Myles Lynch is a PhD student studying creativity in the outdoors and is in his last year at the University of New Hampshire. We met in the White Mountains, when I asked if he was writing or drawing, and he said no, he was counting the people who went up and down the trail. He’d been doing this all summer—he was out on various trails on Thursdays, Fridays and weekends counting the hikers. The most people he counted was 960 people going up Falling Waters Trail during a 6-hour shift.
College and summer camp
I majored in psychology and philosophy for my undergraduate at UMass Amherst. I was kind of all over the place for undergrad. After college I worked in environmental education for a company called Nature’s Classroom. That was located in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. I did that for four years.
I eventually became a camp director at a summer camp and in order to advance, my boss recommended that I go back to grad school for recreation management. It is basically managing parks [and] forests and doing a bunch of outdoor education type of stuff. I moved to New Hampshire and then I got my master’s [from UNH] after two years. My research focused on creativity in the outdoors—so I was looking for outcomes of creativity. I was basically really fortunate, because I had a job at UNH and they funded me to go back and get my PhD. I’m doing my PhD in education with a focus on outdoor education—outdoor learning.
Growing up I realized how beneficial summer camp was to me from a learning standpoint and psychologically it really helped me to be outdoors. So I decided to do research on summer camps and recreation. My focus is on outcomes related to summer camp and recreation settings because I think the outdoors are a really powerful learning environment. I think it originated [from] going to summer camp as a child, working at summer camp, and now I do research on summer camp.
I do mostly overnight camps, so when the kids stay there for an extended period of time; say 3 to 4 weeks. My research now is focused on the staff that work there. I want to see the benefits of working at summer camp. It’s all kind of circular.
This summer, they’ve had some issues in the White Mountains with overcrowding. Too many people are going and there’s not enough parking so they wanted to do a research study on seeing exactly how many people come to certain parts of the White Mountains….I basically spent 2 and a half months there. (Lynch received an internship counting the number of people on the trails.)
All around the country more people are going to parks; they don’t know what to do with all the cars. It’s not just New Hampshire it’s a national thing that they’re trying to figure out. It’s good to have people come outside, but there’s not enough parking.
Some of the counting aspect can get pretty isolating, because I’m alone. So some of my days are 9 hours, and sometimes I won’t see anyone for an hour or two. Some of the trails are not as [busy].
I read like 10 books this summer. The AT [Appalachian Trail] people seemed way more inclined to talk to me than the people were hurrying in and out. I’ve done about half (of the 4,000-footers). I’m getting more into winter hiking, because I do hiking throughout the year. This winter I’m gearing up for that. I do a lot of hiking, which was painful for the job, because I saw tons of people hiking and I had to sit there.
I consider myself a social scientist, so managing people and trying to figure stuff out. It’s great that people are going outdoors, but how do you get the most bang for your buck? I would be interested in doing more research in summer camps, national forests, national parks, or other types of recreation-based places.
My angle is I think people are more creative in the outdoors, or they have more opportunities to be creative. One of the big components is technology. A lot of times people are distracted and I think nature offers its own distractions that are different than you would have in urban settings. So I’m interested in how children and adults can be creative in that place, and how parks and forests can actually promote that and say, oh if you go outdoors or if you’re doing stuff outside, maybe this is one of the benefits along with yeah of course you’re getting exercise, yeah you’re outside, whatever.
But maybe creativity is one of the less obvious outcomes of that type of setting. [For many] artists and people who write, a lot of their inspiration is drawn from the outdoors, so I think it shouldn’t be limited to just them, but [it should be] for everyone.
My definition that I’ve got for creativity is: Creativity is something that’s both novel and useful and it has to be defined within a social context. So it can’t just be new, it has to have some kind of utility. Creativity takes other people, I think, so it has to be a social endeavor.
Get People Outdoors
My main goal in life for this program is to get more people outdoors. How do I do that? I’m trying to figure out what ways I can do that for children as well. Vermont, Colorado, West Coast, they’re already doing that. I really want to work in outdoor education [or] outdoor environments, so I could see myself either working as a professor in outdoor education, or working for a park service doing research and helping get more people outdoors or doing educational programs. I thought about opening up my own program but I don’t know how that would turn out; it’s easier said than done.
I think a lot of people need to do that: getting people outdoors, especially people who have never been there. When I used to work for Nature’s Classroom you’d get a lot of inner city kids who had never been, they’d go oh are there lions here or something? Which is interesting. Looking at the benefits of the outdoors and getting people outside is my main goal.