The Life of a “Gift Shop Ranger” (or: How to Tell People You Work for Eastern National)

by David Eberle, Craggy Gardens Site Manager (Eastern National—Blue Ridge Region)

“So…what do yDavidEberleou do?” It’s a fair question whether it’s asked in small talk at a party, or not so small talk around your family’s dinner table, or fairly large talk with a significant other, or even if it’s innocently posed by a confused visitor to the helpful person on the other side of a National Park Service information desk. “What do you do?” is a question that everybody should be ready to answer, because everybody does something. For me, the answer always starts out “Well…”  And then I try to explain.

I work for Eastern National. As an Eastern National employee I take an enormous amount of pride in what we do and why we do it. My job is to enhance the experience of the National Park visitor and offer a friendly and welcoming greeting. Whether they’re on their way home or their day is just getting started, I want to hear about where they came from and why they are here; what about this park are they most excited about? How can I help them get the most out of their experience?

I keep the store displays stocked with products that try to capture the feeling of being at the park, whether it’s a photobook, a park history, a field guide, a coffee mug or a postcard. Visitors often want something tangible to bring home with them, and I show  them products that may be relevant to them. I also explain how Eastern National is a non-profit partner with the Park Service and that store  purchases help support the park. If they have questions about anything from directions to Park history, I find an answer for them. When I see visitors with children, I mention the Junior Ranger program because it’s never too early to get serious about national parks. I tell everyone about the Passport To Your National Parks®,  which is literally a list of all the amazing places that people should see, experience, know about, and protect in America. Every park has unique meaning and is endlessly explorable. (Not to mention, who doesn’t love to stamp things?)

After I explained all this to people, which in truth is just the tip of the iceberg of what an Eastern National employee does, the responses inevitably run along these lines:

The partygoer: “That’s so interesting! My cousin is a Forest Ranger.” Me: “Well…”

Dad at the dinner table: “Okay…government work, huh?”  Me: “Well…”

The significant other: “I’m just going to tell my parents you’re a ranger” Me: “Well…”

With the park visitor: “Soooo…you’re like a gift shop ranger?”  Me: “Well…kind of.”

When I first started with Eastern National it would always baffle me when people got confused about what I did. “What do you mean you never heard of Eastern National?”  Over the years though, as I’ve had the privilege of promoting the beauty and significance of the National Parks to so many visitors from every walk of life and from all over the world, I’ve almost started to take the confusion as a compliment. If people don’t get that we are not Park Rangers, it’s because we put the Park experience first. If people haven’t heard of Eastern National, it’s because Eastern National exists to serve the National Parks. Visitors are just happy to be in these protected places.

Gift shop ranger? I’ll take it.

 

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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?

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Millennials: What they Really Think of National Parks

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PREFACE: At E20150806_090329astern National’s (EN) headquarters office, we were fortunate to have an extremely bright, energetic individual as an intern this past summer. Jess C. interned in our Creative Department, which encompasses our Production, eCommerce, and Marketing teams. Her contributions to our department, including her work on special projects and initiatives and her upbeat attitude, made an indelible impression on us.

To support the National Park Service’s efforts to encourage interest and visitation of national parks by people of the millennial generation, we were very interested in her impressions of national parks. So, we sent her on a field trip to Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, located in Elverson, PA, and asked her to write about her experience. What do Millennials think about national parks? Read on to find out:

-Andie S., Social Media & Marketing Specialist

For the last month of my senior year of high school, I interned at the Eastern National Headquarters in the Creative Department. It was really interesting to me to see how my interests, such as photography, can be applied in the real world. Lucky for me, I was offered a summer job to continue the work I had done in May. I’ve really enjoyed my time here, especially the “field trip” I took to Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site.

Prior to my visit, I researched the park out of curiosity: I had never heard of Hopewell Furnace before. To my surprise, I learned that it was only an hour from our Headquarters office, and that it was an important iron plantation during America’s early industrial period. Honestly, I’ve never been one for history (strange, I know, for someone who works for a company so closely related to national parks), but from the pictures 20150805_113557I saw, Hopewell Furnace seemed very scenic.

