, wayside exhibits are the descendants of wooden signs that park rangers might have carved by hand decades ago (usually in bad weather months). Now, they’re often written and designed by rangers and the parks system’s interpretive and education specialists. The goal has always been to use knowledge to make visitors feel connected to a special place. The new Grandfather Mountain exhibit names the peaks that can be seen from the vantage point and teaches a bit about the Dutchman’s pipevine growing within the view and the pipevine swallowtail, whose caterpillar eats the leaves of the vine – truly quite a bit of knowledge packed into a small metal frame.