Exploring the Great Outdoors at State and National Parks

Get lost. No, seriously.

Lace up your boots, pack a lunch, grab that map, and get lost in the great outdoors.

To borrow a line from the National Park Service (NPS), Ship wants you to “Find Your Park” this summer, with some help from a few of our alumni. Dozens of our grads from history, geography/earth science, and other disciplines have turned their passion for conservation, outdoor recreation, history, and culture into volunteer positions and full-time careers at state and national parks. If you’re still contemplating how to maximize your summer days, plan a trip based on these alumni tips.

The key to “connect with nature, maintain and restore health and wellness, and provide important gathering spaces for communities, families, and friends” could be as close as your own backyard, according to Cindy Dunn ’80-’81M, secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). In Pennsylvania, the DCNR supports 121 state parks, 2.2 million acres of state forest, and thousands of local parks and trails, she said. “There is a state park within twenty-five miles of every Pennsylvanian, and our goal is to provide a trail within fifteen minutes of every Pennsylvanian.”

This protected green space provides countless summer activities such as camping, swimming, hiking, educational programming, and more. “Additionally, they clean and filter our water, help clean the air, and provide tremendous economic engines for the community,” Dunn said.

In the same vein, Ursula Lemanski, Virginia project manager for the NPS Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, said national parks revitalize communities, promote health, and celebrate heritage. Lemanski said she has “the best job on earth” because she gets to work with people who care about their communities and want to enhance where they live. “National Parks protect a diverse array of ecosystems and cultural treasures and connect people with history, heritage, and the tranquility and inspiration found in nature.”

According to NPS.gov, there are 417 sites in the NPS system, ranging from Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia at just .02 acres to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Arkansas at 13.2 million acres. NPS sites include national parks, monuments, battlefields, historical sites, seashores, and the White House. Many of those sites, such as the Gettysburg National Military Park, the National Mall, and Harpers Ferry, are a stone’s throw from Shippensburg, providing an easy day trip or weekend escape.

There is no doubt that the parks are places of beauty, tranquility, and inspiration. I think the National Park Service is really, at its heart, the nation’s storyteller, and thus has the responsibility to protect the places that tell our story as a country.
— Ursula Lemanski

“There’s really something for everyone, but what I love to hear is when visitors to the parks say they find a connection to themselves, to the history and heritage of our nation,” she said. “There is no doubt that the parks are places of beauty, tranquility, and inspiration. I think the National Park Service is really, at its heart, the nation’s storyteller, and thus has the responsibility to protect the places that tell our story as a country.”

Whether craving adventure, searching for tranquility, or connecting with the past, the state and national park systems deliver this summer.

Caledonia State Park

As an environmental interpretive technician at Caledonia State Park, Wesley Foltz ’94-’98 said, “My principle goal is to teach people to play in the woods.”

If You Go

ADDRESS 101 Pine Grove Road,
Fayetteville, PA, 17222 | HOURS Sunrise to sunset, year-round | THINGS TO DO Camping, educational programming, sightseeing, history, fishing, swimming, picnicking, hunting, hiking, biking, and cross country skiing | BIGGEST ATTRACTION Thaddeus Stevens
Blacksmith Shop and Totem Pole
Playhouse | BEST-KEPT SECRET Four geocaching sites | WANT MORE? Visit dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/caledonia

Straddling Adams and Franklin counties in Fayetteville, this 1,125-acre state park offers everything from camping, hiking, and fishing to history and educational programming. Foltz has fond memories of playing in the creek as a young child at Caledonia with his parents. Having worked as a seasonal employee for the past sixteen years, he now runs many of the programs at the park between Memorial and Labor days.

Pennsylvania’s state parks welcome a variety of visitors, spanning all ages and backgrounds. Foltz recalled a guided hike with visitors from Newark, New Jersey, who were thrilled to take a selfie with a rattlesnake. He also develops programs such as how to start a fire, wilderness survival, and kayaking.

Thaddeus Stevens Blacksmith Shop

Thaddeus Stevens Blacksmith Shop

One of Foltz’s favorite aspects of the park is its larger role in history. Caledonia is connected to iron making in the 1800s, the Underground Railroad, and the Civil War. As a full-time ninth-grade early American history teacher, he loves sharing local history on the Thaddeus Stevens Blacksmith Shop. The shop was part of Caledonia Iron Works, which was owned by Stevens, a congressman who adamantly pushed to end slavery.

Whether a regular who camps at Caledonia annually, or a newbie who is encountering wildlife for the first time, Foltz encourages visitors to spend time exploring, “...putting down the cell phone or device for a while, and being reflective.”

