My Time as a VIP and the National Park Service

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Stones River.  I could do a long post about what happened on this day in 1863 but instead I want to talk about my own personal experience with the National Park Service, which is currently suffering from the government shutdown, and how that shutdown affects the NPS.

For over a decade I was a member of the Volunteers-in-Parks program for the National Park Service and really enjoyed it.  I spent most of my time at the Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, although I also spent some time at other nearby parks, especially Fort Donelson National Battlefield and Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park.

When I first joined the National Park Service as a volunteer, it was so I could join the living history program at Stones River.  My first year I probably put in something like 150 to 200 hours of volunteer work, and afterward I was probably regularly doing at least 75 to 100 hours a year.  Even after I moved back to Huntsville and lived 2 hours away, I still managed to put in some hours for the NPS.  Why did I do this?  Because it was wonderful.  In fact, I view my time with the NPS as one of the most positive experiences I have ever had.  The people were just great, and I truly enjoyed interacting with visitors and the public in general.  Although I had done some public speaking before, I really developed that skill with the NPS.  It also gave me the chance to interact with some great historians, like Ed Bearss.

But right now, the NPS suffers from being massively understaffed.  The Trump administration apparently thought they could alleviate some of the effects of the shutdown on the National Parks by allowing them to be open during the shutdown, as opposed to closing them like the government did back in 2013.  It sounds great, at least on paper.  But allowing the public to continue to use the parks even though most park service employees are absent means that no one is cleaning the bathrooms, or handing out maps, or emptying the garbage cans.  It also means no one is collecting admission fees or enforcing rules.  And so the amount of wear and tear that is taking place is pretty bad.  And so many sites are being forced to close their doors.  A recent article from a Nashville TV station showed that many of the Civil War sites where I had volunteered are being affected by the shutdown.

So I hope that the shutdown does not last too long, as I hate to see so many of these parks get wrecked with no one to do any cleaning up.  And maybe one day I will be able to do some history volunteering again.  We’ll see.

~Geoff

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