Monday, April 25, 2011

A Flood of Inspiration

This past week has been National Park Week, which meant  that entrance fees were waived at all national parks. This year this same week also happened to be spring break for much of Northern Virginia, which meant that very large numbers of people came to visit Shenandoah. That in turn meant that it was a rather busy week for me!

Last Saturday the park (and much of the surrounding area) was hard hit by the same storm that caused so many tornadoes in the Midwest (and Virginia for that matter!). It rained hard all day which meant that there was a whole lot of water in the park. The following day (a week ago) the park was filled with visitors seeking to take advantage of the opportunity to view so much water flowing through the park. I had similar thoughts myself, so as soon as I got off work I headed north to White Oak Canyon, a particularly beautiful and water fall-filled area of the park, and set off on a strenuous 8.2 mile circuit hike at 5:30. I knew there was no way I could get back before dark, but I had my headlamp and knew there would be a full moon that night, so as long as I could get out of the main canyon and above the waterfalls (which is the much more treacherous section) before dark then I would be okay.

I made it, but only just. The light was fading as I came to the final waterfall after an inspiring journey through a spectacular water fairyland. The experience deserves its own dedicated treatment which I will try and write and send out in the near future. Until then I can only say that it was an absolutely incredible hike in which I saw both the glory and the power of God clearly made manifest all around me. Water was flowing and cascading everywhere. Whole sections of the trail had themselves become waterfalls and I cross stream after stream that would normally not even exist.

That loop normally includes four significant stream crossings, but convenient stones in the water provide for ample support to cross without getting one’s feet wet. Not so that day. All four came over the top of my boots, and two of them came up to my waist. There was a LOT of water cascading down those streams!

On Monday I took the Rose River Loop Trail, which I now affectionately refer to as the “proposal” trail following Alison’s acceptance of my offer of marriage nine weeks ago. It too was filled with water and absolutely beautiful. It was also filled with visitors so I rarely made it more than a sixth of a mile without being stopped for a while. One such stop was particularly exciting, when two visitors pointed out what they thought was a black bear across the canyon. They were quite correct and I had the pleasure of not only observing the bear myself, but helping about 24 other people find him up in a tree where he posed for us for a while before going back into his den.

In addition to it being National Park Week and Easter weekend, yesterday was also  Junior Ranger Day, and we found ourselves inundated with young and aspiring junior rangers throughout the day. Despite the chaos that characterized much of the day, I still shared some significant moments with a few of these kids.

The first was with a family who walked into the VC at 10:10 and inquired about the junior ranger programs. When I informed them that they had just missed the start of the bird program (10:00) they were very disappointed, but renewed their spirits when I informed them that if they hurried over to the amphitheater they could still get there in time to see the birds. This family returned to the desk later in the day and I learned that they had made it in time to see the birds even though they were traveling by bike. I also learned that the two young children were named “Theo” (in honor of Theodore Roosevelt, with whom he shares a birthday), and “Meadow” (named after our very own Big Meadows). They were a family who had definitely been impacted by the parks in general and this area of Shenandoah in particular.

Shortly after opening yesterday I spoke to another family. They had camped in Big Meadows last night and come to the visitor center to find out about hiking in the area. As they came in the door they saw the schedule for junior ranger day so they approached the desk to ask about it. At first it seemed that though the parents were interested, their two girls were not, but that attitude quickly changed as the day wore on. These two girls embraced the idea of being junior rangers in such a way that in my mind, it embodies the very reasons why the program exists.

By chance I was the one who spoke to this family each time they came to the desk throughout the course of the day, a total of five times. I got to know them pretty well, especially the two girls who turned out to be 9 year old twins Rachel and Samantha Plumley. They tried on the uniforms, spent a good while at the touch table and then hurried off to see the birds. They returned in great excitement to tell me about the birds and to find out what else they could do. I got them set up with junior ranger books and explained what they would need to do to achieve each of the different levels and sent them off to meet a law enforcement ranger and learn about emergency work in the park.

After attending several other programs they embarked upon a nearby trail that includes a scavenger hunt for a variety of different things. Returning about two hours later they proudly came to the desk once again to present their completed  scavenger hike books with a perfect score, victoriously claiming to have found everything along the trail (a claim enthusiastically supported by Mom).
They then proceeded to present their completed junior ranger books, proudly declaring that they ought to have their picture placed on the wall since they had completed everything to be a junior ranger that they possibly could that day. I checked their books and got out their patches, which I presented to them after they pledged in perfect unison to continue to learn, explore, and protect not only Shenandoah, but all national parks and areas of natural wonder and beauty that they might encounter.

Now officially junior rangers in every respect they proceeded to tell me about all the other parks they want to visit, of their plans to come back to Shenandoah, and most enthusiastically, about how they want to help to create their own national park, where they can assist in naming the waterfalls and trails so that everyone can come and enjoy it.

In a single day these girls had gone from knowing nothing about being junior rangers to creating their own national park and all but pledging their lives to the mission of the Park Service. I for one, was deeply touched.

Not a bad lead in to the celebration of Easter.

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