And scenic it was. Just on the drive there, I saw cows and sheep, lakes and farms. Already I was put in a good mood: I’ve always loved going on drives, and I was excited for my visit. When I arrived at the park, the first thing I noticed was the apple orchard. I saw tiny, organic apples growing on gorgeous green trees lined up along the hill. I parked, and proceeded to the visitor center. It was small, but the museum had a lot of information about what life was like during the time Hopewell Furnace was in operation. I watched a short video about the long, hot process of creating charcoal, after which I thought that it was nice to be living in the 21st century.

After touring the museum, I toured the rest of the park. The park ranger in the visitor center told me about a live demonstration of how the workers created the iron molds, but I stopped to check out some of the farm animals first– horses, chickens, and sheep. I was giddily taking pictures and talking to the animals as if they were children, and they wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. Regardless, I pet a sheep, and it was awesome.

I rushed over to the building where the demonstration was taking place, and arrived just in time to hear about how the workers created the molds for 20150805_110542the ovens. We learned about the workers’ treatment, pay, and lifestyle. Then the group moved to sit on different benches and we learned how the huge furnace operated. It was amazing to hear about the precision in the whole process, considering at the time, people didn’t even understand the science behind it. After the program concluded, I checked out the giant water wheel that fueled the furnace, too.

I went on to tour the rest of the grounds, and I walked up and down a path that led to a few houses that the families would have lived in. I stopped in at a charming little shop that sold items made from iron and wool from right there in the park.

Heading back towards the visitor center, I came upon a giant, black pile of earth; I’d walked in on one of the two yearly charcoal-making demonstrations. It was really interesting to see what I had seen in the video in the visitor center happening in real life. I was impressed with the volunteers doing the demonstration, considering I personally would never choose to do that long and arduous process even for fun.20150805_120756

Finally, I made my way back to the visitor center and watched a 15 minute video about what life was like at Hopewell Furnace. It was a great way to wrap up my visit.

In all, Hopewell Furnace was beautiful. Putting aside the fact that it wasn’t 95 degrees for the first time in weeks, I was happy to be there because I hadn’t realized what a beautiful place it was. I took pictures of everything I saw and the places I explored: I’m incredibly interested in photography and regretted leaving my camera at home. Even still, the pictures I took with my phone helped me connect to the park. There were so many buildings to explore, and with each site came a little plaque or a button to press and hear audio for information about where we were. I learned how the women cleaned and cooked, how men would make horseshoes for the working horses, how the families would stay in two room houses, and how the iron was made. The visit was so interesting, and like I said, I’m not even interested in history.

IMG_0110I think that when my generation thinks of national parks, Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon comes to mind. We don’t think to look up more local national parks when making plans with friends, not to mention we’re a generation of quick information and social media, so slowing down for a second and, say, having a picnic in a national park, doesn’t cross our minds. But – at least in my experience – we’re also a very visual generation. We take pictures of everything – ourselves, each other, nature, cities, and everything in between. Had I known about Hopewell Furnace before working at Eastern National, I would have definitely convinced my friends to visit.

My friends and I are always looking for fun excuses to get together and go places, but we usually look towards Philadelphia because, conveniently, there’s a train station just down my street. But, also conveniently, we live a half hour from Valley Forge National Historical Park and an hour from Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. The same could be true for teenagers across the United States, considering there are more than 40IMG_01320 national park sites. If only for a summer afternoon, a visit with friends or family to a national park is a great way to get outside, be together, and learn a little something, too.

My visit to Hopewell Furnace was incredibly fun. I always love visiting beautiful places, and to learn about one so close-by was a treat. Next time I’m near another national park, I definitely plan to visit and take pictures, especially if it’s a more nature-oriented park. And that, I think, is a good moral to take away from my visit. National parks are no doubt centered on the historic importance of the site or monument or park. But even a person like me who originally has no interest in the historical aspect of the place can enjoy their time, inadvertently learn about the park, and enjoy what they’ve learned. There’s something for everyone when it comes to national parks, and I think everyone – including my generation – should embrace that.

