Art on the New England Trail

by Charles Tracy, National Park Service.

In my work on community-based, regional and long-distance trails for the National Park Service, I have found that working with artists is an effective way to draw new visitors and to deepen the experience of current trail users. Connecting with new audiences to national parks and national trails through art is also recognized by the National Park Service as the “Arts Afire” national strategy in our recent “Call to Action”–plan for the NPS Centennial in 2016. The “Arts Afire” strategy is to “showcase the meaning of parks and trails to new audiences through dance, music, visual arts, writing, and social media.

On the New England National Scenic Trail, I have worked with a diverse group of artists–photographers, sculptors, hip hop songwriters, and musicians–each of whom has brought a new expression and new vision of the trail experience.

Here are examples of artist interviews and a music video.

A Trail Gazer: Barbara Bosworth  – During the months of September, October, and November 2013, the National Park Service, in cooperation with the Appalachian Mountain Club and Connecticut Forest & Park Association, presented TO BE AT THE FATHER EDGE: Photographs along the New England Trail/Barbara Bosworth, an exhibition of panoramic photographs taken along the trail over course of a year. The photographs were displayed at nine different sites – each with its own relationship to the trail – to form a unique exhibition that viewers can experience at their own pace and following their own path. The exhibition included a series of events ranging from hiking with the artist to lectures and discussions, all of which were enthusiastically attended. Bosworth: Artist Profile Video

Poetry Illuminates the Trail: Christopher Frost – NET hikers discovered something glowing on the trail in summer of 2012. The Hespera Stones, a temporary sculptural installation inscribed with poetry from Emily Dickinson’s “The Mountains Stood In Haze,” quietly greeted visitors as they explored the trail along the Mt. Holyoke Range in Skinner State Park in Hadley, MA. Artist – Christopher Frost – describes the look of the softly glowing stones as a combination of green technology and sculpture – the stones were cast with embedded LEDs and powered by solar panels hidden within the trees. The installation allowed for open-ended interpretation of the trail experience and the history of the surrounding communities through art. Frost: Artist Profile Video

A Hip Hop Musical Adventure: Youth Ambassador Program (YAP) – The National Park Service’s Youth Ambassador Program (YAP) encourages young people to connect with the outdoors. The hip-hop group partnered with the NET in the fall of 2012 to compose a music video about their experience on the trail.