Millennials: What they Really Think of National Parks

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PREFACE: At E20150806_090329astern National’s (EN) headquarters office, we were fortunate to have an extremely bright, energetic individual as an intern this past summer. Jess C. interned in our Creative Department, which encompasses our Production, eCommerce, and Marketing teams. Her contributions to our department, including her work on special projects and initiatives and her upbeat attitude, made an indelible impression on us.

To support the National Park Service’s efforts to encourage interest and visitation of national parks by people of the millennial generation, we were very interested in her impressions of national parks. So, we sent her on a field trip to Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, located in Elverson, PA, and asked her to write about her experience. What do Millennials think about national parks? Read on to find out:

-Andie S., Social Media & Marketing Specialist

For the last month of my senior year of high school, I interned at the Eastern National Headquarters in the Creative Department. It was really interesting to me to see how my interests, such as photography, can be applied in the real world. Lucky for me, I was offered a summer job to continue the work I had done in May. I’ve really enjoyed my time here, especially the “field trip” I took to Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site.

Prior to my visit, I researched the park out of curiosity: I had never heard of Hopewell Furnace before. To my surprise, I learned that it was only an hour from our Headquarters office, and that it was an important iron plantation during America’s early industrial period. Honestly, I’ve never been one for history (strange, I know, for someone who works for a company so closely related to national parks), but from the pictures 20150805_113557I saw, Hopewell Furnace seemed very scenic.

And scenic it was. Just on the drive there, I saw cows and sheep, lakes and farms. Already I was put in a good mood: I’ve always loved going on drives, and I was excited for my visit. When I arrived at the park, the first thing I noticed was the apple orchard. I saw tiny, organic apples growing on gorgeous green trees lined up along the hill. I parked, and proceeded to the visitor center. It was small, but the museum had a lot of information about what life was like during the time Hopewell Furnace was in operation. I watched a short video about the long, hot process of creating charcoal, after which I thought that it was nice to be living in the 21st century.

After touring the museum, I toured the rest of the park. The park ranger in the visitor center told me about a live demonstration of how the workers created the iron molds, but I stopped to check out some of the farm animals first– horses, chickens, and sheep. I was giddily taking pictures and talking to the animals as if they were children, and they wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. Regardless, I pet a sheep, and it was awesome.

I rushed over to the building where the demonstration was taking place, and arrived just in time to hear about how the workers created the molds for 20150805_110542the ovens. We learned about the workers’ treatment, pay, and lifestyle. Then the group moved to sit on different benches and we learned how the huge furnace operated. It was amazing to hear about the precision in the whole process, considering at the time, people didn’t even understand the science behind it. After the program concluded, I checked out the giant water wheel that fueled the furnace, too.

I went on to tour the rest of the grounds, and I walked up and down a path that led to a few houses that the families would have lived in. I stopped in at a charming little shop that sold items made from iron and wool from right there in the park.

Heading back towards the visitor center, I came upon a giant, black pile of earth; I’d walked in on one of the two yearly charcoal-making demonstrations. It was really interesting to see what I had seen in the video in the visitor center happening in real life. I was impressed with the volunteers doing the demonstration, considering I personally would never choose to do that long and arduous process even for fun.20150805_120756

Finally, I made my way back to the visitor center and watched a 15 minute video about what life was like at Hopewell Furnace. It was a great way to wrap up my visit.

In all, Hopewell Furnace was beautiful. Putting aside the fact that it wasn’t 95 degrees for the first time in weeks, I was happy to be there because I hadn’t realized what a beautiful place it was. I took pictures of everything I saw and the places I explored: I’m incredibly interested in photography and regretted leaving my camera at home. Even still, the pictures I took with my phone helped me connect to the park. There were so many buildings to explore, and with each site came a little plaque or a button to press and hear audio for information about where we were. I learned how the women cleaned and cooked, how men would make horseshoes for the working horses, how the families would stay in two room houses, and how the iron was made. The visit was so interesting, and like I said, I’m not even interested in history.

IMG_0110I think that when my generation thinks of national parks, Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon comes to mind. We don’t think to look up more local national parks when making plans with friends, not to mention we’re a generation of quick information and social media, so slowing down for a second and, say, having a picnic in a national park, doesn’t cross our minds. But – at least in my experience – we’re also a very visual generation. We take pictures of everything – ourselves, each other, nature, cities, and everything in between. Had I known about Hopewell Furnace before working at Eastern National, I would have definitely convinced my friends to visit.

My friends and I are always looking for fun excuses to get together and go places, but we usually look towards Philadelphia because, conveniently, there’s a train station just down my street. But, also conveniently, we live a half hour from Valley Forge National Historical Park and an hour from Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. The same could be true for teenagers across the United States, considering there are more than 40IMG_01320 national park sites. If only for a summer afternoon, a visit with friends or family to a national park is a great way to get outside, be together, and learn a little something, too.

My visit to Hopewell Furnace was incredibly fun. I always love visiting beautiful places, and to learn about one so close-by was a treat. Next time I’m near another national park, I definitely plan to visit and take pictures, especially if it’s a more nature-oriented park. And that, I think, is a good moral to take away from my visit. National parks are no doubt centered on the historic importance of the site or monument or park. But even a person like me who originally has no interest in the historical aspect of the place can enjoy their time, inadvertently learn about the park, and enjoy what they’ve learned. There’s something for everyone when it comes to national parks, and I think everyone – including my generation – should embrace that.

To learn more about America’s national parks, or to find a park near you, visit the National Park Service’s website. #FindYourPark