Little Blue Books

By Abby Ponder, senior at Western Kentucky University and marketing intern at Eastern National

Your eyes dart around the store, taking everything in at once. Sunlight is streaming through the windows overhead, and the Visitors Center is bustling with frenzied movements and excited chatter.

Despite the crowds, and the booming voice over the building’s loudspeaker announcing departing tours, you feel grounded in place from your position in the park store.

Across the room, you can see a family of four gathered together, flipping through a children’s book on monarch butterflies with happy giggles and whispered laughter. On the other side of the room, near where you’re standing, there is an older man thumbing through a thick tome about the region’s geography. In the space in between, a school group is rushing between the various displays. Some are wearing Junior Ranger hats and clenching Junior Ranger certificates, and others are sharing stories and tokens with their friends.

You, meanwhile, are waiting for your friend to finish chatting with the sales associate.

You are tired as you wind through the shelves of books and rows of pins and magnets. You spent the previous day hiking through a number of trails before taking to the river in a kayak. Your arms are sore and muscles ache that you never knew existed, but you are still thriving on the adrenaline of the experience.

See, you want to get out more. You want to see the world and everything in it.

Ever since you were a child, the National Park Service has fascinated you. It is an organization dedicated to preserving history and conserving the environment. Furthermore, though, the national parks allow you to step through history and outside your comfort zone to see more of the country—of the world—than you ever envisioned.

Aching arms are more than worth it for this experience.

Your friend is still deep in conversation with the sales associate, so you glance at the cabinet next to you. Inside is a cupboard full of little blue books with a rainbow of colors along the sides: “Passport to Your National Parks,” the book’s cover reads in shining gold print.

You pick up the display copy, flipping through pages lined with organized splatters of ink stains. Looking closer, you realize the ink stains are actually stamps—and there are a lot of them. You glance up as you see one of the sales associates moving closer to you with your friend in tow. Both are smiling.

“I see you found the cancellation station,” the sales associate says, gesturing towards the cabinet with the little blue books. “Have you stamped your Passport today?”

You shake your head.

“Are you familiar with them?” the man continues, picking up the discarded display copy.

Again, you shake your head.

Your friend beams at you, rummaging in her bag. A few moments pass as you and the sales associate watch her dig through the bag’s contents before she finally pulls out her own little blue book. It is a little rough around the edges, a water stain on the cover, but it is largely intact.

Updated Passport

“They’re the coolest things,” she says.

This is your first time branching out to the national parks, but this certainly isn’t her first. She has always been an explorer at heart: ready to take on the world at a moment’s notice with a grin splitting her cheeks the entire time.

“Do you go to a lot of national parks?” the sales associate asks.

“No, not really,” you say. You pause for a moment. “I’d like to go to more of them, though.”

Your friend smiles encouragingly at you.

“Then this is perfect,” the associate says. “See, you can take the Passport everywhere you go. It’s this tiny little book, I know, but it contains so much more.”

Turning the book over in his hands and flipping to a page lined with bright images and circular ink stains, he says, “All national parks in the United States have the Passport. So, at each park you visit, you can find the cancellation station. Sometimes it’ll be folks like me, the ones working behind the counter, who will stamp it for you. Other times, like here, you’ll do it yourself. Regardless, at each park you go to, you’ll gather your own token, your own memory, of the time you spent there.”

Your friend is nodding along enthusiastically, “Yeah, and you really can take them anywhere because they’re so small. It’s the perfect way to collect things without having to find a home for the collection afterwards.”

“But what if you forget the book at home?” you ask. You’re forgetful sometimes, whether you’d like to admit it or not.

“You can always just stamp a piece of paper and staple it in later,” the sales associate says. “You never have to worry about a store selling out of them either.”

You nod, reaching for one of the books. It is wrapped in plastic, protected from the elements. It’s an appealing offer, you can’t deny that, but what if—

“I don’t go to enough national parks.”

The sales associate smiles kindly at you.

“That’s okay, too,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how many parks you go to or how fast you get to them—just that you go. There’s no right or wrong way to do it.”

He glances to the other side of the store, noticing the family of four beginning to make their way to the checkout counter. With a final smile, he leaves you to make your decision at your own pace. You glance at your friend as she flips through her own ink-stained pages, and you know that you don’t need time to decide.

A few moments later, receipt in hand, you make your way back over to the stamping station. As you turn to the correct page, following the tabs along the side, you come to the first page of your region.

With a satisfied smile, you lower the stamp onto the ink-pad before positioning it above the pristine white page for the first of many more stamps to come.

For more information about the Passport to Your National Parks®, be sure to visit our online store at eparks.com

Lasting Impressions at Mammoth Cave National Park

By Abby Ponder, senior at Western Kentucky University and marketing intern at Eastern National

I honestly don’t remember the first time I went to Mammoth Cave National Park.

Growing up in South Central Kentucky, the park—which is home to the world’s longest cave—hosted several class field trips. On more than one occasion, I remember exploring winding tunnels lined with history and sediment and listening to park rangers share stories of people who once called the park’s boundaries home.

In many ways, however, those field trips were where my relationship with Mammoth Cave began and concluded. While I had an appreciation for the park, it wasn’t a place I would routinely visit in the subsequent years.

It was simply Mammoth Cave: sturdy, despite the sinkholes, and omnipresent.

It wasn’t until my first year of college that I became reacquainted with the park. That summer, I started working as a seasonal sales associate in Mammoth Cave’s Eastern National park store, backed by a group of extraordinary individuals.

cave

Visitors from around the world come together to see the maze beneath the surface, and I, too, wanted to better understand this infinitely complex system. As such, I toured the winding caverns and poured through pages of beautiful images interspersed with rich text that conveyed a vision unlike any other.

Over the course of that summer and the subsequent seasons, I learned more about the wondrous place that exists in my own backyard.

Ultimately, though, the thing that seems most significant about this journey through Mammoth Cave over the last three years has been seeing how this park—and the entire National Park System—touches the lives of countless individuals.

This giant of a park has the ability to bring people of all backgrounds together regardless of race, religion, language, or socioeconomic status. In this beautiful and uplifting place, people can see the caverns and the surrounding area through a natural or historical lens in more ways than one. History can sometimes feel abstract and intangible, but visiting the national parks allows people to learn in a real-life setting, following the footsteps of those who came before them.

This park, which I first took advantage of as a child, provides history and solace to a host of people waiting just outside its metaphorical doors. I wish I had realized its beauty before I did but, in the end, I am grateful that I found Mammoth Cave and Eastern National at my own pace. My appreciation for them is that much greater as a result.

river

This year marks the Centennial Anniversary for the National Park Service, as well as a host of other anniversaries for Mammoth Cave: 200 years of guided tours, 75 years as a National Park, 35 years as a World Heritage Site, and 26 years as a part of the Biosphere Reserves.

Now, more than ever, is the perfect time to get out there and explore the national parks. Whether your park is in your own backyard or waiting for you across state lines, a visit to a National Park is an experience unlike any other. Speaking from my own experiences, I can promise you one thing: you’ll be glad you did.

In the meantime, you can begin planning your own adventures by perusing the options on the National Park Service’s webpage. From there, it’s up to you. You can obtain a Passport To Your National Parks® book and when you visit parks around the country, get your Passport stamped! Also, be sure to follow the Passport to Your National Parks on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to get even more ideas about what to do once you’ve landed—or, in my case, trekked into the backyard.

So, take a deep breath. Are you ready?

deer