A New York native, Louise Nahas reflects on her exploration of the park trails with friends as well as her husband. The two of them, volunteers at the Happy Days Visitor Center, experienced the ever-widening geographical radius of visitors to the park and the variety of programming. Nahas also discussed challenges in budgeting as well as the growing need for volunteers which facilitated the beginning of the Trailblazer Program to increase volunteer services and membership within the organization.
Transcription sponsored by Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Steve Testa [00:04:19] Okay, we'll just start by having you tell us your name, date of birth, and where you were born, things like that.
Louise Nahas [00:04:26] Okay, my name's Louise Nahas. I was born [...] 1931, in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Steve Testa [00:04:37] And where are you currently living?
Louise Nahas [00:04:40] I'm living in Hudson, Ohio.
Steve Testa [00:04:42] And your position as far as...
Louise Nahas [00:04:46] Okay, I've been a VIP, a Volunteer in the Park, with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park for about 20, 25 years.
Steve Testa [00:04:56] And what other kind of work experience have you had?
Louise Nahas [00:05:02] You mean not pertaining particularly to the... Okay. Okay, I've been a secretary, a social worker, a little bit of a lots of different things. That's about... I went to college, had children, a family.
Steve Testa [00:05:19] Well, tell us about the college and what degree you had.
Louise Nahas [00:05:23] Okay, I went to two colleges actually. I went to Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, for the first two years, decided I wanted to major in social work and realized that Meadville, Pennsylvania, was kind of far removed from a lot of places that I thought social workers should be familiar with. So then I transferred to New York University, which actually wasn't too far from where I was living in Connecticut. So I commuted the last two years into New York City and then graduated from NYU with what they call pre-professional social work. And I had planned to go back to graduate school, but got married and started raising a family. So I've had a lot of experience beyond that, but not much in the way of teaching, learning, college graduates.
Steve Testa [00:06:17] Well, let's first talk a little bit about why you made the move to NYU. You briefly said something about what you thought social work should be and just curious if you would...
Louise Nahas [00:06:27] Oh, well, I thought social work that I would get more experience. And actually, while I was at NYU, there was a lot of field work. I worked for while at Bellevue, which was a big hospital in the New York City area. And I worked with children who that had polio. I was assigned to go there two times a week and help out, not like a nurse, but in other ways, dealing with the children. And that I found a great experience. And then I did have several different jobs with social work after I graduated with that degree, even though I didn't have a master's degree. Every job I took, like with child welfare and then with a Southbury training school in Connecticut, which dealt with well, in those days we said mentally handicapped, I think... I'm not sure what the correct description would be right now, but I worked with young women that were high school age that were not capable of finishing the... learning in high school, but were able to be taught to work in people's homes. And I would supervise and place them in the home and supervise them and make sure that they were learning correctly and able to function. And then with child welfare, I worked with actually a few adoptions, which is a little scary when I look back on it. I mean, I had some training, but that's a very important thing to find a family to place a child with. So those are some of the reasons that I transferred.
Steve Testa [00:08:13] What about those experiences in social work and being in the city and working with people do you think transfer over to your experience in the park?
Louise Nahas [00:08:24] Well, I certainly think being able to deal with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations has helped immensely. A lot of my volunteer work at the park is behind the information desk, which means that I deal with anybody who walks through the door, and you never know what kind of questions you're going to get or where the people are from. And I guess it was invaluable, you know, to have worked in the field of social work. But I also had worked in the field of secretarial work, worked for an alumni department at Western Reserve Academy. So I was used to dealing with different kinds of people. But I've always loved nature, and that's why I got involved with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Steve Testa [00:09:15] What about this love of nature? I wonder if you might think back to childhood experiences that you might say that's when it began or...
Louise Nahas [00:09:24] Oh, that's definitely when it began. I was an only child, no brothers or sisters, but always had dogs and cats who became my companions. My mother in particular... [clears throat] Excuse me. Excuse me. My mother in particular was very interested in nature. And we would go on a lot of walks in the woods. And I lived, we lived very close to Long Island Sound. So you often would go down to the water. I still have a great love for water and I love the Cuyahoga River flowing through the park. So I would spend a lot of time with my dog taking walks down by the water or in through some of the park areas. And there was an Audubon Society Nature Preserve not too far away. And I believe we, my mother and I used to go there a lot. So somehow I just grew up liking to take walks and liking to go out in the woods in nature. And so when I moved here and first thing I looked up was a place to go hiking, drag my family with me [laughs] on all those hikes. And that's how I how I got interested in volunteering at the National Park.
Steve Testa [00:10:43] I'd like to explore both of those two things of both your family and how you ended up here. So let's start with who was this man and these children that pulled you away from this graduate work?
Louise Nahas [00:10:56] Oh, this was someone who was also a social worker and got a job in the Cleveland area. And so that's where we ended up. And I had three children, three daughters, and they got to a certain age and began leaving the house. And since that, we had been doing a lot of hiking in the area at that time. It was called the Akron Metropolitan Parks area before the park stepped in. It just seemed natural once I saw the park there that I would stop in at the visitor center and ask, did they ever need any volunteers, and of course the answer was yes [laughs]. They always needed volunteers. So I just began at about 20, 25 years ago and have just loved it.
