We arrived back in Raleigh late Friday from our whirlwind trip to Asheville to present the RANGER project at the Association of National Park Rangers (ANPR) annual meeting - the Ranger Rendezvous, held at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain. The meeting was held in an immense 1910 building on a large campus with a spectacular view of the Black Mountains in full autumn color, crowned by Mt. Mitchell, highest point east of the Mississippi River. The old school porch festooned with rocking chairs brought me back to my "dirty dancing" job in the Poconos at Mo-Nom-O-Nock Inn, where a very similar porch with rockers opened to a view of three states. Only in my dreams did the actual experience mirror the movie, but I was amazed at this large YMCA facility that I never knew existed. They were expecting 1000 guests across the several buildings on the campus for the peak leaf-peeper weekend weekend here in the Southern Appalachians.
See the introductory video for the presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mo-PrOGCTn0
We presented in a small room, that happily was packed with all seats taken. We talked about why we were pursuing this project, about the rangers we have profiled so far, about ourselves and our hopes for the project going forward. Lucky for us, people were very willing to talk and we had a lively conversation about the project. Important takeaways for me were that personal stories can maybe be too personal - we need to emphasize the connection of people and place and not allow people's compelling personal narratives to distract too much from the connection with the parks. I think that is the advantage of narrative - it allows a richer relationship to develop between the two. The short 3-minute videos we used to introduce our audience to the people we have profiled so far are effective, but make it harder to make this connection in such a short time. We also talked about who a "ranger"is. There are different opinions in the Park Service about this, but I'm hoping to keep the definition broad - people who have administrative and facility responsibility are fair game for profiles as well as the traditional protection, resource and interpretive rangers are. We also talked about the importance of ensuring that rangers are not exploited in a headlong pursuit of profit. I think with the economics of a book project there is very little danger of that to start off with ;), but I understand the concern, and agree that it's critical that this be a celebration and elevation of rangers, not a vehicle for commercialization. It's not why we set out on this and I'm confident we'll be pushing this in the right direction.
Our next step is pursuing a non-profit partner to join with as we seek funding to produce the rest of the book. I think this can be a win-win-win for our partner non-profit as well as a major contributor looking to give an important gift to the parks or rangers in the Centennial year. Our concept is to engage a contributor to give a gift in the form of the production cost of the book to our partner non-profit, who will contract with us to complete and print the book. The proceeds from the sale can then be cycled back to the non-profit as a revenue stream for as long as the book sells. That's the objective, and with luck we can be successful at finding the right partners.
Being among rangers in such a beautiful place reminded me why we started this - fascinating people wholly engaged with the magnificent places that have such rich meaning for all of us. It was a great day, made greater when, on the way back, we chose to drive a long ways on the Blue Ridge Parkway, ultimately standing on the highest point east of the Mississippi, to look down in 4 directions at the magnificence of the Southern Appalachians, from Mt. Rogers to Clingman's Dome, in full autumn blaze.