On this, my last day of work in 2016, I offer a glimpse into my NPS journey so far…
The phrase “mountain park” evokes mental images we can all admire. The snow-capped peaks of the Rockies. The endless ridges of the Appalachians. These comprise only a small portion of the beautiful mountain scenes romanticized extensively throughout art and literature. My own appreciation began with the Santa Monica Mountains, a range that hugs the Pacific Ocean north of Los Angeles. I was never more than a half an hour from these mountains growing up and I grew to love them more every day. Going to college in remarkably flat northeast Ohio made me yearn for the more dramatic topographical features I had left behind. I suppose that is one reason I came to find myself at Catoctin Mountain Park…
The name seems a bit misleading in all honesty. Calling Catoctin a “mountain park” when many NPS sites have peaks that dwarf Catoctin’s ridges makes one question how the name came to be. The Park is part of Catoctin Mountain, the easternmost ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Remember those Appalachian ridges I mentioned? Yes, Catoctin is one of them. But with a highest peak at less than 2000 feet, Catoctin Mountain is only a hill compared to most of Appalachia. Despite this lack of elevation, the scenery in the Park is worthy of many other mountains. Visitors come from hours away to hike miles of rocky terrain and see beautiful overlooks.
I learned quickly that I have the chance to see Catoctin the way few do. Working and living in the Park for at least a year is not common. When the permanent NPS staff go home at night–often up to an hour away–I simply go over to the other side of the Park. And although many SCA and seasonal workers live in the Park just as I do, they are all gone now, having worked only for the Summer and Fall. All the while, I will see day and night at the Park for the whole year, allowing me to see how the mountain changes throughout the seasons. I have already seen so many shifts, as the numbers of visitors, service projects, and even park employees have all dwindled as Fall became Winter.
Seven months have taught me so much already. I have helped lead many trail projects and invasive pulls (20 by my count), connected with countless amazing volunteers, and seen wonderful friends come and go. My projects have never lacked variety. I have had the pleasure to work with every division and almost every Park employee. This position has given me the chance to be fully immersed in every volunteer activity, from our Centennial celebration to historic cabin restorations. While I work out of the Visitor Center, I have never felt constrained to a single department. People throughout the Park are always willing to accept my help or offer their own.
I’ve come to the realization many SCA members come to much quicker than I did: this experience isn’t just a job…it is life. I have spent many days and nights without even leaving the Park boundaries. It is hard for me to reflect on the last seven months because my Park experience is not just one part of my life I can compartmentalize. The Park has been part of almost everything in my life. I often find myself paying little attention to the many beautiful roads, trails, and buildings I see every day. While this is just the brain’s way of taking shortcuts, I try not to take anything here for granted. Novelty will ultimately pass, but I know life on the mountain will continue to bring great days.
My name is Geno Arthur and I am a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador at Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland.