I feel compelled to wrap up this saga.
Today was my first day back in Catoctin’s archives, the same place I was working the morning of the shutdown. Cars were parked in the parking lot and visitors enlivened the visitor center. The park’s ecosystem of nature, culture, visitors, and vehicles are in motion once again. The leaves on the trees are near their peak. It is almost as if they waited for the visitors to return to reach their rich, vibrant hues.
The parks reopened last Thursday. I received an email that morning notifying me that the park was open, but I should stay away for a few days while everything was brought back online. I returned to the park yesterday, but spent most of the day preparing for colloquium that afternoon. I did have a chance to catch up with my park contact and fill him in on my progress. This morning I met with my residency mentor. In both meetings, my aim was to regain the momentum that has been lost these last few weeks. Both meetings went well and I feel more confident we can quickly gain the ground that was lost.
As happy as I am to move on in my project, the shutdown situation has left a bitter taste in my mouth. Last Wednesday, I watched the Congressional Oversight Hearing on the NPS’s actions during the shutdown. First, I was appalled that such a hearing had to occur to begin with. Second, as a taxpayer, didn’t Congress have better things to do that day? I watched the hearing for three hours as Republicans grilled NPS Director Jarvis. It disintegrated into a tennis match from apologetic Democrats who thanked Jarvis for his forty years of service, to Republicans who attacked his very existence. It was nauseating. Times like these make your realize who your friends are.
I think NPS employees are eager to move on and get back to normalcy, but I hope that the agency gets a better grasp of the impacts to parks during this period and reflects on public reactions. My mentor made an interesting point this morning. He said that there was looting and vandalism that occurred all across the system that was reported by the media. But, he wondered, if any of these incidents were politically motivated? He also mentioned that it might be a good idea to do oral histories with employees that worked during the shutdown, which I am inclined to agree with.
At the end of my day in the archives, one of the interpretive rangers came over to me and sat down with a green sheet of paper. She has a group of school kids coming Friday and wanted to practice an activity she wants to do with them. She proceeded to tell me a story of why trees have leaves while folding the green piece of paper. At the end she presented a green leaf. It made my inner kid smile. This is what America has been missing.