Steve Testa [00:11:50] So the move to Cleveland was precipitated on your husband's work?
Louise Nahas [00:11:53] Mhm. Mhm.
Steve Testa [00:11:55] Tell me more about him.
Louise Nahas [00:11:58] Well, actually, he's not a part of my life anymore, I was divorced and remarried so...
Steve Testa [00:12:03] Okay.
Louise Nahas [00:12:04] It's more the second husband and then there were six children because we each had three. So this was a big family to take to drag them through the woods and on all the trails, but most of them really enjoyed it. And this second husband was a teacher and a counselor and connected with Cuyahoga Community College. So this was where he was living. That's why I'm still here.
Steve Testa [00:12:32] Well, how about your kids growing up with the same kind of passion, which ones were the part that you have?
Louise Nahas [00:12:39] And now it's funny that you say that because they all went through a time, college, etc., when they were not at all interested in nature. And, you know, it was always like, mother, you dragged us on all these hikes and to all these museums. But now all of them have gone back to liking to do that kind of thing. In fact, to celebrate my seventy fifth birthday, the my daughters and I decided to take a trip to Bryce Canyon and go hiking. So they also now are happy with nature. So that's something I guess I have passed along. Not a one of them is volunteering yet. But, you know, they're still young and have families and things.
Steve Testa [00:13:28] I wonder if you might comment on the passion that you have for nature in general, but specifically about Cuyahoga Valley.
Louise Nahas [00:13:38] Well, my passion for nature has just been something that's been with me my whole life. I write poems about it. I like to go out by myself also. And my friends will often say, why are you out on those trails by yourself? Is it really safe? And I say that you always pass somebody on the trail. I don't think I'm ever completely alone because this whole park is used by a lot of people. So I guess I've just... [laughs] What was the second question?
Steve Testa [00:14:11] I was talking about your passion for Cuyahoga Valley specifically.
Louise Nahas [00:14:13] Oh, Cuyahoga Valley specifically. Well, of course, I live right here, and so, and started walking in the area before it was Cuyahoga Valley. And it is such a beautiful area that actually the many times we talked about moving somewhere, I always felt that this was what was keeping me here. I know there are beautiful areas in other parts of the country. I've done a lot of traveling in other national parks and to Europe and Canada, but there's something about the Cuyahoga Valley that always brings me back, even though I'm not a native Ohioan, I'm from Connecticut, but this is the Western Reserve of Connecticut. So that fits.
Steve Testa [00:15:02] You talk about something that brings you back and the Cuyahoga Valley might be set apart. Is there anything specific that you could say that, well, this is why I love this park compared to some of the other ones?
Louise Nahas [00:15:15] Well, first of all, it has a change of seasons, I love changes of seasons, and some of the other parks would be, well, you know, like Utah or someplace gorgeous, but hot most of the time. And certainly the scenery in other places is grander. You have mountains and oceans. But I don't know. This seems to fit me. The change, the change of seasons. I like it. And every season, actually. And you have a lot of activities. I like to go cross-country skiing. There's an awful lot of trails for doing that. And, you know, swimming and just sort of looking at the river, I've said I like looking at water. And so there are sections of the river I like to see when it's flooding in the spring and, you know, quieter in the winter, almost frozen over.
Steve Testa [00:16:07] Do you have a favorite place?
Louise Nahas [00:16:12] Yes probably the the Ledges overlook, I don't know if you're familiar with that, but it's a Ledges trail and there is a point where you stop and you're on top of these high rocky ledges and you look out to the west across the valley. And there's a particular time, I was on a winter solstice hike and we hiked that spot just as the sun was setting and the ranger started reading poetry. And right on cue, these Canada geese flew right across the setting sun. I get goose bumps just thinking about it. And that's my favorite time and I guess my favorite place in the valley.
Steve Testa [00:16:57] What about some of your poems? We're not asking you to share necessarily.
Louise Nahas [00:17:01] Oh, good. [laughs]
Steve Testa [00:17:04] But what about some of the thoughts that you had in writing that in the way you reflect on the park?
Louise Nahas [00:17:09] Oh, some of the thoughts have a great deal to do with, like watching Canada geese fly over or finding that the little wrens have built a nest in close to the house, or the way the sun, the sunshine comes through the trees in the autumn. Yeah, those poems are put away somewhere. [laughs] I'll bring them out someday.
Steve Testa [00:17:36] Have you thought about what might happen to them?
Louise Nahas [00:17:39] No, I actually haven't. But I guess I should think about what might happen to them. That's a good question. My mother used to write poetry too, and she left quite a bit of it in writing. But unfortunately she was Swiss and she wrote it all in German or Swiss German. And although I understand that somewhat, it's pretty hard to translate. So I guess I should make sure that possibly each of my daughters has my poetry. That's a good question. Thank you.
Steve Testa [00:18:09] Or sharing it with the greater community.
Louise Nahas [00:18:11] I don't think so. [laughs]
Steve Testa [00:18:17] What about... What about your service as a park volunteer. I guess I want to spend a little bit of time talking about that, kind of the first experience that you can remember and maybe some other... Well, we'll start there.
Louise Nahas [00:18:34] Okay.
Steve Testa [00:18:34] What were some of your first experiences?
