Friday, March 31, 2006

VIP: Volunteers in Parks

They're your national parks. You can passively support them with your tax dollars, you can actively enjoy them by visiting them, or you can participate in them by volunteering! See where you may fit in by going to:

Volunteering is cool!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Making my daily bread

The green badge of courage

Today it was off to North Hagerstown High School, as a music teacher, for Pete's sake! I never know from one day to the next what my classroom experience will be like. So far, Kindergartners and H.S. juniors and seniors are my favorites. With the little tots all you have to do is keep reading to them and be alert to their bathroom needs. When a five-year-old sez he has to go, consider his clock is already about run out. Kindergarten is also great because math consists of thngs like identifying the quarter, the dime, and the nickel...even I can do that! High schoolers are great because usually they've started to develop a good degree of maturity and sophistication, sometimes even conversational skills.

Todays crop was perfectly pleasant. Very raucous band students...all enthusiasm and no malice (its important to not confuse the two). Also some very talented young musicians.

Mr. "G", have credentials, will travel.

Yesterday I had three periods of seventh graders for a middle school science class in Boonsboro. It was odd how two of the classes were great kids and the third was pretty unhospitable. Must've had something to do with "funny hat day" I guess.

I'll just sit tight and see what tomorrow brings.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Burnside's Bridge

It is hard to believe that on September 17, 1862 the roadbed of this bridge was so slippery with human blood it was almost impassible. The story of General Burnside's assault of this bridge is an epic tale.

Today the peaceful waters of Antietiam Creek reflect up on the arches of the bridge without any clue of the titanic struggle that happened here.

Alternately known as Lower Bridge and Roherbach's Bridge, this beautiful stone span across Antietam creek was built in the 1830s. Surviving war, flood, and calamity, it survives as one of the most tranquil and picturesque spots in all of Western Maryland.

Yours to enjoy when you visit Antietam national battlefield.

Spring comes to the Battlefield

Its springtime at Antietam! The flowers are coming out, the trees are budding, and the lambs are hatched! On these sunny breezy March days it starts out chilly (thanks to the wind) but ends up in the mid 50s and very mild. Everywhere there's activity, from shoots pushing through the ground to invigorated groundhogs plowing up the fields. The days are also getting longer which means more sunlight at better angles for taking pictures. Here's some pics I took today before and after my regular 9:00 to 3:00 volunteer shift.

Peace in the Valley: the Mumma farm

A valentine left at Burnside's Bridge

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Being Judgemental at National History Day

Yesterday found me volunteering as a judge at the local National History Day competition at Middletown High School. (

My boss at Antietam had done this in previous years but this year she asked me to fill in for her. It was fun. The event's like a science fair except history is the subject. Based upon this year's theme "Taking a Stand" Students made tri-fold displays that reflected the theme and met other specific criteria. The judging team that I was on interviewed ten teams of middle-schoolers who guided us through their project.

For grumblers who think that the schools are going to hell or that history isn't adequately taught in the schools this event would be a real wakeup call. We saw some very impressive work on subjects as diverse as the Boston Tea Party, the American Indian Movement, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and others.

My own favorite was one on the Battle of the Little-Bighorn. The two seventh graders who researched and manufactured it did a nearly museum-quality job. Similarly three girls took on the Lowell Mill Girls and brought a great deal of enthusiasm and knowledge to the subject.

After the judging of all the various categories, medals were awarded to the winners. The auditorium was filled with parents, relatives, students, and various boosters. It was refreshing to see such a big turnout , and all for History!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Images of Antietam

And when you come, bring a camera!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Every day at Antietiam is a good day!

Sun, rain, or snow - Antietam National Battlefiled offers the visitor - or volunteer, one of the most tranquil experiences available anywhere.

Nestled between the Potomac River and the shoulder of beautiful South Mountain, the Antietam Creek Valley of Sharpsburg is characterized by rolling pastorial fields, dotted with sheep and watched over by century and a half old farmsteads with names like Otto, Mumma, and Roulette. The stone, three arch bridge spanning Antietam Creek - Burnside Bridge- provides one of the most scenic places in Maryland.

Unlike like its sister park to the north - Gettysburg, Antietam National Battlefield has not been encroached upon by over-developement, chicken stands, fudge and tee shirt shops, or tacky art galleries. The people of Sharpsburg and the staff of the park have worked as partners over the years to preserve the beauty of the area and the integrity of the village and battlefield.

Antietam is not overly marked either. There are far fewer monuments and statues than at Gettysburg, but those that do grace the terrain are very beautiful and thoughtful testimonials not only to the people and deeds they honor but also to the sculptors and artists who created them. Fewer monuments allow the eye of the visitor to fall upon scenery undisturbed by intrusion, providing viewscapes that are identical to those of 1862.

This is a beautiful place. Come visit.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Volunteers-In-Parks insignia

Here's a pic of the VIP insignia, old and new.

The new style is on the left and the older (and preferred by many volunteers) is on the right. Luckily, I got in on the tail-end of the issue of the old style, which is a richer-looking patch with really nice color, detail, and embroidery. Also that distinctive NPS "arrowhead" is much larger. Guess I'm a traditionalist...or just another ranger wanna be!

By the way, having this patch on my jacket got me free parking at Harper's Ferry today!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

How to volunteer in the parks

Seems I lost the thread of why I started this blog in the first place...Its a resource for folks who are thinking about joining the Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) program of the US National Park Service.

Its very simple. Locate a national park that suits your interest and go to There'll be a drop-down menu of all the parks and each will list who to contact for volunteer opportunities. Please note that NPS is chronically understaffed, so it may take a little while for them to get back to you. please don't interpret this as a lack of interest on their part (like I started to), be patient and follow up with a reminder call. If all parks are anything like Antietiam, they'll be very happy to have you and will find flexible ways to match your interests with their needs. Though keep in is about the needs of the Park, that's why we do what we do.

My boss at Antietam is always on the lookout for professional development opportunities for her volunteers. On March 4 another Antietam VIP and I were selected to attend an all-day living history workshop at Harpers Ferry. It's a perk!, it's fun!, can claim your mileage!

- Do paid staff have a good working relationship with volunteers?
Oh yes, a very good relationship. They're very happy to have your help.
- Do you get to wear a snappy uniform?
Rest assured, ranger wannabees, there's plenty of official USNPS volunteer hats, shirts, jackets, and patches for everyone -
also VERY cool NPS name tags. Your insignia will be distinctly different from the rangers' to avoid any confusion among
- Will I increase my chances of being eaten by bears?
I'm with Steven Colbert on this one...

Soon, I'll be posting phots of Antietam, the C&O Canal and other NPS treasures in this region.

Best wishes!


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Sidetracked! (briefly)

Uh-oh, for a moment I took my eyes off the prize and accepted a full-time job!

For some reason I took a long-term substitute teaching position in a Western Maryland middle school. I'd forgotten that the whole reason my wife and I moved out here was to follow our bliss (more or less) and spending five days a week in front of 72 angry sixth graders was not particularly blissful. After a week, I gave the principal two weeks notice. He and his staff were very gracious and supportive and hope I'll return as just a regular day-to-day substitute, which I certainly will. The particular class I had was referred to as "feral children" by one of the other teachers. It was a weird situation, these kids have had seven teachers so far this year, following their original teacher's extended sick leave or something. The result that the kids are very angry and disoriented. Anyhoo...I'm back to volunteering, every Monday, at good old Antietam National Battlefield Park.

It's good to be back!