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Table? Check! Tent? Check! Brochures? Check! Banner? Check! NPS swag? Check! Enthusiasm? Check, check, check!

On Saturday, after packing up my car, SCA fisheries management intern Brandon Williams and I made the hour drive to Knoxville for our first community tabling event as representatives of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was Knoxville’s annual Pridefest Pinic for the LGBTQ community and its allies. As Centennial Volunteer Ambassadors, we are charged with not only strengthening existing bonds between our parks and the surrounding populations, but also making new ones. Being transgender, fostering a relationship with local LGBTQ groups is something of personal importance to me.

Brandon and I struggled to get everything set up once we arrived at the venue. We hadn’t used some of the equipment before, or, in the case of the tent, it was difficult to set up with just two people regardless of past experience. We had to walk around it in circles raising each leg incrementally by a few inches as we did. I bet it was pretty humorous to watch if there were any onlookers!

As people started to arrive at the picnic and wander over to our booth, we talked about our park and what it has to offer, the centennial goals and initiatives, and encouraged people to come find their park in the Smokies and elsewhere across America. We handed out brochures, newsletters, Find Your Park stickers, and fabulous gold NPS arrowhead temporary tattoos. To make things more interactive and engaging, we had a map activity where people could place dots on all the NPS sites they’ve already been to. It was a huge hit!

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Some people, like the couple pictured above, spent upwards of ten minutes with us placing all their dots and telling us about their adventures in the parks. I’m not going to lie, I was getting rather jealous as they spouted off expansive lists and recorded their visits to parks I’ve only made it to in my dreams. Glacier, Yosemite, Acadia, Olympic . . . I’ll get there someday!

We also offered a Find Your Park selfie station complete with bear, owl, and salamander masks; “I Love the Smokies” and “Salamander Capital of the World” signs; and a gigantic green arrowhead frame. After we took their pictures, we just requested that people use the Find Your Park hashtag if they post the shots on social media.

When not manning the booth, Brandon and I wandered among the guests starting up conversations about the park and our involvement. I was able to chat with the President and Vice President of the organization hosting the picnic about future involvement with their group. They invited me to attend their next board meeting in August!

We interacted with 47 people in the course of the event.  While that may not sound like much, I’m glad our first time tabling was pretty low key. Also, we successfully sowed the seeds for future engagement! I call that a win!

If you’re curious, here’s how the map turned out at the end of the day!

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