Louise Nahas [00:18:35] Well, when I first started volunteering, I had gone into the Happy Days Visitor Center, which was the first visitors center, and I dearly love that place. And that's where I first talked to a park ranger and he told me to sign up. So I called the volunteer coordinator and signed up. So they assigned me to Happy Days and I was going in there, I think it was Thursdays at that point, every Thursday. And I was a little bit nervous at first because there are all these trail maps and all these questions people were going to ask. But fortunately, having lived in the area so long, I was pretty good at knowing what trails were where and how you got to them from point A to point B. In fact, Brandywine Falls, which was one of, even then, was one of the more spectacular trails, I was lucky that before it even became a national park, a friend had said to me, there are these beautiful waterfalls on somebody's property, but I don't think it really matters. We could walk through the woods and take a look at them. And I still remember my first glimpse of Brandywine Falls through the woods and the poison ivy and everything else. And so it was wonderful to be able to direct people with an actual map in front of me to Brandywine Falls. And the Park Service had built some very nice wooden structures, a boardwalk that would take you to overlook the falls and then stairs and places to sit. And I just always loved sending people in that direction. But I had to get familiar with all the hiking trails and pretty much the government procedure of what you did do and what you didn't do, you know, to help the visitor. So it was a little bit scary, but I loved it and I'm still doing that today. And now I'm not doing it at Happy Days because they closed that for our daily visitor center. I moved over to the Boston Store Visitor's Center, but it's been, you know, over 20 years now that I've been telling people where to go, so to speak. And that's been great.
Steve Testa [00:20:55] Oh, you're. Let's see who were the people that came to the park in the early days to come use the trails that you directed them to?
Louise Nahas [00:21:09] Mhm. Well, mostly local people, because the park wasn't well known yet at that time throughout the country. Now it's very different. We get people from all over who have read about it or seen it online. Of course, computers were not a part of my life in those days. So it was mostly local people, people from Cleveland, Akron, Hudson, Stow, Kent, anywhere around there that maybe were passing through on Route 303 because a visitor center was well located. Route 303, you know, is an east-west route and it's not too far from the [Ohio] Turnpike. And so some people would just kind of stumble in there, see the sign and come in. But mostly it was fairly local people who wanted to see what what we had there in the way of trails and activities.
Steve Testa [00:22:02] What were the activities that were most common at that time?
Louise Nahas [00:22:07] Well, at that time, it was mostly hiking and going on walks with the R\rangers, walks to learn about maybe the geology of the region or the, you know, the animals, the wildflowers. Just before I started working there, they still, at the Kendall unit that's a lake, had those wonderful toboggans that would go down the ice toboggan chutes. But unfortunately, by the time the Park Service took it over, they were no longer doing that. So I couldn't direct anybody to the park and winter to go down the toboggan chutes. But they could walk around the lake. And there's a wonderful display that shows photographs of what used to be there in the way of the toboggan chutes.
Steve Testa [00:22:54] So what if we talk about what kind of people who come to the park now?
Louise Nahas [00:23:01] Okay, now it's people from much further away who, as I said, have heard about the park, a lot of people like to see as many national parks as they can. I'm one of those people, but I don't think I'm going to see them all. It's almost 400 now. And that's a lot of, a lot of places to visit. But a lot of people come through or on their way from, say, Pennsylvania to Chicago or something. And they want to take a break as they come along the Turnpike and they see, ah, there's a national park here. So they will come. A lot of them don't want to do too much hiking. They would rather drive and see what we have in the way of scenery that they can see without having to do too much walking. And there are some scenic routes that I send them on. And if they're here the right time of the year, they I send them down to look at the great blue herons nesting. That's always a wonderful place. And now, this year, people are asking about the eagle because they've read in the paper that the eagles have had a baby eagle again. So it's either that they're going through and want to stop and see what we have to offer or they actually come because they've heard of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and want to partake of some of the things. And now we have a railroad. They can ride the train, they can walk or bicycle along the canal. They can see these points of interest. So they said like the the great blue herons, or one of my favorite places, too, is the Beaver Marsh area. And that's easily accessible so that, you know, as long as people can walk a mile, they can walk the half mile there and get the flavor of of where the beavers live and, you know, see the bicyclists going by. Does that answer that? [laughs]
Steve Testa [00:24:53] Mhm. It does. In fact, it anticipates the question I was going to ask about the activities people do. I'm curious if visitors to the park are surprised at what it has to offer.
Louise Nahas [00:25:04] Yes, a lot of them are surprised. Some of them have already heard there's a railroad there and they want to take the train. And, you know, there's also a lot of historical buildings and I try to match them up with a ranger-led activity. You know, sometimes people will be very interested in coyotes. And then I'll say, oh, if you're going to be around here in two weeks there's ranger that's leading this Calling All Coyotes program. And you can actually go out and they do call them with, you know, some kind of instrument. I've been on the program. I can't remember now what it sounds like, but it obviously sounds like a coyote. And sometimes you do hear them answering back. And a lot of people are into bicycling. And of course, I see a lot of bicycles now coming on tops of the cars. And we have a lot of areas that they can bicycle. So that makes them happy too.
Steve Testa [00:26:08] The development of the Towpath really kickstarted some of the new tourism to the area...
