I am a park ranger at Shenandoah National Park, but my blog represents my own musings and enjoyment of the NPS.
I’m proud to wear the green and grey of the National Park Service. I didn’t understand when I embarked upon this journey why people referred to it as a family. How could thousands of people spread out over 50 states plus the territories in 397 NPS units possibly be a close family? And now, two years and six seasons later, I fully understand. I still keep in touch with co-workers from the Statue of Liberty. In 2008, while manning a visitor contact station at Petersburg National Battlefield, in walked a former co-worker from the Statue. He’d just taken a position in Richmond at the Maggie Walker Historic Site. I ran into a former co-worker from Petersburg at an NCPH conference in 2011 in Pensacola. Some of us follow each other on Twitter and/or Facebook. In 2010, my first summer at Shenandoah, I met a Student Conservation Intern who was working for eight weeks as the volunteer at Rapidan Camp, President Hoover’s retreat here within the park. We took a day trip to DC one hot July day that year and now, he’s graduated and working his first seasonal at Pipe Springs National Monument in Arizona, with two of my former co-workers from my most recent duty station, Death Valley. What a small world! The staff here at Shenandoah really is my family after now starting my third summer here. I’ve made amazing friends and had so many great times. I truly felt like I was coming home and it has been a reunion in many ways. Another Death Valley co-worker is now at Yellowstone. She became a very good friend during our time together. I recently talked to a family here at Shenandoah that was traveling to Yellowstone. I sent a message to her through them. She got it and it made her day!! Two of my fellow rangers at Death Valley are now at Mt. Rainier. And that, that’s what really got me thinking.
This month our flag has flown at half staff on more than one occasion in honor of more than one NPS employee. This last week it’s flown for Nick Hall, a climbing ranger at Mt. Rainier who fell to his death while trying to save hikers that had gotten into trouble. Only 34 years old, he died doing what he loved. They still haven’t been able to recover his body. Earlier this month, we lowered it for two firefighters that were out West battling what have become massive, dangerous and highly uncontrolled wildfires. These guys and gals put there lives on the line to save resources, both natural and cultural, as well as homes and towns. And they come from all over. I remember one of my Statue co-workers heading out to wildfires in the west in 2006 and was gone for weeks. Co-workers here have been in the George Washington National Forest and Great Dismal Swamp in my seasons. And now, they are coming here. As we battle a fire on Neighbor Mt., crews have come from US Fish & Wildlife, Cape Cod and a crew is on their way from Florida. Why did Shenandoah lower the flag for a ranger most of us probably didn’t know from Mt. Rainier, in Washington state? Why did we lower it for firefighters that perished 2000 miles away? Why are we traveling to Colorado, why are Massachusetts and Florida coming here? Because, it is a family. And what a family it is.
Day 2 (Wednesday June 27)
Day 3 from US 340 (Thursday June 28)
Day 3 from Stony Man Overlook (Thursday June 28)
Day 4 from Pass Mt. Overlook (Friday June 29)
The NCPH/OAH conference brought to light a subject near to my heart this afternoon – history in the NPS. The panel consisted of Marla Miller, Gary Nash, David Thelen and Anne Mitchell Whisnant. On the docket was the discussion of their report on how the NPS stacks up in the history department. I have to admit, I haven’t read the report. And, as a detriment to my profession, I didn’t even know it was something that was being analyzed. In considering this, however, I realize that my failure in having even heard of the study speaks directly to the findings. As it turns out, a panel of historians gave the NPS a mediocre grade when it comes to their interpretation of history, and I’m not surprised. I had found it odd, in my five seasons as an interpreter, at four different parks, that there had been a clear delineation between interpretation and history. But, how could you have one without the other? Yes, the material was there for me to research as I prepared my programs, but how was it that in my most recent position, doing only one program, a house tour (in costume, no less), I was told, in no uncertain terms, that no one had time to allow me access to archival material. At my summer home, in Shenandoah, we are introduced during training about the most recent information on climate change, emerald ash borer concerns, deer populations, and weather and air monitoring, but only an hour was devoted to an introduction of the massive amounts of research material available on a cultural level. Ok, some would say, it’s a nature park, but it also has a history that lends to the story as a whole.
The more I thought about the study, the less surprised I was to hear about the gap between interpretation and cultural resources within the park structure as a whole. The more recent push to cohesively develop themes, objectives and construct connections for visitors to take away from interpretive programs all seems moot in light of the realization that I might not yet possess all the knowledge I need to do this. When asked who was going to get this ball rolling and what would prevent this study from collecting dust on a shelf like all the others, the answer given was straightforward … you! I’m willing to take that challenge, but at what cost.
A more in-depth discussion later with some of the panel members spawned a new thought: who in the NPS was consulted on this study? It turns out I already knew the answer. Director Jon Jarvis was obviously a key component, but the others consisted of regional directors and other management level employees. The problem with that … they don’t interact with the public on a daily basis like I do. And who am I? Just another seasonal staff member that shows up on Memorial Day and leaves with end of the autumn splendor. So, I’m expected to get the ball rolling, but as I’m sure other seasonal NPS employees would agree, my voice is small and in what precarious position am I placing myself if I do push the envelope? Sure, I might create a movement, spark an epiphany, give rise to a multitude of positive comments from visitors … or, I might find that next year, when the budget of our National Parks is trimmed yet again and another influx of returning veterans is vying for the same position, that I’ll be left out in the cold. I’m going to push for an increase in more interdisciplinary work at parks and the ability for more communication across lines because my goal is to make the NPS a better and stronger unit. They are, after all, my parks, too.