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.


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Nahas, Louise (interviewee)


Testa, Steve (interviewer); Carroll, Maureen (participant)


Rivers Roads and Rails 2008



Document Type

Oral History


68 minutes


Transcription sponsored by Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Group [00:00:06] [Equipment setup]

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

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