Louise Nahas [00:26:15] Yes.
Steve Testa [00:26:16] And so I was wondering would you comment upon what you think about, you know, this addition to the Towpath?
Louise Nahas [00:26:24] Yes, the Towpath has been a wonderful, wonderful, I would say, addition to what we have to offer. I think it's the most popular thing in the park, not just for bicyclists but for people who want to hike also, or families can push children in strollers. And I see a lot of bicyclists going by with children in those things that they pull behind them, sitting there, you know, enclosed, watching, watching nature go by as their parents are riding their bicycle. There's a lot of that. Also makes it handicapped accessible, too. And I think the Towpath has just been a great, great bonus to the park, brings in lots and lots of people, and people walking their dogs now. They even have a little, not just a Towpath tag you can buy to show your appreciation of the park, but they have a little tag that you can buy for your dog also. So we have something to suit everybody, including dogs.
Steve Testa [00:27:30] What's, what are some of your favorite merchandise, actually, since you brought up the tags of the dogs, but what were some of the favorite things at the visitors centers that you like to share with people?
Louise Nahas [00:27:43] Well, we have a lot of, a lot of things to buy at the visitor centers. And that's an interesting question you asked me, because for a while I had stopped volunteering because I started actually working for Eastern National, which is the agency that sells, is in charge of selling all the products. So I'm a little more aware of the products that we have there. We have wonderful trail guidebooks. There's, there are several that speak mainly to the trails within our park, and they're very well done and very, very popular. Now, we've added things like water bottles for people who are bicycling or hiking and lots of clothing, you know, shirts, T-shirts with some of the logos of the parks. I've seen the logos come and go. We've had a series that we have sold sometimes with little foxes on them or beavers or great blue herons or something that pertains to our particular parks system. There's a lot of things now for children also, great children's books to introduce children to nature. I have two grandchildren ages three and six, and I buy so many of the books for the children, I can't believe it. And there's a stuffed animal, stuffed birds. It's always a, you know, birds that we have there, great blue herons and cardinals and just every bird you can think of, and beavers. We just have a lot of things we sell. We have topo maps of the area. There are some people that really want to get into orienteering and want to know all those details. We have some information on the Buckeye Trail because it does come through the park. And now we're, now we're also selling something people request a lot, our refrigerator magnets and, you know, little hiking staff emblems you can put on your staff, all with logos that have to do with the park. We also sell a very popular item, the Passport to your National Parks and all the stamps every year come out with stamps. And it's fun to see people come in and ask where their stamp is so they can stamp that they've been to the Cuyahoga Valley. So all of those we sell. And it's a joy to see people happy when they find all these things.
Steve Testa [00:30:13] Is there any item that you think might be missing that would be a good addition?
Louise Nahas [00:30:21] I can't think of anything. I mean, every now and then the visitor will suggest something and then I will tell the person who's in charge of that and they pretty much see to it that we get whatever... Well, I can't think at the moment of an item that we should have that we don't have. Oh, yes I can, probably stamps. [laughs] People buy postcards, seriously, and would like a stamp, but we don't have stamps, or we did have little instant cameras for a while. We don't seem to be carrying those anymore, but a lot of people now, you know, have their own cameras. But for a while they were really interested in those things. So I guess maybe stamps if... I don't know whether we're allowed to sell stamps, though.
Steve Testa [00:31:06] Well, you mentioned children's books and making kids... What about programs with the kids? Where you involved with any of those?
Louise Nahas [00:31:13] I'm involved... I used to sometimes help out, like we had programs at Christmas and Easter. You know, the Easter Bunny would come over and we'd be looking for Easter eggs. And there are some wonderful puppet shows sometimes for children. There are some junior ranger programs. There's a lot of activities for children and some that children and families come to, a lot of concerts, especially in, now that summer's here again, we have concerts in the park and that's at a lovely site where there's lots of lawns and areas for people to come and have picnics. And the children... They always have some little extra games to keep the children amused while the music is going on. So there's something for everybody.
Steve Testa [00:32:04] Is there a particular program working with the kids that you remember that was a meaningful time that you like to share?
Louise Nahas [00:32:13] I love the puppet shows. I don't know if they're doing them anymore, but the puppet shows were written by one of the rangers and they were quite original. And they always made a point. You know, there was maybe a bird looking for its nest or there was... There was just some moral to the story that, you know, a nature moral to the story that would be part of those shows. And I thought those were particularly clever. And I think the kids enjoyed them, and I believe they enjoy all the programs. There's wonderful Underground Railroad programs, too, that involve the whole family. They give several times of the year and those are quite meaningful. They're taken on a on a walk as if they were traveling on the Underground Railroad. And they meet characters along the way, you know, in costume. I remember going on one myself and being reduced to tears at one juncture where a slave was being beaten and, you know, and then they end up on the rail, on the actual railroad train as part of this program. I think that's one of the really fine ones, too.
Steve Testa [00:33:23] I would [inaudible] have an opportunity to take students from my school on that particular program. And I wondered if maybe you would comment on some of the school programs that are available.
Louise Nahas [00:33:32] There are a lot of school programs. I'm not that familiar with them because being at the visitor center, I'm not I can't fill you in too much on those. I'm sorry.
