Canyons, Coasters And Loving The Outdoors: This high schooler’s interests lie in the field as well as the classroomJan 24, 2021 12:14PM ● By GLENN OSTLE
Eric Feichthaler Jr. loves U.S. National Parks. He’s visited many—ranging from Florida to Alaska and Hawaii—has published two books about his experiences, and started a YouTube channel that attracts worldwide cyber-visitors. He also has a passion for theme parks and hosts a second YouTube channel to review some of America’s best roller coasters. Those are a lot of achievements for a 15-year-old.
Eric, a sophomore at Oasis High School in Cape Coral, Florida, first visited a national park at age 8. His family rented an RV and traveled to the Grand Canyon. A year later, they visited Yellowstone, which is where Eric’s love of national parks really began. “Yellowstone was, and still is, my favorite,” he explains, noting its amount of wildlife, interesting hiking and diverse landscape.
He has now visited 50 of the country’s current 62 national parks, having had a number of adventures along the way. When Eric and his family hiked to the floor of the Grand Canyon, he photographed a rare California condor. In Big Bend National Park in Texas, the family crossed paths with a bear during an early morning hike, forcing them to stand silent and still for 20 minutes until the bear moved on.
Since his first trip, Eric has kept journals to document and rate the parks, using mostly hand sketches and notes, as well as photos taken during the visits. These have become the basis for two editions of A Junior Ranger’s Guide to the US National Parks, which he self-published. They are available from Amazon in digital and paperback form, and copies are in the Lee County Library System.
“My books are a way to share my experiences with other people, give them an idea of what national parks are like and inspire them to visit,” says Eric. “Writing about parks we have visited also brings back good memories.”
According to his mother, Mary Feichthaler, Eric’s books have fans as far away as the United Kingdom and Australia. “As they are written by a younger person, they tend to appeal to people who might feel a little intimidated by these parks because they aren’t hikers,” she says.
To further spread his love of national parks, this past summer Eric started National Park Wild, his YouTube channel. It’s generated responses from around the world, including from a number of adults who have contacted him directly to ask his advice.
When he isn’t visiting and writing about national parks, Eric keeps busy indulging his other passion: theme parks.
“In 2014, we went to Cedar Point (Ohio), where I really got into roller coasters,” he relates. “I had a tour there and was able to ask the engineer about how things worked.” Eric has started and hosts a second YouTube channel, Theme Park Avenue, in which he discusses some of America’s best roller coasters.
“Eric really loves engineering, especially how it comes into play with the biggest, longest and scariest roller coasters,” his mother says. “Because of his interest in both national parks and theme parks, we try to balance our trips to visit both types on every trip.”
Although he is still quite young, Eric’s dual passions raise questions about what he might like to do in the future. “After Cedar Point, I really wanted to be an engineer at a theme park,” he notes. “But being a ranger at a national park would be cool, or even a professional photographer. Right now, I’m leaning toward a career in the nature field.”
Mary Feichthaler says she can see him going into the realm of conservation, because he loves being outside, exploring and finding animals in nature. But she can also see him on the engineering side—he has a “math brain” and has always excelled in that area.
“We are just happy that he has all these interests outside of school,” adds his mother. “Sometimes I hear him talking to adults who call him from his websites, and I don’t even know what they are talking about. But these are his passions and we are happy to be part of them. You definitely learn from your kids.”
Glenn Ostle is a freelance writer and photographer living in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has been writing and providing photos for TOTI magazines for more than 20 years. To see more of his work, visit featherandfins.smugmug.com.