Have you ever wanted to go back in time - just for a day to see what it might have been like? Twenty groups of 4th - 8th grade students in California get just that chance each year when they participate in Yosemite National Park's Environmental Living Program (ELP) at the Pioneer Yosemite History Center in Wawona. The History Center is comprised of buildings which were constructed in the 1800's and early 1900's by actual Yosemite pioneers and moved to Wawona in the 1950's and 60's.
The students arrive around noon dressed as pioneers. There is a short meeting with the ranger on the 1991 side of the History Center then all walk across the covered bridge and back in time. Over a 23-hour period they chop wood, prepare dinner and breakfast on a wood stove, complete a pioneer craft, create a dinner bell (triangle) in the blacksmith shop, learn to harness a team of horses and play pioneer games. Some groups even have a barn dance after dinner. They sleep in the historic buildings of the Pioneer History Center or under the stars and they work with the most modern equipment (of the day) like a cross cut saw and kerosene lanterns.
The 23 hour period when the students actually visit the park and live and work as Yosemite pioneers is only part of the year long program of study which begins the year before when the teachers and many of the adult helpers attend the fall workshop in the History Center. They go through the same program the students will go through.
In the classroom, teachers follow the guidelines established by the national park and work closely with ELP coordinator Sue Austin. Students research who the pioneers were and what roles they played in the establishment of this great national park. Each student chooses which pioneer he/she will be during the outing and prepare to dress and act as that person would. Also in preparation they may study such subjects as the Gold Rush, westward expansion, mapping, distance and measurement, botany, geology, writing journals, sewing, cooking, menu planning, and pioneer games.
There is much more to this than just playing pioneer. The students are broken up into five role groups of people who were instrumental in making the park what it is today: explorers, and Indians; artists, photographers and writers; hotel keepers, and roadbuilders; preservationists and naturalists; protectors and guardians. Besides the other activities of the day, each group works in the role task station.
First the explorers "discover" the meadow which is adjacent to the History Center. They name it, map it, and list the important features. Because word spread of this beautiful place, artists, writers and photographers come. They spend their hour in the role task station putting what they see on paper. The hotelkeepers and road builders follow. They know that more people want to see this meadow but can't get there without roads and hotels. They look at the meadow and plan where a hotel should be built, how large it must be, and what materials would be used to build it (where would the wood come from etc). They also must decide where they would get food for the hotel (plant a garden and where?), where livestock would be housed, where employees could stay (build lodging?), and from what direction a road should be built so people could travel to the meadow. They also decide on what other amenities they might provide the tourist.
Next come the preservationists and naturalists who have heard that a hotel is planned for this beautiful place. They are upset that too much of the beauty will be destroyed with the proposed building - trees will be cut and so on. They take an inventory of the meadow and write a letter to Congress and the President pleading to save this area. Help does come. The area is set aside to be protected and the protectors come. They try to please everyone and set the laws to protect yet allow for visitation. They may decide to make the hotel smaller, allow for camping, make laws governing fishing and so on.
These role task stations go on during the day, and the groups work together in all areas -cooking, blacksmithing, game playing etc. The students had great difficulty with some of the old games such as marbles and roll the hoop.
After breakfast and clean up the next morning, the whole group meets to present the results of their role task. Each group acts in belief of the role they played and debate in earnest the issues the pioneers they portray believed in. Always the hotelkeepers and road builders are on one side and all alone. But the students come away with a better understanding of the national park's dilemma.
The ELP in Wawona began in the early 70's but anyone can tell that it has been fine tuned under the direction of ranger Sue Austin. She arrived in 1985 after a stint in Alcatraz where she met her husband. Alcatraz is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and both Sue and her husband were rangers there. She said it was quite a treat to go from cement slabs to the beauty in Yosemite. Petite Sue makes the cutest pioneer lady. When showing the students how to light the lantern, she says "there are rumors of a light that can be turned on just by touching a switch on the wall but I haven't seen that. We have the very most modern lamp available..." and you believe her. Her enthusiasm for the program shows in everything she does.
