By Deborah Huth Price
On a recent trip to Estes Park this fall, my husband and I were surprised to discover that an old campground we had visited many times had almost been completely wiped out and replaced with a wedding lodge. It was a bit of a shock.
While not a supreme campground, it had been there for decades and held good memories for us and undoubtedly generations of other families as well. Next to one of our favorite camp sites was a tree with an old electrical switch on the trunk, covered over by years of bark growth. We had taken a picture of it once because it was such a humorous find.
This got me to thinking about a sense of place in the outdoors. Just as we attach meaning to our homes, our places of work, and our favorite hangouts, we also find attachment to nature in special places. That tree with the light switch now stands next to an outdoor wedding stage. While future campers won’t discover it, perhaps children at wedding parties will. Their memories of that place, along with those of the wedding party, will be different than ours but still may draw them back in the future for reminiscing.
Hidden Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park is another such place. A ski area from 1955-1991, it has now been returned to nature by the Park Service, uncovering a stream that had long been traveling under ski-shod feet. I moved to Colorado after it closed, and I remember stories of groups cleaning up the area in the 90s. They found mobile phones, keys, ski poles, wallets and a host of other personal belongings that had long ago been buried under piles of snow.
The memories people had of Hidden Valley as a ski area were many, and I’m sure the attachment to that place was special. Now, as I walked along the new trails that wind through Hidden Valley, the experiences were different. The stream bubbled along through freshly fallen snow, Steller’s jays lighted on tree branches, pine squirrels skittered about collecting their winter food stash and ski slopes were slowly being taken back by the neighboring forest. It is a peaceful scene. As I walked I thought about the memories of ski trips buried in the soil and in people’s hearts and how my memories of this place are different, but not less magical.
Our sense of place in the world involves not only the places we live and work, but the places we can escape to for reflection, rejuvenation and relaxation. The world is constantly changing, through both natural and human-caused influences, and with it some of our special places change form. We can hold on to those memories, but it’s also necessary to continue to find new places to connect with in the outdoors.
Thankfully we can still find these outdoor refuges, places that attach to our soul, our heart and maybe even our sense of humor.