Full Circle: My Family’s First Visit to a National Park

In the middle of cooking dinner a couple days ago, I received a FaceTime call from my mom’s phone. To no surprise, it was my little sister Natalia telling me she went online and received her EKIP (Every Kid In a Park) Pass and she was ready to go to a park but didn’t know where. My heart was filled with joy. I sent her a package my first two weeks here, filled with NPS stickers, tattoos, Junior Ranger Books, and pamphlets for sites and programs like EKIP. If you don’t know my little sister, she’s one of the smartest, brightest, yet craziest 10-year-olds out there. She keeps my parents on her toes and even put me in check sometimes.

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Natalia, on the far right with her UVA shirt!

“Isabel, what park can I go to?” She hit me with this question and it just serves to show our exposure of national parks growing up. We live in the outskirts of the DC Metro Area in the suburbs of Maryland. Our weekend excursions were usually a trip down to our local mall, town center, movies, and to Sunday Mass. A national park was out of the question and quite frankly, unknown to us. The parks we knew was the Stoneybrook Park down the street from our house which had a field, playground, a couple of courts and a parking lot. Or the “green park” I used to refer to growing up. It was the park my grandma would take the kids from my neighborhood and I to which wasn’t so “green” but rather just a playground with green equipment. I helped Natalia find parks within three hours from our house. I told her that Washington D.C. had tons of cool memorials and monuments but she wasn’t interested. She said, “I want to go to a real park.” I knew then she had done her own research and had expectations for her park visit. A couple days later, I received a call from my mom asking about Shenandoah National Park. I was excited that they found a park to visit within driving distance! But quickly, we reached a problem. My mom asked me to talk to my little sister. Natalia’s vision of her Shenandoah visit was to stay overnight, either camping or in a cabin and go canoeing or kayaking. She begged to my mom to stay a weekend and I already knew, this wasn’t feasible for my family. I immediately felt guilty. I had set up Natalia on this track for new experiences, but without checking in with my parents first. I knew this wouldn’t be feasible for financial reasons, my mom’s work schedule, or my parent’s energy level to just get up and go for a weekend when they would have to go back to work and household duties early Monday morning. And camping? We definitely didn’t have the equipment or knowledge to even try to coordinate this. After hearing Natalia cry  and lock herself away from the phone, I decided to call her the next day when her mini-tantrum was over. She finally calmed down and I convinced her to hold off on this dream of camping in the park so I could personally take her another time. Bless her maturity level for understanding.
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My beautiful mother, Carmela.

My family planned for a Sunday trip to Shenandoah. That afternoon, I got text messages with photos from my parents. It was my mom overseeing the incredible view, Natalia and my dad finishing off their canoeing adventure, and even my grandma exploring the outdoors. I FaceTimed my mom and saw them having lunch about to head back home. They had a great time and Natalia’s EKIP pass worked perfectly. I was able to influence this trip for them and it felt good to say the least. My family was exploring new areas of the Unites States they had never known about and are very much theirs, like any other American’s. I strongly believe that had I not done this internship, told my family about national parks, and EKIP, this trip would have not happened. People often talk about your “sphere or circle of influence”. This is definitely mine. Familia first, always. From Colorado and planning a trip for my Natalia to come visit Colorado, Isabel  
Photo from http://www.appalachianviews.com/

Photo from http://www.appalachianviews.com/

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