When To Be Thankful

This time each year I pause to give thanks for so many things: health, family, friends and being a steward of your state parks. As the end of 2016 approaches, we look back on the many things we have to be thankful for. We remember great times sitting by the campfire, laughing as we enjoy the three basic food groups: marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate! There are those great hikes to mountain waterfalls and peaceful strolls along the beaches of the mighty Atlantic. There were First Day hikes, Fourth of July parades, Halloween festivals and harvest moons. We gathered together at Lake Greenwood and celebrated our Ultimate Outsiders who had visited all 47 state parks!  We told stories of our adventures and talked about which parks were our favorites. Yes, indeed, there is a lot to be thankful for.

This year I challenged our team to experience their state parks. I asked them to develop a state park bucket list of trips or special programs they wanted to do but just hadn’t made time for. This spring I took 12 park managers to the top of Table Rock on a hike. Not just any hike, as it was their first time on the mountain. I think they enjoyed it, in spite of having to listen to me talk about the need I have to hike the mountain each year and how it connects me to my soul. It was rewarding for me to watch them in awe of the vista across the watershed and the Dismal Forest looking towards Caesars Head.  Many park managers also got to see the lilies in full bloom at Landsford Canal and even more got to experience their own park in a different light, as too often we focus on the future and forget the moment.

As I’ve looked back on my columns from Thanksgiving over the last few years, the themes are similar to this year’s column with a big exception- the adversity of the recent events that have impacted our state.  Hurricane Matthew left his mark on state parks, in particular Hunting Island. While still dealing with the hurricane, the drought and very dry conditions are impacting yet another state park icon, Table Rock. 

As I write this month’s column I am fresh off a briefing from firefighters at the command center near Table Rock State Park. The smell of fire and smoke fill the air, much like the smoke from the fires burning just over the ridge. Someone in the meeting commented: “It’s been a pretty rough month for state parks hasn’t it?”  “Yes it has,” I responded, then glanced up just enough to crack a half smile and say, “But we’ll get back on top, I promise.”  Thankful. I left with our team and headed back to the park to work on protecting structures that were built by our standard-bearers, the Civilian Conservation Corps, who built these structures to last.  When we got back to the closed park, it was filled with activity preparing for the worst and hoping for the best- determined, motivated and engaged. Thankful.

Just four days earlier I was at Hunting Island looking at the recovery efforts and passion of our park team as they are determined to get this treasure back open as soon as possible. I watched with amazement as Regional Chief Ray Stevens and Park Manager Daniel Gambrell walked through a campground scarred with debris, standing water and four feet of sand  covering what used to be a power pedestal and discussed with confidence a strategy for recovery. Thankful.

I’ve talked with so many who have offered their help and support. It’s great to hear their voices, words, passion and love for their state parks. Thankful. As the Thanksgiving holiday draws near, we will still be dealing with hurricane damage on the coast and a historical wildfire in the mountains. Some may even say, “Not a lot to be thankful for this year.” To the contrary, this Thanksgiving may be the best one yet!

Happy Thanksgiving and, as always…

I’ll see you in the parks!

Phil