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National Park Week is a great opportunity to get started with the Passport To Your National Parks® program. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned national park traveler, there is something for everyone in the parks. As Eastern National’s Social Media and Marketing Specialist, I thought I would share my own personal experience and tell the story of how the Passport program and the parks have had a positive impact on my life.
I first learned about the Passport To Your National Parks® program in 2002, when I started working for Eastern National at Independence National Historical Park. I spent the beginning of my first day watching an orientation video and filling out assorted new-hire forms. My boss was kind enough to take me out to lunch, and when I returned to the store, I decided to take a good look at some of the products that I would be selling. As a ten-year retail veteran, I was enthusiastic about working for a retail company that donated its profits to support educational and interpretive programs in national parks.
As I perused the items on the shelves, certain themes were evident: the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, and the Liberty Bell. It was appropriate, considering that the store was located across the street from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. As I made my way through the aisles, around massive stockpiles of replica Liberty Bells, books about Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, and souvenir t-shirts, I came across a small black display fixture and stacks of little blue books.
I picked up the sample book, with the dark blue cover and gold writing that read “Passport To Your National Parks®.” I paged through it and skimmed some of the pages, which had maps and information about national parks. There were blank spaces in the book as well, which were labeled, “Official Cancellations.”
“What’s a cancellation?” I wondered. I turned back to the beginning of the book and read the first few pages, which explained the Passport program and the meaning of a cancellation. It also showed an example. I looked down at the fixture and inside a small cubby, there was a rubber stamp and an ink pad. I picked it up and examined it, and within a few seconds, it all made sense. It was then that I realized the importance of the Passport program and what it brought to those who collect cancellations and visit national parks.
Twelve years and 100 parks later, my Passport book has traveled the country with me, and has seemingly become an extension of my body when I visit a park. It has shared my ups and downs in parks, like the exuberant feeling I had when I visited the National Mall and Memorial Parks and was able to stamp my book with all the cancellations that were available. On the other hand, recalling my visit to Petrified Forest National Park, and the disappointment that I felt when I realized that I had inadvertently left my Passport in my other backpack. I had to settle for the cancellation stamped on a park brochure.
For me, the Passport program was something that I would have never even known about, had it not been through my experience working for a cooperating association. Before then, I had visited a few local parks, such as Valley Forge National Historical Park and Independence National Historical Park, and had gone on the obligatory eighth grade field trip to Washington, DC. But I never realized all that the national parks had to offer until I learned about the Passport program and started collecting cancellations. It has brought me to places I had never even imagined and has allowed me to learn so much about America– its history, its wonder, and its legacy. Here is a story about a national park experience that I hold near and dear to my heart:
“Who the heck is George Rogers Clark?” I asked myself as I steered the rental car down a seemingly endless highway in rural Indiana. I was being sent to George Rogers Clark National Historical Park by Eastern National in a business capacity to visit the site and to meet with the park’s superintendent. Vincennes, Indiana, was the epitome of small-town America, and was exactly what I had envisioned when I arrived. As I pulled up to the Visitor Center, it looked like any other one I had ever visited. I expected to see a few exhibits and interpretive programs, and figured I would be in and out of there in a few hours.
A smiling, enthusiastic park ranger greeted me as I entered the Visitor Center, and happily welcomed me to the park. I introduced myself and she led me to the park’s offices to meet with the Chief of Interpretation. I completed my business within two hours, and then met with the park’s superintendent.
We talked for awhile about the park, and he expressed his gratitude for the support that Eastern National had given the park since 1967, the year that the association had taken over bookstore operations.
“Sure,” I said. He led me out of the building and down a path. As we rounded the corner, a huge neoclassical granite behemoth of a memorial, as majestic as the Jefferson Memorial, stood before me. “How had I missed that?” I asked myself. It was surrounded by construction fencing, and scores of workers milled around the memorial while the sound of heavy machinery and rock dust filled the air.
The superintendent explained that years of drainage issues had caused considerable damage to the memorial, and that the steps were also being repaired. As I followed him up the steps and inside the memorial, he gave me a short interpretive presentation about the architecture of the memorial, the materials from which it was built, and the artisans who created the mural and statue in the interior of the memorial. At that moment, it occurred to me that the memorial was not just about George Rogers Clark, whom I had learned was a Revolutionary War hero. It was about the triumph of gaining independence from Great Britain, the pride of the local people, and the heart of America. It was enough for me to fall in love with the park, and I felt privileged to have had the opportunity to visit it. That cancellation holds a special place in my heart.
Each cancellation in my Passport book has a great memory or story associated with it, and countless others have similar stories to tell about extraordinary experiences they have had when they visit the parks. The Passport To Your National Parks® book enhances those experiences and encourages its owner to visit more parks. As I have learned more and more about America’s national parks, my park bucket list has grown astronomically, and with each park that I cross off my list, my desire and motivation to keep crossing more parks off the list becomes even stronger.
What are your favorite national park stories? We would love to hear them– please list them in the comments below.