To learn more about America’s national parks, or to find a park near you, visit the National Park Service’s website. #FindYourPark

 

National Parks Centennial Legos

Want to own an official Lego® national park set? So do we! You can help make this happen by voting for the set on the Lego Ideas website: http://ow.ly/KG74S.

play-184783_640Many of us have memories of playing with Legos when we were kids, and the great experiences they inspired. They’re educational and they provide a fun play and building experience. Legos (from a Danish phrase meaning “play well”) have come a long way since the first interlocking pieces were manufactured in 1949, and today, Lego produces scores of different themed kits, from Star Wars and Batman, to Cinderella and Mickey Mouse.

A National Park Service-themed set, if approved, could arrive just in time for the NPS Centennial in 2016. Ideas for Lego sets depicting national park scenes are being considered on the site now. But we need your help! Lego will only consider producing them when they have received 10,000 likes through their Lego Ideas website.

We would love to offer the Lego experience to visitors at our national park stores. It only takes a few moments to create an account and support this project on the Lego Ideas website. Plus, on the website you can add your own ideas as well. Again, you can help make this happen by voting for the set on the Lego Ideas website: http://ow.ly/KG74S.

Below are a few ideas for park-themed sets:

Everglades Katmai Saguaro

 

Passport Picks for Fall

Fall is a great time to experience America’s national parks! Cooler temperatures, beautiful Fall foliage, and a variety of programs and events are great reasons to grab your Passport book and experience the parks! We’ve put together this short list of events happening in parks across the system- check the National Park Service website to find events at parks near you.

VETERANS DAY
Enjoy the last fee-free day of the year on November 11th. Many parks will hold special events honoring America’s veterans. Details here.

starparty

Star Party at Mojave N PRES

LOCAL FESTIVALS & EVENTS
1. Experience Springfield Armory NHS and all other 14 Massachusetts national parks at “The Big E,” the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, MA, from 9/12-28. Details here.
2. If you’re a rock climber, you’ll love the Idaho Mountain Festival, 9/25-28, at City of Rocks National Reserve. Contests, live music, and giveaways will be sure to excite visitors. Details here.
3. Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act at Mojave National Preserve on 11/1. Mojave Fest 2014 will feature special programs, Native American crafts and ceremonial dancing, and a star party. Details here.

MABI Foliage

Fall foliage at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP

NATURE
1. Behold the glory of New England’s Fall foliage at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP on 10/4, 11, and 13, for a special three-hour walking tour. Details here.
2. Calling all amateur paleontologists! Don’t miss National Fossil Day on 10/15 at Agate Fossil Beds NM. A special Junior Ranger badge will be available, and visitors can explore the park’s historic excavation sites and trace fossils. Details here.
3. Celebrate Sleeping Bear Dunes NL’s 44th anniversary by attending a Star Party on 10/21. Other dates are available as well. Details here.

MUSIC
1. Enjoy authentic Hispanic food, festive music, traditional dances, arts and crafts, and a children’s carnival at La Fiesta En El Parque, on 10/4 at Jimmy Carter NHS. Details here.
2. San Francisco Maritime NHP will hold a series of sea music concerts, on 9/20, 10/25, and 11/15, aboard the historic ship Baclutha at Hyde Street Pier. Visitors will experience the driving rhythms of chanteys and the beauty of seafaring ballads, for the 26th consecutive year. Details here.
3. Experience Brazilian Jazz at Saint Paul’s Church NHS on 11/6, with the sounds of The Janet Grice Trio. Details here.

KIDS
1. A unique educational experience awaits students during Home School Day at Valley Forge NHP on 10/8. Rangers and volunteers will bring history to life through interactive learning stations and hands-on activities. Details here.
2. Kids will have an opportunity to learn to make Native American coiled pottery at Ocmulgee NM during a special children’s craft program on 10/25 and 26. Details here.
3. White Sands NM is offering a special program entitled Crafty Kids, on multiple days, 11/26-30. Rangers will share surprising facts about the creepy crawlers, amazing adapters, and out-of-this-world geology of White Sands while guiding kids through a take-home craft project. Details here.

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Apple orchards at Hopewell Furnace NHS.

