Oconaluftee Visitor Center – My last day

Great Smoky Mountains NP sign with picture spot

November 1. My last day volunteering at Oconaluftee Visitor Center. And there are still questions I couldn’t answer and new things I saw for the first time, like the picture spot at the entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I can answer most questions easily – the most common being “We have two hours. What is there to do around here?” and “What is this building that you’re building?” See picture below of the new Visitor Center.

Oconaluftee Visitor Center - new buildingSomeone asked me about the fate of the Foothills Parkway. Were they ever going to build a road to connect the two sections of the Parkway. Here’s what the website says.

The Foothills Parkway skirts the park’s northern side. Only three
sections are currently open to vehicle traffic. Due to funding and legislative
difficulties, the ultimate status of the parkway remains uncertain.

For the first time, someone asked me about Soco Falls. I see the signs all the time when I take US19 into Cherokee but I haven’t been to the falls yet. So I haven’t done everything – not that I ever will.

This year, I’ve been volunteering since March. I’ve answered a lot of questions from visitors who came on Mondays – some routine, some challenging, others that sent me either researching or going out to find the answer on the trail or road. I used to “charge” this researching to my volunteer hours but I kept forgetting.

Oconaluftee Visitor Center - Lynda and meI’ve learned a tremendous amount from full-time staff, seasonal rangers and Great Smoky Mountains Association store workers.

I added to my knowledge of flowers, trees and  history of the park.

What fascinates me the most is the administrative stuff that you can’t learn from printed material or from going on a course. You have to learn it from employees.  And there were plenty around to learn from. That was the beauty of being at the Visitor Center.

The disappointment is that my volunteer responsibilities never really grew over the months. The seasonal staff were very quick to do everything around the visitor desk. I finally go to answer the phones, if things were really busy but that was it.

I never got to do an interpretive program, despite my best efforts. I went on the training course in May. I wrote up a proposal and handed it in but it was never followed up. I asked about it a couple of times but then I realized that the system didn’t need another interpretive program. And volunteering is all about what the organization needs, not what the volunteer needs. So I “got over it”, as they say.

Will I volunteer again? Of course. The Park needs volunteers and Great Smoky Mountains National Park is my park.

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