My face was warm and sweaty; my clothes had splotches of dried mud; the rubber gloves were sticky against my hands. This kind of moment may at first seem uncomfortable, but as the light breeze brought welcomed cool air to my skin and the wispy clouds rippled in the otherwise crystal sky, this moment brought me gratuity. I took out my phone to snap a photo – not just for Timucuan Preserve’s social media pages, but also to revel in my personal sense of accomplishment.

It was mid-afternoon on a beautiful and mildly-tempered Saturday, and I was at work. Sand squished under my feet, boats jet past on the river, and my gloved hands worked tirelessly to unravel yards of fishing line caught on branches. The clinking of glass could be heard as the others around me cleaned up bottles and plastic bags. We weren’t on the beach in front of Kingsley Plantation to sunbathe and swim, yet there was a chime to the chatter and comradery as volunteers from local high schools and environmental organizations served to clean up the shoreline for National Public Lands Day.

Volunteers participate in a beach clean-up at Kingsley Plantation for National Public Lands Day
Volunteers participate in a beach clean-up at Kingsley Plantation for National Public Lands Day

The moment I paused to take the photo of our volunteers hard at work was significant to me. This moment was a pinnacle of much of my effort thus far as a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador at Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve in Jacksonville. Beyond the camera view was over two months of planning, doubting, and overcoming challenges to host the Preserve’s first recognition of this national day of service. The moment captured in the photo represents the pride and worth I felt as the coordinator of my first event of this complexity and its impressive success.

One incredible facet of the SCA/NPS Centennial Volunteer Ambassadorship is the myriad of backgrounds it allows and even encourages; as a result, every CVA is offered a customized experience of what skills and knowledge we may gain throughout the duration of our position. For example, I hold a B.A. in Communication Studies from Ithaca College. Although I care about the environment and stewardship, I have minimal experience with recreational management, recruitment, or educational programming. Since beginning the CVA position in June, I’ve begun learning about these areas, but I’ve also been able to strengthen my abilities in writing press releases, communicating with our partners, and coordinating events.

In fact, event production feels to me the culmination of all of my strengths, personality traits, and enjoyment, so I was thrilled to take on the planning of National Public Lands Day as one of my first and largest projects of my Ambassadorship. After describing the importance of Timucuan’s participation in this nationwide service day and getting approval to host the event, Ariel, another CVA, and I dove into the planning process. Once we established service projects to be completed, we brainstormed ways to add a celebratory component to the event, particularly because this was Timucuan’s first time hosting National Public Lands Day – which is definitely cause for celebration!

Between working through the logistics of running our service projects (trail,  garden, and beach clean-ups), adequately staffing the event (including recruiting volunteer event staff), safety and weather concerns, budgeting, and ensuring the readiness of Kingsley Plantation to host National Public Lands Day, Ariel and I had our work cut out for us. We worked together to compile a comprehensive plan to hold a successful event: Ariel created fun and educational activities for kids, I detailed the operations plan, and we both put in extra hours to recruit volunteers and to prepare the event site. Overall, it was an incredible accomplishment from the CVAs with true output in volunteer numbers, with an estimated 50 volunteers and 75 volunteer hours resulting!

In the moment of taking the photo, I was able to see in front of me the product of our efforts in planning National Public Lands Day. The day was wrapping up: the trail clean-up (which was in collaboration with the Florida State Parks) and the garden and beach clean-ups were carried out by local volunteers, including Daisy Scouts and high school students, with fantastic results; a local musician, Brent Byrd, gave a beautiful performance; our Rangers demonstrated with musket firings and Plantation house tours; even our new Park Superintendent and his family showed their support for this unprecedented service day. In the moment, I understood why I love producing events: to know I’ve created smiles, memories, and impacts.

To learn more about Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, please visit our website: http://nps.gov/timu and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @timucuannps

By: Cassie Susemihl

Park: Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

City: Jacksonville, FL

Region: Southeast