CULINARY
1. Experience chocolate as you never have at Cumberland Gap NHP on 10/11-12. Learn how it’s made and share its evolution. Sponsored by Mars Chocolate North America and American Heritage Chocolate. Details here.
2. Step back in time, and learn the time-honored tradition of preserving harvest time apples by making cider during a special event at Harpers Ferry NHP on 10/18-19. Details here.
3. Pick your own pesticide-free, organic apples at Hopewell Furnace NHS from their historic apple orchard, many of which are heirloom varieties. Early September through October. Contact the park for details: (610) 582-8773.

SEASONAL EVENTS
1. Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? Take a Ghost Walk with costumed rangers at Cuyahoga Valley NP on 10/11, on the rolling unpaved Lake Trail. Details here.
2. Pumpkin Sunday will be held at Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS on 10/19. The event will include hay rides, a hay maze, cider making, and much more. Details here.
3. Halloween Tales, spooky story-telling programs, will be held at Minute Man NHP on 10/25. A special, less-scary lantern walk will be available for younger children. Details here.

SARA

Battle Anniversary Encampment at Saratoga NHP

REVOLUTIONARY WAR
1. History comes alive at Saratoga NHP on 9/20-21, at the park’s Battle Anniversary Encampment. See what life was like in a Continental Army camp through special programs and demonstrations. Details here.
2. Commemorate the 234th anniversary of the Battle of Kings Mountain on 10/4-5 at FestiFall at Kings Mountain NMP and Cowpens NB. A special wreath-laying ceremony, musket and rifle demonstrations, and a dramatic presentation are planned. Details here.
3. Did you know? More than 5,000 African Americans served in the Continental Army. Attend this special program on 11/1 at Morristown NHP to learn about their valuable contributions. Details here.

BearssEdwinC2

Former NPS Chief Historian Ed Bearss

CIVIL WAR
1. Cedar Creek and Belle Grove NHP will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek with a variety of events, including cannon demonstrations, living history programs, and reenactments. Details here.
2. Living History Weekend at Andersonville NHS on 10/25-26 will afford visitors the opportunity to experience what life was like for prisoners at the infamous prison camp, through special programs, artillery demonstrations, and costumed interpreters. Details here.
3. Join former National Park Service Chief Historian Ed Bearss at Richmond NBP on 11/23 for a special presentation on the Petersburg Siege. A book signing will take place afterwards. Details here.

Passport To Your National Parks®: Enhancing Park Experiences Since 1986

**TAKE 20% OFF PASSPORT PRODUCTS ON ePARKS.COM THRU 4/27/14– USE CODE NPW2014 AT CHECKOUT**

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.

Cancellation StationI 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.

65145641-155D-4519-3EB66591BA1D5C49-large“Would you like to see the memorial?” he asked.

“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.

passport1498Each 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.

Guest Post: Why We Love America’s National Parks

PREFACE: Don and Shelly Hafner (of http://59nationalparks.com/) have set out on an epic journey- one that many people only dream of; To visit all 59 national parks within 59 weeks. We were so inspired by their quest, we asked them to write a guest post about why they love the parks and what inspires them when they visit a park. Here is their story:

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Many people and organizations have asked us why we love the National Parks.  It turns out that we had never addressed this question in writing, so we committed to writing about it as Eastern National’s guest.  Readers know that we do love the Parks to undertake what we have.  The reasons we are doing this are complex and (we think) compelling.

Our reasons for planning our 59 National Parks were ultimately fueled by our love as husband and wife.  We found so much common ground and enjoyment together visiting the National Parks.  There were so many things that we enjoyed doing together at the Parks, such as hiking, photographing and learning new things.  When we first met, we spent many evenings in Rocky Mountain National Park picnicking and enjoying the wild life.  Ultimately our love of the Parks is personal.

 These are the characteristics of the National Parks that we want to call attention to and that we personally love and value:

 Freedom

We believe that America’s National Parks are manifestations of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.  Take, for example, our freedom to travel to them–it is a birthright all Americans enjoy.  History teaches us that special places were often reserved for the elite of society.  That is not true in America.  Our National Parks are just that–ours.  Perhaps that is why there was so much unhappiness last year when our government enforced a shutdown of the Parks.  In addition, we are free to travel to them.  We enjoy the freedom to travel in the United States which is not a universal right throughout the world.

