By Glynn Wilson –
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK, Virg. — It’s an incredible feeling sitting here at 3,500 feet above sea level on the hill looking out over the Big Meadows campground, watching a spring shower roll through the mountains.
I can’t think of a spot east of the Mississippi where I would rather spend the summer. We’re right on the Appalachian Trail, and the wildlife are coming out to play. The deer are all over the place, almost like pets some of them, and the gold finches are chasing each other around in the cherry trees.
It has taken me almost a week to sit down at the computer and think clearly enough to write. It takes time to get comfortable with a camp setup and a new gig.
It must be said at the outset that the National Park Service rangers here are all fantastic. The adjectives that come to mind to describe them after a week on the scene include smart, sharp, knowledgeable, competent, courteous and eager to please the campers from all over the United States and the world and help give everyone a great experience.
I don’t call the visitors customers. That’s a capitalist word best left to those who spend their money in the privatized places in the park, like the Big Meadows Lodge and Tap Room lounge, the Wayside store and restaurant and the Liberty gas station, a surprise the first time you see it in this spectacular place in nature.
Here in the campground the object is not the profit motive. It is the promotion of the idea that the public should have access to visit and enjoy this special place and thereby come to more fully appreciate this planet we call home and one of the most beautiful and diverse places on it. It’s not just about the view or the cute little deer. It’s about the ecosystem. Perhaps people will come to feel a spiritual connection to this place and want to do everything possible to protect it from further harm.
As a volunteer, it is my job to be on the front lines of greeting the visitors and campers and help make them feel welcome and at home. As I told one of the head rangers as we walked the campground together one day this week, an amazing woman, this is an awesome responsibility.
While I take that responsibility seriously, we do it every day with a sincere smile — because you can’t help but feel happy and have fun here. Even when it’s drizzling rain, the light always comes back strong in between showers and makes it look like someone up above is smiling too.
Of course there are always a few bad apples who don’t fully appreciate where they are or grasp just what’s going on around them. While many of the more experienced “leave no trace” campers do fully appreciate it, some of the younger, less experienced campers abuse the place by leaving behind trash and fires burning unattended. Some seem hell-bent on disturbing their neighbors into the wee hours. Quiet time doesn’t mean you have to go to bed at 10 p.m. But it does mean you have to turn the volume on the party down a notch or two.
Some don’t seem to appreciate that you can’t park your car off the pad sticking out into the road. These rules are not enforced just because they are written down and printed on the back of the campground map. There are reasons for them. You don’t want your car sticking out if a big RV comes pulling through at midnight and barrels down the I-loop. If there is a collision that would cause grief for everybody around, and be expensive for you.
Parking off the pad tears up the ground, destroying vegitation and leads to soil erosion. Leaving food out is not only dangerous because it attracts bears and other wildlife like raccoons and skunks. It also feeds mice and other rodents, and when birds of prey dive out of the air after them, they can be hit by cars and trucks. Litter is not only unsightly. It damages the ecosystem.
While many of the locals who grew up in this part of Virginia do appreciate the value of this place beyond the monetary proceeds, some of the people hired to work here by the private corporation Delaware North treat it like any old minimum wage job at Wal-mart. I’ve already encountered several versions of that, from the management at the bar to the workers trying to get the showers and laundry buildings ready for Memorial Day weekend.
While the park rangers must be circumspect in what they say, I am a volunteer — not an employee — and I can pretty much do what I want. Also as an American journalist, I enjoy a special kind of freedom and people who don’t understand that might just learn a lesson or two before this summer is over.
Of course as I learned as a college professor, some people are not interested in learning. They think they know all there is to know and all you have to do is follow a set of rules some manager wrote down on a piece of paper somewhere. Logic and common sense and discretion are necessary.
My philosophy is that nothing is about the rules. Nobody follows the letter of the rules or the law all the time anyway. Nobody. It is important to understand why there are rules and talk about the reasons for them. Besides, even a profit-making venture would benefit from bending them now and then, if they really want to maximize profits.
I like to say rules and laws are by and large for stupid people. You will never hear me say, “Hey, it’s the rules.”
I will tell you a story about the time I was camped next to what nearly became a forest fire in the E-loop along the Appalachian Trail.
Some people like to bitch about the “government.” I say while there are always things to criticize about bureaucracy, the spoils system and nepotism, the corporate version of those things tends to be worse in my experience. Privatizing the functions of government leads to no accountability and usually more cost, not less. Then there is the question of quality.
That’s about as specific as I want to be in that rant, and I assume that by saying it word will get around and certain things will improve. Or I can always revisit the subject in more specific detail later.
The sun is popping back out now and the light is coming back through the trees. So before I go this Sunday and morning turns into afternoon, and I head over to find a WiFi connection to post this and some photos, let me say one more thing about this gig.
While the heads of the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service are in charge of this place, when the sun goes down and the rangers go home for the night, it’s all mine, along with my English Springer Spaniel Jefferson, on notice that he must set a good example for all the other dogs who might not behave so well.
We will respect and protect this place. Abuse it at your peril.
© 2015, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.