Diverse Backgrounds, Singular Commitment: NPS Academy Great Smoky Mountains 2013, Day 1


By Apoorva Mahajan, NPS Academy 2013

This week on Conservation Nation, we’re bringing you blog updates from session 2 of NPS Academy 2013. Here, Apoorva Mahajan reflects on his first day at the Academy in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

After an exhausting day (and often night) of travelling to Gatlinburg, TN and settling into the Arrowmont School of Arts and Craft, the SCA NPS Academy moved into full gear. Around 30 SCA orientation go-ers, a host of SCA Peer Mentors and Facilitators, and NPS guides and staff convened and set out for a day at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

First on the day’s itinerary, however, was a hearty breakfast at Arrowmont at 7:30 AM. Matt Kulp introduced himself and his passion for wildlife and all manner of swimming creatures, as well as his own journey in the National Park Service. We then forayed into the Great Smoky Mountains. An hour-long drive on the Cades Cove Loop led us into the heart of the National Park, where we partook in a number of interpretation-based activities. The goal was not only to experience the culture and heritage of the Great Smoky Mountains, but also to orient academy attendees with the ins and outs of interpretation and cultural immersion at the National Parks. Among the activities in which SCA members participated were a tutorial in period blacksmithing, a guided walk through a preserved, late-1800s village, and making our very own pinch pots. Like happy school children, each attendee left with a dinner bell to show for his or her efforts.

A movie viewing and visitor center stop were in order to further expose SCA attendees to the background of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. During the presentation that followed, Dale Ditmanson, Superintendent of the Park, spoke on his experiences with the National Park Service, the mission and aims of the organization, and the challenges and rewards that come with working in the NPS. A hand-packed sack meal later, we started to make our way back to Arrowmont for the remainder of the day’s activities.

At Arrowmont, we organized leisure activities around the daily, unstructured ‘community time’, after which we were treated to a keynote presentation. Lance, our facilitator, spoke on the importance of a key element in all relationships, including our own with the NPS: trust. Without trust, Lance explained, few personal and professional relationships can take root and thrive. Within the SCA, being entrusted with caring for our nation’s natural resources is the first step in becoming an active and successful intern.

Our individual cultural backgrounds, too, play a role in shaping our service in the NPS and SCA. Even as a diverse group with various backgrounds and upbringings, we found that what we have in common – a commitment to preserving the environment – far outweighs our differences. By appreciating and embracing our diversity, we can provide the best possible service to our nation’s diverse people and landscape.

So ended the first day of the NPS Academy at the Great Smoky Mountains. With any luck, the rest of our week will prove equally informative and enjoyable.