How did I happen to stumble or get invited to National Council on Public History Mini Conference in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? I’m a history user – you know like a computer user. The professionals define it as history applied to real-world issues. These are folks who work in museums, national and state parks, curators…
Most of the attendees were academic, either professors or graduate students. Forty-five attendees came as far away as Washington State to camp in Cades Cove and talk and walk. Just like a conventional academic conference but in a group campsite instead of a convention center.
The first presenter was the facilitator for Supervisory Ranger Lynda Doucette who usually works at Oconaluftee Visitor Center. She talked about how the park had been devoid of Cherokee history until recently.
Then the park, along with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who border the park, created signs in Cherokee and English along the Oconaluftee River Trail. Lynda told a hilarious story of a visitor who thought the Cherokee syllabary was an Arabic language and why was the park translating signs into Arabic. Lynda explained to him, without sarcasm, that the language was indeed Cherokee.
The next presenter, Brian, talked about interpretation – the connection between people and resources. The discussion was very sophisticated, as you would expect from an academic conference, even if we were by a creek.
After dinner, Nigel Fields, the new Chief of Resource Education, talked about his job, his career and his mission – to get more unrepresented population in national parks. By then, it was dark – so no photos. We ended the evening with a bonfire and S’mores. Who says historians don’t have fun?
When I crawled into my tent, everything was dry and comfortable. Then the skies opened up in the middle of the night. My 12-year old single wall tent isn’t as water tight as I had thought. By morning, everything in the tent got soaked.
After breakfast, I took participants to the Elkmont Historic District, one of my favorite in the park.
Could I hold my own, speaking to history academicians? I didn’t have the lingo but I had the resources on my side. They loved walking through Elkmont and seeing the ruined houses.
Again, the questions were very pointed – and so were my answers.
The park isn’t acting on the Environmental Impact Statement and its conclusions because it doesn’t have the money. Pure and simple.
No walk or hike that I lead is complete unless we go to a cemetery. The Elkmont Cemetery is very upper crust with interesting tombstone. There are several recent tombstone.
But the following quote found on a plain tombstone moved me tremendously:
Once in a lifetime, you find someone special,
your lives intermingle,and somehow you know . . .
This is the beginning of all you have longed for,
A love you can build on, a love that will grow . . .