Before the state parks 2016 centennial began, rangers and staff across the system were given specially designed centennial lapel pins to wear and were invited to selectively give the pins to park visitors as a token of appreciation. Both visitors and staff were asked to share interesting stories that came from those exchanges. Here are just a few of the stories.
Rangers Kevin Bischof and Jamie Cameron at Lake James State Park used the occasion of a canoe excursion to engage a special group of visitors with pins. “The group of paddlers we were leading was from Grace Ridge Retirement Village,” Bischof said. “A group of 13 paddlers set out with Ranger Cameron and I. And, different from our normal canoe programs with school-age kids, not one complaint. On this day, and this trip, we had the privilege to paddle with several of the oldest paddlers we have ever paddled with. In fact, one boat was paddled by the two oldest paddlers in the group – one at 89 years of age, and the second, Marcie, at 94. One boat, 183 years of life experience.”
“At one point, I heard Marcie reference the j-stroke, a common paddle stroke in canoeing. In response to a compliment I gave her on her knowledge of canoeing, she gave me a smile and simply stated, ‘I took a canoe class in college. Of course that was in 1940.’ Experiences like these are why I became a park ranger. Marcie is what all of us hope to be at her age, active and adventurous and still enjoying our natural world. And of course, still enjoying our North Carolina state parks.”
Brian Bockhahn, an education specialist, gave a pin to retired U.S. Army Ranger Col. Paul Sharf. An avid birder, bug lover and photographer living at Lake Gaston, Sharf regularly birded at Medoc Mountain State Park and became involved in bioblitzes and national moth nights. Now one of the leading insect experts in the state, he plays a vital role in identification and documentation with amazing macro-photography, and helps with public programming and workshops.
When given a centennial pin and asked what state parks meant to him, Sharf said, “I have been birdwatching in dozens of other countries, and enjoy the level of protection and diversity that North Carolina state parks have to offer. At bioblitzes and moth nights I enjoy being with different taxon experts, all passionate about their fields, and I really enjoy being with all the uniformed park rangers and hearing their ‘war stories’ about park life! It takes me back to my days in the military.”
Stacey Adams, an office assistant at Crowders Mountain State Park, presented pins to Rebecca Messer and her father Greg Messer. They were on a week-long state park adventure with plans to camp, canoe and complete a Junior Ranger program at five parks – Crowders Mountain, South Mountains, Lake James, Mount Mitchell and New River. “This trip marked the end of Greg and Rebecca’s five-year journey to complete a Junior Ranger program at 26 North Carolina state parks,” Adams said.
The very first pin was given out on Earth Day, 2015 to Amanda, a Certified Plant Professional from Durham. Sean Higgins, who leads the parks system’s interpretive and education section, said Amanda’s expertise was invaluable in helping park volunteers establish a native plant meadow on the Dragonfly Trail at the new visitor center in Lake Norman State Park. In the weeks after Earth Day, she returned to the park to check on the plantings and donate additional plants.