Photography

Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument

Do your family and friends humor you when you show them pictures of your children or grandchildren?  How about pictures of your dogs?  Are they just being nice?  Perhaps.  Show them a picture of Half Dome, Devils Tower or Old Faithful and they are involved, perhaps enchanted about the idea of visiting the spot.  We are drawn to sharing the experience of National Park visitation through photography with others as a result.

The National Parks offer opportunities to practice so many different kinds of photography in one place that few other venues offer.  In one day at Yellowstone National Park it is possible to photograph Old Faithful, trout fishing in the Lamar River, roaming bison, and goofy family pictures around the evening campfire.  As much as we enjoy where we live, we cannot accomplish that at home.  In addition, National Parks provide for photographic diversity.  We can take photos of sweeping landscapes, wildlife, seascapes, and the power of nature in action.  The National Parks are also great places to hone and improve our abilities with Macro photography. The great thing is, anybody else can too.

 History

The Ken Burns film The National Parks: America’s Best Idea brilliantly and beautifully presented how the fabric and history of America was influenced by the National Park movement.  We value all 401 of the National Park units because they tell the story of our country.  The movement to preserve special places didn’t start in 1872 when President Grant signed the law that made the area a public park.  His act was in fact a realization of a dream and a movement shared by the American people.  As an aside, it is worthy to note that the area we know as Hot Springs National Park was  set aside as a “public reservation” in 1832.  Our National areas are rich with history.  Many, such as George Washington Carver National Monument and the USS Arizona Memorial are primarily devoted to American history.  We recommend that our readers never skip the Visitor’s Center or drive by a sign that beckons you to a Park Service site.  They are always worth the stop.

 Children

In our experience, the National Parks are great places for families with children.  We have never heard someone to tell a child to be quiet at a National Park!  Our boys still talk about our trip to Arches and Yellowstone which was about twenty years ago.  We notice well-behaved children learning about and showing respect for nature when we visit the National Parks.  The Parks provide activities for children that they may not have at home such as snorkeling at the Virgin Islands National Park or watching a lava flow at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.  Kids are always captivated by the wildlife.

Buffalo Herd

Buffalo Herd

We notice that kids are not preoccupied as much with social media when we see them at a Park.  Expect a few complaints about the number of “bars” they have though.  The National Parks have programs for those children who want a social media experience and, of course, there are lots of apps for the parks.  The Park Service has a Junior Ranger program at every site which kids enjoy.  Eastern National administers the Passport To Your National Parks® program, which kids are crazy about- We are too.

 Experiences

The National Parks offer something for everyone!  For visitors who just want to park and look, it’s not only okay—it’s encouraged.  No one is second guessed or judged for their actions.  From that jumping off point there is so much to see and do at our National Parks.  At the Parks it is possible to go fishing, rock climbing and snow shoeing in the same day.  Visitors can go horseback riding, birding (try it—it’s harder than you think), or just sit in quiet reflection.  We find that we spend much of our time at National Parks in quiet reflection.  There is just something about being awestruck while being at peace at the same time.

So, why do we love the National Parks?  We are blessed that the Parks have helped us to come closer together and to increase our love for each other.  We can think of nothing better.

-Don & Shelly Hafner

Pondering the Presidents on President’s Day

Since George Washington was elected president in 1789, there have been 43 presidents of the United States. While each president is vastly different from each other in their personalities, political beliefs, and educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, they all have one thing in common: their service to the citizens of the United States.

George Washington’s Birthday, designated by Congress in 1880, was the first federal holiday to honor an American citizen, and occurs on the third Monday in February. The holiday became widely known as President’s Day in the 1980’s to include Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, which falls on February 12th.

In the 1950’s, a movement headed by Harold Stonebridge Fischer, Executive Director of the President’s Day National Committee, intended to honor the Office of the Presidency, not just the birthdays of our first and 16th presidents. A proposal included in the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, sought to change the name of the holiday from Washington’s Birthday to President’s Day, but failed in committee, thus maintaining the official name of the holiday as Washington’s Birthday.

Presidents are honored individually by some states, such as Massachusetts, which commemorates the lives of native Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge and John F. Kennedy on May 29th each year. In George Washington’s home state of Virginia, President’s Day is known simply as “George Washington Day”.

