I’d like to think of myself as a calm, collected individual – especially in the mornings since I do not partake in a certain hot caffeinated beverage. So, when I stormed into Headquarters at 8 AM on August 25, 2016 and ran down the halls and up and down the stairs repeatedly yelling, “Happy Centennial! Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah! Woot! Woot! We did it!” while distributing overly enthusiastic high-fives, my co-workers might have been slightly taken aback. What can I say? I was a little excited!
Sitting down and trying to get through my morning emails was an impossibility. I’d click on one, read through a sentence or two, and exclaim, “Nope, nope! Can’t do it! Too excited! Too excited!” I went through the whole list in this manner much to the amusement of my office-mate Ranger Misty. After concluding that I was not going to be able to accomplish anything productive, I embarked on another round of high-fives.
We had curiously watched out our windows the day before as a crew spent hours painstakingly setting up a gigantic tent in the front lawn. The knowledge that there would be over 400 park employees, volunteers, interns, and supporters beneath it by lunchtime had me tingling with anticipation. To me, the National Park Service is a family, and our Centennial celebration was going to be the biggest family reunion!
Before that, though, I had some very important matters to attend to on this significant day! I had to be officially sworn in as a Great Smoky Mountains Junior Ranger and get my National Parks Passport cancellations! With Ranger Misty in tow, I marched myself over to Sugarlands Visitor Center with my completed Junior Ranger book. Grinning from ear to ear, right hand raised, I recited the Junior Ranger pledge and received that coveted shiny plastic badge and certificate.
At 10:30, the party finally got started! Jimbo Whaley and the Greenbrier band, who play traditional Smoky Mountain Bluegrass, provided live musical entertainment as staff from all across the park began to arrive, mingle, and find seats. It was wonderful seeing people I knew from other districts that I don’t get to work with on a regular basis and also meeting new people that had previously just been an email address or a phone number to me.
Once everyone found their seats, we were captivated by speeches delivered by our Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent, and visiting dignitaries US Senator Lamar Alexander (TN), US Congressman Phil Roe (TN), and US Congressman Donald Norcross (NJ). Hearing their personal accounts of what the Smokies and the National Park Service mean to them, their praise of past efforts, and their enthusiasm for the next century of service was inspiring and empowering!
Afterwards, we had a tumultuous time trying to get everybody together for a group photo. All sense of personal space was lost as people waving little flags herded us ever closer together to fit within the camera’s frame. Squished and squinting, we stood in the sun for what seemed like hours as our photographer snapped pictures with this camera and that. There was much relief when the final shot was taken!
Of course, you can’t have a proper party without food! (I’ve been told that free food is the quickest way to an intern’s heart! And I’m not going to refute, haha.) Pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, potato salad, and cole slaw were provided by a local BBQ restaurant. There were also seven exquisitely decorated cakes showcasing the natural and cultural resources of the park. They were almost too pretty to eat! Almost . . .
Lively conversation took place as we all ate and well after. There were also booths set up for us to explore. Representatives of the National Parks Conservation Association were handing out literature and swag. Members of the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Council handed out free commemorative t-shirts. Centennial Ambassador volunteers manned our selfie stations, tables laden with different animal furs, and a trivia wheel where we could test our knowledge of the park.
After our “work” day was over, several of us participated in the NPS 100th Birthday Virtual 5K hosted by the Virtual Running Club. We made our way up and down the Gatlinburg Trail, a few of us running, but most of us walking and gabbing along the way. This was my first ever registered race and I enjoyed the official-ness of wearing my personalized race bib. I cannot wait to receive my finisher medal that looks like a mini ranger hat!
Something that made all of the day’s events even more special for me was that my mom was there to share it. She had driven down from Ohio to spend the week with me exploring the park and surrounding area. I loved introducing her to park staff who immediately welcomed her as one of the family. Hearing her comment on how passionate, enthusiastic, and genuine we all are when it comes to NPS filled me with pride and an even greater sense of belonging.
Finally, as if everything I had done so far on the Centennial wasn’t geeky enough, my mom and I hiked four more miles on the Laurel Falls and Fighting Creek Nature trails. We currently have two hiking programs for the park: Superintendent Cash’s Hike 100 Challenge to hike 100 miles in the park in honor of the Centennial, and the Hike the Smokies program where you get a pin for hiking 100, 250, and 500 miles in the park. With those four miles, I hit my 100 for both programs!