Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The National Park Visitor Experience

A visit to any area of our National Park System generates different experiences for each individual. The memories of your visit will imprint specific meanings and values within your mind. Recently I was able to view a microcosm of these phenomena for myself while visiting Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. Fort McHenry is a small inner city area of only 42 acres, but its significance in our nation’s history as the birthplace of our National Anthem establishes its place among our National Parks.

I have to admit that this place also holds important personal significance to me since I started my career as a park ranger here in 1975 and met my future bride while working there.

During our two hour visit I witnessed a number of people experiencing the park in their own personal way.

As visitors were asked to help raise the flag, there was a small child that crawled under the reproduction of the 30 by 42 foot banner that flew over Fort McHenry during the battle of 1814. She sat there basking in the red, white, and blue tinted sunshine that flowed through the modern nylon flag. You could see the joy on her face and not help but know that this would be a memory that could last a lifetime.

Then there was the small group of visitors on one of the walls listening to a park ranger dressed as a soldier of 1814 telling of the impending approach of the British fleet. I could see in the eyes of the audience as at least some were being transported back to that time as they looked out across Baltimore Harbor.

Inside one of the original buildings of the Fort is an exhibit on many of the military residents that occupied this army post from 1776 to 1946. A young African-American couple was standing in front of an exhibit about an ex-slave who served as a soldier at Fort McHenry during the early days and growing pains of our country. I could tell by the way they were reading the narrative of the exhibit to each other that they were finding it fascinating and illuminating forming a personal link to their heritage.

I was also privileged to meet several seasonal park rangers who were completing their first week working for the National Park Service. I found them to be excited, enthusiastic, and full of the sense of purpose that I remember from a day in June 1975 when I stood in these same shoes. That memory will be placed indelibly in my mind and I thank them for that gift.

If you have not taken the time lately, you need to visit a National Park Service area near you. I guarantee that you will come back with memories that will help carry you above the fray of everyday life.

No comments:

Post a Comment