Visiting America’s national parks is a great way to learn about the lives and legacies of our presidents, especially since admission is free from 2/15-17. At least 32 National Park Service sites commemorate the lives of these men, plus an additional six parks which relate to the presidency through their wives or historic places in which momentous events occurred, such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence at Independence Hall.

It seems fitting that five sites are dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt, the father of the national park system.  An additional five parks honor Abraham Lincoln, from his birth home in Kentucky to Ford’s Theater in Washington DC, where he was assassinated.  The most recent park designated to honor a president is the William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace in Arkansas, which was taken over by the National Park Service in 2011.

There are other sites of significance to the presidency such as First Ladies National Historic Site and Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, which honor the wives of our presidents, and the contributions they have made;  Mount Rushmore National Memorial, with its iconic, larger than life tribute to four of our greatest presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt;  And Independence National Historical Park and Federal Hall National Memorial, where visitors can retrace the steps of our founding fathers.

Those who visit the White House and President’s Park will gain a wealth of information about life in the White House. The White House Historical Association offers several exhibits such as White House Architecture, White House Pets, Working White House, and A Brief History of Presidential Inaugurations.

There are many items including books, toys and multimedia available on eParks.com, which document the lives of the presidents and the presidency itself. In honor of President’s Day, eParks.com is offering a 15% discount on all purchases through February 21, 2014 – Enter with Coupon Code LINCOLN15 at checkout. Here is a small sampling:

  256893 abraham lincoln living legacyAbraham Lincoln: A Living Legacy

Abraham Lincoln left an indelible mark on the nation he sacrificed his life to preserve. The National Park Service maintains several sites that figured largely in the life of Abraham Lincoln. An eParks exclusive, this full-color 160 page guide to three Abraham Lincoln National Park sites includes more than 160 photographs, maps and historic images that illustrate the story of one of the greatest men to ever lead this nation! This publication is printed in the USA. Softcover, $11.95.

NOTE: this publication was awarded the National Park Service Director’s Award for Excellence in Interpretive Media in 2010.

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2-20419cTruman

By David McCullough

In this riveting biography, acclaimed historian David McCullough not only captures the man – a more complex, informed, and determined man than ever before imagined – but also the turbulent times in which he rose, boldly, to meet unprecedented challenges. Truman’s story spans the raw world of the Missouri frontier, World War I, the powerful Pendergast machine of Kansas City, the legendary Whistle-Stop Campaign of 1948, and the decisions to drop the atomic bomb, confront Stalin at Potsdam, send troops to Korea, and fire General MacArthur. Drawing on a wide variety of materials, McCullough tells the deeply moving story of the seemingly ordinary “man from Missouri” who was perhaps the most courageous president in our history. $40.00

258777 hopes_dreams_obamaHopes and Dreams: The Story of Barack Obama

By Steve Dougherty

A lively overview of Barack Obama’s life, this timely book relates the story of his difficult childhood as the son of a Kansas-born mother and a black Kenyan who abandoned the family, through his election to president of the Harvard Law Review (the first black Law Review president ever); his early political career; his own family life with his wife, Michelle, and two daughters; his 2004 election to U.S. Senator; and his emergence as a symbol of hope for America. Including Obama’s own words and comments from both his critics and supporters, Hopes and Dreams is essential reading for people curious to know about the man who has been elected to our nation’s highest office. $12.95.

2-42235cEisenhower: A Soldier’s Life

By Carlo D’Este

With full access to his private papers and letters, the author traces Dwight David Eisenhower’s meteoric rise from hardscrapple poverty in rural Kansas to high command and eventually the presidency. He probes Eisnhower’s public persona and his private encounters with Churchill, FDR, George Patton and other legendary figures of the century. Based on five years of extensive research, this definitive biography ay change your view of this man who helped shpae world history. Author Carlo D’Este has been called one the finest military historians of his generation and his study on Eisenhower deemed “uncompromising, compassionate, brilliant.” Hardcover, 848 pages, $35.00

2-39239cJohn Adams

By David McCullough

In this powerful, epic biography, McCullough unfolds the adventurous life-journey of John Adams, the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot – “the colossus of independence,” as Thomas Jefferson called him – who spared nothing in his zeal for the American Revolution; who rose to become the second President of the United States and saved the country from blundering into an unnecessary war; who was learned beyond all but a few and regarded by some as “out of his senses”; and whose marriage to the wise and valiant Abigail Adams is one of the moving love stories in American history. Hardcover, 751 pages, $38.00

247618 book_presidentsThe Book of the Presidents

By Vincent Wilson, Jr.

