A-Questing We Will Go


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This article originally appeared in the Fall 2006 issue of Special Places, The Trustees' member magazine. To subscribe, join The Trustees today.


Like life, a quest is a journey, not a destination. Just ask Steve Glazer.

A product of a roving childhood that included formative years in a cookie-cutter house in the sprawling suburbs of Hollywood, Florida, this self-proclaimed “treasure hunt guy” and “Curious George” felt out of place. Steve’s journey took him to Union College and then the University of Chicago in search of English degrees; to Colorado to be Director of Continuing Education at Naropa Institute; to a friend’s ranch in Arizona to write The Heart of Learning (a book on place-based education); and finally to Vital Communities in Vermont to become Coordinator of the Valley Quest program. 

Glazer works with schools, community groups, and individuals in the Upper Valley region of Vermont and New Hampshire (and beyond) to develop Quests, or sense-of-place treasure hunts. The twist, as Steve puts it, is that “the treasure box is a decoy that lures folks to the real treasures — the richness of places, and deep sharing of experience.”

Six years and more than 100 Quests later, he is home, sharing Boscoberry Brook, Spockers Island, the four-trunked tree, and a garden with his wife and daughters. “My kids are in tune with the seasons and their cycles, which is part of what was missing for me growing up.”

The Valley Quest program grew out of the work of the League of Women Voters of the Upper Valley, who after looking at 20 years of change in their region asked, “Will we still want to live here 20 years from now?” They adopted the Quest program to help people get to know their community and share it with others. The Quests are based on a 150-year-old English tradition of “letterboxing,” where people leave their calling cards for fellow letterboxers to find by following clues.

“There’s a process you go through with a Quest — the more time you take, the better your connection,” explains Steve. “People who create a Quest move quickly into a deep relationship with these places and a real sense of ownership.”

To make a Quest, first you find the place you want to explore and go there to see what you see, hear, smell, and feel. Second, do the research — check out field guides and any written materials on the area. Third, ask questions of local experts
and elders. The order is important, especially for children. “Through experience kids develop a sense of wonder, which allows them to have a real dialogue when they ask the questions,” says Steve.

After you know your place, draw a map, write the clues (often in verse), and make a treasure box for the Quest’s end.  Typically, the box includes a sign-in book, a unique rubber stamp, and an ink pad so Questers can leave their mark and take a stamp. The Quest invites everyone to explore and
connect with the environment or culture of your place.

“A lot of people don’t know how, or where, to go out and explore,” explains Steve. “A Quest is a very specific invitation to help people make that first step in connecting with their community, and the places that make it a special place to live.”