Steve Testa [00:33:45] Let's talk a little bit more about the Boston Visitor Center....
Louise Nahas [00:33:48] Okay.
Steve Testa [00:33:48] Where you are now. And because I think one of the good things about what this park is able to do is some parks are there for just being the nature preserve in these wonderful things to see. And some are more historic in this park really has both. And I wondered if you would comment on the way the Boston Store serves those purposes.
Louise Nahas [00:34:07] Oh, you're right. That's a good point. I've only been at the Boston Store now for a few months because, as I had said, I had been at Happy Days for something like 20, 20 some years. And that was mostly focused on the nature aspects because we were sitting right at the edge of the of the Ledges Trail and, you know, some of the best trails in the park. And so the Boston Store does have a lot of history also since it was a store that was there during the time that the canal was built and was so very important in the history. And the building itself, you have to point out to visitors, is a trapezoid, the way it was, the way it was built. So part of it would always be alongside the canal and part of it facing the street where, you know, all the traffic was. And there are a lot of displays in there about how to build canal boats and quite a number of interactive displays and children and adults, too. I enjoy walking over there and picking up this little thing like a telephone and hearing the voice of somebody who had, you know, worked on that canal boat or knew something about that history. So that ties a lot of things together. And, of course, being on the on the towpath, there's a lot of people on bicycles that stop in there that ordinarily might not. So they learn a little more about history of the canal. And then right next door is that MD Garage, an old garage. And they always, during the summer and the fall, have artist display artwork in there. And so somebody's coming to the park, maybe on a bicycle, takes a short rest, finds out about about the canal history, and then maybe gets a little culture by walking through the empty garage and then if they are hungry. They walk across the street to the little general store and they can have ice cream or something to drink, so we meet a lot of needs at the Boston Store area. Also nice restrooms and drinking fountains.
Steve Testa [00:36:18] Is there a favorite part of the park, the history or the nature or the culture that for yourself?
Louise Nahas [00:36:29] I, of course, I really... I'm more interested, I guess, in the nature aspects. I love it all. But I think, you know, the Ledges trails areas and certainly the Beaver Marsh is a wonderful, wonderful place to go because you're sitting out there in the middle of this what had been a swamp and the beavers managed to turn into a really neat area. And, you know, you see the beavers on the lodge. And so that's, I think, one of my favorite spots. And of course, Brandywine Falls and then the little Blue Hen Falls. There's I don't I can't think of an absolute favorite. They're all favorites of mine.
Steve Testa [00:37:13] The Cuyahoga Valley and the Towpath, and expanded greatly. And part of this greater Ohio.
Louise Nahas [00:37:17] Oh, my goodness. Yes.
Steve Testa [00:37:19] And wonder if you give me your thoughts about this sort of growing area.
Louise Nahas [00:37:25] Well, it's wonderful to see it all coming together now, you know, and when I tell visitors, they want to know how far they can bicycle. And of course, I have maps that show just within the within the Cuyahoga Valley. So I picked up some more maps. Now that show that in both directions, north and south, they can go further and then there will be little areas where it's not completed yet. And then I will pick up the newspaper and see that in Akron, they put, you know, a little bridge in place now. And so it's just great to see everything happening along this whole canal corridor. It's exciting. I hope it happens quickly for my own sake. I want to see all this, you know, fit together. I want to be able to go down to Coshocton without having to get off the trail. And I'd love to be able to see it finish its way up to Lake Erie. That would be really great.
Steve Testa [00:38:19] What one of these new places. Have you been to already? And which ones have you liked?
Louise Nahas [00:38:23] Oh, there's well, I've been I've been on little sections. I hike more than bikes, so I don't get that far. And one day I been on some sections going south beyond the Botzum area into almost into Akron, around a Mustill Store. I've been up north. I think that's the Cuyahoga County Parks, Metroparks, isn't it, that there's a wonderful visitor center perched on the edge of the industrial area and you can see the trains go by and the canal. I mean, it's... I've been to a number of those areas and I'm just dying to see it all attached to one another so you can do that whole thing.
Steve Testa [00:39:10] What are you looking forward to the most, do you think?
Louise Nahas [00:39:14] I don't know if there's anything I'm looking forward to the most, I'm just looking for. Looking forward to learning as much as I can that's going to be developing.
Steve Testa [00:39:25] I don't know if maybe there was a project that you've been waiting to go see or go walk or be a part of that hasn't that is in the completion stage. But you've been waiting.
Louise Nahas [00:39:38] Well, I guess I've been waiting for to see more of the downtown Akron area to see how that, you know, like around the Mustill Store, to be able to know that that's all connected because I have taken little sections of the trail there in the past that are still quite full of brambles and, you know, not really ready for people to be walking. And I'd like to see that part. But then again, I'd like to see the part of by Lake Erie. I don't know, I'm just going to sit here and see what's all going to happen in the next few years.
Steve Testa [00:40:17] Well, how about your future with the park and, you know, serving, will you stay at the Boston store where you look for something else?
