Grab your compass and head for the Harris Lake Orienteering Course ::

– As staff at Harris Lake County Park in southwestern Wake County looked for ways to keep visitors engaged during the pandemic last year, they dusted off an orientation trail that a Eagle Scout created a few years ago, updated it, and opened it up to the public. Today it has become a popular place for families to visit to learn orienteering skills and spend time outdoors.

“It went over very well with the public,” park manager Christina Hester tells me.

As the county park’s website states, orienteering is sometimes referred to as “the art of reading a map and compass.” Its origins as a recreational activity date back over 100 years and provide a fun way to exercise, learn maps and compasses, and develop wilderness survival skills. But, in this case, at Harris Lake, you’re never too far from civilization.

“You learn different map skills, read the terrain, look at the terrain,” Hester said. “At the same time, you are in nature and enjoying what you see.”

Harris Lake has two orienteering courses. There’s a short course with five waypoints, which are the individual points along the course that you’re tasked with finding. It takes about 30 minutes to complete. A longer route with 16 waypoints takes around 60-90 minutes.

If you go there, you will need to bring some personal items:

  • A printed version of the map of the course you intend to follow. Be sure to print it out at home before arriving at the park.
  • A compass. The app on your phone will work.
  • A pencil
  • A calculator
  • Water and insecticide

The Harris Lake Orientation Brochure outlines the basics of the activity. You can find the brochure and these lesson cards on the public programs section of the Harris Lake website. (You can also find more information about the park’s geocaching trail there, which Hester described as a technical level up to orienteering.) The trails are in the day-use area of ​​the park. near playground, restrooms, picnic shelters and parking lot.

At first, you will need to measure your pace, which is the distance you cover with each step. There is a special pace station in the park where you can do this.

From there you can start, using the route chart you printed out at home, which lists the “bearing” and distance to each waypoint, as a guide. (For more on taking a bearing, check out this article on REI’s website on how to use a compass.)

When Hester took lessons with her own children, she had them take turns doing different tasks. To find a waypoint, one can hold the roadmap and the other can use the compass, then they switch to find the next one. “It’s a great family activity,” she said.

For now, once you’ve done the course, you’ve done the course. Harris Lake does not change them regularly. But Hester said she plans to make changes every two years so there are new experiences for everyone.

Harris Lake County Park is at 2112 County Park Dr., New Hill. The orienteering course is open during park hours, 8 a.m. to sunset, seven days a week. It’s free.

Dino J. Dotson