Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Threads of Connection

Shortly before leaving the visitor center on Sunday I fell into a wonderful moment that I very easily could have missed. 

I was at the front desk when a young girl and her parents approached with Junior Ranger book in hand. As I was the only ranger up there at that particular moment it fell to me to check it with her. Since things were slow and other rangers were soon to return to the desk I was able to sit down with the young lady and really go through the book with her in detail. We spent about 20 minutes going through each page of her book and speaking in detail about her experience in the park. I grew more and more impressed as our conversation continued.

Eight year old Jenna had successfully completed every line of every page in the book. She didn't stop at the 12 activities required or do anything partway. She fully embraced the venture and completed the book in its entirety. Not only that, but everything in it was absolutely correct. There was not an error of any kind to be found.

That alone was enough to gain my admiration and respect, but when I turned to the final page to check on the programs she had attended I was quite surprised by what I found. The second program bore the signature of one of the other rangers, but the first program was a tour of Rapidan Camp given by Martha Bogle, who just so happens to be the superintendent of the park.   I was quite surprised and confused as to how that was possible, but the parents went on to explain that they had hiked down Mill Prong and happened to be in the camp when Martha brought a group down in conjunction with the 75th. When she saw them looking at the trees and working on the book Martha approached Jenna and talked to her about the book. She then took them into President Hoover's cabin and gave them a tour. They went on to tell me that they had not realized who they were talking to until they went on the website later that night and noticed Martha's picture and discovered what her position in the park truly was. Needless to say I informed Jenna that it was pretty special to have that signature in her book!

The significance of this family and the connections to the park did not end there, however.   When I went to sign her certificate I discovered that her full name was Jenna Mather. Since we have a life-size picture of Stephen Mather (the first director of the National Park Service and the man who pushed to have a national park in the east, which resulted in Shenandoah) right there on the wall of the Visitor Center I pointed to him and asked if she knew who he was. She did not, and neither did her parents. I went on to tell them about Mather and his importance for to the Park Service as a whole and to this park in particular. They promised they would go and do some work on the family tree to see if there was any connection!

Jenna maintained a high level of enthusiasm throughout our interaction, and was especially excited about the pledge at the end as well as her sightings of a black bear and newborn fawn. I was able to capitalize on that as I gave her both an explorer sticker (picturing a fawn) and a Jr Ranger Patch (picturing a bear). Her parents videoed much of our interaction and took pictures of me shaking her hand and presenting her with her patch, but allowed it to be her special moment.  

The whole interaction was inspiring. It wove together a geological hike, the interaction with the superintendent at Rapidan, their experience hiking in the park, stories of the sacrifice of the families who had to give up their land in order to make way for the park, Stephen Mather and the National Park Idea, the 75th anniversary, the excitement of seeing a bear and a fawn for the first time, and a general since of wonder and admiration for the park.

I was blessed indeed to be a part of it. 

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