Funny thing about Leadership, it puts you in a position to lead, but it often takes you out of the position to have all the fun.
A HOW Volunteer paddles across the lake to join one of the Heroes
at Bear Creek Lake during the June outing.
Years ago, when I was a young Marine, I couldn’t wait to add stripes to my sleeve so I could tell everyone what to do. Once I was in that position, I found myself flying a desk while all the young Marines flew the gun runs, and all the “remain overnight” flights. Same thing when I was a civilian in Patrol Operations. As hard as I tried to avoid the yoke of leadership, it was thrust upon me. Firearms Instructor, Field Training Officer; duties I enjoyed, but I found myself “teaching” the fun stuff rather than doing it. However, when Miss T and I shouldered the leadership yoke to take the Heroes On the Water Chapter, it was with eyes wide open. The goal was a bit different this time:
We wanted to put the Vets and Volunteers in the water Kayak Fishing
This late June Wednesday, after the gang was launched and fishing at our semi-monthly Bear Creek Lake State Park event, I found myself with some down time and in a position to observe the park and the things going on around me. Now I feel like I can understand why the park is one of the most beautiful in the state, and often voted one of the top parks in Virginia.
Let’s take Melissa Meinhard, the Roving Ranger and the park's AmeriCorps volunteer. Bright and cheerful, Ranger Melissa wandered around all afternoon with a bag of skulls, entertaining the groups of kids and adults alike. “Skulls?” you ask? Exactly! The young lady carried around a bag of animal skulls. She took each one out, asked them to guess the animal, identified the skull and gave a brief overview of its traits. The kids of course were fascinated, but what surprised me, were the adults that couldn’t walk away. At the conclusion of the presentation, she briefed the families on the events coming up at the park and went on her way, swinging her bag of tricks beside her.
Then there were the comedians that entertained me all afternoon. Yup, a free show put on by no less than the squirrels and crows. These two are plentiful in the park, and you just have to take the time to sit and watch them to realize that they are Robin Williams in fur and feathers. The squirrels hop, jump, pounce and sneak. They pose for pictures and hop up here and there to see what has been left to plunder. The crows decided to perch high in the trees above the picnic area, and pull the bark off the tree, and drop it onto the ground just to watch it fall. Pick, drop, squawk. Hop along the branch, choose another piece carefully, and pick, drop, watch it all the way to the ground and brag. (Caw!) The game has clear rules. The bark piece falls ALL the way to the ground and the picker brags to the watcher with that annoying loud squawk. But, let that bark chip fall short, hang up in the branches or pine tags on the way down and BAM! The watcher is laughing at the picker in a series of short cackles and hopping from one foot to the other. I saw it more than once and I am sure I am not mistaken. The loser was clear and he flew away embarrassed after failing three times.
The guys while away the day with the game of Bark Drop
How does the park stay so clean? Magic, I was sure. But spend a day observing and you’ll find that everyone pitches in. If a staff member spots trash they automatically pick it up and it disappears. It’s called leadership. I don’t think the staff even thinks about it anymore, and the leadership is by example. I saw the Park Manager walking across the grass lawn adjacent the beach and without breaking stride he scooped up two blown down sticks four feet long and tucked them under his left arm and kept walking. When he reached his truck he tossed them in the back for later disposal and off he went. I saw the same behavior from two young teen employees; a kayak rental employee and an off duty lifeguard walking along a sidewalk. Behavior like this inspires. I saw it repeated by a park guest, telling her child, “They keep the park clean as a whistle, and we’ll do the same.”
Each night just before closing, the tractor with the rake shows up and the beach is groomed. They rake the beach and all debris is removed, the sand it turned over and the beach is pristine for the next morning’s opening. When the tractor leaves, the beach looks like the living room after your mom vacuumed, with the pretty pattern left behind. It’s the little things that make the park shine. All the “little things” add up to a big difference.
The Beachcomber comes to the beach just after the park closes for the night, and combs the beaches surfaces to make it presentable for the next morning’s sunrise.
Actually caring? When we went to launch one of our guys we were a hand or two short as the main group had launched and our last guy had been delayed. I had whistled and waved a couple back in, but the Chief Warden was right there. “Don’t bring the gang back in,” he said. He made a quick call on the radio and quick as you could want, help was on scene. One of the extra lifeguards, young Rebecca, was there to steady the yak as we slid it in the water.
Lifeguard Rebecca assists the HOW team with Kayak Launch at water’s edge
during a great afternoon for our Vets.
Looking for a place to spend the day, a weekend or a week? Bear Creek Lake State Park will fit the bill! Click here to browse the wide range of activities available at the park. To learn more about our Heroes on the Water Chapter see our Facebook page or click here.
The park is located about 4.5 miles northwest of the town of Cumberland. From U.S. Route 60, go west on Route 622 and south on Route 629 to the park entrance.
Drive Time: Northern Va., three hours; Richmond, one hour; Roanoke, two hours; Tidewater/Norfolk/Virginia Beach, three hours.