Louise Nahas [00:40:26] Well, a few months ago, when I that's a good question. When I learned that Happy Days Visitor Center was going to be closing as an everyday visitor center, I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do because my whole past has been tied up with with Happy Days and the whole Virginia Kendall unit. So I started wondering, but then I decided I would stay with a visitor center concept because I enjoy that so much. And so I am. I'm still learning, I think, what the Boston store all has to offer, but I will probably stay with that. It's close to where I live. Some of the other visitor centers are further away, so I'll probably stay with that. And I'm also on this what they call the Cuva Crew, which is a group of people that volunteers when called upon at special events such as concerts and whether they're in the visitors center or out in the field, you still have to sell refreshments. I love doing that, actually. And, you know, give people information. The only the only thing I don't usually sign up for is parking detail. That doesn't appeal to me. So I think I'm too short, I think, to be parking cars, even though you have those things you wear where they they really see you, you have to be big and tall and imposing. I think the cars might just not even see me. So that's not for me.
Steve Testa [00:41:57] I wonder if there was a fun conversation or meeting with some of these people at the visitor center at one of these gatherings that that you'd share with us. Just an interesting person. Interesting conversation that you had.
Louise Nahas [00:42:08] Yeah, you know, I have so many interesting conversations. I feel that I always learn just as much from the visitor, if not more than they learn from me, because they come from different parts of the country and the men that I know that I ask them more about. And then very often they they come from a national park area that I haven't been to yet. And so then I ask particular questions about places to go. And I think it was in when I was going to go to Moab [Utah], somebody from that area told me about that. I must be sure to visit a restaurant called Honest Ozzie's, and that I had to laugh when I thought about that because it's really a takeoff on the Anasazi name. But this was Honest Ozzie. And I remember going to [laughs] Honest Ozzie's when I was in Moab, and it was a great place. So I do learn practical things, you know, from people.
Steve Testa [00:43:13] What was a typical conversation to be like?
Louise Nahas [00:43:16] They often start with "Do you have a restroom?" [laughs] And then secondly, "Do you have a drinking fountain, or are you selling drinks?" And we go from there to "What is there to see here?" And then if I can ascertain that they really like to hike, that's when I begin pulling out all the different hiking maps. And if I know [they] live in the area, there's a slightly different approach than if they're just passing through and they actually live in California or something, because if they're within distance of being able to come again. I talked to them a little bit about our schedule of events, which is always three months at a time. And so then they you know, I give them that. I tell them all about the railroad, give them the schedules. Pretty much what they're asking, I try to answer and then add a little extra. Like if I know there's, as with the coyotes I mentioned earlier, if I know there's a program coming up that [inaudible], you know, I feel they would be interested in, I want to make sure they know about that. Or if, like right now, if somebody's coming and they ask to do some hiking, I mention that there's this hiking form you can get right now, you know, that you walk ten, ten hikes in the park and you get, you get something as a reward. And so I tell them about that. That's pretty much what our conversations are. Sometimes it is "How do I get to the Turnpike from here?" You know, just plain that kind of direction. But most of the time they want to know what's around that they can they can make use of. And I try to match it to what I think are their interests.
Steve Testa [00:45:00] So if you were at another national park...
Louise Nahas [00:45:03] Ah yes.
Steve Testa [00:45:04] Talked to someone, and they said to you, "We're gonna to go..." What would be the, well, the one thing, "You have to make sure you do this," that you would say to someone else?
Louise Nahas [00:45:17] Well, okay, if they were into hiking, I would certainly make sure that they got to see one of our waterfall areas and got to see. I send a lot of people to the Beaver Marsh area. If they're at all interested in water or beavers or birds or anything like that, I always try to get them to go in that direction, and around the Ledges Trail, if at all possible. That's one of the prettier trails. If you're at all interested in rock formations and, you know, the glaciers having come through and beauty in nature, I try to get them to go in that direction. I don't know that there's any one particular area, but those are some of the I think the highlights or if you know, of course, if they have bicycles, I tell them about where they can bicycle because a number of trails in the park, you cannot use bicycles very wisely. And in the winter, you know where the cross-country trails are. So it depends on the season of the year and what they seem to really be interested in.
Steve Testa [00:46:26] If someone were going to stay a week in the area and do many things in the park, but also wanted to know what other things in the area they should go see, what would be top on your list?
Louise Nahas [00:46:38] Well, there's a... There's so many things... Certainly Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens would be something that I would suggest to people and Hale Farm. You know, if they want an idea of what farming was like here in the Valley, that's a wonderful place to send them. Well, if I could send them to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, if they seem to be younger and really interested in that and things that are, you know, the railroad, things that are going on. And there's so much in the Cleveland area and the Akron area, you know, there was zoos and a lot of activities. It would it would be their days would be filled. I could find something to suggest to them probably for every day, for a week, weather permitting.
Steve Testa [00:47:31] You mentioned Stan Hywet and Hale Farm, and I wondered if you would give us some of your early experiences with either one of those places.