Each year, more and more schools ask to participate but Sue only accepts 30 applications and selects 20. She likes to give teachers a second opportunity since they are more comfortable with the program the second time but likes to enlist new schools and teachers too.
Sue is very firm in her belief that the students must do everything them-selves - even if they make a mistake. She tells her adult helpers "ONLY when there are legitimate concerns for safety and the care of the historic structures should you step in and take control. Otherwise, students must be left to complete their tasks on their own. It is difficult to watch students put too much salt in the corn bread, or make a dinner bell that is not a perfect triangle, or create a cornhusk doll which has no arms. These things are not important! What is important is that students take responsibility for the accomplishment of their tasks and the outcome of their products."
On the cover of her handbook is the ELP philosophy: "Children are the
voters, decision-makers, and stewards of the future. By helping them understand
the complex issue of preservation versus use in national parks, and by
instilling in them a sense of stewardship for our parks, we are preparing
them for the important role they will play in the future."
A big job at Yosemite
Because there are over three million visitors to Yosemite annually, protection of both the park and visitors is a big job.Their duties run the gamut from traffic control to criminal apprehension. Every one knows that rangers protect the natural resources of parks such as Yosemite. In campgrounds for example, it is the protection ranger's responsibility to see that campers put out fires before leaving the campsite, store food properly so animals aren't enticed into a people area, trees aren't cut, ditches aren't dug, noise is kept to within reasonable limits and so on. Of course, it is also their job to see that campers pay for their campsite and don't trash it. These rangers utilize the campground hosts to be the "eyes and ears" and report any violations. This is the easy and in fact a very minor part of the protection division in the national park service.
In the short time that we have been in Yosemite, at least five people have died in the park and many have had to be rescued. Headlines like: "Yosemite Rescue Teams Comb North Rim for Hiker" and "Rafters Ignored Warning, Ranger Says", are typical of those often seen in the Fresno, California newspaper. It seems some people come to the park and act carelessly.
Just sit by the road and watch the cars for a while and you will know what I mean. These are curvy mountain roads yet speeding cars pass on the curves ignoring the double yellow line. One day last week the rangers had to set up a road block to stop such a driver who ran a young family off the road. Luckily no one was hurt. If it had been one of the curves with the steep drop off, it might have been another story. The young man they stopped, it turned out, was driving a stolen Porshe, and was showing off by passing his friends (two cars) on the curve. He went right to jail in the Valley and of course his car was impounded.
On Memorial Day weekend, a woman driving her three nieces and nephews plus the grandmother to a family reunion in the Valley, fell asleep and ended up the turbulent Merced River, swollen with the spring run-off water. Rescuers were able to save two of the five, but the aunt could not be revived and the two youngest children were not found as of this writing.
The day the above photo was taken, Jane was dressed in camouflage clothes because she was going to be out in the wilderness - undercover, waiting for those who planted marijuana to show up to water it or pick it.
All of the protection rangers are a special breed of people. Even when citing someone they do it in the nicest way and they never tired of telling us how much they appreciated us.
We have both lost our desire for a bigger and better RV. After seeing the big rigs trying to park in Yosemite, we think our small motorhome is just fine.
How's this for a coincidence. When attending a non-denominational service at the Wawona Campground last Sunday, we discovered that the leader was a Lutheran student at Concordia, Ann Arbor and grew up in Clarkston, Michigan (just 5 miles from where Barb was raised). Matt along with other seminary students is volunteering his time in national parks this summer bringing church services to campers.
It sure didn't take that pizza guy and an ex-football coach very long to wreck a very good baseball tradition in Detroit.
Did you know that washing and waxing a motor home is a two day and a four beer job?
You never appreciate the little things until you are without for awhile -- like electricity. Right now we have two lights, a computer, a printer and our TV on, and we think that's exciting.
Note to our Coast to Coast friends: We highly recommend Yosemite South Coast to Coast Campground at Coarsegold California. A beautiful campground that serves great breakfasts and barbecue dinners at their clubhouse.