This is a reference and souvenir volume with biographies and gallery portraits of all the Presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush. 100 pages, $5.95.

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AUDIO/VIDEO

3-11195cAbraham Lincoln Sings On! (CD)

Performed by Tenor Douglas Jimerson. This collection of popular patriotic songs, includes a few of Abraham Lincoln’s favorites and is perfect for any music historian. Songs include: Oh! Susanna, The Bonnie Blue Flag, Gentle Annie, and many more! CD, $17.95.

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3-19312cFounding Brothers DVD

Based on Joseph Ellis’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Founding Brothers examines six moments when the collisions and collusions of the Founding Fathers left an indelible imprint on the nation: the secret dinner that determined the site of the capital and America’s financial future; Benjamin Franklin’s call for an end to slavery; George Washington’s farewell address to the nation; John Adam’s term as president; Hamilton and Burr’s fatal duel, and the final reconciliation between Adams and Jefferson. Drawing on the words of the founders and incisive commentary from leading scholars, this is an elegant and engaging portrait of America’s origins. Features interactive menus and scene selection. Color, 2 discs, approx. 200 minutes plus extras. Closed-captioning option. $49.95

FOR KIDS

2-32302cYoung Teddy Roosevelt

By Cheryl Harness

This book briefly traces Teddy Roosevelt’s steady growth-from his boyhood in New York as a weak, asthmatic child to his sudden presidency-is glowingly pictured in this book. For young readers ages 9-12. Hardcover, 48 pages, $17.95.

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263007 gw_leads_wayGeorge Washington Leads the Way

By Bentley Boyd

This biography is divided into seven chapters headed by seven words describing Washington’s qualities of leadership.  These words are not exaggerations.  Learn how he used honesty, perseverance, responsibility, innovation, integrity, bravery, and fairness to become a founding father, help the United States win independence, and become the nation’s first president. Softcover, 24 pages, $6.95.

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TOYS/GAMES

417451 log_cabin_bank Log Cabin Bank

This log cabin bank is representative of the one room cabin 16th President Abraham Lincoln was born in. It’s located at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHP in Hodgenville, KY. This bank is made of real wood  and has a plastic plug on the bottom for removing money that has been saved. It measures about 6 1/4 inches tall. 7 inches wide, and 5 inches deep. $11.95

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351085 lincoln_memorial_puzzleRound Lincoln Memorial Puzzle

Henry Bacon was chosen  as the architect fo the Lincoln Memorial, which would be located in Washington, DC. Construction began in 1914, and was based on the Parthenon. Construction was completed in May, 1922, and the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 30, 1922. This 140-piece puzzle forms a 13-inch diameter circle and features an image of the statue of Lincoln located at the memorial. The cardboard backing folds into a box to hold the pieces. $14.95.

The African American and Hispanic Legacy in America’s National Parks

Did you know? More than 70 units managed by the National Park Service interpret African American  and Hispanic American history, with themes ranging from slavery and the Civil War to Civil Rights and beyond.

Several books, recently released by the cooperating association Eastern National, highlight the contributions of African Americans such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Colonel Charles Young, the Tuskegee Airmen, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Guidebook to African American History in the National Parks, available on eParks.com

Guidebook to African American History in the National Parks, available on eParks.com

Guidebook to African American History in the National Parks

With an introduction written by Jonathan Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service, this concise guidebook provides an enlightening glimpse into the preservation and interpretation of African American History in America’s national parks. Woven together, these diverse park sites provide a rich tapestry of the legacy of the African American experience. The book includes dozens of historic and modern images of the parks, events and people in which they commemorate. Softcover, 68 pages.

