by Erika Mims
I am a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador for the National Park Service at Stones River National Battlefield, Shiloh National Military Park, and Fort Donelson National Battlefield.
…I say as someone who cares 0% about football. But hey, it’s cool that during my year long stint as a volunteer ambassador I’m working in the Volunteer State. So far I have been to two of these three Civil War sites. Each one is a two to four hour drive from the other across middle and western Tennessee. (I’ll be off to Fort Donelson in August, where I’ll be getting to live in a true historic house, the Dover hotel!)
Stones River is located in Murfreesboro, a city with about 115 thousand people and which feels like home down in Georgia. Parts of the battlefield are right in town, although they are calm places where you can walk and simply appreciate the landscape or look upon hidden earthworks and imagine what took place there in 1862. They have several wonderful volunteers and programs that bring groups in to volunteer as well. I want to amp it all up here with new programs and reaching out to new communities.
Shiloh on the other hand, is a much larger park, with most of the battlefield untouched and preserved as it was during the time of the battle. Their paths twist and stretch along the fields and sloping forests. The town is very small and the largest town over is 20 minutes away with a population of 7 thousand. Shiloh has far less volunteers, and the connection with the community has become somewhat lost. I want to focus on establishing that connection and generating a base of regular volunteers. Let’s get Shiloh to find its park!
Shiloh also has a unit in Corinth, Mississippi, about 20 minutes away. The Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center has the coolest walk up to the visitor’s center ever. There are scattered metal objects embedded in the ground as you walk the sidewalk to the center, built amongst the ground to look like a fort, in a zig zag pattern, the way an army would have approached. The objects represent what the battlefield would have looked like when fighting was over.
Corinth is a town of 14 thousand people. A lot of the town is built up on this urban battlefield. The battery sites are various throughout the city, mostly small pieces of land that run right through peoples’ yards. The relationship between the people of Corinth and the interpretive center is mostly good. Even so, there is only one volunteer. But on the other hand, they don’t have a need for volunteers in interpretation. So my focus here will likely be expanding the base of volunteers for special work days and events.
I’ve gotten to spend a day with each aspect of the parks that utilizes volunteers. I’ve shadowed the interpretive rangers and interns on programs and watched them at the desk. In maintenance I was their volunteer for a day. We stuck it out through 98 degree (incredibly humid) weather and painted signs and cannon carriages. I whacked down some thistle in a field that went up to my waist with natural resource management. (Administration also always has some work to be done!)
So far each site is unique with different challenges and different needs. However, I have found that my approach to all is the same and that my plans seem to align. I want to get out there and talk to community members and groups. I want to partake in events with them. I want to utilize social media more and get the volunteer experience and story out there.
As I’ve gotten to know the volunteers at these parks, the reason for volunteering is the same: they had a connection with that park, and they love being a part of what allows others to make that connection as well.
My connection to these parks has been through first, the amount of time I’ve spent in these green fields just walking on a sunny day or working. The historical facts don’t often stick with me, but I can understand the reverence of the land as I listen to a letter written by a soldier after a bloody battle.
Second, through the volunteers who share my passion in preserving and sharing these lands and their stories and who give their free time to do just this.
I’m looking forward to my first volunteer work day; I can’t wait to see someone get inspired and to figure out for myself what gets people out to us.
I have an orange and white shirt that I wore in Athens, Georgia once, by chance the day the Bulldogs were playing the Tennessee Volunteers. A drunk woman yelled at me for it. While the shirt may not have been appropriate in Athens, I can’t help but think how perfect it is for me now as an unintentional motto as I really take strides in this year-long Tennessee journey that is so new to me. It was a shirt I had received from my campus’ hub for volunteerism about getting volunteers in local schools.
And the message is something I need to take to heart when I start shying away with my ideas instead of batting them around and learning from them:
Whatever It Takes