Louise Nahas [00:47:40] Uh, well, I've been to Stan Hywet many times because, well, I particularly am interested in anything Tudor or medieval. And of course, there's that beautiful mansion there. And so I used to go there quite a bit, especially Christmastime when they were decorated inside and outside, you know, for for Christmas. It's a fascinating experience there. There were concerts given there. Right now I've been hearing again, there was going to be Shakespeare in the garden. I've been to that in the past, too, and just on the trails. And they sometimes have wonderful world of Ohio mart. They have festivals and events, you know, juried art shows out there. And I felt I used to help a friend who was in that. And then I could get to where one of those costumes that made me look very medieval, that was kind of fun. So I've had a lot of experience with with Stan Hywet in particular, Hale Farm also. It's nice to go there and lose yourself in that century. And, you know, I have cousins who live in Switzerland, and last time they came to visit, they come occasionally. I did take them to Hale Farm. They absolutely loved it because you walk through these older buildings and you're greeted by people in costume and one house, there was somebody who pretended that he he was an old-fashioned doctor in my cousin's husband without telling me that he was kidding, sort of pretended that he was feeling faint [laughs], which made me feel a little bit alarmed until I realized he was doing that just to see what the person playing that he was a doctor would would do. And I think he offered he made them sit down and then he offered, I think, to give some leeches, to bleed him a bit or something. And I think we stopped at that point. But they just really loved that experience.
Steve Testa [00:49:39] Those are first person interpreters, interpreters, and what you do is a little bit different.
Louise Nahas [00:49:44] Yes.
Steve Testa [00:49:45] I wondered if you thought about ever being one of those kind of interpreters.
Louise Nahas [00:49:52] Yeah, I guess that is something that crossed through my mind when I when I realized I wasn't going to be at Happy Days anymore. But at the moment, I think I think I'm just happy doing what I'm doing because I have so many years of knowledge of what's in the park and, you know, try to keep up with some of the newer things. Now, I find that I really have to stop and read, say, the morning report and and look at the schedule of events myself every time I go in there, because there are new activities, new programs going on like the want to get up, get out and go or something, which is a summer program that we'd never had in the past. And if I don't remind myself of these things, I will forget to tell people about it.
Steve Testa [00:50:40] Is it possible that the park goes too far and tries to offer too much to too many, in your opinion?
Louise Nahas [00:50:48] Well, I think it's a problem, as I've seen it since I've been there all those years. When I first started out at Happy Days, there were six rangers that were always in that schedule for that building. And through the years I have seen because of budgeting problems, you know, that they're able to afford less and less in the way of Rangers and they're counting more on volunteers and they have to kind of spread themselves thin. And that concerns me a little bit.
Steve Testa [00:51:24] So it would not be the number of programs, but it's the support that they have...
Louise Nahas [00:51:26] Correct.
Steve Testa [00:51:27] For the programs.
Louise Nahas [00:51:28] Correct. Though it's probably combination because even if they hadn't added programs, the fact that they are, you know, have lost so much in the way of staffing would make a difference anyway. But the fact that they've not only lost staffing and they now have more visitor centers and more places, when I first started out, I think they were just the two. I think it was Canal Visitor Center and Happy Days. And since then, there's Hunt Farm and the Depot and, you know, Boston Store and now that little Trail Mix across the street and all the, you know, there's just more. There's a Towpath. And of course, they have trailblazers, volunteers, that go up and down there making sure everything's okay. And I think that's a really great thing. I think they've had to build up the volunteer staff more, you know, to cover for a lot of these things.
Steve Testa [00:52:29] Are there any benefits to bringing in more volunteers?
Louise Nahas [00:52:33] Oh, I'm sure there's benefits for the volunteers themselves to to get involved. And in in all of this is it's great. You feel like you're part of this great big organization. And it's certainly good for the Rangers to have more volunteers. And the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Association, the friends group, is much more active, too, than it used to be. It's not only providing more volunteers, but it's also, you know, has more places to staff now, too. There's, you know, the Environmental Education Center. There's just a lot of different, different places so far. We're hanging in there. I don't know where the budgeting is all going to go from here.
Steve Testa [00:53:18] As a volunteer, you've certainly grown working in the park. And I wonder if you might share what words about that, about your personal growth?
Louise Nahas [00:53:26] Well, I've certainly turned gray for my country. I started out, as I said, 20, 25 years ago with dark hair, which is now practically white. So that has changed for me. I think it's nice to see all the things that have been added. Sometimes it's a little harder to go with changes, but I think that's partly my age, too. It's not that easy to to, you know, make all these changes and keep up with them. I think it used to be easier to when somebody would call on the phone and say, now I'm up in the west side of Cleveland and I want to get down to see the Boston Store, what's the best route to take? And for a minute, I think, oh, dear, [laughs] what is the best route? So I always have to have a map in front of me, whereas in the past I could just envision it in my head. Those are you know, we're just getting bigger. There's more places to send people to. There's more to be aware of. So it's a little it's a little more challenging.
Steve Testa [00:54:36] Is there are areas of personal growth that you've seen in the last 25 years?
Louise Nahas [00:54:39] Personal growth, my own personal growth. Well, probably I was certainly the ability to to be able to quickly answer somebody when they ask you something. I've had to grow in that area and just, oh, I don't know. I can't think I can't really think that much of personal growth. You know, I'm so involved with the growth of the park itself. I guess I've just grown along with it without specifying in, you know, in what areas I've had to grow with it, just using the cash register. Personally, I've learned there's a lot more to do and using computers and things, you know, and we used to have like a travel section at Happy Days, lots of files. And I used to be in charge of keeping those files up to date. And it was great. And then now we've gone from files to going onto the computer, which to me, you know, is lacking something. I like to have a map in my hand, a brochure in my hand. I like to be able to give that out instead of I'm giving out information. But people seem perfectly happy. They have computers. They can look, you know, they can look this stuff up on there. I just feel that to me, we've lost a little bit of a personal touch with that.