Invasion of the Crane Flat girls
It was a bad beginning for the campgrounds at Yosemite this year. Because of the drought, there were lots of dead trees that needed to be cut down before they fell on someone. Everyone is liablility conscious these days so it was understandable that the park higher-ups wanted the trees cut before the campgrounds were open. Mother nature didn't cooperate though - what with the late winter snows - many of the campgrounds weren't accessible for tree removal. Then there are the ever present budget problems. Just when they needed more tree removal people, they had to cut the staff. So it goes in the federal government.
Nearly all of the campgrounds near the heavily visited Yosemite Valley are on a reservation system utilizing the services of Ticketron. They took reservations on schedule hoping that the campgrounds would open. By the May 17th weekend, it was obvious that one of the campgrounds (Crane Flat) was not going to open. Those in power decided to send all those with reservations to the Wawona campground.
Wawona, a 100 site campground near the south entrance is on a "first come-first served-self register" basis. And it too had it's problems.Up until May 17th, only one third of the campground was open because the "hazard" trees had not been cut in loops B & C. In fact, when we heard that we were going to take the Crane Flat reservations (a 166 site campground) our hazzard trees had yet to be cut. Normally those loops open up in Mid April and because of that, the campground had been full and we were turning many people away daily. Quiet little Wawona is off the beat and path and lots of locals (from as far south as Los Angeles) come regularly to camp. Suddenly and without any publicity, they would be shut out of a camping space.
To compound the problem, the reservation system had to be put in effect in Wawona without the use of a little building (Kiosk) and without light or heat. Luckily, there was a phone set up for our use on the big tree at the corner of our lot, so a shelter of sorts was set up there and the four rangers proceeded to work under these horrible conditions. Our jobs changed drastically too. Because there was so much traffic in the campground, we were BUSY.
Katy, Linda, Stacy, Mary and Karen, are the neatest rangers. Considering that they weren't happy to have been re-located to a campground they were not familiar with, and move from their own places into temporary quarters (a cabin in Wawona shared by four), they kept their spirits up. It wasn't easy to work while freezing or in the rain and snow (a late winter storm moved in). We built them a campfire every morning so that in between customers, they could warm their hands.
It also wasn't easy to be nice to all the angry campers they had to deal with but they acted in true ranger fashion. Those who have been coming to Wawona for years knew there would be no problem getting in early in the holiday week. This year those people didn't stand a chance. The campground was already booked - but they didn't know it until they got there. It was heartbreaking to hear the cries of families who took extra days off and drove from LA (5 hours) to get to the campground early only to be turned away with no camping for miles.
Even the campers who arrived at the Big Oak Flat entrance (Rt 120 W) expecting to drive the short distance to the Crane Flat campground were under-standably unhappy when they learned they would have to drive an additional 45 miles to get to a campground that they didn't want to go to. The majority of the people want to be close to Yosemite Valley and Crane Flat is only 15 min away where Wawona is a good 45 min drive. So no matter what, these rangers had to deal with lots of unhappy people and handled everything admirably.
As we left the campground on Thursday, May 30, the girls were still
there preparing for what is hoped to be their last weekend in Wawona. But
Wawona will miss their smiling faces. In fact, we noticed a lot more male
rangers hanging around while these gals were there. I wonder if there is
any connection? I wish I had room this issue to describe bubbly Mary,
her creative news-letters and her new love, exuberant Stacy and her excitement
for everything, Linda and her entheusiam for her new job, and Katy and
Karen and their professional-ism and thoughtfulness. As you might guess,
we will keep in touch and may even camp in Crane Flat someday soon.
The National Park Service -- A Dilemma
A management consultant would have a field day analyzing the National Park Service (NPS). This overworked, under funded federal agency is low on the nation's priority list. Add traditional federal bureaucracy and politics to funding cutbacks and the problems multiply. Well intentioned attempts at cutbacks have created more problems then they have solved. The decision to rely on seasonal and part time employment has resulted in a permanent staff representing only 40% of total employment at Yosemite National Park. With the constant turnover and resulting movement of the permanent staff, the service is in a constant training and orientation mode. Rarely will you find anyone, who has been in a job longer than a year. A lot of good experience and knowledge is lost in this transient operation.
