You’ve likely heard by now (I mean, I don’t know how you could have avoided it), Cleveland hosted the Republican National Convention which concluded last night. Much was made of how the convention would have a deep effect not only downtown, but in the surrounding northeast Ohio region. Only now that the goings on have ended can we exhale and look back to assess ourselves and our visitors during a week of nervous anticipation.
Our park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP), sits less than 20 miles directly south of the arena which played host to the theater of the convention; another site to which Lizzie and I have and will continue to provide assistance, the James A. Garfield National Historic Site, lies northeast of downtown Cleveland, merely 30 minutes away. The Garfield site (henceforth “JAGA”) each year is home to a Civil War weekend, featuring an encampment, mini militia, drum corps, tours of the Garfield house, and more. Of course, this year’s event happened to be scheduled in the weekend prior to the convention, right as convention attendees, supporters, and protesters would all be arriving in town. The expectation of increased visitation to the historical event was understandable, as was uncertainty regarding safety and potential for protests. Thus is the effect of political conventions in today’s climate. JAGA supervisors contacted our boss, Ranger Josh Bates at CVNP, to request additional support and so while Liz cut her teeth on Fossil Fun Day in the valley, I scooted up the road to help however needed.
Hey, so anyone ever been to a Civil War encampment before? Yea, no, me neither. Your lesson for the day: do NOT confuse a reenactment for an encampment! I made this mistake on Saturday and was quickly corrected; “reenactment” apparently means a battle occurs, whereas “encampment” is the actors hanging out, going through some drills and demonstrations, all that. After being informed that no, this was not a reenactment, I asked, “So what are you guys?”. “Oh, we’re reenactors.” Gee, thanks for clarifying.
Anyway, attendance at JAGA’s Civil War weekend was merely a fraction of expectation. No one could put their finger on why the crowds were so small, but turn out just wasn’t as great as in years past. During the weekend I let it slip that both Lizzie and my wife had expressed that they would be let down if I didn’t get to don the period attire, and so I found myself on a hot, muggy Sunday wearing an elderly gentleman’s already sweaty Sargent uniform.
The RNC had little, if any, impact on the weekend at JAGA. Though nerves ran high for days, the largest item of concern ended up being whether the Boy Scouts would run out of hot dogs to sell. Back at Cuyahoga Valley, for weeks word had spread that we were to keep our eyes open for signs of illegal camping in the woods as lodging was unavailable for hours around. Only on Wednesday morning did anyone from our office spot hammocks pitched in the woods overnight.
Thursday was our time to shine! We welcomed high school & college age RNC interns to CVNP for a service project. More than 70 arrived and were provided tools to help remove privet, one of our worst invasive plant species. As with any group, some participants were more, uh, energetic than others, though as a whole the team accomplished impressive progress. Only one individual showed up in the 85+ degree heat in a suit, though it’s possible his “Make America Great Again” hat kept him cool in the shade at the water station. Careful to avoid controversial conversation, Lizzie, others, and I appreciated the opportunity to help lead a group that very well may be the decision makers of the future. Connecting them to our park’s value was simple; many people are familiar with the river which has suffered the incredible fate of catching fire in Cleveland – well, that river was no more than 40 yards from where we worked. Hopefully these youth left with a positive lasting impression on the wonderful benefits of our national parks and will work towards improving and continuing their protection.
Short story long, no real dangers arose. Thankfully, as we sit here on Friday morning, the convention did not realize the feared concerns in Cleveland nor our surrounding parks. We perceived a challenge, met it, and now it’s time to take a deep breath and relax. Who knows, maybe an RNC visitor found their park right here in Ohio!