27 Jun The Small but Mighty Team
Growing up near Rocky Mountain National Park I was accustomed to seeing Park Rangers and volunteers completing regular scheduled interpretive programs. Other Rangers could often be found maintaining the abundance number of natural resources, and the park had significantly more people visiting. I was shocked to see that some of these smaller eastern parks do not require an entrance fee and contain roads that are intertwined with regular commuting routes. However, First State National Historical Park (NHP) has an even bigger curve ball. When you think of the National Park Service, it has been around for more than 100 years. However, First State NHP just celebrated its 10th anniversary, which is just a baby compared to the rest of the National Park Service. Despite being so young, First State NHP is spatially a decent sized park. Since I started, I have been trying to make sense of how this small team, with staff wearing many hats, is managing a big park so well.
To better understand this park’s staff history, I looked to the park’s Chief of Facilities, Alan, who is the second longest employee at the park. When talking to him you hear his calm, deep, well-articulated thoughts through a Philadelphia accent. In the past he has worked for the private sector, state parks, and started as a volunteer in the park. Today, he is the Chief of Facilities. Alan remembers when the Brandywine Valley was handed to the NPS, and they had to go purchase a shovel, let alone the rest of the equipment they have been able to purchase since. Aside from being the Chief of Facilities, Alan has a variety of collateral duties that branch from the fire coordinator, safety coordinator, fleet manager, and many more. Typically, more established parks tend to have 1 person dedicated to each of those roles – crazy right? In addition to his collaterals, the visitors joke that he is the face of the park as they see him the most out and about on the park trails. Out of the conversation I couldn’t help but wonder: why are families that have been around since 1810 still in the area? Why do people choose to live on leased park land which restricts what they can do compared to somewhere privately owned? Why is this land so guarded in one’s heart? The questions keep going.
This stemmed a conversation with Sam, the Acting Interpretation, Education, and Volunteer Coordinator. With one word she was able to answer why the park had a small team and why so many studies have taken so long to complete… funding. Typically, when a park is first established it gets roughly $180,000 to start with. That amount is enough for the park to pay for the Park Superintendent, utilities, and basic maintenance. Over time the Park Superintendent can secure more funding to hire employees, begin to learn about the resources and to create a foundation document. A foundation document is what every park needs to have, it is like an initial inventory and assessment evaluation of the whole park. That means the start of hiring staff that are experts in their niche and procurement of equipment. As with everything that involves science and the government, things take time. Over the past decade the team has more than quadrupled, completed some of the initial foundation studies, and dealt with general life problems (cough*COVID-19*cough). In the next year, the park will be opening the first visitor center, kicking off an official trail plan and so much more! The public will see the hard labored fruits of this small steadfast team.
And that my readers, is how this small but mighty team is another sparkle in this magical place. These people are just not maintaining a cultural property, but building a historical park for future generations. Here, at First State National Historical Park, we are a small prodigious team that does the work of 300 as familia. Now the question is, what will this National Park look like in the next 10 years? Will there be named trails? Guided programs? With this team the possibilities are endless.