Some people mistake me for a park ranger. I only wish.
I am a park volunteer, one of over 4,000 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. So how can you tell a park volunteer from a ranger from a Great Smoky Mountains Association staff member? Look at the uniform.
Chuck on the left is a volunteer, just like me. He has a tan National Park Service-issued shirt with brown pants. His patch on his left sleeve says “volunteer”.
Dan, in the middle, is a park ranger. He wears the green pants with the gray shirt. His patch is an arrowhead with a bison.
Ila works for the Great Smoky Mountains Association, the non-profit that runs the bookstores in the park. She has a beige shirt with the GSMA logo and tan pants.
Lots of visitors today from the moment I came in to the moment I left. I picked up my short-sleeve shirt and patch, which I had sewn on later.
Lynda, the supervisory ranger at Oconaluftee Visitor Center, was back after two weeks away. A fifteen minute chat with her on park issues is worth all the time behind the desk telling visitors where the bathrooms are.
But there were some more interesting questions.
One woman came in very flustered. She had driven from Gatlinburg and didn’t like mountain driving. “I’m from Michigan,” she said “and I want it flat.” She was not happy when I told her that the only way to get back was back over Newfound Gap.
“Well, no”, I said. “Technically you can drive to Asheville and around the mountain but it will take you over three hours.” I showed her the map. She said that she didn’t care; that’s the way she was going to do it.
A well-dressed woman walked in with two school age girls, holding Junior Ranger booklets. She told me that her daughters didn’t have time to do all those activities in the park. “Could they do them online?”
Now the purpose of the Junior Ranger program is to get children to learn about their parks on the ground. Some of the activities include going on a ranger-led walk, picking up trash, noticing animals and flowers… I told her that these activities were meant to get children outdoors. I hope she found time to let her daughters get their badges properly.
After 2 P.M., I roamed Kephart Prong Trail. Trillium were in bloom – see above – as well as hepatica, spring beauties and purple violets.
I had 28 visitor contacts. I mostly told them about the Civilian Conservation Corps and the conscientious objector camps that were located at the start of Kephart Prong trail. I walked up to Kephart Shelter and back down.
It was a beautiful afternoon and the river was really flowing.
I was hot in my uniform. But the purpose of roaming is to talk to as many people as possible.
On the way down, I met Tobias Miller, Smokies Trails Supervisor. His uniform is a T-shirt. Why not ours?