Steve Testa [00:56:08] Hey, I listen to you and it sounds as if the park is very much a reflection of who you are and the both of you. The two of you are a lot together.
Louise Nahas [00:56:18] Yes, probably. That's, that's very true. That's, you know, as I said, one reason I'm staying here in this area, partly to as I feel like I'm such a part of this park and it's such a part of me and I really feel the whole of the personnel I've met through all the years who were sort of like one great big family. And actually, when my husband died about a little over a year ago and I remember so many of them came, you know, to the service, etc., and I, you know, that was a really good for me that I had that, you know, that whole family around me. It was really great support. Support, right. Exactly.
Steve Testa [00:57:01] Well, I wonder, I mean, I don't want to get too personal so you can ignore the question if you want...
Louise Nahas [00:57:07] Okay.
Steve Testa [00:57:08] But I wonder if you might describe him a little bit and what his love for the park, or his connection...
Louise Nahas [00:57:13] Oh, okay. He became quite connected with it through me. Oh, I think I talked I know I talked him into a lot of activities, but now he was one of those big tall people who like to do parking. I think he was just perfect. He was six foot something and, you know, he liked showing people where they could park and they certainly would see him and not run over him. In fact, it was I do have a sort of funny story. When John Debo, the park superintendent, first came as part of the park, there was an activity going on at Happy Days and my husband Russ happened to be handling traffic as they came into the main building, and he was supposed to send them all over to the parking lot across the street. Except, you know, if they had a handicapped sticker and John Debo came up in his car and of course, Russ had no idea who he was. He wouldn't let him park. [laughs] And I always remember that we found out later, you know, that he had turned the superintendent away. That was a great beginning. But he was on the Cuva Crew with me then, and he would go to a lot of the activities that I would go to. And it was good because and I had company, you know, for the trip over and back. And he enjoyed the park. He was never quite... He never put in all the hours I did, but of course, he had a full-time job. So he was, he was a great part of it too. Thank you for asking.
Steve Testa [00:58:50] Yeah. Thank you. I wanted to give Maureen a chance to ask any follow-up questions...
Louise Nahas [00:58:54] Okay.
Steve Testa [00:58:54] In case there was something I missed.
Maureen Carroll [00:58:55] I think you've covered just about everything.
Louise Nahas [00:58:59] Okay.
Maureen Carroll [00:58:59] And just want to thank you for being a volunteer in the park. And it just sounds as though you're a person who would really be very knowledgeable if a person were to walk and want a little direction and you'd be able to read... I like the way you ferret out what their interests are. That's very, that's very touching.
Louise Nahas [00:59:18] Oh.
Maureen Carroll [00:59:18] You know, rather than just giving a standard, canned, pat answer, here you are taking a little bit of time...
Louise Nahas [00:59:23] Mhm.
Maureen Carroll [00:59:24] To discuss a little bit about what are they looking for. And that's good for them because they're going to really enjoy their time, but also it shows the park off to its best.
Louise Nahas [00:59:34] Well, you're right, that's... Thank you for commenting on that. I'll tell you when I visit other national parks, and my husband and I went to a lot of different ones, when we would stand in line, and usually if you go to someplace like Grand Canyon or one of the bigger ones, you do stand in line at the ranger desk waiting to ask a question, and maybe it's because those are such big parks, but they don't have the great personal warmth that I find our rangers give people, visitors here and we always...
Maureen Carroll [01:00:03] I think you're right.
Louise Nahas [01:00:04] And we've always felt that difference. And, you know, that's something I hope we don't ever lose here.
Maureen Carroll [01:00:12] Yeah. Right. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much.
Louise Nahas [01:00:14] Oh, you're welcome. This has really been very interesting.
Steve Testa [01:00:17] It's been fun. Right before we conclude I just, we'll let you have the last word. Is there something that you wanted to say about your experience with the park that we've missed or something that you anticipated that you were coming?
Louise Nahas [01:00:30] No, I don't I can't think of anything we've particularly missed. There's just so many wonderful areas in this park that we have to offer the people. And I you know, I hope that they do get a chance to get around and see everything and partake of everything. And it's been a great, great privilege for me really to be connected with the Park Service all these years. And I hope I can do it as long as I can still retain all this information I'm trying to give out that you get to be 77 and you're not quite, you know...
Maureen Carroll [01:01:07] You're fine.
Louise Nahas [01:01:09] Thank you. [laughs]
Maureen Carroll [01:01:10] Whatever you work for, I don't know, but you're fine. [laughs].
Louise Nahas [01:01:10] Okay.
Steve Testa [01:01:13] Thank you very much.
Louise Nahas [01:01:14] You're very welcome. [laughs].
Maureen Carroll [01:01:15] I'm going to hit the stop button.
Interviews in this series, covering topics relating to the preservation of the West Creek and Cuyahoga River watershed (Cleveland, Ohio), were collected by participating teachers in the Rivers Roads and Rails grant, a Teaching American History (TAH) grant, sponsored by the US Dept of Education.