 History of Civil Rights in America: National Park Service Handbook

Written by National Park Service historians, this handbook provides an overview of the civil rights journey in America. From the earliest struggle for freedom from British rule, to the oppression of slavery, and the fight for equality for women and ethnic groups, this book explores the sites within the national park system that interpret this monumental journey. Softcover, 59 pages.

 A March for All: Selma’s Voting Rights Movement

Filled with historic photos, A March for All: Selma’s Voting Rights Movement details the events leading up to the marches, and profiles the individuals who organized, coordinated and participated in the historic Selma to Montgomery Marches; From Sam and Amelia Boynton, the earliest organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Selma, to the “Courageous Eight,” a dedicated group who risked their lives to end segregation and achieve equality. This insightful book takes the reader beyond the headlines of the day and inside the marches that drew national attention to the issues of segregation and unimpeded voting rights for African Americans. Softcover, 32 pages.

The Life and Legacy of Robert Smalls of South Carolina’s Sea Islands

This book tells the story of the life of Robert Smalls, an enslaved African American, born in Beaufort, South Carolina, in 1839. During and after the American Civil War, he became a ship’s pilot, a sea captain, and a politician. He freed himself and his family from slavery and was instrumental in the creation of South Carolina’s public school system. He wrote in 1895, “My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.” Softcover, 48 pages.

The Moton School Story: Children of Courage

Before the sit-ins in Greensboro, before the Montgomery bus boycott, there was the student strike at the Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia. In 1951, Barbara Johns led her follow students in protest against the inadequate and overcrowded facilities they faced. Their strike, which changed the course of American history, is the focus of this important publication. Softcover, 36 pages.

Slavery in the United States: A Brief Narrative History, available on eParks.com

Slavery in the United States: A Brief Narrative History, available on eParks.com

Slavery: Cause and Catalyst of the Civil War

Produced by the National Park Service and published by Eastern National, this book examines the underlying causes of the American Civil War, and the role of slavery in its cause and outcome. Compelling historical images provide the reader with a portrait of the face of slavery and the legacy of those who opposed it. Softcover, 25 pages.

Slavery in the United States: A Brief Narrative History

This book chronicles the history of slavery, documented as early as the 18th century BCE in the Code of Hammurabi, and documents its impact on the United States, from the seventeenth century up to the present day. Slavery in the United States: A Brief Narrative History explores the struggle for freedom by enslaved Africans and the determination of the human spirit to live free. Soft cover, 64 pages.

Spanish and Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans begin colonization on American soil. St. Augustine, Florida was founded in 1565, and remains the oldest continuously occupied settlement and port in the United States, therefore possessing a rich and colorful history of Hispanic culture. More than 20 national park sites interpret the impact of Hispanic Americans on our nation’s history. For more information on these sites, see this blog post: https://passporttoyournationalparks.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/explore-latino-heritage-by-visiting-americas-national-parks/

Several books, recently released by Eastern National, highlight these sites and the contributions of Hispanic Americans:

American Latinos and the Making of the United States, available on eParks.com

American Latinos and the Making of the United States, available on eParks.com

American Latinos and the Making of the United States

From the founding of St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565, American Latinos have influenced US culture, politics, and economics. This book presents an overview of the Latino journey as documented in the experiences of five individuals whose lives trace major historical developments from the early 19th century to today. They include exiled Cuban priest Félix Varela, Mexican American author María Amparo Ruíz de Burton, Puerto Rican historian and collector Arturo Schomburg, Guatemalan civil rights organizer Luiza Moreno, and Mexican American politician Edward Roybal. Their unique and valuable contributions have helped shape our nation. Written by Stephen Pitti, soft cover, 44 pages

Hispanics and the Civil War: From Battlefront to Homefront

More than 20,000 Hispanics fought in the Civil War: some for the Union and some for the Confederacy. Thousands of Hispanic civilians lent their hearts and hands on the homefront. This publication provides a glimpse into some of the lives, stories, and achievements of Hispanics who fought and struggled for a more perfect union. Their stories will help provide inspiration and reflection as the history and legacy of the American Civil War is owned and shared by all. David Vela, National Park Service, Southeast Regional Director. Paperback, 41 pages.