The appallingly low ranger salaries have encouraged many levels of supervision and cross supervision as management tries desperately to compensate deserving employees through organizational structuring. The civil service pay structure compensates on supervisory responsibilities more than occupational skills. As a result, rangers who are very skilled in their professions, are often sadly lacking in supervisory skills. This is evidenced in the overlapping of jurisdiction, conflicting rules, confusing instructions, and total lack of communication. It's true that there are an abundance of applications for ranger positions as many people long for the beautiful surroundings and out-of-door work. However, the poverty level salaries and lack of career opportunities will only be a short term gain to the NPS. Turnover and employee juggling will tend to keep the service from developing a loyal, well-trained core of professionals. As many of our fine rangers say, "You really have to love your work."
I remember a budget hearing once, when a colleague said, "It's expensive to be poor." This is particularly true of the NPS. For example, the lost revenue of campgrounds not opening because of dangerous trees, would have paid the salaries of the forestry crew members not hired (staff was cut in half). Professional managers have always agreed that employee turnover is expensive.
Realistic budgets and top management policy changes providing career
opportunities in my opinion would serve the National Park Service well.
It is finally summer but then we are not up at Yosemite. We are wearing shorts - showing off our pale, white legs and even sleep with all the windows open. I was beginning to think, we would never be warm again. Hopefully in 10 days when we return, summer will have found the park too.
I am so excited that my granddaughter, Liisa, will be visiting us for two weeks this month. Paul said she can be a pioneer child in the History Center with us and Glenda is making her a costume to send along.
Since Liisa wants to do a newsletter of her own and will be here, I am going to encourage her to write an article for ours next month. It will be fun to have her debut in "Movin' On."
Scotty and Bernice Davis were camped at our campground for one month. They were there two weeks before Ticketron and the Crane Flat girls took over and saw the drastic change come over the campground. It seemed we didn't have time to visit after the change, but we became good friends with the Davises and hugged and cried when we left (a day before they were leaving). We really hope that we will see them again.
One of the highlights of the month was our climb up to the top of the Chilnulana Falls in Wawona. Although listed as a strenuous hike, the 4.1 miles up seemed easy. Perhaps it was because the scenery was so breathtaking you couldn't think of anything bad. The falls were thunderous. Such huge amounts of water gushing down many steps made me feel small and insignificant. Just another of the wondrous sites of Yosemite.
Did you know the difference between a national park and a national monument? Monuments are established by Presidential proclamation, usually for one specific feature. Parks can only be established by Congressional legislation and usually include a complex of scenic scientific and/or historical significances.
Did you know that there are over 370 National Park Areas in America? Lots of beautiful and interesting places to visit.
We were saddened to hear that Ron's Aunt Muriel died suddenly last month. If you have been reading our newsletter over the last few months, you might remember reading Herman and Muriel's letters. They were so good about writing to us and sharing of their many experiences. They had just returned to Michigan after their winter in Florida. Our prayers are with the family.
Just thought you'd like to know a few of the "protection" facts for
Yosemite. In 1990 there were:
We now have 80 on our Movin' On mailing list and we love you all.
A clothing store in Fresno
The wear house
Bumper sticker seen in Oakhurst
I'd rather be driving a golf ball
Tanning salon in Oakhurst
Sun your buns
National Park Quiz
1. Which is the most heavily visited national park?
2. More than a million gallons of water a day, all of it unaffected by climate or seasonal temperatures, flow from 47 springs in this, one of the first park reservations set aside for public use in this country in 1832. Name this place which became a national park in 1921.
3. What seasonal ranger at Yellowstone National Park in the summer of 1936 later became President of the Untied States?
4. Name the national park site containing the world's largest gypsum dune field covering nearly 230 square miles. The glistening white dunes here rise 60 feet.
5. Big Bend National Park in Texas sits on the "big bend" of what famous river?
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Also in this issue So near Yet so far which we added to our first book.
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