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

A fifth-grade field trip to Gettysburg first ignited a passion for history in Isaac Wickenheiser ’15. Years later, he applied for a National Park Service internship hoping to get placed on the battlefield. Instead, he was assigned to Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, where he is now a seasonal ranger.

Although he didn’t know much about Harpers Ferry at the time, he said he feels “incredibly fortunate” to be selected for that location. “Historic parks like Harpers Ferry have the power to inform our present and guide our future,” he said. “They provide valuable context to help us understand our world.”

If You Go

LOCATION 171 Shoreline Drive, Harpers
Ferry, WV, 25425 | HOURS Museum from 9:00am to 5:00pm daily; park trails from sunrise to sunset daily (excluding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days) | THINGS TO DO Visiting exhibits and museums, hiking trails and battlefields,
learning about cultural and natural resources, and attending special events and ranger programs | BIGGEST ATTRACTION Its history surrounding the John Brown Raid and Civil War | BEST-KEPT SECRET Its significance in the Industrial Revolution |
WANT MORE? Visit nps.gov/hafe/index.htm

Sitting at the convergence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, the quaint community allows visitors to stroll into the past. Wickenheiser said Harpers Ferry is best known for the John Brown Raid in 1859 and its extensive role in the Civil War. It also provides more than twenty miles of trails with access to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park.

National and state parks are an economical option for day and weekend trips during the summer, he said, offering learning opportunities through exhibits and museums, guided tour programs, scavenger hunts and other activities for kids, hiking, biking, and sometimes kayaking, rafting, or canoeing.

“Parks are a place where you can let go of your troubles, at least for a time, and be swept up in the breathtaking landscapes and overlooks, or really engage with history and connect with those who came before us.”

Gettysburg National Military Park

During a side trip on the way to Hersheypark when he was ten years old, Christopher Gwinn ’08M fell in love with Gettysburg. The Boston native’s brief introduction to the military park sparked his interest in a career with the National Park Service. “When I was a young kid, I had no idea what impact this would have on my life,” he said. “I was fortunate to have parents who actively fueled my interests. They facilitated my passion.”

Gwinn began working for the NPS in Boston as an undergrad, then at Antietam National Battlefield while a grad student in the applied history program at Ship. While there, he met fellow grad student and intern John Nicholas ’07M. Today, Gwinn is the chief of interpretation and education at Gettysburg and Nicholas is an interpretive park ranger.

The history and relevancy of Gettysburg National Military Park drew former Ship classmates Christopher Gwinn ‘08M and John Nicholas ’07M (below)  to work as rangers for the National Park Service.

The history and relevancy of Gettysburg National Military Park drew former Ship classmates Christopher Gwinn ‘08M and John Nicholas ’07M (below)  to work as rangers for the National Park Service.

If You Go

LOCATION 1195 Baltimore Pike,
Gettysburg, PA, 17325 | SUMMER HOURS Museum and visitors center from 8:00am to 6:00pm; park roads from 6:00am to 10:00pm; Soldiers’ National Cemetery from dawn to dusk | THINGS TO DO Touring the park on your own or with a guide, visiting Soldiers’ National Cemetery and the David Wills’ House, hiking, biking, and horseback riding | BIGGEST ATTRACTION Soldier’s National
Cemetery and Little Round Top | BEST-KEPT SECRET Culp’s Hill and off-the-trail
statues or plaques | WANT MORE? Visit nps.gov/gett/index.htm

Having spent twenty-three years in the US Army Band, Nicholas said American history always has interested and inspired him. While visiting Gettysburg years ago, he met an NPS intern from Shippensburg who loved her job, so he took that into consideration after serving in the Army and enrolled in the applied history master’s program at Shippensburg. Since working at Gettysburg over the last ten years, he’s developed forty-two programs ranging from walking tours to lectures, to coverage of the Gettysburg Address and the National Cemetery.

“All the park rangers, every one of them, researches and develops their own programs,” he said. “It’s intellectually very challenging.”

Visitors from around the world flock to Gettysburg for uniquely personal reasons, Gwinn said. Sometimes it’s making a stronger connection to our American heritage; sometimes it’s experiencing in a small way what a person’s ancestors might have lived during the battle. He added that Gettysburg remains a focus of pop culture and current events. The Confederate Flag debate that reignited in 2015 threw Gettysburg into the limelight.

“Through dialogue, we still talk about what that means today,” Gwinn said. “It’s always a profound discussion, and Gettysburg is central to it.”

Just shy of 2 million people tour the battlefields annually, gravitating to places like Soldiers’ National Cemetery and Little Round Top. But Gwinn and Nicholas encourage visitors to get off the beaten path and truly see the battlefield from the vantage point of those who fought there. Nicholas, who lives on the battlefield, said Culp’s Hill is one of the least visited spots, yet more fighting took place there than any other part of the battle. “It’s my favorite area.”

