Ready to Explore: Check out a backpack and head outdoors

Libraries are often thought of as an antithesis to the outdoors, providing a sheltered area to exercise the brain but not so much the body. Aware of this perception and looking for change, the Hampton Falls Free Library recently unveiled its new Explorer Backpack program, offering three backpack options full of useful nature materials that can be checked out as easily as a book.

Barbara Tosiano, the director of the Hampton Falls Free Library, said she and several Friends of the Library members and trustees heard about similar programs that other libraries were offering at a conference in Manchester, and they thought it would be a great idea to implement something similar in Hampton Falls, especially considering the wildlife the Seacoast has to offer.

“It offers people an opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy the beautiful scenery and nature that we have in New England,” Tosiano said. “In New Hampshire, so much of it is so close by, especially here in the Seacoast area, so with the backpacks and the New Hampshire State Parks pass that we are also offering there is no excuse not to get out and enjoy the beautiful sunshine.”

The Explorer Backpack program has a total of three backpack varieties to choose from: a coastal exploration pack, a mountain exploration pack and a birding bag. The coastal and mountain backpack are The North Face hiking-style backpacks, while the birding bag is a lighter shoulder bag.

Each pack includes binoculars, compasses, maps, trail guides, rain ponchos, first aid kits, emergency whistles, pocket guides to New Hampshire animal tracks (courtesy of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department) and what Tosiano calls the “ever-popular scat chart,” which she says is a favorite among the kids.

One of the more unique details of the Explorer Backpack program is the library’s addition of free New Hampshire State Parks passes that allow library patrons and their families free access to most state wildlife parks (aside from those with restricted access). According to Tosiano, New Hampshire State Parks sent the library an email outlining the opportunity and explaining that they had been offering it for a while, but just hadn’t publicized it all that well. Once Tosiano and the rest of the library staff caught wind of it, they “pretty much all jumped on it,” she said.

“[Now] you can get your pass and get your backpack with your binoculars and your compass and your field guides to animals and plants and you are all set,” said Tosiano.

The coastal exploration pack offers several Seacoast-specific items for those interested in going out and probing what the beach has to offer. The pack includes Atlantic Seashore by Kenneth L. Gosner, a field guide to “sponges, jellyfish, sea urchins and more”; Exploring Odiorne Point by Julia Steed, a spiral-bound breakdown of the Rye state park; and “Northeastern Seashore Life,” a folding pamphlet-style guide that covers over 140 species of seashore birds, mammals, creatures, seashells, nearshore fish and plants as well as a tidal zone map.

The mountain exploration pack includes a southern New Hampshire trail guide, a New Hampshire state parks map, a colorful picture pamphlet of various wildflowers and several other trail guides and maps for hiking that holistically offer “options for family-friendly hikes that don’t require a lot of travel time,” as Judy Wilson Smith, one of the library’s trustees who led the charge in implementing the Explorer Backpack program, said in the program’s informational video on their website.

Finally, the birding bag includes a New Hampshire state parks map and three books and guides to help identify the miscellany of birds that can be found throughout New England. Tosiano believes the lightweight, easy to carry birding bag is great for older people looking to go for a walk and look for birds through the binoculars.

While the program hasn’t been overwhelmingly popular yet, Tosiano hopes it will pick up once the weather does, offering free opportunities for local families to explore their surrounding wilderness in the comfortably warm days of summer. For Tosiano, the Explorer Backpack program is another way that the Hampton Falls Free Library can offer more than just a sheltered place to read in silence. The library also has a telescope that patrons can check out free of charge, and she noted that many libraries are starting to provide items such as bakeware, tools and musical instruments.

“Libraries are more than just books,” Tosiano said. “We’re doing a lot more than you would expect. … In an increasingly digital age, where so many people and so many children specifically are in front of their computer games, we’d really like to get people outdoors.”

— Caleb Jagoda