It’s easy to spend a few days in Gettysburg touring the battlefield, visiting the David Wills’ home, and wandering through the “beautifully preserved” downtown, Gwinn said. “You’d be surprised by what you discover. It’s a great contradiction—beauty, but also this very harrowing history.”

National Mall and Memorial Parks

Aside from his number one question, “Where’s the bathroom?,” Eric LeHew ’07 (below, right), said visitors of the National Mall in Washington, DC, want to know what there is to see and how to get there. “An urban park is very, very different,” he said. “Really, any open space, any memorial, any public area is part of the National Mall.”

Keep an open mind and explore the unexplored.
— Eric LeHew

A full-time history teacher, LeHew spends his summers as a seasonal park ranger at the National Mall, which covers 1,000 acres of green space. “My classroom is no longer four walls, it’s wherever I am.”

For the first time this summer, he’s positioned at the Old Post Office Tower. In the past, he’s served at Fort Washington, and during the spring, he even performed live firings in period clothing. As an interpretive ranger, he provides programming and tours, answers questions, directs visitors, and works hard to help them have a memorable experience.

“It’s about making people have a personal experience, so that when they leave they want to return.”

Once, a family from the Midwest asked him to help with a rubbing on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The husband had never met his father, who died during the war. “The family was bawling their eyes out. It was so emotional. I had to do the rubbing for them,” he said. “It really tugged on my heartstrings.”

Visitors from across the country and worldwide visit year-round, often flocking to the Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and other popular structures. But LeHew said so many small statues, memorials, gardens, and symbols often are overlooked. For example, for those who don’t understand its significance, many miss the two Kilroy cartoons drawn on the WWII Memorial. During the war, “Kilroy was here,” accompanied by the piece of graffiti, signified that the American troops had gone through an area and left their mark.

“We often have to put things into place and put conversations into context,” LeHew said. “Kilroy—this was the emoji of the 1940s.” When visiting the National Mall or any NPS park, he encourages people to “keep an open mind and explore the unexplored.”

If You Go

LOCATION 900 Ohio Drive SW, Washington, DC, 20024 | HOURS 24 hours a day | THINGS TO DO Visiting monuments and memorials, attending programs and activities, taking guided tours, running, biking, golfing, tennis, paddle boating, swimming, and fishing | BIGGESTATTRACTION Memorials such as Lincoln, Jefferson, WWII, Vietnam, Korean, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. | BEST-KEPT SECRET 150 smaller reservations, circles, fountains, and park spaces over 1,000 acres of green space in DC | WANT MORE? Visit nps.gov/nama/index.htm

Seneca Creek State Park 

It was purely coincidental that JoAnn Schimke ’79 purchased a home on the edge of Seneca Creek State Park in Gaithersburg, Maryland, but it has certainly been a happy accident. As a park regular since 1984, she started volunteering four years ago and is now a member of the Friends of Seneca State Park.

“It’s a really nice park in a pretty urban environment. It provides an opportunity to unwind, refresh your spirit, and enjoy nature.”

If You Go

Location 11950 Clopper Road, Gaithersburg, MD, 20878 | SUMMER HOURS 8:00am to sunset, March
through October | THINGS TO DO Picnicking, boating, hiking, playgrounds, disc golf, biking, fishing, history, hunting, horseback riding, events, and educational programming | BIGGEST ATTRACTION Winter Lights holiday display |
BEST-KEPT SECRET Parts of The Blair
Witch Project were filmed in Seneca
Creek in 1999 | WANT MORE? Visit dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/central/seneca.aspx

Schimke regularly uses the park for hiking, biking, kayaking, and dog walking. As a volunteer, she picks up trash along the shoreline while kayaking in the lake, mans the information desk, and works park events by providing information about the Friends of Seneca Creek.

The 6,300-acre gem is an outdoor playground for city dwellers. With fifty miles of trails and the ninety-acre Clopper Lake, Schimke said Seneca provides an activity to fit every interest level.

Special weekend events draw runners, families, and dog walkers. Free children’s activities explore wildlife or offer crafts. One particularly popular event is Seneca Creek’s Winter Lights holiday display, Schimke said, attracting carloads of visitors who view different holiday-themed lights between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. “I’ve seen people come through in limos and kids looking at displays through their parents’ popped up sunroof.”

During the warmer summer months or the brisk holiday weather, Schimke said Seneca Creek provides a haven from busy city life. “It’s not a big park by any means in Maryland, but people need the ability to go somewhere and relax, be in nature, and renew the soul and spirit.”